Film Connection mentor Zac Adams puts Externs in the Driver’s Seat
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Give longtime Film Connection mentor Zac Adams a call and chances are, he’s right in the middle of shooting, editing, or producing a project, or multiple projects. As the owner of the Emmy-winning Nashville-based production company, Skydive Films, Zac’s an expert at taking those who train with him under his wing and teaching them in a direct, hands-on manner. We recently reached out to Zac, who pulled over on the side of the road to give us the update on his current extern Aaron Weitlauf and share just a bit of his hard-earned wisdom.
You sound super busy. What are you and your student extern Aaron Weitlauf working on now?
“We just got out of location scouting. Tomorrow we’re doing a commercial meeting with Monell’s. We’re also gearing up to do an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) with a brand new country artist named Jamie Floyd who was recently a finalist on the USA Network show called Real Country with judges Travis Tritt, Jake Owen, and Shania Twain. It’s kind of like American Idol but for country music… Jamie was nominated for a Grammy two years ago.
Back in November, Skydive Films and some other student externs, did a music video of Jamie. Now, Aaron is going to be directing the EPK for Jamie Floyd, the commercial shoot for the restaurant chain, and his own short film.
How did you know Aaron was ready to direct professional projects?
“By now, he’s been on tons of shoots and he’s very reliable, he’s a go-getter. He’s got a lot of talent and he seems to have a clear vision. Even on set, when he wasn’t directing he’d have ideas. When we edit on projects together he has specific ideas to make the edit flow better and those are signs of a good director. I’ve been with him for about six months and I think he’s ready to step it up and do some of the above the line work like producing, screenwriting, directing, working on editing and he’s been shooting some more…
He’s always wanted to make his own films. He has several ideas for short films and feature films so I think he’s going in that direction for cinematography, directing, producing. So yeah, I just thought that he was ready. I’ve been watching him on set. [He’s] very reliable, and I think now’s the time because he wasn’t ready 4 months ago but he’s ready now.
What are the signs of a good director? What tells you, as a pro, that someone has the right stuff?
“I’m looking for someone with a clear vision. Someone who knows what they want. Someone that’s prepared…Knowing what you want, specifically, having a very clear and thorough vision of the project. And you have to have great communication skills, not only with your cast but with your crew, with your cinematographer, with your editor, with your colorist, sound designer, everybody.”
There’s a whole lot more to directing and producing films than many newcomers realize.
“What I always try to teach my externs is the importance of being prepared. Not going on-set and saying ‘Oh we didn’t location scout. This house looks a lot bigger…or I didn’t know we’re right next to the airport.’ That’s why we went out today to location scout…We have a lot of pre-production to do. And we have to have a list of questions for the artist. We have to know our camera angles, how many cameras we’re going to use, who’s going to be our crew, what time are we filming, what time are we setting up, what time are we going to wrap, what are we going to feed the crew, how many locations do we have. It takes time to do it right. That way you save a lot of time because you’re not having to reshoot everything and time is money.”
Your former extern Ryan Davis, who graduated in May 2018, has gone on to work numerous projects.
“One thing I tell my externs is you better know at least fifty to a hundred filmmakers. If I’m the only filmmaker you know, you’re in trouble because I can’t hire everybody. You have to know a lot of people. So I put them on other people’s sets as well and if these filmmaking friends of mine like them, they hire them and pay them. So Ryan’s been getting paid gigs from me, from friends of mine because he was always so good, he went above and beyond. You send him a text, he responds right back. You tell him call time is at 7am, he’s there at 6:30. It’s things like that that will get you hired.
Garic Griffin (another Film Connection grad) is also doing really well…A friend of mine, Sergio, got funding to edit this feature length wrestling documentary. It was shot in Oklahoma and now they’re having to go back to do some more shooting in Oklahoma. Garic’s got paid work helping Sergio shoot and edit. And I’ve been hiring Garic to do some editing too. I’ve got about 3 or 4 editors that I hire but if we get too much work, I always go to Garic and I pay him.”
What can Film Connection students do to make the most of their time in the program?
“Not only working on my stuff but meeting other filmmakers and making their own projects. The students I teach, work on my stuff, my friends’ stuff, but also their own stuff. I give them extra assignments and we work on those together…For instance, Aaron’s doing his own 3-5 minute documentary that he’s already shot, so we’re going to be editing that. It’s about this vape craze that’s been going on the past 3-4 years, he’s got some interesting angles on that…
That way they have stuff on their reel, not just a good résumé. If they want to be a cinematographer, editor, producer, director, they don’t just have a piece of paper of stuff they’ve worked on… Film is a visual medium, so show them a visual representation—a reel, something they can demo to other people so they can get other jobs.”
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