Has everything, by some miraculous force, gone as planned?
Or do you find yourself struggling every day just to survive, wondering what you should do or which path you should take? I can tell you right now that every success that I have ever achieved has fallen right in my lap.
If you couldn’t tell, that last statement was filled with a boatload of sarcasm. It has been my experience through reading countless self-help books and my interactions with “successful” people, that success rarely, if ever, falls in someone’s lap. As the owner of my own small business, RedCastle Media, I would like to say that I have found great wealth and that my path has been easy, but that is simply not true. Like most first-time business owners I have struggled in many ways. The path to how I became a filmmaker is one that I did not expect. Growing up my family never owned a camcorder or anything above a disposable camera. We did love movies though. I grew up watching movies like The Ghost Breakers, Charades, Rear Window, Jaws, The Burbs’, and Jurassic Park.
I don’t want to bore you with every detail of my life, but there are important experiences and lessons that have affected how I have become a filmmaker and will affect where I end up in life. I will tell you right now that I am not the best filmmaker in the world or the best business owner, but I have a passion for telling stories, and sometimes that is enough.
My life would never be the same again.
On May 14, 2003, I started a journey that would forever change my life. Don’t worry, I won’t get preachy and I won’t try to convert you to my faith, but if it weren’t for this part of my life, I might not have pursued filmmaking as a career. I decided to dedicate 2 years of my life to Christ and to preach His gospel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I spent 3 weeks at what is called a missionary training center in Provo, Utah. While there, I learned how to be a missionary and how to speak Spanish. I then spent several weeks at a missionary training center in Lima, Peru improving my grasp of the Spanish language. For those that don’t know, during two years of missionary service, a missionary is allowed to write his/her family once a week via email or letters and two phone calls a year, mother’s day and Christmas. During my service as a missionary in Cochabamba, Bolivia I had many experiences that I will never forget. I chose not to share many of my experiences with my family so that they wouldn’t worry about me. I met many amazing and humble people. I encountered dangers of all kinds, both physical and emotional.
While walking old dusty roads in the sweltering South American heat I had the opportunity to reflect on my life, as well as plan for the future. I had studied architecture and drafting while in high school, but I didn’t have that burning desire to pursue that as a career. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life when I returned home.
October 12, 2003, was the start of a week that I will never forget. On Sunday the 12th, martial law was imposed in El Alto near the capital city of La Paz. Protesters clashed with police and military forces over the use and future sales of natural gas reserves. A group of oil trucks was being escorted by police and the military. Using tanks and high-caliber machine guns, forces attempted to remove a barricade, resulting in the death 18 people.
The following day, 80 protesters were gunned down in El Alto by police and military. 235 miles away in Cochabamba, my missionary companion and I were getting our hair cut in the city’s shopping district, called the Cancha. Located in the heart of Cochabamba, the Cancha is a massive supermarket that stretches for several city blocks. There were several other missionaries in the same shop with us. We paid the barber for our haircuts and exited the small sliding garage door shop into a one-way narrow street. Immediately, I knew that something was wrong. My heart started to race and I had horrible butterflies in my stomach. Having spent only 3 months in Bolivia, I did not speak or understand the language well, but I could understand mannerisms. It was apparent that we were in trouble. I looked around to see everyone in a panic. Store owners were quickly closing and locking their sliding doors. People were frantically running in all directions. Buses were packed so full that people were hanging out of the doorway with one hand on a safety bar and only one foot in the doorway. Every taxi that passed us by was crammed so tight with people inside that at that moment I finally understood how 20 clowns could come out of a small vehicle at the circus. We walked quickly up the small, busy marketplace road in search of a way out. I could see smoke billowing up into the blue sky ahead of us. Where ever we looked it did not seem like we were going to find an empty ride out. As we ran to the next intersection I looked to my left to see a mob of angry protesters with weapons marching toward us. Many protesters were burning cars, blocking the roads with large rocks, and even setting off dynamite, to prove their point. I knew that we needed to get out of there that very moment or we might not make it out alive.
Just as I was about to give up hope, a taxi stopped right in front of us without a single passenger. Several other missionaries and I jumped in as quickly as we could. We were taken safely out of the city and back to our apartment on the outskirts. Over the next couple of days, we did not leave our apartment, except to purchase food and to perform service at our LDS Temple. Throughout the day clouds of smoke ascended above the city and I could hear what sounded like gunfire and bomb detentions. As the protests came to an end the President of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was forced to resign from office and to flee the country. It was a very crazy time in my life as a missionary and riots like this one happened several times, until my departure in May of 2005.
Many times throughout my service in Bolivia I feared for my life, I struggled with depression, I was severely ill and I wanted to go home. I also grew into the person I am today, because of those experiences. I grew to love the people in Bolivia. I was happiest when I forgot about myself and focused on helping others. It became my second home. I prayed. I cried. I laughed. I smiled. I always found a way to make it through the hard times. I could have left anytime that I wanted to, but I kept telling myself that there is a reason why we struggle in life. We can’t become better people by hiding in our basements and blocking out the world.
Due to that experience and many others on my mission that I don’t have the time to talk about here, I decided that I wanted to be a storyteller. I felt like the experiences I had while on my mission would be stories that many throughout the world, Mormon or not, could gain inspiration from. I have always loved movies growing up and I felt like that would be the perfect medium to tell my stories.
I Got Busy Filming But Had Little Success.
The summer of 2005, I picked up my very first camcorder ever, the Sony HDR-HC1, and started shooting whatever I could to gain experience. I started my first video production company, called RedCastle Productions and I shot weddings, event videos and short films with my friends while attending Weber State University. I named the business RedCastle Productions after my favorite fishing area in the Uinta Mountains.
That first year of learning how to make videos was downright horrible. I made some of the crappiest videos ever. My wedding videos were out of focus, shaky had terrible audio and were edited without any rhythm or purpose. My short films were static shots with play-like action happening in front of the camera. It took me over a year to self-teach how to use Adobe Premiere. Many times I wanted to give up, because of pressure from family and friends, as well as my own inexperience and lack of skill.
I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather do for a living then, and I still can’t think of anything else I would rather do now.
I married the sweetest, most amazing, and patient woman, August 23, 2006. Erin has helped me through many struggles. Having someone that champions you all along the way is the most important thing you need to help in pursuing entrepreneurship. Find that someone. It doesn’t matter if it is a spouse, a friend, the author of a self-help book, a neighbor or your dog; okay it can’t be your pet. Find someone who will stick up for you and encourage you to continue.
Spring of 2013 I graduated from the University of Utah in Film and Media Arts. I learned some valuable lessons while attending film school, but I don’t necessarily think film school is required to be a filmmaker. Honestly, I think that it would be more valuable for a filmmaker to get a degree in business or marketing to learn how to promote themselves and their art. Pick up a camera, and film, film, film. YouTube is also a great resource for tutorials and tips for production and post-production.
The Tipping Point
May of 2013 I incorporated RedCastle Productions, LLC as a partnership between myself and two of my best friends, Michael Corbett and Scott Stowers. We produced our most successful video to date, “One Decision.” It is about the dangers of leaving kids in cars. As of September 2015, it has over 17.5 million views on YouTube. We have translated it into Arabic and Hebrew. We have done interviews with “Good Things Utah,” local “Fox 13 News”, “ABC 4 Utah”, “Good Morning America,” and numerous news sites around the world from Germany to Australia.
Our success with “One Decision” has lead us to produce videos for Resqme, Inc of California, 1Decision of New York, and Parents For Window Blind Safety of Missouri. It has been an amazing roller coaster ride seeing our 100,000 views and 150 subscribers swell to over 20.7 million views and 12,600 subscribers. We have over 100 videos on our channel, many for great local businesses.
The struggle to keep RedCastle afloat financially was unrelentingly stressful on my business partners and I. With much sadness we had to break RedCastle up and go our separate ways. Thankfully things did not get ugly between us, although in many cases partnerships do end badly (Dave Ramsey has some great advice about partnerships).
If I could give any advice to someone looking at starting a business as a partnership, DON’T DO IT, unless you do your homework and use separate lawyers to organize the company properly. I read many articles on the web about how to start a partnership. I also read all of the reasons why it is a bad idea. I thought to myself, “I have been friends with these awesome guys for years. There is no way this can’t work out.” A year and a half later we were signing the divorce papers. We mutually decided that it was best to break up the partnership and to approach the business from a different angle. We are still great friends and there are no hard feelings between us.
In the spring of 2015, I changed the name of RedCastle Productions to RedCastle Media and hired my previous business partner, Michael Corbett as RedCastle’s creative director. Together we are working toward building up our YouTube channels and producing inspiring, uplifting and dramatic short films. We look forward to the day when we can bring our stories to the big screen. One day, maybe even taking a trip back to Bolivia, where the idea began, to produce a feature film about my mission experience.
RedCastle Media is stronger than ever and we are excited to take that next step toward our dreams.