Aaron Chewning talks about life as a freelance creative, Atlanta's comedy scene, and the advice that helped break his inhibitions.
Many twentysomethings are identifying with the title of a “creative.” The popularity and acknowledgement of the “creative” label in the professional world has opened up a whole new realm of possibility for those with passions and talents that seem just a bit too eclectic for a traditional job title.
Aaron Chewning is a freelance creative. He is orchestrating his skills in comedy, production, music, and writing into a collective career that breaks through the neatly stacked boxes of conventional occupations.
We connected with (sorta stalked down) Aaron at the recent Hive Gathering in Atlanta and discussed his unique career path.
Aaron, you are involved in several different areas of production and media – from freelance video production, to stand-up comedy, to a family wedding photography business. How do all of these fit together for you? How did you end up doing all of them at once?
When I began freelancing after college, I combined a few different revenue streams to make a living/not die. I joined forces with my sister to shoot weddings under the banner Achor & Eden, I created videos of all shapes and sizes, and I wrote music for several clients. After four years of freelancing, I’ve narrowed things down a bit… but not much. Comedy was always the ulitmate goal and I’m very thankful that a large majority of what I’m doing now is comedy/entertainment based. I still shoot with Achor & Eden and write music when a project calls for it, but comedic media is my primary work.
When did you first know you wanted to get involved in comedic media?
Lazy Sunday, SNL’s first digital short by Andy Samberg + team, came out when I was a junior in high school. No more than a week later, I made a funny music video (attempting to be funny at least) for the weekly chapel at my high school. My school gave me constant opportunities to host events, create videos, and really create a space for myself. I’d always loved making people laugh but it really wasn’t until then that I began putting comedy and video work together.
How did your very specific education at a niche post-secondary institution influence and benefit you?
I think Full Sail was a great fit for me. It’s a very hands on school that let me really dive in to all aspects of filmmaking. I see the fruit of that every shoot I’m on when I communicate with everyone regarding their specific role – be it the actors, cinematographer, grips, or producers. A lot of film schools that are more theory based wouldn’t have given me that ability. Also, getting a bachelors in 21 months wasn’t terrible either.
Do you find that your age (being a twentysomething) helps or hinders you in this industry?
My age hasn’t had much of an effect on my work. When it comes to getting video jobs, clients want to see things you’ve created in the past, not resumes. It’s not about where you went to school or your experience as much as it is about product you can produce.
Your first Atlanta Braves video had great success and launched a partnership with the baseball team. Tell about how the idea came about and the process of the video going viral.
I saw a few music videos about sports teams that were poorly done (and cheeeeeesy), yet still had a decent amount of views. I knew if we created something quality, Braves fans would be ready to watch and share it. I emailed about 100 people the night before we released the video detailing my plan of attack. I asked them to watch the video and link to it via their social networks at 10 AM. The idea was to create a foundation for virality and for the most part, it worked. The Braves front office called a couple hours after the video went live. They adopted it into their pre-game show rotation at Turner Field for the early part of the 2013 season. From there we built a relationship and I’ve had the opportunity to do a few music videos for them, as well as an interview series.
What is the Atlanta comedy scene like?
The University of Colorado-Boulder recently put together a scientific analysis to find out what America’s funniest cities were. Atlanta ranked 3rd behind Chicago and Boston. That study is actually a lot more credible than it seems (it seems like a bunch of made up garbage, I know). They factored in the number of comedy clubs per square mile and traveling comedians’ rating of a city’s audiences, among other factors. All that to say, Atlanta’s comedy scene is solid. We have some great, established clubs (Punchline, Laughing Skull) and a growing network of small bars and clubs that offer open mic nights. Atlanta has an exciting new class of comics waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to see the ridiculousness that we create.
Where do you believe comedy is headed in the near future – in Atlanta and the U.S.?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before… YouTube. Even the current cast of Saturday Night Live features a whole litter of cast members and writers that were plucked from the YouTube popular page. As easy as it is to get noticed, it’s also now easier to get lost in the sea of half-hearded comedic nonsense. Twitter and the other social media networks have been a great new way for comedic voices to be heard. I think recognizing opportunities to get content out there will be immensely important as people try to make a living in comedy.
What are your comedic influences – personalities, shows, etc?
Goodness. There are so many. I grew up watching SNL and I still watch it; both old and new episodes. I think people like Chris Farley, Dana Carvey, Bill Murray, Jon Lovitz, Fred Armisen, and Kristin Wiig, as well as many others, have had a big influence on me. The Lonely Island have had a big impact as well; not just because of their comedy but because of their route to success. They were pioneers of viral YouTube comedy and managed to turn that into brilliant careers.
Can you tell us about any current exciting projects you are working on?
I have a couple projects coming up that I’m really looking forward to. I’ll be getting the word out there about them soon, but for now, mum’s the word.
If you had a big group of your peers (twentysomethings) in a room, what is one piece of advice you would give to them?
It took me a long time to think any of my ideas were worth pursuing, or even sharing for that matter. In my mind, my ordinary, off-beige ideas paled in comparison to these ground-breaking projects I was seeing other people put out. It wasn’t until I began freelancing and had a client give me glowing feedback on a project that I thought was just OK, that things changed. I remember hearing someone speak on this idea early on in my career, and it shifted my entire creative process. It’s the thought that everyone’s ideas might seem obvious to them, but could be extraordinary to someone else. I once saw an interview with the Beatles where they talked about how some of the songs they thought were their worst, became their most popular. We’ve got to be ballsy enough to to put it out there, and let everyone else judge it. You can’t let yourself be the wall standing between you and doing big things.
Photo credit: Andy Brophy
Freelance Creative • 24 • Atlanta, GA
One of the many beauties of being in your twenties is the surplus of margin that exists in this particular decade. Whether you realize it or not, this decade holds extra room for risk taking, adventure and a little craziness. It’s by no means the only time for adventure in your life. But it’s the perfect time to start setting the tone and building the habits for a life well lived by embracing the challenges, tapping into your creativity and trying new things.
Twentysomething Carrie Jo’s journey to becoming a successful full-time wedding and lifestyle photographer has been filled with challenge and adventure.
As a business major in college, Carrie Jo was set on a career in finance. However, her career plans turned upside down when she and some of her college friends decided to produce an album. During the project, Carrie Jo worked to design the album cover. She learned Photoshop and InDesign, and also discovered she loved taking photos. Others noticed she was good at it and encouraged her to pursue it further.
“I started getting asked to do little shoots here and there, then I was asked to do engagement pictures, then weddings,” Carrie Jo said.
Not quite sure if she should move forward with her photography full-time, Carrie Jo searched for an opportunity to shadow a full-time photographer in order to gain some insight.
“I was willing to do whatever it took to learn from another photographer. Even if it just meant carrying their equipment and bringing them coffee on shoots,” Carrie Jo said. “It was difficult though to find someone willing to let me shadow them. I found out that a lot of people in the industry are very protective over their work. They didn’t want to teach me their secrets, so I could just go off and become their competitor.”
Though the job shadowing idea had only come up with dead ends, Carrie Jo decided to press forward and agreed to shoot her first wedding. Facebook was just up and coming, so after the wedding she decided to make a Facebook album for the bride to view a sneak peek of her photos. The response from her social media friends and friends of friends was phenomenal.
“The rest is history,” Carrie Jo said.
Carrie Jo has since built her business through social media. Immediately after every wedding, she edits through the night, puts a small album up on Facebook, tags as many people in the bridal party as she can and word spreads like wildfire through those tags. She has gained many new clients this way.
After graduating, Carrie Jo lived out of her car and on friends’ couches for a year while building her photography business. With a minimum budget and constant travel on the weekends, it was hard to justify signing a lease. Although she loved the freedom, she began to ache for community once again, akin to what she experienced in college. She knew she needed to find a home base.
She chose to move Knoxville, TN, where she still resides today. Though she still travels a majority of her weekends, she is intentional about staying connected to her community in the city, even if it’s just through a phone call or two while she is away.
Carrie Jo is now 27 and continues to embrace the challenges and adventure surrounding her career and season of life.
While some get burned out from working heavily in the wedding industry, which can typically be expensive and self-centered, Carrie Jo instead got creative to bring some balance. She developed a plan to donate 10% of the funds from each wedding shoot towards building wells in developing countries around the world. Since she launched Weddings + Water 5 years ago, 20,000 people have received clean water through this initiative.
When asked what advice she would give to her twentysomething peers, Carrie Jo proved she didn’t throw away all she learned in business school and her days preparing to be a financial planner.
“It’s important to be wise about finances, so you can be financially free,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter how much you’re investing, it’s about the amount of time the money accumulates interest in a savings account or mutual fund. “
She encourages twentysomethings to take the time to learn about money now, so they can walk into their futures with the right tools for long-term success no matter their career choice.
To view more Carrie Jo’s incredible photos, visit her blog: texturephotoblog.com
Wedding and Lifestyle Photographer • 27 • Knoxville, TN
Erin has been around photography her entire life. Growing up, it was all around her. Her father was a photographer, and taught her the art and love of the craft early on. In college, she veered slightly away from photography with a major in marketing, where she maintained some form of creativity. But during her senior year, she started dabbling in photography on a more serious level.
As an equestrian, Erin combined her love for the sport with her old-time passion and started photographing her friends and equestrian teammates with their horses. She loved it so much that when she graduated, she began shooting weddings and engagement photos, in addition to maintaining her 9 to 5 job in marketing.
Although Erin has had great success as a full-time photographer and a full-time marketing specialist, her heart was with the horses. Nothing energized her more than interacting with and shooting horses and their riders. With all the time and effort that goes into post-production, she didn’t want to spend her limited time on subjects her heart wasn’t invested in.
Erin began to turn to dream ideas for shoots, from a carousel horse to an Alice in Wonderland tea party. These stylized shoots, though purely for fun and unpaid, confirmed that if Erin could do any type of photography, it would be with horses.
Erin received the perfect opportunity to blend her love for horses, photography, and stylized shoots when Style My Ride— style blog for equestrians—asked her to fill in for one of their regular photographers on a shoot. Style My Ride features glamorous editorial photos showing off current trends in equestrian wear. They loved her work, and asked her to come back a handful of times.
Now, Erin has transitioned to mostly shooting portraits of riders with their horses. She’s even been able to do some weddings with horses involved.
“You don’t have to have it all figured out,” Erin shared with a smile. But her experience shows that, with persistence and determination, you can get do what you love most.
Hollywood appeals to all of us. Whether you’ve dreamt of being in front of or behind the camera, there is an allure to the movies that is undeniable. However, many twentysomethings only dream of one day being involved in the film industry. Few actually act on it, and even fewer are actually successful.
But Caroline, 22, is a shining example of a twentysomething who has made her dreams come true. “Experience is really how much time it takes you to do something,” she contemplated, in reference to her whirlwind of a year almost single-handedly filming the feature film, A Larger Life, set to release at festivals hopefully sometime in 2014.
A year and a half year ago, Caroline was based in Los Angeles, editing hundreds of hours of audition footage for the Real Housewives of Orange County. Her life-changing moment occurred when she got a call from a family friend about a project he’d been telling her about for years. The project was a semi-autobiographical film about a small town lawyer and how his choices have made an impact on the different generations in his town.
Caroline said yes, and flew to the small of town, Cedartown, Georgia, to what she initially thought would be a few months of production. When she arrived, they started filming immediately to make the most of her time, despite the practically non-existent pre-production.
Working through these setbacks, with a crew of only ten people, Caroline gained a wealth of experience in only a short amount of time. She wore many hats: cinematographer, story editor, producer, lighting master, and post-production editor. But primarily, she gained invaluable experience as a Director of Photography, her dream job.
Caroline started this process alone, thinking she could just do all the editing, but soon realized the need for team. “You really can’t do it alone,” she stated. Taking on many roles during the production process gave her experience she could never receive elsewhere, but she also learned the value of relying on others.
When it comes to new projects, Caroline and a producer friend are looking at buying the rights to one of their favorite books and turning it into another feature film. This time, though, Caroline will have more of a role on the front end, with the story and creative development, but of course she would love to have a chance at Director of Photography again, and eventually move on to doing more large scale projects in that role.
At the end of this year, a much longer one than anticipated, Caroline is glad that it took as long as it did. “It just goes to show that a nearly impossible project can actually be done, even if it’s a mess in the beginning and most of the way through– just give it time,” she reflected. And most importantly, she is well on her way to a successful career as a Director of Photography – something most of us can only dream of.