As the co-founder and director of LEAPframe in Cincinnati, OH, Film Connection mentor Brandon Faris has more than a decade of professional film experience, first getting an education in audio production, then transitioning into film. Today, LEAPframe is a premiere production company handling everything from music videos and corporate videos to documentary projects and more. Brandon recently sat down with RRFC to talk about how he got his start in the business, why he decided to become a mentor, and the importance of making the most of every opportunity.
RRFC: How did you get started in the film business?
FC mentor Brandon Faris
Well I started off in audio and studied at Colombia College in Chicago. And right when I graduated, it was about 2002-ish… I’m sure as you guys know, the audio industry basically folded for about 10 years as they started to dig their way out of a hole and figure out how to make money streaming music. So in that time, I made a pivot. I moved back to Cincinnati, at the time me and my now-wife got married, and we were pregnant. And so at the time, I didn’t have a job, and we got a new computer and a video camera to capture our daughter’s birth, and voila, a filmmaker was born…. Eventually got on Current TV. At the time, they had user-created content, and I made a couple of videos and uploaded them, and they got the greenlight and so they went on air, and the next thing you know people from Current TV and San Francisco were calling me here in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati to cover some local stories, and [it] just went from there. I got on with a production company here in Cincinnati as an editor. And I’ve been doing this 10 years now. And I left that production company, and me and a partner of mine, Ryan, who’s a co-founder with me at LEAPframe, we left and started our thing called LEAPframe. And so we’ve been doing that now since 2013.
RRFC: Were you scared at all going through this process of pivoting?
No, at least for me, it was an exercise in what works. So anytime I did anything that had to do with video, it seemed to work, and people responded well…it seemed to come naturally, so I just kept doing it. And as I did it, opportunities just kept coming. That’s what I try to instill into my apprentices now in the program. You try to prepare them and get them ready, but the one thing I constantly tell them is, “Hey, work, work, work, work, work until an opportunity comes. And when that opportunity comes, you strike and you deliver and you show up and you hit a home run. And the more opportunities you get, then the home runs you hit and the more opportunities you get, and it turns into a cycle.”
RRFC: Luck is opportunity-meets-preparation.
Yeah, absolutely. If you’ve never been on set before, you can’t show up on set, so what’s the most important thing you could do? Find a way to get on set. And once you’ve been on set, now an opportunity pops up, somebody needs a PA. Well, [now] you can say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been on set. I’ve done these three gigs or whatever.” Maybe you worked for free or you volunteered to run coffee or whatever, but at least you’ve been on set. There’s that part of the biz. And then there’s the part of the education. People who have the education and have studied, they know what they’re doing, and they move forward.
I think what’s cool now in my perspective and now, having the opportunity to mentor is, I’m in a position to empower young people and young filmmakers who want to get into the game, and I can show them the ropes and say, “Hey, this is grip house. Here’s these guys you need to meet. Here’s the camera department. You need to meet these guys. Here’s some freelance PAs. You need to meet these guys. Here’s some producers.” I can show them the ropes.
RRFC: What kind of projects did you start doing early on?
Early on, it was all documentary-style stuff, and I think that’s a great place for any young filmmaker to start, because with documentary, you don’t need anything. You just need a camera and just go out and point it and shoot it, and find the story and capture the raw emotion…That cinéma vérité loose style is very, very good for a beginner, because once you get into live action and stuff that’s more scripted, you need lights and you need crew and actors.
RRFC: And where has your style moved now?
I’m always pushing towards trying to find the humanity in objects and in people and in the story. I think that comes from my documentary background but even in live action I’m always looking for that moment, whether it’s commercial or a short film, I’m looking for that moment that feels real, that feels authentic. I think when you capture that moment, when you find that moment, you know it because you’ve been there. It’s real and in real life, you’ve got to say, “Yeah, I’ve experienced that, so I know that was good because it’s real.”
RRFC: At what point did you decide that you wanted to be a mentor?
Brandon Faris and apprentice DeAndre Mays
[Film Connection] reached out to me, and at first, I was a little skeptical. I’m like, “Why are you guys reaching out to me? You guys are out in L.A. You’re hobnobbing with the stars or whatnot.” But then I looked more into it and saw the program, and saw the mentoring model and I’ve had mentors in my life—I know how effective they can be…Those are connections I still have today, and connections that heavily influenced me. And so after I [was] reading up on the program and seeing that it was heavily based on a mentoring relationship, that there was a solid foundation with the school out in L.A., that they had a curriculum and that they took the students through it and worked with them via long distance, but then leaned on local mentors to show them the ropes and throw them in the trenches, then it definitely made sense to me. It was like, “Wait a second, this is a college where the schooling is the apprenticeship.”
Now we’re on our second apprentice, and he’s great. His name is DeAndre [Mays], and he’s a cool kid, man. He’s got a full-time job, he’s super responsible, but you can tell that he wants it. He gets excited about the stuff. He’s starting to invest his own resources. He just bought the new Adobe, he just got a new laptop, and he’s super stoked every time he comes in to learn something new. And he says, “What are we doing today, guys? Where are we going? What are we shooting?” He does everything we ask of him.
RRFC: Awesome. Do you guys have any projects coming out?
Yeah, actually, we do. We’ve got a new music video dropping with Cincinnati-based rapper, Donnie Maserati,
and it’s called, “I’m so Cincinnati,” and it’s really cool…DeAndre worked on this as a production assistant… we take that idea of, “I’m so Cincinnati,” and show the whole city. And so we’ve got these great vignettes of all these different people in the city and representing their hustle, right?…It turned out really good. We had a nice rooftop scene at magic hour and all that stuff so that’s pretty cool.