This June will mark the 40th anniversary of my first professional video production job. It was with the PBS station at Arizona State University. It offered a great opportunity to learn about every phase of video production. I started as a studio manager, and then evolved into a producer and director. I even did a stint on-camera and learned that I was meant to be behind the scenes. But I did gain a ton of knowledge about production from some of the most knowledgable people around. Granted, TV was changing fast, but we still were in the era of local programming, so I got to work on everything from live concerts, documentaries, and even broadcasting live open-heart surgery. I did every job possible on equipment that is now museum-worthy. Aside from the technical knowledge I gained there, I was learning how to tell a story.
Next, I landed a job producing PM Magazine in Salt Lake City. PM Magazine (and Evening Magazine) was a nationally syndicated daily show that featured a combination of local and national programming. This was a turning point for me because I was managing a dozen people and deciding which stories to produce and air every night. Producers would bring story ideas to me and we would work together to craft them into something that would capture an audience.
It was a fun group of people and we had plenty of adventures. My next stop on the career ladder was to Baltimore, where I was hired to produce their nightly Evening Magazine program. This was a step up in both market size and responsibility, but I found the job stifiling. I succeeded in bringing the ratings up, for which Group W (Westinghouse) Broadcasting was grateful, but was then promoted to executive producer for all local programming just as the broadcast world was in turmoil. Locally generated content was disappearing. The shows that I was in charge of got cancelled in favor of cheaper syndicated shows. I got bored with my diminished responsibilities and eventually left. I was quickly offered a job to produce another Evening Magazine program in San Francisco… KPIX, the flagship station that originated the concept. I couldn’t resist the challenge of producing the top Evening/PM Magazine show in the nation, so we moved to California. But it didn’t last long. Times were changing and it eventually reached up to touch large markets like San Francisco, where local programming was on its last legs.
I longed to start my own production company and be self-employed. I wanted more control over my future. So, in 1992, we relocated to the Washington, DC area and I launched Canyon Productions. My first project was a documentary on Western author and environmental hero Edward Abbey. That took a year and was met with wonderful acclaim in film festivals and broadcast television worldwide. It’s still for sale today, both on DVD and on Amazon Streaming almost 25 years later. This was the equivalent of getting a master’s degree in independent film production, marketing, and distribution. While marketing and selling the film, I continued taking freelance and contract assignments with a huge variety of clients. I even landed a Top Secret clearance and worked on videos for the CIA. I worked on several other documentaries over the years, always trying to stay involved in long form television. During this time, the tools of video production were changing. Editing was now done on a computer, cameras shot high definition digital video, and the price of equipment continued to fall. My work steadily improved and I became a resource for other young filmmakers by teaching at the college level and by mentoring young professionals.
In 2011, when our last child had gone to college, we moved back to Utah. It was wonderful to be back in the mountain west, minus the traffic and trauma of living in DC. I started a new production company, Highway 89 Media… named for the famous highway nearby. I wasn’t expecting to be as busy as I had been in DC, but I was wrong. I quickly found new clients and pursued new projects. Production was still improving, cinematic techniques were evolving, and I evolved with them. I learned about web distribution and marketing. I adjusted to the new economy of filmmaking. I continued working with talented people across the industry. All of this change kept me young. But my filmmaking skills, while different than they were 40 years ago, have stayed ahead of the curve. The reason is that stories are universal. A good story will always be a good story. The style and method of telling visual stories may change. Equipment and techniques may continue to evolve. Distribution will constantly be reinvented. But humans will always be drawn in by a well-told story. It’s what matters. The bottom line. Creating something that connects with people. And that’s why after forty years, my love for creating and telling stories is as strong as ever.