Hollis Cameron graduated from Entertainment Business Management last February. By November, he was setting up Succinct Productions in San Diego, alongside Paul Shockley and fellow EBM grad Eduardo Carvalho.
And that collaboration has already led to the creation of the first video documenting a breakthrough by the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, in collaboration with Harvard University’s Zhigang He – a medical milestone that could change the way we approach paralysis from spinal cord injury. Hollis served as producer on the video, which now becomes a crucial tool for the RIRC to communicate the meaning and scope of the breakthrough.
We caught up with Hollis to find out more about the new production company, his own personal connection to the RIRC breakthrough, and the challenges a producer faces on a project like this.
Can you tell us how the PTEN Breakthrough video project came about and what your role was?
Hollis: We had finished a production for a non-profit that helps people with spinal cord injuries called Challenge Center [see the video here] and then had moved on to another project for a local street fair, La Jolla Art and Wine Festival [video].
I received a call from Micah Retz, who was referred to us by the founder of the Challenge Center. He was looking to hold a fundraiser for the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, whose mandate is to find a treatment or cure for paralysis from spinal cord injury. Paul and I immediately wanted to explore the science and show that we could create something entertaining like what you would see on Science or Discovery Channel.
As the producer, I had to convince a number of different organizations involved that we would be worth the small investment. Once we had the green light, we began researching RIRC and learned that we were actually getting involved right after a history-changing breakthrough.
We were invited to a presentation, and there was a moment during the PowerPoint where everyone was simply baffled. They turned to me, and then Melanie, one of the primary fundraisers and organizers says, “Thank God you’re here, because I don’t understand a word of that.”
So our job was clear: we had to make something very complex very simple.
My role was to act as producer. I had to establish our points of contact with RIRC and coordinate all production, from who to interview to what music to use. Luckily, Paul is a brilliant storyteller and cinematographer, and Eduardo is an exceptionally talented graphic designer. So I knew we had a strong team and with hard work could really do a great job with the content.
What does it mean for you to work on a project like this one? You have a personal connection to this kind of research, don’t you?
Hollis: I had a spinal cord injury 8 years ago, and have experienced firsthand how hard that life can be. So for me to find myself organizing interviews where I could sit down and talk to people who have dedicated their lives to curing paralysis and ask them anything I wanted was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I hope this helps them raise millions.
Can you talk us through some of the challenges of producing something like this?
Hollis: The main challenge here was time. From the moment I got off of the phone with a green light, we had 21 days to complete the production before it was going to be shown at a fundraiser.
When taking a project from start to finish, there are a lot of things to do, and each of them needs to be done well. The most challenging was simplifying the science and finding a compelling story to tell. We had to grope somewhat blindly while holding interviews to find our story. We knew there was a breakthrough, but how did that happen? What made it possible? What can it accomplish? Who will it help? It took us a week to find our story.
This is an example of the pace we had to move at. We realized we needed to interview a researcher at Harvard University to tell the story properly. So, while driving to LA, I made the case to our exec producer to expand the budget to allow Paul to fly to Boston to get the interview. He agreed it was important. We confirmed a day and booked the flight and accommodations. Paul had the brutal task of flying to Boston three days before Christmas, picking up rented equipment, doing lighting, sound, filming, and interviewing all by himself! Meanwhile, I was working on the edit and securing our music. Paul flew back, arriving in San Diego at 11pm.
We had our last and most important interview scheduled for 10 the next day. The camera and lenses were stuck in Atlanta. I jumped on the phone to get an identical rig ready. Luckily it came together and we picked it up in the morning and got the interview.
We live in San Diego, an hour’s drive from RIRC, which is on the very south side of LA. On Thursday, we drove up in the morning and filmed rats in the labs and had an interview cancel on us. I had set up an interview for Friday at 10am at University of California San Diego with Dr. Binhai, but didn’t have a shooting permit and needed one. We finished filming the rats at 3pm and I had a dinner to go to in Malibu. I hopped in the car, heading north, and got the UCSD media relations on the phone and was convincing them to let us film there without insurance while I was sitting in traffic watching my car heat up.
While on the phone, my car overheats on the 405 and I manage to pull over. I finalize the deal points with her right before a tow truck comes to check on me. I got it running again, then sat in LA traffic for three hours up to Malibu. After dinner, I drove the two hours back home. At 2am, I sign and print the deal memo and permit request forms she sent over and send them back. The next morning, UCSD approved my request and emailed me the permit 10 minutes before I had to leave the house to do the interview. And that was basically the pace for three weeks.
Wow. So, moving forward, what’s the plan for the production company?
Hollis: We are finding lots of work but the problem is we’re so busy with productions we haven’t had a minute to put together a decent business plan. That needs to happen in the very near future, in order to streamline our workflow and raise some capital. We have targeted some unique opportunities in our market.
Our general strategy as a company is to handle commercial, non-profit, web, and documentary productions to create some positive cash flow while developing TV shows, cartoons, and properties that have the ability to yield longer term revenue. We have an action-adventure cartoon show ready for production with a detailed animation bible and example episode. We have a second animated show almost completed and have a treatment for a live-action travel show. We also have two treatments for documentaries ready to go as well. In short, we just need to continue to develop shows and continue to study and practice to be better at what we do, and continue to pitch regularly. It’s a long road, and eventually something will catch.
But what’s next for Succinct Productions? Hollis tells us they’re collaborating with another production company on a short film executive produced by West Coast rapper Glasses Malone. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can see more of their work at succinctproductions.com.