11 min read
The Story of Stillmotion…
Everyone has a story.
We’ve devoted our lives to telling stories that matter — and we like to think our story matters too. Our company has come a long way in seven years; moving from weddings, to sports documentaries, to Stillmotion Original documentaries. We’ve relocated, gathered new members of the family, and dived into some big projects that we can’t wait to share with you.
After everything that’s happened, sometimes we still have to step back and ask ourselves:
How did we get here?
Chapter One: Humble Beginnings
The first sign of Stillmotion began in a college dorm room, as a strapping young Canadian lad attempted to impress a girl and her camera. As the school year went on and love blossomed between the two fresh-faced Psychology majors, one thing became clear: they wanted to make documentaries together.
In order to spend ample time behind the lens while simultaneously earning enough money to purchase more camera equipment, Patrick and Amina began shooting weddings.
There they were — just the two of them — taking photos and making wedding films, learning how to work every piece of equipment to cover the one-day event of holy matrimony.
The films they were making looked beautiful, and people started to notice — including some of the folks over at Canon. Not surprisingly, Patrick and Amina were shooting on Canon cameras — and so began their first taste of the commercial filmmaking industry, with an ad for the company.
Meanwhile, a sassy and talented young Torontonian by the name of Justin DeMers was working as a photographer, and searching for more. He was fed up with the lack of meaning behind so many of the images coming out of the photography industry, and he wanted to produce wedding photos that had real value and personality.
A camera in his hands and sentiment in his heart, Justin was hired as the photographer for Patrick and Amina’s very own wedding. They saw the mindfulness and purpose in his photos, and they wanted that ideology to come through in their own work — so they asked him to join their little company.
With that, the three legs of this tripod came together — and today we are Stillmotion.
As the new Stillmotion, we continued to take gorgeous wedding footage… and people were beginning to notice us.
Chapter Two: A Couple of Life-Changing Weddings
In 2009 we shot a very special wedding highlights film, one that would eventually change everything for us.
The film was JC & Esther’s wedding highlights, and it was special in that it was made entirely for free. Patrick attended the wedding of JC & Esther to film a promotional piece for the wedding’s photographers, but wanted to see what his new Canon 7D could do with some video footage.
The decision to make the free wedding film for JC & Esther wasn’t instant. There was some debate… Would it be worth the extra work? Would JC & Esther appreciate what we were doing for them? Would they like what Stillmotion chose to do with the artistic freedom? It was, after all, our film — not theirs.
Scrapping the free project seemed like a pretty safe idea, so naturally we decided to go for it. Patrick shot the wedding in addition to the promo piece Stillmotion was originally hired to do.
One shooter. Did all of this:
The shoot was fun. The highlights looked great. JC & Esther loved it.
And as we would soon come to realize, the NFL loved it too.
But before we get into that, another wedding that cannot go unmentioned is that of Ray and Joyce Tsang. We shot this wedding completely unaware of how totally badass these two were, and it wasn’t until a year later that they would join the family.
Ray received a sweet new camera from his bride, and the two of them continued to pursue filmmaking, eventually quitting their jobs and starting their own company out of Los Angeles. They came to EVO, our 4-day intensive training course to learn more from us, and you know what? We kind of liked them.
Ray and Joyce shared our filmmaking philosophy, they put story first, and they searched for purpose and meaning in the work they produced. And as Stillmotion continued to gain momentum, there was a growing need for an office in California. The timing was right, and in 2010 we opened an office in San Francisco that Ray and Joyce would run.
They weren’t the only clients that became members of the family here at Stillmotion. Our beloved Office Manager, Winnie Boonya, was also inspired by her Stillmotion wedding film to start making films herself.
And who wouldn’t be inspired by such a frickin’ awesome wedding film?
If you want to read about how we told Winnie and Jerry’s story, head over to the blog.
Winnie attended EVO as well, and we fell in love with her. As of July 2012, Winnie more or less “runs this shit,” and keeps an almost objectionable amount of delicious homemade cupcakes in the studio at all times. Seriously, Winnie’s cupcakes are the unspoken reason why we entered this industry.
Chapter Three: Our Journey into Sports
Ok, remember how we said the NFL loved JC & Esther’s wedding highlights film? That was no lie. They gave us a call in 2009 after seeing the film on our Vimeo account, and we’ve been friends with the NFL and CBS ever since.
We were asked to do a twelve-episode series covering various aspects of the game, on and off the field. Each installment told different stories — from the personal lives of different players, to the rich history of Arrowhead field. We had to get all kinds of footage, and being on a football field during a live game with thousands of screaming fans was uh… different.
Thrown right onto the 50-yard-line, we freaked out for a second, and then got it together. We believed that we could tell these stories using the same techniques we used for weddings, and we were right.
In fact, once we got going we realized that doing all those weddings had prepared us so much for other types of event coverage. We were well aware of the amount of preparation necessary for a live event, we knew how to work so many different types of equipment, we could get in and out quickly, and we were capable of doing a same-day edit if necessary.
We also realized that the time and energy we put into doing JC & Esther’s wedding highlights was more than worth it. Although it posed no financial benefit to us, it paid off immensely, because we were simply doing what we love. To read more about our thoughts on the benefits of working for free, check out this blog post.
The work we did for the NFL led to the Callaway Series, directed by Rob Baget. Our experience working with Rob was so inspiring, and we couldn’t be happier with how these spots turned out:
We’ve continued to do all kinds of sports coverage ever since that fateful NFL phone call, including multiple features that aired before the Superbowl.
We did two emotional pieces about the healing power of sports in the face of tragedies like the Chardon, OH school shooting and the Harrisburg, IL tornado. Read about our shoot in New Orleans on the blog.
We also shot a piece in New Orleans about the NCAA Final Four, and have provided coverage of the NCAA Elite Eight as well.
And we can’t forget about our story on Danny Webber — the 74-year-old, #1 fan of the Indianapolis Colts, who finally got to meet his favorite player Andrew Luck.
But our most notable piece to come out of our relationship with the NFL was our feature-length docu-drama A Game of Honor, which captured the season-long journey of the traditional Army-Navy football game rivalry.
We got the call from Creative Director Pete Radovich about this project about one year after we opened the San Francisco studio, and it was our work with the NFL and Callaway brought us to this huge opportunity.
The film went on to win three Emmy awards, including Outstanding Sports Documentary… our little company was all grown up! This was a moment we still hold dear to our hearts, and we continue to chase that feeling in all of the work we do.
Throughout our shoot for A Game of Honor, we had some help from a very special guy… by the name of Grant Pelle. He came to our team by responding to a tweet we put out for a PA in Chicago… let’s just say he wasn’t exactly local. He saw the tweet and paid his way to us, just for an opportunity to work on a set with Stillmotion.
Grant had an inspiring twinkle in his eye that almost forced us to invite him on other shoots. He ended up being a huge part of A Game of Honor, and then came to us for guidance when he started his own feature documentary project…
Chapter Four: I’m Fine, Thanks
Damn, we can’t say enough good things about this documentary. We acted as “story consultants” to Grant on this project, as it was the first big project for him and many of those involved. Helping out with story on this was a no brainer for us, because it is a story we can really get behind: I’m Fine, Thanks is a documentary that explores complacency and dream chasing through the lens of different characters across the country.
Head over to Vimeo to watch I’m Fine, Thanks on demand.
Through our involvement with the project, we were introduced to the dreamiest dream chaser of all — Adam Baker.
Baker was the producer and co-director for I’m Fine, Thanks, and he is the creator of popular blog Man vs. Debt.
Today Baker “bakes” all of the educational treats that come out of our EDU department here at Stillmotion, along with a dedicated team of young visionaries. They organize events like EVO and Take Action (our 12-week online training course). The EDU team also runs this incredible blog!
Baker says: check out our Vimeo Video School Storytelling Challenge!
Chapter Five: Our Recent Work
After starting in weddings and eventually producing more work in commercial and sports coverage, we’ve managed to put out a number of spots and docs in recent years. The commercial and original productions end of our company is still growing and gaining momentum, but thus far we’ve created some really inspiring work that we’re proud to share with you.
The Old Skool Cafe film is a piece we made for Share, our own non-profit filmmaking project that we developed in an effort to give back. It’s an emotional and inspiring film that we had so much fun producing, free of charge.
Our shoot for AT&T’s “My Journey” campaign was a huge challenge — we had to “fake” the 2012 Olympics by building sets entirely from the ground up! We learned an incredible amount on this shoot — and you can learn too, by reading all about it on our blog.
Pulse is a film we made for a company called BioBeats, who created an app for making music to the beat of your heart. The project was funded by Canon to show off their new C100 camera, and eventually led to us making another film for BioBeats that was screened at SXSW. Hit up our blog to get the full story on the making of Pulse.
Currently we’re cooking up our first independent feature-length documentary, so expect big things to come…
Chapter Six: Our New Home
How’d We Get To Portland?
We loved San Francisco, but in a lot of ways it just wasn’t the perfect home for us. We knew about Portland’s rich culture, affordability, it’s close proximity to nature, and it’s exceptional coffee. Justin and his wife Michelle tested out the Portland waters for us, and deemed it ideal for Stillmotion.
So we moved the team out to the heart of the PNW — and as March 2013, we were Portlanders. We couldn’t be more excited about this beautiful city, and all of the opportunities we’ll have to share the Portland experience with those who attend EVO and other future workshops.
The rainfall is frequent, but it allows us to appreciate every moment of sunlight. And it gives us an excuse to stay inside and edit all day.
Chapter Seven: Story First
The wedding films we made in our first few years as a company really looked beautiful, and we were really onto something with our storytelling style at that point — this is why they got attention from the NFL.
But while the films were unique, we still hadn’t fully adopted the “story first” mentality. That wasn’t an instant thing for us. It took some time to realize that we didn’t need to follow any of the traditional paradigms for wedding films, or any films for that matter. Once we really invested ourselves in that philosophy, and started approaching every film with the same strategies to find the story and follow it — that’s when we really became who we are today.
And what an incredible journey it’s been. The momentum has never stopped building, and as long as there are great stories out there to tell, we have no plans of slowing down.
We are Stillmotion.
To read more about who we are, head over to the About page.