Friday Feature: What’s Stopping You From Doing It Yourself? [Interview]

Indie Film Director and Editor Justin Connors Proves You Can Do It

If you can teach yourself Photoshop and Illustrator, you can pretty much learn any program.  -Justin Connors

It’s a simple as that, according to Connors.

Don’t think you can do it? Someone tell you can’t? Here’s some motivation for you to keep going.

 Full Sail University Film alumnus Justin Connors has trained himself into a beast, learning the entire Final Cut Studio software suite, Shake, After Effects, and Photoshop; and since 2010, he’s been creating the remarkable content produced by one of the nation’s premier entertainment media universities by doing what he taught himself to do: editing.

Full Sail’s in-house creative agency, Platinum Creative, shoots and edits all of the school’s events, guest lectures, concerts and promotional videos, and is also the creative force behind their award winning graphics and websites. If it needs to be seen or read by anyone, Platinum Creative does the branding.

As a Platinum Creative editor, Connors directed the unreleased footage of Tim Tebow’s campus appearance in promotion of Tebow's documentary Tim Tebow: Everything In Between, and was even on location in Aspen to capture and edit footage of the Winter 2012 Xgames on behalf of Full Sail. You can see all of his other work here.

Sound miraculous? It’s not.

Connors’ journey, like yours, started small – and one step at a time.

I held a phone interview with the super-busy Connors to get into his head and find out how he did it all.

The Interview

E.i. Geek: What programs have you taught yourself to use, and how long did it take for you to learn each?

J.C.: I started with Photoshop, and it was about two years before I was comfortable with it. I started editing with Windows Movie Maker [in high school], then learned iMovie. Once I started Full Sail and got the Macbook with Final Cut Pro, I started playing with it right away. I always wanted to edit and learn new things about it, and once you teach yourself Photoshop, you pretty much learn how the functions are [arranged] and where to find the keyboard shortcuts.

E.i. Geek: What did you use to learn the software?
J.C.: I used tutorials to learn Photoshop, and Video Copilot to learn how to use After Effects, but that’s pretty much it.

E.i. Geek: When did you first get into editing trailers?
J.C.: I saw videos online with cuts of video game scenes from Final Fantasy and stuff like that. I saw a video for Enya’s “Gravity of Love” and really like the way the video game footage looked and the way it cut so well with the music. I loved the idea that they were taking video games and songs that had nothing to do with each other and combining the elements to tell a whole new story.

So I started doing that myself. My first video like that was cutting Stevie B’s “Because I Love You” with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet in Windows Movie Maker.

A sample:

E.i. Geek: What kind of freelance projects do you work on now and how often?
J.C.: I’m always working on stuff. I’m currently working on a web series, a couple of music videos, and making my directorial debut with short film “Actress”. I’ll be directing another short film written and produced by Justin Leal [Rebel Rev. Industries, Inc.], and a Flash film. I’m never not doing stuff, because every time I do something new I learn from it.

E.i. Geek: How do you juggle your full-time job with your freelance work?
J.C.: I have just as much fun doing what I do as a career in addition to my freelance work. I’m 26, so right now my focus is just to work. As soon as I get off work at Full Sail, I go home and work on my own stuff.

E.i. Geek: Do you or would you be willing to offer tutorials based on what you know?
J.C.: It’s better to help someone in person than do tutorials for the more technical aspects of motion and things like that, because some of this stuff you have to feel for yourself, you know what I mean? With a tutorial, I’m not gonna know if the person on the other end of the screen actually gets it or not.

E.i. Geek: What do you think is your best project to date?
J.C.: Um, it’s kinda hard to say – I guess it’s whatever the latest project is because I always improve with each project, maybe the music video I’m currently working on, or maybe “Actress” once it’s completed. Since I’m always learning new things, I don’t really think I have a “best” project yet.

E.i. Geek: Talk a little about your blog – I’ve seen your links for it on Facebook. What’s its focus and what are you hoping to achieve with it?

J.C.: The blog’s attached to my portfolio website. I pretty much started it to convey the info I’ve learned so you can take what you learn from me and make it your own. For instance, I have an article on there discussing a camera that’s a less expensive than a Canon 5D but still effective in shooting video so filmmakers would only spend half as much money.  

E.i. Geek: When did you realize you wanted to be a director?
J.C.: I was curious about directing before I got to Full Sail. We had HandiCams, and I used to do in-camera edits, and shoot myself, since there was no one else to shoot. I’ve always thought cameras are fun, I always like cameras and being on camera. 

A huge influence for me was Michael Bay’s Bad Boys – that trademark epic slow motion circle shot around the guys. I saw that and said, ‘I want to learn how to do that shot.’ Good Will Hunting was another one, too – the scene where they’re talking about how much it cost to make a movie and all of that. And I thought, you know what? That’s true. If you want to make a movie, just make one. There’s no talking about it – you just go do it. I came to Full Sail wanting to direct, not necessarily knowing what directing is.

The one difference with directing and editing though is that with directing you have to be attached to a movie project in order to do it; with editing, you can always work on something.

What I love about directing is being able to direct talent to perform the way you want them to. As soon as you learn to pull a performance out of somebody, it’s like a drug.

E.i. Geek: What’s your advice for those who want to be self-taught like yourself? What kind of call to action would you leave us with?

J.C.: Repetition; and constantly try something new [with whatever you’re trying to master]. You have to train daily, or you’ll get left behind. If your goal is to be as good as the pros, then study the pros – observe the style of the people who made it and figure out what makes them successful. It’s watching, observing…it’s stealing.

E.i. Geek: You make an interesting point there, because even in my world of freelance writing and blogging, some of the pros say the same thing – you study and steal what the successful people are doing, and parlay those tactics for yourself, but make sure you put your own stamp on whatever you’re doing so it doesn’t look like a carbon copy of what they did.

J.C.: Exactly.

Your Takeaway

Passion and drive aren’t synonymous, but they’re interdependent. Without the drive to realize the passion, you’ll never reach the goal.

Yes, it will take time to get there. Connors has been at this for about a decade now, and while it may not take you that long to master your pursuit, it will take some time, but don’t let that reality stop you. Push on.

Self-taught business coach and My Personal MBA author Josh Kaufmann (who also spent a decade learning what he teaches in his international bestseller) mentioned in a recent interview on Corbett Barr’s Expert Enough Show that if you can pass the 20-30-hour frustration barrier that comes with learning anything, then you ultimately have the endurance to succeed – and you will.

If you’re stressed out, burned out, or wrestling self-doubt, let this article be a friendly reminder that your goals need you in order for them to be real. You need you.

Dust off and get back to becoming great.  

In two wise words: keep chewing

Image source: Used with permission.

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