The Emmy goes to …
Local video-production company is raking in the awards
When you can put “Emmy Award-winning” in front of your business’ name, things are going well.
In 2003, Paradise resident Christopher Allan Smith started a video-production company. Discouraged by the field he’d majored in, journalism, the Chico State grad (and one-time CN&R film critic) wanted to return to his boyhood passion of filmmaking, and as a husband and father of two young sons, he also wanted to make more money. Now, after nine years of hard work, his company, Rocket Spots, is finally paying those bills, thanks in no small part to that new tagline that will forever precede his company’s name.
“Every time I look at those Emmys, they make me happy,” said the 40-year-old. “I see that all my hard work sometimes really does pay off.”
Smith received his two awards during the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ regional awards shows in San Francisco the past two years. He and his cousin/creative partner Ryan Neisz (who runs his own video-production company, Clear Creative Media, in Orange County) were awarded Northern California Emmys in 2011 and 2012 for their work creating short documentary/informational videos for the Every 15 Minutes anti-drinking/texting-and-driving initiative. The half-hour videos are shot at different high schools, often in the Bay Area, using students as actors to teach the dangers of drinking and driving. The 2011 Emmy was for “Every 15 Minutes: Castro Valley High,” in the Best Informational/Instructional Program/Special category.
“It’s the most-watched ‘15 Minutes’ episode ever!” exclaimed Smith.
Emmy No. 2 came early last month, in the Best Editing of a Non-News Program category, for “15 Minutes: San Leandro High,” and Smith said it was even sweeter. This time he brought his two sons, Harrison and Del (12 and 10, respectively), on stage for the acceptance speech. And, in what could be a sign of the future, his eldest son shot video of the crowd while on stage.
“It was fantastic—one of the happiest moments of my life,” Smith said. “I got to show my boys the rewards of their daddy traveling and filming around the U.S. so much.”
Before Rocket Spots took over their creation in 2004, Smith said the “15 Minutes” programs were mostly preachy and boring. He and Neisz wanted to do something different, and tried to take them to a higher level of believability and impact.
“Ryan and I took our knowledge of character development from dramatic TV and applied it, so when you see the students injured you want to cry,” said Smith. “If making you cry is the best way to teach you a lesson, I’ll make you cry, or laugh, as the case may be.”
Smith and Neisz have been making videos since they were in grade school, crafting little humorous shorts like “Samurai Banana,” which featured a couple of kitchen-knife-twirling bananas. Their first big hit, though, was a series of comedy shorts called “Snowmen Hunters” about two yahoos (Smith and Neisz) who use increasingly violent methods—shotgun blasts, decapitation—to off snowmen in the wild. In its first year, it received 2 million online hits and was nominated during the first YouTube Awards for Best Series. To date, the series has tallied 5 million views.
Smith’s work these days, in addition to the Every 15 Minutes project, involves various types of video production—TV commercials (remember the Floors by Ray puppet spot?), business promo pieces, web videos and anything else that can be filmed.
He says that he firmly believes the future of video shooting and watching is shifting from TV to the Internet.
“Now you can produce fantastic Spielberg-like programs with just some talent, a camera and a computer,” he said.
He hopes to help others do this locally in his role on the new board of directors for North Valley Community Access (NVCA), the group that has taken over the operation of the local public-access Channel 11 from Butte College. Smith says that NVCA aims to help aspiring local videographers get their work on television as well as the Internet.
As for the future and the opportunities the attention has brought, Smith said he has plans for another “15 Minutes” for 2013, and is starting to work on a creating a TV pilot for an educational program. However, his biggest current project is the opening of an expanded Rocket Spots studio near the Chico Airport in August, which will allow him to not only take on more local work, but also have a dedicated Internet-broadcasting studio.
“The awards have created a lot of demand,” he said, “and it’s almost like I’m opening up the new office more for the Emmys than for me.”