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Nick Whelan – Freelance Filmmaker from San Diego

Coming in with this Month’s Third Feature is…

Nick Whelan from San Diego, California. Nick’s short film, “The Srb Getaway”, was filmed with the help of the LanParte 3-Axis Handheld Gimbal (HHG-01) and an iPhone 6s. This film was chosen because of its unique take on travel. Moving away from the usual emotions of wonder and awe, “The Srb Getaway” tells a story of friends and fun memories. Combining this with Nick’s editing style, audience members can really enjoy a truly unique video.

Whelan’s video will make you smile and think back to your own time with your friends. It reminds us that sometimes its not all about how expensive or wondrous the location was. What matters most is the memories we made with those we were with. We invited Nick to talk about his background and to talk to us a little bit more about how he approaches his films. His interview is below.

Nick, can you tell us about yourself and your experience in Film?

Born in Sag Harbor, New York. I went to college in San Diego, which is where I currently live.  Before I even touched a camera, I played the drums, and found that I had a pretty decent sense of rhythm. I applied my musical talent to the music production program “Garageband” –making beats over any song I could think of. Whether it was Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, or the Rolling Stones, I kept remixing any song from any genre that I could think of. It became a little obsessive.

By applying my Garageband knowledge to iMovie, I started editing videos. My first video was strange. I filmed my dad singing happy birthday to someone, and then edited it over an immortal technique song. I’m not sure what compelled me to make it, but these video creations continued. I became slightly addicted to moving footage to the rhythm of the music that was in my head, I guess I was still remixing, just using light instead.

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As the years passed, the video editing seemed sillier and sillier. Only after I graduated did I start pondering the idea of actually working in video production. Thanks to the online education platform lynda.com, I taught myself how to use the editing software Adobe Premiere Pro, and how to shoot video on a DSLR camera (Canon 70D). Eventually I realized that you can only learn so much from a computer, so I started saying “yes” to any opportunity to use a camera. I borrowed cameras, pretended like I knew what I was doing, and made tons of mistakes in the video process. Eventually I had enough footage to work with, so I made some edits, passed them along to companies around San Diego, and in a couple weeks got my first paying job to edit episodes for a local TV show.

The job gave me invaluable practice with the software and experience working with other people. I gradually moved into free-lance work, and after several months of working in San Diego, the travel bug bit me and I took off to Cuba. The video I made of Cuba inspired my trip to Peru shortly after, and the video I made in Peru inspired me to keep moving around the world.

The comment section of your videos are full compliments about your technique. Can you describe what your unique style is?

It still feels strange calling it “my” style, since it began with me just trying to emulate the styles of my favorite filmmakers on Vimeo. Three filmmakers that come to mind are Leonardo Delassandri, Matty Brown, and Joshua Morin. Before I took off to Cuba and Peru, I downloaded their videos, imported them into premiere, and broke down each transition by watching them frame by frame. I didn’t master their techniques the way I thought I would, but what I wound up with was the style I now use.

I’m reluctant to define my style in a sentence, as that would fix it into a moment of time, and like most styles, it keeps changing–not in a forceful way but organically.

However, I do have a little game I play with myself during the editing process that may help illustrate my process. The game is to basically go from the beginning to the end of the video using only continuous transitions between each clip. A basic example of this is using continuous motion, so when one clip ends panning right, I follow it with another clip that begins by panning right. These “continuity cuts” can also be executed with colors, matching foreground objects, zooms, blurs, light leaks, and many other techniques. I view it as a puzzle, in which I try to find clips that match up well while also piecing together a general story. With each video the game remains the same, but my approach changes, ultimately characterizing the video’s style.

In one of your responses to a comment you had said:

“some things I recommend…Make mistakes -> 5. Learn from those mistakes -> 6. Keep finding your unique style”

Tell us how you have made mistakes, but how, as a filmmaker, you ensure your learning and growing from those mistakes? 

Technical filming mistakes used to happen very frequently. I would set the exposure too high, leave the subject out of focus, or film an amazing time-lapse but leave the camera on auto-focus. People always say you will make these mistakes, but its more impactful when they happen to you. The biggest thing is wiping the sweat off and carrying on, which is hard to do when things aren’t looking up, but easier when you love what you do.

I come from a family of filmmakers and artists, which constantly inspires me to keep pursuing my passion. My grandfather, D.A Pennebaker, and his talented wife, Chris Hegedus, have made award winning documentaries like “Don’t look back” and “The War Room”. My two uncles, Kit and Jojo Pennebaker, are also very talented filmmakers. I’m privileged to be able to spend time with them, as I continue to learn from their fascinating stories.

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We chose your video because you add a refreshing fun flair to travel. Did you do this on purpose? 

I was planning on simply recapping the weekend and posting it in a private Facebook group for people to laugh at. But when I organized the footage I saw something worth putting time into. The story was simple, and the transitions took some time to craft, but what I really love about this video are my lunatic friends who starred in it. Between jumping in a frozen lake, driving ATV’s with fireworks in hand, and dancing all night long, the group I was with deserves the credit for giving off such an amazing energy. I was just lucky to capture it.

What would you tell other aspiring filmmakers who are trying to carve out their own niche or unique style? 

Experiment in your early years of doing creative work. Learn the basics first and develop a skill set, but never stop experimenting. Don’t get in your own way by developing a fear of making mistakes. Find special rituals and habits that open up and tap your creativity. Let it flow. What does work will continue to emerge within your creations, while things that don’t work will eventually disappear. Trust your own opinion even though it can be difficult in this world of comment threads.

Kurt Vonnegut notably said, “Write to please just one person.” If you put too much emphasis on what the audience is going to think, you’ll hinder the flow of creativity, so your best bet is to make videos for yourself. Once you get good at that, other people are bound to hop on for the ride. Listen to advice and be open to constructive criticism, but only act on suggestions from those who you consider to be qualified–whatever those qualifications may be. Leave more days open in your schedule. Good ideas don’t formulate when you are stressed, but rather when you are able to escape the noise. Don’t rush all the time, the fun part is finding your style, so enjoy yourself!

NickWhelanHeadshotTo learn more about Nick you can visit him at the following:

Website: midmotionmedia.com

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