Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Good Line

Exploring documentary film with the SLC production company.

Posted By on December 30, 2015, 10:10 AM

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One of the more interesting developments in the local film community in recent  years has been more people diving into documentary film. While the process may take longer, and getting the story right is always a crucial element that could take years to navigate, the reward for a solid film at the end can be tremendous—both on the filmmakers and on their subjects. As we get closer to the big film festivals, we'll be taking a closer look at some of these local filmmakers, starting with The Good Line which is currently based in Salt Lake City. Today we chat with the owners of the production company to talk about their introduction to film and making documentaries, as well as the projects they currently have in store. (All pictures courtesy of The Good Line's Facebook page.)

Joseph LeBaron & Travis Pitcher
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Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Utah. I grew up skating, reading magazines about some of the places they would go and skate, I knew I wanted to see more of the world. I had to opportunity to live in Argentina and Puerto Rico for a few years before and during college. That cemented the desire to travel and explore for me.

I’m from a little town called Elk Ridge in south Utah Valley. I grew up a hillbilly in the mountains, came from a big Mormon family, did very poorly in high school and dropped out of college more times than I can remember. The majority of my adult life has revolved around traveling, trail running and mischief.

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Gavin: What first got you interested in film, and what were your earliest influences?

I was always attached to documentary films. There was a sense of adventure and exploration. I loved the early documentarians like Robert Flaherty, John Grierson and Dziga Vertov. They just went out and made things work and made really great docs despite the lack of technology and the hard work they had to go through. They also had an entrepreneurial mind to make these things work, and their philosophies, more than their work, have what influenced me. Another huge influence were surf, skate and snowboard films that I grew up with. Again, the lack of resources and the creativity that produced is impressive.

Wherever I’ve traveled or lived, sharing stories with people I meet is always my favorite takeaway from the experience. Film interested me because it offered the opportunity to continue to travel, meet wonderful people doing good things all over the world; and ultimately help share their world view. Because I handle more of the story side of production, I’m influenced a lot by solid storytellers who excel at pacing. Pacing was one of the skills that I lacked most when I started in film, so I try to find people who not only know what to say in a story but when to say it. A few that come to mind are Joshua Oppenheimer, Doug Fabrizio and a good friend of mine, Billy Wilson aka Mr. Mouse. My dad can also tell a hell of a story.

Gavin: Prior to college, did either of you work on anything as someone learning how to do film or was it all through school?

I didn’t pick up a camera until I was almost 24. I was studying geology. I was a terrible geologist.

Joseph: I was a writer until I met Trav, I think I was 30. I didn’t pick up a camera until our first big break when Trav handed me the camera and said “Okay. Start shooting.”


Gavin: Travis, what made you choose BYU, and what was your time like in their program?

In my opinion, BYU has one the best film programs in the west. The teachers are wonderful and the resources that they have are pretty incredible. I also had the great opportunity to go to school with some really incredible classmates. There is a lot of bureaucracy that you have to go through, but if you can handle that, they have resources to really enable their students to make some incredible stuff. I appreciated their focus on theory and history. It helped me flesh out a few of my own preferences in approach and story.

Gavin: What made you decide to go freelance as a videographer and an editor rather than find a company to attach to, or move out of state for work?

I was planning on heading out of the country for work, actually. I got a year-long fellowship in Kenya, and my wife and I were planning on heading out there at the start of 2011 after I finished school. Then we found out she was pregnant. We had decided to go anyway, and then we found out it was twins she was expecting. We had to stay, and I got a corporate job working for a local MLM. Joe and I were also working on side projects together, and the time came when I had to choose to take the risk and make this thing with Joe or keep my MLM job. I chose to work with Joe. It was really just the right thing to do. Even though I didn’t have insurance after I quit, I had two-month-old twins and a wife to take care of, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to get work after that with Good Line, it was worth the risk to work with a good friend who is crazy talented, doing the kind of work I wanted to be doing. That was all worth the risk.


Gavin: Joesph, you went more of the corporate way. What was your college life and career like prior to the company?

I’ve been blessed to have some stupidly talented friends in my life, so most of the learning I experienced was learning from other people outside of an academic setting while working on different side projects—a cartoon, music, books, etc. No matter how much I tried I just couldn’t get school to work for me; I always felt stifled, which was hard to experience because I’m not lazy. I was just so damn creatively squashed, but I didn’t recognize it at the time as that. I thought there was something really wrong with me. After the last time I quit school, I decided to test the "real world" and faked my way into any job that would allow me to write. I bounced around as a copywriter for agencies, as a corporate writer for a giant tech company, but I never lasted more than a year before I’d get antsy, quit and then travel until I was out of money. Honestly, I was a terrible employee, and now that I have employees, I cringe when I think about it. It makes me so grateful for the talented, professional and dedicated people working at Good Line.

Gavin: I read elsewhere that you went to Europe on a whim. What made you decide to leave and what brought you back to Utah?

Yeah, at my last corporate gig, during the Christmas party I felt like I was drowning. I was starting to get the gypsy legs again, so I bought a ticket to Finland during my CEO’s speech and was gone a few days later. I didn’t have a plan. I had just turned 30 and decided that it was time to go away until I figured out what I wanted to do. There’s that great Louis CK line “Sometimes you have to go away so you can come back.” I love that idea, and really, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. After spending a quiet winter in Finland with my brother’s family, I moved to England, audited classes and lectures at Oxford for about four months, went running on the Thames every morning and spent countless hours trading stories with people in pubs. After I ran out of money I came home, still had no plan, but I really knew who I was.


Gavin: When did the two of you first meet each other and eventually become friends?

We met playing church basketball through a mutual friend. I felt we just had similar takes on the world and interest in similar things. Joe and I are very different people, but I feel like our goals are very close and our vision for Good Line is very similar as well. He is one of the most sincere and stand-up people I know. How could you not like a guy like Joe?

Joseph: Trav is a man without guile. That was my honest first impression. Here’s this 6’5” lanky quiet guy, hard worker, incredibly bright, saying all the things I was wanting to hear from another person. He was obsessed with true, good storytelling. We connected deeply on that level, which is a great place to connect because like Trav said, we have very different personalities. He’s more even keel, and thoughtful. I’m a bit more unbalanced and impatient, but it’s that connection or desire to tell a good, sincere story that really binds us together, in my opinion.

Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up your own production company and where did the name come from?

Starting Good Line just seemed natural to me. High-quality cameras were insanely affordable, people were interested in creating media directly for the internet, you could target audiences and these audiences could find your work online. Companies and agencies could connect with you from anywhere in the world if they liked your work. It was the right time to start something even though it was in the middle of a recession and things were tight for people all over.

Joseph: As someone already involved in film, Trav was the first to see the market for what we do. His vision for what was possible with new media was ahead of the game. Once he shared the idea with me I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was all in immediately. We bounced around literally hundreds of names over 4 months or so. We were really close to calling ourselves Rabbit Room, named after a room in a pub where The Inklings used to meet and share stories, but it didn’t feel like "us;" it was too busy, or flowery for our approach to storytelling. Late one night, we were really tired of thinking up names, and were talking about good storylines and good threads in stories and I passively mentioned Good Line as our name. It instantly stuck. We liked the symmetry and the simplicity of two very simple words that when put together communicate what we believe to be an earnest desire to tell true, sincere, stories.

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Gavin: What was it like for you both setting up shop and getting involved with the local film community?

We started in my basement apartment. We filed our business wrong at first. We had no idea what we were doing on the business side when we started. You learn quite a bit when you are making mistakes and getting burnt. But while we were making business mistakes, we continued to make work that we were passionate about and that was moving for us. We have a much better handle on the business side of things now and that leaves room to continue to create great work. Any connections that we have to the local film community were largely made through connections through our work. Doug Fabrizio and Elaine Clark have helped tremendously with connecting us to that community. We were always fans of the show, and then Doug approached us about this idea he had to start VideoWest. We helped contribute to the design and starting that with some of our content and we have continued to collaborate. VideoWest has grown up since then and Doug and Elaine have continued to support what Good Line does. It is a great collaboration, and we owe them a lot.

Joesph: Yeah, we had no idea what we were doing. Trav’s wife had just had twins, he was working a full-time job while working Good Line at night and on weekends. For the first eight months, there was no money to be had, I was doing Good Line fulltime, living in my car up Provo Canyon, showering in the river after running, and then going out into the world trying to convince people that we knew what we were doing. I think naivety was our biggest asset because at the time we didn’t know how bad at being businessmen we were. If we had, maybe we would have quit, who knows. Beyond naivety, we were driven by creating good stories and so it was a no-brainer to take big risks to gain access to great stories. Along the way, we’ve met other risk takers from across the spectrum. Like Trav said, VideoWest has been an amazing partner, but we’ve also experienced great partnerships in unexpected places from people who are equally excited about creating something cool.

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Gavin: What would you say was the biggest influence on you both to go more with story-driven films and documentary-type work?

When we started, we were both tired of the traditional way of doing things. It felt so fake and superficial. So much of our lives is filled with fake and superficial things. The internet is the same. But the internet is a medium that can be so intimate and close. We just have to open up a bit and be sincere. Our stories try and do that. I hope people can see our stories as a place to see and feel something new and a place to connect to people in a sincere way. The way we approach stories, since the beginning of Good Line, has always been from the root of the story, with sincerity. To connect with people in a meaningful way. That lends itself to story driven, documentary type work. We are always working on ways to approach a story differently, more cinematically. But we always seem to come back to that authentic story coming from the source.

When we started it was very much a revolt against traditional, manipulative marketing. Now, I think there’s a trend for people to talk about “storytelling” as if it’s this brand new thing and it feels like there’s a growing desire to want to claim storytelling as unique, which I think makes it feel like it’s something exclusive. I think that’s bogus. Trav and I, and all of the talented people we work with at Good Line are doing the same thing that humans have been doing around campfires for thousands of years, and to me, all that is is simply sharing a story. And there’s a difference between claiming a story, and sharing a story. When you claim something, it’s almost inevitable that you influence the final story by having it feel like it came from you, the creator, and then the audience it can connect with becomes limited. When you share a story, as a storyteller, I think it’s important to make yourself scarce, so the viewer gets to connect to the subject in the film, feel what they want to feel, learn and then take away what’s most important to them. I think it makes the connection so much stronger when you don’t have to go through a third person.

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Gavin: How do you go about choosing the projects you work on?

I like to work on new stuff, and I am usually down for basically anything. I love to try to do things differently or tell a familiar story in a new way or more cinematically. Our latest collaboration with VideoWest, Ghost, Come Closer, started out being a camera test that I wanted to do. We just saw the potential for a larger story and that was that. We went with it. Joe might have a better answer.

Joseph: It can be anything, so long as it’s sincere. We’ve filmed an impromptu motorcycle rally in post-coup Mali, education reform in Ukraine, an insane obstacle race in the UK, non-profit work in India, extreme sports here at home—if it’s real, and the story speaks to us, it usually goes back to that connection Trav and I share and we jump on it.

Gavin:  What has been either the most satisfying or most rewarding piece you've done so far?

I have loved working with nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. They work so hard in a difficult career trying to do good. When we can come in and help tell their story, that is really rewarding. When they get grants or funding directly because of the work we have done for them, that is incredibly rewarding.

Joseph: I echo what Trav said. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of good that don’t have the biggest voice in the world. It’s very rewarding to see that side of humanity share their stories. I’d say as far as an individual piece goes it would be the Slack Line piece. It was a short we did on an athlete tethered to a line stretched across cliff tops a couple hundred feet off the ground. I think I really like that one because at first glance it feels like it would only speak to extreme sports athletes, but we filmed it to have a broader audience. We even received an email from an elderly woman who told us she’d watch that video for strength every day before she’d go to chemotherapy. That message is a career high for me.

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Gavin: What do you hope to accomplish with the company as you continue to grow?

We have high ambitions. We obviously want to continue to create meaningful work, and I want to create more of it. I want to use all kinds of media to tell good stories. We are figuring out how to create media experiences that don’t just have a video in them, but have photographs, design, websites, interactive experiences. We have been working on 360-degree video and new technologies. There are so many great stories in the world that need to be told and many ways to tell them. The medium can change, but as long as we are telling stories that mean something to us, I will be happy.

Joseph: We’re starting to be reached out to by groups who we listed early on as “dream clients.” That’s exciting for many reasons, but mostly because it’s going to give us access to stories we’ve been dying to tell. Ultimately we want to tell good stories, but we also want to make sure the they have a positive impact on the world. I’ll be happy if we have the continued opportunity to share stories that empower and connect people in a positive way.

Gavin: Tell us about your most recent film that people can check out. And what projects do you currently have in the works?

We just finished a story with VideoWest called Ghost, Come Closer, about a man who uses fly fishing as a way to think about his own mortality. We also got back from a trip to Haiti recently. It was a self-funded trip and we have some really fun pieces that will be coming out about that this winter.

Joseph: This VideoWest collaboration is a good one. Jeff Metcalf, an English professor at the U is the subject of the piece. He does a killer job sharing his story on turning to Utah’s rivers for healing while battling prostate cancer.

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Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and The Good Line in 2016?

I hope you can expect more stories, more often. Oh, and travel. Nepal, India, Honduras, Tajikistan, England, Afghanistan, Mexico, Kenya, China, Mongolia. These are all on the list this year.

Joseph: Can’t wait for Tajikistan and Mongolia. The Faroe Islands has made the list as a possibility recently. My goal for 2016 is that my apartment gets really dusty due to a lot of traveling.

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