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
Is your dream practical?
prac·ti·cal / ˈprak-ti-kəl /
: relating to what is real rather than to what is possible or imagined
: likely to succeed and reasonable to do or use
: appropriate or suited for actual use
Let me ask again, is your dream practical?
Probably not. If it were practical, by definition, it wouldn’t be a dream. It would be doable.
Yet, some people do end up fulfilling their dreams. What’s different about those people and their dreams? The difference is those crazy few choose to redefine the power that practical has in their lives. They decide to loosen the grip of guarantee that threatens to choke the life from their futures. They come to the conclusion that though following along the expected path gives a sense of security it will never produce strength.
Twentysomething author, Leah, was creating stories before she could even actually write. Her very first documented story was written in the third grade, and she’s been writing her stories ever since.
Once in college Leah switched her major right before her junior year to Early Childhood Education because “it was practical.”
“I really chose to do teaching out of fear,” she said. ” I was so focused on needing to have a job, so I stuck it out even though I hated it.”
After graduation, Leah married her high school sweetheart, Zach, and began teaching at a private elementary school because they needed the money as newlyweds. After a full day of teaching, Leah would come home and write her own stories all evening, essentially working two full-time jobs. At the same time, she also started freelance writing for various clients as well as editing for the popular lifestyle blog MaieDae. In addition to her full plate of writing and teaching, Leah began her martial arts training in Hapkido and Taekowndo, in which she is now a black belt and blue belt, respectively.
“I really loved working with kids, but I couldn’t do the drama and the politics that came with the job. It just became so soul killing,” she said. “I realized that teaching is not just a job, but a calling. It wasn’t my calling.”
Recognizing his wife’s passion for writing was only continuing to grow, Zach encouraged Leah to stop teaching and to find a way make writing her profession. After two years of teaching, Leah took a leap of faith and resigned from her job to pursue writing full-time. Though it was a financial risk, Leah walked into the unpredictable world of freelance and self-publishing confident that she was making the right decision.
That was a year ago. She has since self-published two books in a trilogy as well as a novella.
“Self-publishing has let me learn the process at my own pace,” Leah explained. “Plus, it’s more cost effective.”
With traditional publishing, you have to pay people like agents, editors, and graphic designers. By publishing her books independently, Leah filled all those roles herself while learning the ropes. She is currently working on two new novels that are set to be released by the end of this year.
Leah also formed her own LLC and her freelance career is growing. She is the “Administrative Maven” behind MaieDae as their chief editor and business administrator. She is also writing for various blogs, including her own blog.
Leah’s first love will always be her stories. She is energized by developing her characters and plots. She says she ends up putting a bit of herself in each of her characters.
Leah’s advice to other twentysomethings is “Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Photo Credit: Savannah Wallace
Travis & Stephanie
Find someone who will make you laugh – the age old (well, at least older than us twentysomethings) relationship advice given by every one and their mothers.
Twentysomething couple Stephanie and Travis took that advice when they met each other, and now they’re turning their comedic talents into careers. It all started when the couple, both grads of the University of Georgia, was looking for a fun creative outlet aside from their real jobs. They began taking classes at Automatic Improv together, and loved it so much that when they ran out of classes to take, they formed an improv troupe of their own named Church Socks.
Church Socks is comprised of other local comedians they met while taking classes and now meets once a week for a couple of hours with a coach. The troupe has moved from short games and workshops to longer, more technical scenes and gigs once a month. While improv is what brought out the couple’s love for comedy, they realized quickly that they each enjoy different aspects of the industry. Stephanie thrives most in writing sketches for film and online media while Travis enjoys creating and performing stand up routines.
Stephanie currently works in film production. Since before graduating college with degrees in Mass Media Arts & French, she has worked on film and television projects. She has moved vertically in the level of administrative and logistical jobs in the past 2 years, from Office Assistant for indie film “A.C.O.D.” with Amy Poehler & Adam Scott to currently Assistant to the Executive Producer on a Vince Vaughn feature film. She has also worked on Christopher Nolan’s new film “InterStellar” and Academy Award nominated “Prisoners.” She hopes to take on more producer roles in the future.
For now, she gets lots of practice while producing her sketches online and onstage with Church Socks. While the troupe has grown out of just doing workshops together and is performing more gigs, it still serves as the perfect creative outlet for the couple.
“Honestly, it is such a relief for me to just sit down and start writing,” Stephanie said.
The couple believes their sketches will help them have a competitive advantage with the plethora of comedy out there right now, especially in Atlanta, which was recently named one of the top funniest cities in America.
“Everyone and anyone has the ability and the medium to share what they do with the world,” Travis said. “You have to make sure you have a unique voice.”
Part of that is reflected in their edgy style, which overflow into Travis’s standup.
“I also realize that every time I do standup in Atlanta, I’m just one of 12 white guys with a beard who walks onstage,” Travis said. “I have to develop my own unique style to stand out.”
Travis makes a point to engage with the audience through conversations before or even during his routine. He also includes Stephanie in his creative process to help find the balance in what is natural and funny to him and what will translate to others.
“Whenever I think up a situation or joke I think might be funny, I bounce it off Stephanie and she is able to tell me if its just funny in my head or not,” Travis explained. “Of course, sometimes we both agree on a joke and still doesn’t go over well with an audience. That’s just part of the process.”
Stephanie’s dreams for the future include following in the footsteps of many SNL comedians, writing and acting on the show before being the showrunner of her own show. She is reading all of the recent autobiographies of female comedians, like Tina Fey & Mindy Kaling, who have done the same.
Travis also wants to be able to eventually make a living out by doing his comedy full-time, though right now he is satisfied with his day-job in marketing and his frequent gigs at comedy clubs and bars in Atlanta. He has hosted several comedy festivals in the past year, including the recent Black Box Comedy Festival, performs gigs on average three times a week, has been featured in Aaron Chewning‘s first Braves video, and even headlines at shows now and then. He has recently gotten enough material for a killer 30 minute show (according to Stephanie, who has seen his routines and jokes many times), and hopes to be headlining more in the upcoming months.
When asked to give a piece of advise to their twentysomething peers, they both agreed that taking advantage of your twenties decade is extremely important.
“You don’t have to have it all figured out,” Stephanie said. “We’re so afraid of failure sometimes that it makes us afraid to do what we really want. If you love it, just do it.”
Stephanie described the panic she faced right before graduating college because she didn’t have it all figured out with her career or her future. Looking back, she sees that the panic didn’t help motivate or move her forward at all, but her going out and taking action propelled her to more opportunities than she could have dreamed.
“Now is the time to do things,” Travis said about about the twenties decade. “I see people who are just starting standup comedy at 38, and that is great, but they missed so many years of doing what they love. I started at 23, and I still wish I had started years ago.”
May 10th: Down in the Basement Improv Show at The Basement Theatre (Show at 8:00)
May 1st: Stand Up (Hosting) at “No Cover Comedy” at The Pointe in Conyers (Show starts at 9)
May 7th: Stand Up at Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown, Atlanta GA (Doors open at 7:45)
May 8th: Stand Up (Hosting) at “No Cover Comedy” at The Pointe in Conyers (Show starts at 9)
May 13th: Stand Up (HEADLINING) at Laugh Your Balls Off at The Cockpit in East Atlanta (Show starts at 8:30)
May 17th: Stand Up – Opening for the Pretty Late Show with Salon du Shoguns show at Village Theatre (Show starts at 10:30)
Producer’s Assistant, Writer & Comedian • 24 • Atlanta, GA
Account Manager, TwentySix2 Marketing & Comedian • 25 • Atlanta, GA
One of the biggest questions twentysomethings ask themselves is: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” For some of us, the answer changes numerous times between the ages of twenty to thirty. We find ourselves in a career we never would have imagined, but somehow seems to be a perfect fit.
Brittany is no different. She is a twentysomething in a self-defined “transitional season.” Heading up her high school yearbook, she always excelled in writing, so she assumed that is what she enjoyed most about journalism.
“I love interviewing people, I love writing, I love putting together the stories,” she explained. “But once I got into college, I realized the big thing that was missing was the art.”
So she began searching for a major that had both components – words and visuals. Originally, she focused on magazine work, but soon realized graphic design was where she needed to be.
“I was able to fully pursue the art side and the writing side with graphic design,” Brittany said. “Which even flowered into photojournalism, photography, a love for video and anything visual and tangible.”
Brittany landed her dream job at a top design firm in Atlanta with a global reach, Son & Sons. She did a six-month fellowship with them as a junior designer after graduating. “It was an intensive time of learning and studying and doing for real clients,” she said.
She is now a full-time designer at Matchstic, one of Atlanta’s premiere brand houses and design firms.
On the side, Brittany does freelance design work. While most people come home from work and relax, her version of relaxing is a different kind of creativity. Companies hire her as a designer or brand consultant, and she loves the creative freedom this gives. Loving the responsibility of re-doing a companies’ brand identity, Brittany feels like she can bloom and communicate through these projects, putting all she learns from her full-time job into action.
Aware of how much she has yet to learn, Brittany is completely satisfied with where she is right now. She wants her twenties to be spent learning, growing and finding mentors in the design industry.
One reason Brittany pursued working at Matchstic, a smaller firm over a huge corporate agency, and the reason why she does freelance design work as her creative outlet, is because she likes wearing multiple hats. She says the best advice she received from a mentor in college was that if you want to be multi-skilled, you should consider going somewhere smaller so you can wear more hats. Since she loves all things creative, is an extrovert, and always likes to be busy, this lifestyle is perfect for her.
Graphic Designer • 22 • Atlanta, GA
A year and a half ago, 22-year old Alyssa experienced some bad rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups that could have changed her life forever. Nearly missing her chance to study abroad in college, Alyssa realized that moving past her condition was a blessing, and used her experience as the inspiration to begin her novel.
This fall, she began a one-year master’s program for creative writing at Bath Spa University in the UK, where she’s polishing off the finishing touches of her book before sending it off to agencies.
“I think that real blessings—the deep blessings that mold and change lives—are the things that unmake you,” Alyssa said. “Being blessed isn’t the absence of pain, but rather a joy or love that springs out of (and despite of) sorrow.”
Alyssa’s writing career is well under way. As soon as her semester at Bath Spa began, Alyssa traveled back to the States to receive an The Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics third place award for her essay about visiting her sister in Afghanistan in 2011, despite the physical dangers and political instability. Her thoughts on terrorism’s aftereffects on American and Afghan cultures, and her revelation on loving people past their prejudices won third place in the prestigious contest.
Alyssa receiving her award from Elie Wiesel
While writing her essay, she developed an overwhelming love for the people of Afghanistan.
“I wish I could tell you all the little stories I saw while I was there,” she reminisced. “How I got to run with school boys in the mountains as they showed off their beautiful country, or hold the hands of a woman beaten by her husband, or watch our driver play with his toddler daughter, or see the old men on their bikes with roses twisted into the handlebars and blooming, or soothe the tears of a stranger as she confessed her terror that the Taliban will return.”
As she learned in Afghanistan, writing can be a therapeutic hobby, and she hopes to continue exploring that in the future.
“When something traumatic or painful happens to us, it is really important to talk through what happened with someone else, ideally someone supportive and/or trained,” Alyssa said. “I think that writing takes this a step further. Journaling privately gives you an outlet to really let yourself go—you can work through your thoughts and feelings and either burn it or save it to think over.”
In fact, Alyssa has been given incredible opportunities to use her gift and love of writing to help the of Afghanistan begin their own healing process.
An Afghanistan-based human trafficking rescue and aftercare organization called Hagar needs someone to capture women’s stories to broaden awareness, but lacked writers. Alyssa hopes to work with them in the future. Another opportunity she discovered is located in Bath, helping Afghan refugees come to a healing place via writing. Alyssa hopes to maybe connect with them while she is in Bath studying.
“Afghanistan is beautiful and mind-bogglingly complex, and I think that’s why I am hungry to learn and do more,” she said.
And by these plans of giving back to a community of people by teaching them the art of expression through writing, she’s one step closer to achieving her dream.
Also a talented photographer, Alyssa edits photos of her international travels while on the coast of Izmir, Turkey
Creative Writing Masters Candidate, writer • 23 • Bath, UK