How did you get to Bellingham? Are you local?
I am from Anacortes originally.
So not far from here. What brought you to the this area?
I came here for Western. That’s the only school I applied to. My mom was convinced I wasn’t going to get in—I did get in and gave her my acceptance letter for Christmas. [Laughs]
What did you study?
I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics. At Western they have this 3-in-1 major—it’s really more of a minor in all three. It’s great for your Undergrad. It’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades major. I jumped into that. Originally I came here because I had started a company with my brother. Bellingham and Anacortes are close enough to each other that I could continue to work with him and well as some other clients down in Anacortes. I was seventeen and he was just fourteen. Our business is a creative services firm. We do graphic design, web development, and video production. I wanted to get out of the house, go to school and at the same time be able to continue with the work that I had started at home.
About halfway through my sophomore year I realized I don’t have time for both the business and school. I started failing classes. I was either skipping classes for meetings or skipping meetings for classes. I said I love ’em both but there is only twenty-four hours in a day and I can only stay up for eighteen of those. So I decided to go with the business side of things and see how they roll. And it has been pretty successful so far. It’s been really fun.
And here we are now—sitting in the Bellingham office.
This is it.
Yeah originally I had a smaller office—the first studio that’s just down the hall. It was just big enough for a desk and my computer. It was maybe nine feet by nine feet, had no windows and whitewashed walls. I could have maybe decorated the room but I never did and started to get a little stir-crazy. Back in October I heard that this space was available to me and I pounced on the opportunity. I didn’t need the space but said it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Yeah, look at all this light!
I could grow a little garden out there if I wanted.
So I came into here and had this whole extra side of the room that I wasn’t using. I started thinking about how to add something interesting about Bellingham here. I thought about podcasting and music recording. Bellingham is full of articulate and ideological people so podcasting is a pretty good fit. There is also lots of musical talent in the area—acoustic primarily. So using this part of the room was really just a side project. We decided it would be really nice to keep our rates as low as possible. The goal wasn’t to make money off of it.
And you’re building a student-centered production in Bellingham? Where did that idea come from?
Anacortes High has a phenomenal film program there. The teacher—Jim Thompson—goes above and beyond in grant writing and gathering equipment. He started an afterschool program called Broadcast Club that my older sister, my younger brother, and I were all involved in during our years of high school. The club’s basis was to broadcast one sporting event per week and to stream it live online for an audience of about twenty to thirty people. Our work was primarily to learn the technical skill of using all the equipment but it also included excitement, and thrill, and stress of running for a broadcast for ninety minutes. Once you get a taste for that you can’t stop.
The program originally started just to broadcast sports but once we got enough viewers we eventually started selling ad space and using the money to buy better equipment. We had really nice equipment that a lot of other schools didn’t have access to. That perpetually fed the program. We’d get more equipment, then more students would be drawn, and then we would do more interesting things which attracted more small business ad accounts.
Every year in Seattle there is a national film festival called NFFTY—National Film Festival for Talented Youth. It’s the largest youth film festival in the world. When I was in high school it was for ages twenty-two and younger. Primarily it is all college grads who do a show their films from their film school thesis—big graduation films. I went for six years on field trips with my high school and four of those years either I, my brother or close friends had films in the festival. This year Anacortes High has two or three students with films in. It’s really exciting to see a high school competing on this international level. Not only in terms of creating filmmakers but also creating more independent young adults.
When I was in school I would sit in my accounting class and think about other business models—couldn’t keep my mind on accounting, I guess. I came up with a business model for a Broadcasting Club that would run between five different schools. There are five days in the school week. High school sports operate every day after school. There is always some sort of event going on and the club could use the same equipment for all five schools. I started pitching the idea to a few people and it was kind of scary to see how little effort it took to get that snowball rolling. It’s cruising and everyone is excited. Next year we will be working with Squalicum, Sehome, Bellingham, Burlington, and Ferndale. We have a five year plan in motion, so by the end of three years we should be working with thirteen schools.
Does this thing have a name yet?
NWCB—Northwest Community Broadcasting. It’s not limited to just sports. I look forward to finding other groups and organizations in town to work with to bring community content to Bellingham. All of our content would stream for free online and would also be archived online.
So how do you recruit volunteers for something like that?
I was hired to teach students about media literacy and the concept that what you learn in English class can be applied to film and all social media. I get to work hand in hand with teachers and set up an ASB club if they don’t already have one. Then every time a student works on one of the gigs that clubs gets a donation of twenty-five dollars. With nine or ten students per event that makes about $250 per event. At the end of the year close to $50,000 goes into those five schools for new sound equipment. They can do a lot with that.
What is a day in your life look like? How do you balance the different industries and projects? Do you compartmentalize and say today is going to be a podcast day—tomorrow is going to be a creative services day, and the next is going to be a broadcasting day?
I should start compartmentalizing. But really I just make a checklist every morning of things that I need to get done that day and at the end of the day I make sure those things are done. If they are not then they are at the top of my checklist for the next day. I have been diving into keeping a calendar and making deadlines.
Is this a one man operation now? Where is your brother?
My brother is graduating high school right now. If you think I’m busy, you should see his life! He is actually in development now on a project that has a lot of potential and we are really excited about. I am not quite at liberty to say what it is right now though.
Imagine doing all this work and then you still have to go to school for seven hours a day. And both of our parents are teachers so it’s not quite like a normal senior year. He has my dad for Physics. [Laughs]
What’s your favorite spot to hang out in Bellingham?
I really do like Uisce’s right behind us here. As well as the Pickford. It really is a dangerous combination to having the Pickford, Uisce’s, Daisy Cafe, the Teryaki Bar so close together. Everything is in Downtown. If I can get out of town I do like to explore the wilderness. Last summer I had big dreams and aspirations to do that, but I have coined last summer as the summer lost.
A year ago now my brother said, “You know what? I got like eight hours of sleep last night. I have too much free time. Let’s start a film festival.”
Without telling me he made a website for it, opened it up for submissions, and sixteen hours later he says, “Luke we are hosting a film festival. Our goal is to have 100 to 200 submissions. We’ll narrow it down to 10 or 15 submissions that we show in an evening just to get our names out there in Anacortes.”
Within forty-eight hours we had around 300 submissions and we said this is dangerous. So by the time we closed submissions in June we had 3,661 submissions from 108 different countries. It tooks four and a half months to sort through them all. What was supposed to be a one hour evening turned into a full weekend with two concerts. So I spent all of last summer working on this film festival and not getting out like I wanted to. So this summer, I hope to explore a little more.
The question is: are you doing a film festival this summer?
We are indeed. This one will be in Bellingham as well. Right now we are deciding whether we want to do simultaneous festivals in Bellingham and Anacortes or just a festival in Bellingham. My connections with the Pickford make things a lot easier this time around. Actually we just finalized last week that we will be screening fifteen of the selects from last years film festival. Those will show on May 19th here at the Pickford and the money from that will go to the Pickford’s education fund.
What advice would you give to a high school kid who has thought about film but doesn’t know where to start?
I would say you just gotta go for it and have fun with it. The first film I ever made was in sixth grade. It was a lego stop animation. I used my parents digital camera which only took thirty or forty pictures at a time. When you make a stop animation you need about eighteen pictures per second. So it could only film two and a half seconds at a time so it took me a full weekend to make a three minute film. I had a blast doing it though. If you are not having fun with it then find a different form of media. And keep watching others films to figure out what it is you like about them. Is it just the story or is it the visual as well?
Is there a business or organization in Bellingham that the world needs to know about? What is the best kept secret?
The Pickford is not really a secret but it is very well kept. It is one of the best independent film organizations I have ever seen. They are one of the largest nonprofits in Bellingham—three times bigger than the Chamber of Commerce. The way the arts are appreciated in Bellingham is really exciting. Also the art studios here are really fun to check out. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership is going to release a story on these before the next artwalk. Over thirty venues, including offices in this building open up for the walk.