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by Liya Swift
We recently connected with grad Zack Slippy, who, in just the past year, has gone from living a life that wasn’t fulfilling him creatively or professionally, to being someone who knows what he wants and is in the process of making it happen, day by day. Thanks to the “tough love” of mentor Jim Sommer, owner and manager of The Loft (Buffalo, NY) and our holistic Audio Engineering & Music Production program, Zack now has the skills, direction, and confidence he needs to build the career he was meant to have.
What led up to you enrolling in Recording Connection?
“Well, honestly, deep down I always wanted to do something with music. I just didn’t know what to do or what to start at…I was enrolled in a college around here. I went there and I just wasn’t feeling it [and thought] ‘This is not for me.’ They told me four years and then you get into a studio. I said, ‘Nope, no thank you. It’s not what makes me happy.’
Then I came home and applied for the Recording Connection. They called me the next day, and I was like, ‘Yep, let’s go.’ It’s been great, a great journey.”
What was your reaction the first time you walked into The Loft for your interview with Jim Somner, your future mentor?
“That first time when I first walked in, I looked at all this gear and was like, ‘Whoa, that’s some serious business. I’ve never seen anything like that.’ …But Jim was warm and I was like, ‘Okay, I could do this.’
A couple weeks ago, I walked into the studio and just looked around and I was like, ‘Wow, now I know what all this is. I can explain it, I can use it and not just be turning knobs and not know what I’m doing.’”
What’s Jim like as a mentor?
“Jim’s just taught me so much since then. It’s been like a year and I feel like I’ve been doing it for so much longer…He’s taught me a little bit about keys, like how to play, how to layer stuff and how to use synthesizers, because he’s got synthesizers and all this hooked up to speakers and he’s like, ‘This is what this sounds like. Do this, change the octaves. It sounds like that.’…
If I do something completely ridiculous, he looks at me and he’s like, ‘Zack, go recap and think about what you just said or think about what you just did.’
The patch bay took me so long, but in the end it’s just inputs and outputs. Jim just stuck with me and he wasn’t too hard, because if you’re too hard, you push people away. He was just like, ’Just sit there in this room and figure it out, and then I’ll come back in, and tell me how you did it and tell me why.’ And ever since then, just going home and studying has been great—tough love.”
So we hear you recently landed a side gig at the same place where you’re currently employed as a server. How’d that come about?
“I’m currently working at the Biggest Loser Resort. I’m a banquet server there. We had this group of 107 people who needed microphones. And mind you, everyone’s there and they’re like, ‘Zack, we know you go to school. We need you to go in there and figure this out.’ So I was like, ‘All right.’ So I go in there. Mind you, I’m a people person, but 100 people looking at you when you’re trying to figure something out, it was quite awkward…
I just kind of took a breath and I was like, ‘What would Jim do? And then I just did it.’ And my boss Kathy, she was like, ‘Yep, can you be the audio/video guy?’ And I’m like, ‘Of course.’ So I got that…I had to take a couple deep breaths but when I got out there, it was like, that was meant to be. That’s what I’m here for.”
Besides the connections you’re making at The Loft, you’re also actively meeting and collaborating with other artists. Tell us about that.
“I’ve kept on making beats and eventually I met some really nice people along the way that took me into their studios and let me meet some of their artists so we could see what it sounds like put together. I’m like, ‘Wow, it sounds really cool.’ Benny the Butcher who was recently signed with Eminem’s Shady Records a year or two ago, I do work with his cousins and all the friends that he was with before he got signed.”
What are your plans going forward?
“Right now I’m just working on building a roster of instrumentals because people can rap over it and sing over it… I have probably over 80 to 100 that are ready to go. With my beats, I want to get them in commercials. I can make a beat and watch a commercial and see that my beats would sound good in commercials. I want to be the guy that makes people say, ‘Wow, I used to know that kid. Now he’s making advertisements for Nike.’” Check out Zack’s work on SoundCloud as F3D-UP Productions. One track has more than 1 million plays!
Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot through Recording Connection?
“I don’t even feel like I’m the same person anymore. I can walk into a room, hear a bad sound system or bad feedback on a microphone, and I’m not even working. I’ll just be out to eat with my family and somebody talks into a microphone, and I’m like, ‘Whoa that sounds really bad.’ But I don’t think anybody else notices it. I hear different things. Now I can listen to different sounds and know like, ‘Oh they put reverb on that instrument or that voice.”
Has your family been supportive of you?
“My grandma and grandpa, Tina and Robert, are very supportive. Honestly, when I told them that I dropped out of college, like regular college and I wanted to do this, they looked at me like, ‘Hmm, okay.’ What are they supposed to say? But they have been so supportive. They always ask me, ‘Zack, what’s this like? Zack, how do you do this?’ And I’ll help them or teach them something or show them something I made, and they love listening to it. So they’ve been a great help.”
Learn more about Recording Connection’s programs and workshops in audio, music production, and more.
When Gabe Gottstein decided to deep dive into the world of making films, he’d already had a slew of experience working and excelling in nearly every job he had. From working as a chef in five star restaurants, to leading a construction crew, to working in corporate America, Gabe is all about bringing his A game and moving up the ranks quickly.
Now, he’s focusing his tremendous work ethic and drive on building a career in film in-tandem with holding down a management job and supporting his family. It’s definitely a challenge but it’s one that’s paying off fast as Gabe nabs grip and AD credits on a number of professional shoots and learns the ins-and-outs of filmmaking during his externship with award-winning Film Connection mentor writer/director/producer Sean McCarthy of Guerilla Wanderers (Bay Area, CA).
What led you to Film Connection in the first place?
“I picked up a screenplay I had been writing for like 17 years, just messing around with it, and realized that I needed to tell the story. It’s been 17 years in the making…I just needed to figure out how to put that on screen. So I needed to go to film school.”
Dropping everything so you could go to film school was not an option for you.
“Nope. I can’t just quit my job and walk away from my responsibilities. Film Connection, when I found it, really and truly was exactly what I was looking for, something that could work around my life schedule. And more importantly, it got me a connection and an ‘in’ with a mentorship program where I could learn hands-on.”
Going into Guerilla Wanderers to interview with your mentor Sean McCarthy. What was that like?
“We ended up talking for like four hours. We just completely hit it off…We just clicked. Literally we clicked…I saw this guy as someone who could teach me and had the energy to do it. I can’t explain it in words. It was just meant to be.”
You recently AD’d a difficult outdoor shoot. What can you tell us about that experience?
“It’s a short film trailer for Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose. We literally pitched it on a Monday, were in pre-production the whole week, and we were shooting Saturday morning. It was insane.
[The shoot] was truly, truly amazing. So I AD’d for four and a half days straight and then had to jump into the costume to get into the ‘demon monster’ part. And that only happened at the very last second…This amazing visual effects artist had me in the chair for two hours, in the dark while I was still radioing the crew, because I was still AD-ing, and she was putting all these prosthetics on me.”
You also worked on a super-secret shoot for a well-known maker of computers, gadgets, and electronic devices.
“Yeah, security was extremely tight… I PA’d my butt off, worked with this awesome Steadicam and cinematographers. We got some amazing stuff. That was a huge shoot, huge commercial shoot.”
You’ve got a list of other commercial projects you’ve worked on during your time in Film Connection.
“We did the San Francisco 49ers, Richard Sherman and a couple other 49ers…I key PA’d it. It was really cool working inside the locker room, meeting all the 49ers, working in a very professional environment. That was cool.
Another commercial shoot and I got to work with another DP and director from Seattle. They offered me a job after the shoot. They were like, ‘Yeah, you can work with us anytime.’ And I swing gripped [for them]. Then there were a couple independent movies that I was on where basically I was key PA, AD, swing grip, you name it. I’m starting to work with these people that have reels and real life experience and have worked on or in films I know, and I’m like, wow, this is so insane…
Then on “Doucheaholics” which is Guerrilla Wanderers’ comedy web series, I AD’d for season 2, episode 1…That was five straight days of me AD-ing and being the production coordinator. One of our key actors went out with a back injury the night before his main shoot…So five days, yeah, we didn’t stop for five days.”
In your time with Guerilla Wanderers you’ve been able to experience both the big studio way to do things and the guerrilla way of doing it.
“The ‘super-secret shoot,’ the 49ers shoot, it was all breaks, lunch, crafty…then you go guerrilla where you have to make it happen. So, that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on set. And being an AD with someone like Sean and someone like Christopher Soren Kelly and all these professionals that have been doing this for half their lives or more, attempting to keep up and make sure that I’m competent and ahead of the game, communicate with the proper nomenclature, lingo, that I speak the language. I mean, you can sniff out a hack or a fraud in like two seconds. I mean, it’s apparent. It’s transparent.”
What’s your advice for other Film Connection students on how they can make the most of the program?
“My advice is, if you’re not already in Film Connection, sign up and get into Film Connection. But you don’t have to quit your life…Put in the work, read the course material, submit the quizzes, use your own voice, speak like you would speak, write like you would write. You do you, and that will come across. There were so many times that either that day, or the next day, or the weekend after, [I was] putting to use everything I had learned on my online curriculum.
Film Connection teaches me what I need to know, how to go about it, how to communicate, and then I go to set, and boom! And if I hadn’t done it that way, there’s no way I’d be where I am right now. There’s no way I’d be AD-ing. Not a chance.”
Learn more about Film Connection’s programs and workshops in film.