What has your professional journey been like?
[My] professional journey has been a roller coaster ride! I’ve been broke many, many times but never get tired of the excitement it is to be involved in the storytelling process and literally be in the adventure of it all, as they really are that: mini adventures...adventures that I literally and professionally am a witness to. And the beauty of it is that everyone else can then experience those adventures I had by watching [the film].
Emotionally at times it's been hard….it's not a stable environment to work in.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
I like telling this particular story: One of the highlights and most challenging projects I did was a music video where I was flown on a moment's notice to Africa, and it was all because I remembered a director for Christmas by giving him a small chime. When he called me for the job I was hiking up a mountain in the San Gabriels just outside of Los Angeles. He told me that I was the only one who remembered him - he hits the chimes - and asks if I want to go to Africa? The famous reggae singer Tonton David, who is to Europe what Bob Marley is to us in the states, is threatening to leave the record label unless we shoot on this tiny island in the Seychelles called Reunion Island, as that is where he grew up. This place was located on the northeast coast of Madagascar.
Ten hours later I’m on a plane with two producers who are in way over their heads. The director is coming in via NY, [the] record label from France, our point person was in Johannesburg, South Africa - [there were a] lot of moving parts on this one. When we arrived in Paris during our layover my two producers wanted to go shopping. I forced them make phone calls instead to South Africa to start lining things up. One of the producers blows her knee out on the flight down; thank god the medic for the South African soccer team was on board the plane to diffuse the situation. When we arrive at the airport in Johannesburg the airport is on fire; apparently the union cleaning staff is on strike so they had been burning all the trash bins at the airport. I get three hours of sleep, am able to manage to speak to half my crew and figure out equipment shipment issues. The production manager, God bless him, had already got things rolling and had bribed much of the customs staff with signed copies of Tonton David's albums as he was pretty famous. Things were happening fast! The strategy was that the crew would be flown into two stages, plus there was logistic issues. I was to be on the first plane flight with my lighting team and 1st assistant director and two producers. That flight was going to take two days, with an overnight layover in Mauritius Island, "the jewel of India," as they called it. The second time would be a direct flight on the morning of the shoot with my entire camera crew and cameras; that made me a little nervous. The director and record label people are coming in from France in the middle of all this.
Team one arrives in Mauritius Island. Everything is going great: lovely country lush with tropical growth and open fields. We arrive at this wonderful hotel and that’s when the first bombshell is dropped. You see, when you are on a film crew going to locations and being put up in hotels you get what's called a per diem: X amount of money for your food expenses, washing your clothes etc. Well, come to find out, the record label has not put in the $100,000 into the bank account to make the video yet.Our producers during this whole time have been running on faith and their credit cards and they are not tapped out at $20,000!
The crap hits the fan! Our hotel rooms have been paid for so that was a good thing. Meanwhile, my team gets drunk watching the local belly dancers and the producers are freaking out making angry phone calls all over the globe!
I also get a call from the production manager in Johannesburg that I need to cut the weight in half from my two camera packages that I was supposed to have because the second plane can't handle the weight! Ugh!
You know, this was one of those places in all its exotic beauty where I couldn't get to enjoy it much. I was put up in a stilt cottage overseeing the Indian Ocean and I remember the stars of that part of the world looking very different under the crisp night.
The producers at one point confront me and they want to shut the whole shoot down and go back to Los Angeles and call it a day; they were on fire! I learned something about myself from that particular job and later ones where I just ended up being calm in the middle of the maelstrom and start[ed] asking questions. “Have the hotel rooms and flight been paid for at Reunion Island?” Their answer is, Yes. “Are the record label people and artist in Reunion Island now?” “Yes.” ….Aaaand do [we] have any money for us to change our plane tickets to back to the states? ”NO”..."Well," I said, ”they have an artist who is their biggest bank account and who is threatening to leave them if this shoot doesn't happen; why don't we continue as certain things are already paid for?"
Meanwhile, I figured out how to work with less on my camera package and all is a go with that. My crew are getting totally drunk; I’m worried that this behavior may continue.
We arrive in Reunion Island. There is no money to feed the crew once we land. I make a point to take care of that and come off as a hero, and that was important; I needed them on my side! All other things get taken care of when we arrived at our hotel, though one of our producers ends up being the ugly American and she finds herself without any service from the hotel (surprise surprise).
The morning of the first day of shoot, it's my birthday. Customs in Reunion island will not let my crew in from the second plane; they are not liking the exotic camera gear that has come into [their] country! I end up having a long, long breakfast sipping on orange juice and coffee at the hotel. Someone gets a hold of the Customs supervisor's son who is a huge fan of Tonton David, all of a sudden my crew is free to go! We have now lost half a day, but our first location is stunning! The first shot of the day is on on a cliff and in the background are 20 waterfalls cascading behind them and the music echoes in the canyon! I stood there and said to everyone, “Now this is why I’m in the film business.” This was the gem that made it all worthwhile! I was on the ends of the earth at one of the most beautiful spots on earth with music and waterfalls. It was a great day!
What have been some of the challenges you have faced?
Freelance life is not for the type of personality that needs routine or stability; so, the challenges are great financially and with one;s personal life. It takes a certain drive and hunger to make these adventures occur!
What advice would you give to a current Brady student who is interested in film, behind or in front of the camera?
Advice to Brady students: be social, engaged and interested in the world; have follow-through on the promises your make and the tasks given to you. Keep your connections up, watch movies or TV shows you someday may want to work on; MOVIES,TV, YOUTUBE ETC, IS A LANGUAGE IN ITSELF…you may have been brought up in it, but it's one thing to be able to master and speak visually. Be open to adversity. And, for God's sake have a good time doing it.
To get work experience find work, or intern at any of the local production companies around your area, and because of the world of the internet, make your own films with whatever tools you have. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty in it. Learn what it's like to be on a team and working for the common goal, deal with extreme adverse conditions, solve problems - and I mean a lot of problems - think [[of] film making as “crisis management,” as that what it is like everyday on a film shoot!
For those in front of the camera, get yourself involved in theater, acting classes and whatever local projects are happening around [you], including those short films your friends want you in. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become in front of audiences and the camera. Follow up on actors you would like to be like. Find out what it takes for them to be in character, and the work involved, and for God's sake learn your lines before being on the set. And check the ego at the door; this is a collaborative effort, not a "me, myself and I" effort. We are here to tell stories, and the best ones are when all elements come together!
What are you currently working on?
Just finished shooting a small film up in Morro Bay, CA on a project called “Ringer”….its a Venus flytrap story where a vintage glass phone booth mysteriously stalks its victims. Also wrapped up a music video for the band Songhammer for the song “War,” [a] very fun concept of rappers versus heavy metal rockers in an auto body shop! I still shoot press junkets for Junket Productions: interviews with the Hollywood stars to promote their movies. I've shot well over a hundred of these and have worked with practically every star in town. Most recently [I] worked with Sir Anthony Hopkins, Arnold Schwarzenegger (my fourth time working with him), Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Evans, Michael Keaton, and the Burpo Family to talk about their movie Heaven is for Real.
As of this writing, I am now associated as West Coast Supervisor of a New England production company called Metromotion Media with the intention [of] my being more bi-coastal in the near future do shoot commercials, music videos, concerts and corporate TV. Also, [I] recently was in a meeting in Beverly Hills with a fellow New Hampshirite who is now an executive at Good Universe, which is tied to Lionsgate. They have 16 movies on the slate, so who knows if I will get to be part of that.
How and when did you become interested in filming?
My original intent was to become a theatre director,as the Bishop Brady Theatre program under Mr. Stuart was so enthralling I couldn't at the time see myself in anything else. Though I may not look it now, during my youth I was quite a bit of a geek. At that time I had been reading a book about the making of Star Trek, but the film making world was a million miles away as I was not born into the business and nowhere near LA or NY. It was during my freshman period in college at New England College at their former branch in the southern part of the UK. I remember shooting my mouth off in a local pub about wanting to get into the film business... Strange things in the universe do occur when you ask for them; it just so happened that the guy I was talking to at this pub said he knew people. Two weeks later I get a list of contacts in London. With the support of my film teacher Hunter Cordaiy, I was able to wrangle a one-month study period at the BBC. I was hooked, and found my focus and direction. I figured I could make a living and have fun at the same time!
It seems like technology has touched all elements of life these days. Has technology had an impact in your field? What changes have you seen during your career?
Technology definitely has changed dramatically over the years since I started in the business; it went from film to pure digital. And it keeps changing every few months! The storytelling process for making movies has not changed, but the tools have, therefore creating greater flexibility in the creative process. In many respects [technology is] making it easier to achieve those goals! I embraced the changes while many others had a hard time with the new equipment coming into play every year.
When I grew up YouTube didn’t exist. It now is a large playing field for new storytellers and filmmakers. Major careers are now coming out of this venue!
What were some of the highlights of your Brady experience?
Theatre shows and competition shows with Mr. Stuart as our mentor and director; Brady Track (long-distance running); Sister Alice - my God, the short nun who taught us history with the threat of a letter opener in the shape of a sword and her feet swinging under her chair. Her own personal experiences in WW2 made her all the more authentic and enthralling!!
Mr. Donlen's religious classes; the communal experience of experiencing students from all around the state.
That being smart was okay and welcoming. I came from a small town where I was not fitting in well because of my awkward stage as a smart, skinny nerdy kid with a dad who was a mathematics professor. Plus, having a last name like Nicknair and a Franco-American background just wasn’t quite the right mix. I literally had to fight through my public school phase - lot of black eyes during that time period. When Brady was offered to me as an opportunity I jumped on it! It was a welcoming support system where being intelligent was okay.
Curiously enough I carried the disciplined dress code with shirt and tie with pride into most of my college years as a statement. It was also cool to do that then as the Mod scene in the 80’s was exploding in England… so why not!
What is your fondest Brady memory?
There were so many….
Late-night theatre rehearsals with Mr. Stuart; doing theater shows, most specifically Royal Hunt of the Sun and Song for a Hero - had my first stage kiss on that one - never mind that…my first stage kiss with the beautiful Judy Fox!
Doing theatre in the round using hospital sheets for all the set dressing for a Marx brothers play; the pep rallies in the gym for sports events where we would sing tunes from Queen “We Are the Champions”; looking at that magnificent glass case with all the trophies displayed in the hall; cafeteria eating with microwaves to cook our food and experimenting with ketchup packets watching the sparks fly; being friends with all of those who were from both sides of the tracks as that didn’t matter at this school; being exposed to friends who came from all cultural and racial backgrounds who attended this school; the principal Father Goodwin (who was rumored to be involved with The Manhattan Project). He loved making a point to have one-on-one personal contact with us, [and] my God, this was the man who helped invent the atom bomb - or so legend states - and here he was talking to us and being very concerned for all of our welfare! Most of our teachers at Brady were engaged in our well-being as it was not just a paycheck to them!
My modern history classs where we keeping current on what was happening in the world; Sister Alice and her adventures on the high seas during WWII and waving her letter opener as a sword to us; biology classes where finally things start[ed] making sense; religious classes taken to whole new level with Mr. Donlen who also was a lover of music (he ran the marching band for Brady) and explaining that Led Zepplin is cool but there is more than just Zepplin! (he was right!); learning to type!
Learning how to speed read - that was an interesting experience - the competition was fierce as to who could read the fastest and retain information; writing short stories for the local school paper; drivers ed where watching those crash films were a thousand times worse than a horror movie; running cross country during my freshman year and actually winning an award for the first time in my entire life as “most improved runner” (I now hike mountains…but the running in my life has never stopped)…there is so much more to experience! It's what God had us designed to be, which is to evolve! Bishop Brady definitely nurtured that concept!!
Did your Brady experience influence any of your personal or professional choices?
Yes, absolutely 100%. If I had not been at Bishop Brady I would never have had the confidence or skill set to enter the world of which I chose. Brady was a grounding and amazingly healthy environment during my informative years.
Do you still stay in touch with former classmates?
Yes I do… partially with the help of Brady Alumni, Class reunions, and social media which has been an enormous success in keeping in touch with several of my friends. Even creating new ones from Brady that I didn’t know has been quite a bonding experience for us….been very exciting to be connected with all of them…they were important to me in my growth and character! I am extraordinarily fortunate that they have been in my life!
After 25+ years in show business, what would be the ideal project for you?
Ideal project would be shooting a dramatic historical TV series, or a movie that would take me to some part of the world I haven’t been to yet. I love that part of my life, as this job has taken me to places I never dreamed of! Working in it and being immersed with local culture makes it all so much more worth it.
Shooting a project in New England during the foliage period has also been a dream of mine as I haven’t been on a shoot there since 1984. I’ve currently made arrangements with a new company called Metromotion Media which is based in NH, so who knows what that will bring for me, but it would be nice to be bi-coastal!
Places movies have taken me to:
I’ve been inside extinct volcanos and lush waterfalls of Reunion Island, South Africa; Roman ruins and Benedictine monasteries in Italy; the canals, windmills and tulip fields of Scandinavia; jungles, monkeys, banana plantations and beaches of Costa Rica; mountaintops of New Zealand; the opera house in Sydney, Australia; dandelion fields of Aspen; dude ranches of Colorado; casinos of Vegas and Reno; the hardcore gang neighborhoods of south and east LA; the winding sand caves of Arizona; rodeos of Oklahoma; sea storms in Hawaii; beaches of California; the canyons of Lake Powell; dry lake desert beds of El Mirage; on the edge of towering buildings with no safety harness; hanging from the side of helicopters over cliffs and open ocean; seen exploding cars and buildings and having near death experiences in regards to those events...
Gets to be a bit of a rush!
Though these days I’m much, much more mortal on where I put my camera in the face of danger. Take note regarding the recent Sarah Jones disaster: that all could have been avoided by several people including the cinematographer who allowed his crew to be there in the first place. There are a number of us in the industry who question heavily the wisdom of the leaders of that particular project.