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Meet Marc A Hutchins of Alexander Films in Santee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marc A Hutchins.

Marc, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My passion for film production started in my teens, with a desire to pursue acting. Although we occasionally visited the cinema while growing up, my real love was television. I would watch shows, studying the details of each scene: actor’s performances, camera work, lighting, and sets. Although I didn’t understand how all those crafts worked in tandem, I understood that it took several parts to make the whole.

Not many years later, my grandfather purchased a VHS camcorder and would allow me and my siblings to use it. I often directed my siblings in short films but also shot music videos, mockumentaries, and other corny videos whenever I had the chance. Without a means to edit the VHS tape, our music videos and short films were shot in sequence, starting and stopping the camera to make cuts between the scenes.

Once in my early 20s, I took an acting class at the community college and quickly realized that my forte was not acting. That experience did, however, open my eyes to the art of creative writing, which would eventually be my inroad into the industry. Over the next decade or so, I was busy with the military and Gulf War (Desert Storm), getting married, having kids, buying our first house, and finishing my BS in Exercise and Sports Science. The University of Florida offered a cinematography major, but oddly enough, it wasn’t tied to a true film program and offered little in the way of marketable skills; therefore, pursuing a degree towards employment seemed like a much better option.

Post-college, I ended up in sales – a job that does not suit me – and I found myself working simply to pay bills. At that time, I revisited my interest in film and TV production and decided it was time to start looking deeper. Although we had a small mini-tape camcorder we used to capture family footage, I knew nothing about creating “story” and turned to screenwriting as step one. The year was 1999, and although the internet existed, it was new and archaic, offering HTML-coded pages with written information and few images, but nothing in the way of video (the beginning of YouTube was still six years out); therefore, I visited the local library and picked up my first of many books on screenwriting, The Whole Picture by Richard Walter, a screenwriting professor at UCLA. I enjoyed the book, realizing the importance of “integration”. That lesson has stuck with me for over 20 years, and I have reread his book many times.

The following year we moved from Florida to Roanoke, VA and I settled into a job teaching elementary PE (an opportunity afforded me because of my degree). I also continued to consume books on screenwriting and storytelling. Another year later, I began my first screenplay, purchasing my first laptop and using a template I created in Microsoft Word (a proper screenplay requires specific formatting). It took me one year, but alas I completed a 116-page rom-com. Six weeks later, I completed my second script. I was four weeks into my third scripts when my hunger for knowledge turned to physical production.

It was 2003, and by this time, eBay was up and running – the hotspot for buying and selling used gear. I picked up two Sony camcorders, a shotgun mic, boom pole, studio lighting kit, and some accessories – I was definitely in over my head. I started reading books and trade magazines on camera work, shooting and lighting; I began scouring the internet for information related to filmmaking; I volunteered to crew on sets and found anyone who had the knowledge I wanted and picked their brains for usable information. I did anything and everything I could to consume wisdom on the broad subject of film production. What I mostly found was “video” production – something akin to the look of “film” production, but lacking the essentials I needed to capture a true film look with digital cameras in the early-aughts. All the same, I began to shoot – weddings, local commercials, short films, music videos, and anything else I could capture in my spare time. With all this footage, I had to learn to cut it and manipulate the images to build a story. Therefore, I turned to Adobe’s editing software, Premiere, and began to unlock my potential in post-production editing and sound. In 2004 I quit teaching school and took to production full time.

A number of years passed and I realized what I coined the “commercial trap” happening to my colleagues. In a nutshell, they would enter the arena of “film production” with the attitude that they would start in the commercial space (local commercials, industrial videos, weddings, etc) and then move to producing films – shorts and features – once they reached a ceiling. That ceiling varied from person to person and company to company, but it basically looked like “financial security” – the idea that they would have resources to focus on their dream project (usually a feature film) while still creating some commercial work on the side. However, with each person, each company, as their commercial success grew, so did their standard of living, higher and higher, constantly closing the gap between financial headroom and the freedom to pursue their dream project. To this day, many of them have either plateaued in their community, leaving no time or resources for that dream project, or burned out on the commercial grind and left production altogether. I refused to let that happen to me.

Upon inspecting the local production community, assessing its needs alongside my personal ambitions and goals, I realized the need for a dedicated GNE truck – that is, a mobile grip and lighting resource to assist local commercial producers. This move would afford me “day work” while freeing me from time-costing relationships with clients and agencies. I could simply show up, work a day for a healthy rate, and then go home, freeing my mind and focus to pursue my passion – digital film production, narrative storytelling. In 2009 I purchased a 16ft box truck and outfitted it with $20K of grip and lighting gear.

Again, I was out of my league, pursuing gaffing (the chief lighting tech on a production set) without any real knowledge of the gear or how to use it. I knew that no one else in the small, non-filmmaking community knew anything more than I knew about lighting a production set (other than the basic 3-point lighting we all used), so what I had to do was stay a few steps ahead, acting the part of a gaffer, and eventually, my experience would produce the knowledge I needed. And it worked, like a charm. Soon, I had production work each month that paid off my gear and covered my cost of living, yet left me with plenty of time to write and develop stories and ideas.

Not one to be easily satisfied, nor settle down, I built on my experience as a gaffer and began to shoot (DP) productions as well, diversifying my skill set. I had been shooting for years now, but armed with knowledge about lighting like never before, I could start capturing images that had cinematic appeal. Through my time as a local gaffer, the camera industry changed many times, and every digital camera company jumped on board to create digital film cameras that captured a “film look” (24p), getting closer each year to the look of celluloid film. Over those years, although not an early adopter (when the camera was first released), I was quick to purchase the latest camera and offer my services within the community.

In 2012, my production world took a giant step forward. I heard about a small production, faith-based feature film, produced by a local sheriff’s non-profit in a nearby community. Upon inquiring about the project, I realized that the budget was too small, the existing crew was ill-trained, and they lacked gear, yet I saw the potential for a marketable film about a powerful subject, and I offered to help. I donated my time through preproduction, my gear for the production, and offered to oversee the hiring of keys that were qualified, then train dozens of volunteers. By this time, the film gained momentum and was now supported by a large Christian university in the area, as well as the support of other filmmakers wanting to assist. Over a number of weeks, I broke down the script and scheduled the 28-day production while training my team, and within a few months, we were ready to shoot. It was an exciting, yet grueling experience, as I tackled the biggest, most aggressive production I had ever encountered – and I succeeded. Despite many challenges, setbacks, and difficult people (producers), I still managed to overcome and complete the film on time. It was the confidence booster I needed and it launched me forward.

The year 2013 was filled with an aggressive pursuit to shoot another film. I had an idea, many ideas, but needed a non-profit to partner with me. At the end of that year, I found one, brought in a writer and a co-producer and started developing and co-writing my company’s first independent feature film. It took only 16 weeks to go from an idea through principle photography – writing the script through the “martini shot” (the last shot) – and we walked away with a feature film “in the can” in March 2014. After a short breather, I was off to the next production (while the first was being edited), and seven months later, I was beginning principle photography on my second feature film of 2014. As 2014 wrapped, I had two feature films moving into and through post-production.

The following year I was busy focusing on learning about M&D (marketing and distribution), attending film festivals, screening my features, making cold calls, and consuming information on distributing my films. That process was unnerving and slow, churning out little marketable results, and I learned more about distribution than I cared to know. I also realized through that year that M&D was not my passion.

In 2016, while still searching for a distributor for my films, I decided to return to school and earn my MFA in film production. My choice was Full Sail University, a school with an accelerated MFA program. Having the degree would potentially open doors for teaching film production in college. I also attended (American Film Market), where I met with several companies to discuss the distribution of my two features.

By the summer of 2017, I completed my MFA, my films found distribution, and I moved to San Diego to create and teach film production courses, with the goal to build a film production major at San Diego Christian College. Though students loved the classes and gravitated towards the upcoming film major, the small, struggling college went through a leadership change and the new guard didn’t have the same vision to bring a film production major into the school in the coming years. All this didn’t stop me from fulfilling my intended purpose – to produce another feature film, while teaching at the college, giving an opportunity to students interested in filmmaking. Therefore, in early fall 2019, I worked alongside a colleague and co-produced another record turnaround, taking one of my ideas from script to wrapping principle photography on an 11-day production in 11 weeks. The feature film is another rom-com, earmarked for the Hallmark market. It is scheduled to clear post and be ready for M&D by early May 2020.

With the uncertainty of a film production program at the college in the coming years, I’m not sure whether I will continue teaching or go back to production work full time, but I’m certain that I will stay active and invested in film production. It is and always has been my greatest passion.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Pursuing something you are interested in, without a mentor, free-flowing financial resources, or unlimited, uninterrupted time, you will always have obstacles and challenges. For me, more than other obstacles, it was knowledge. At the time I was diving deep into production, the internet was a toddler and digital video wasn’t much older. Everyone interested in “film production” was learning at the same time, staying only days ahead of the next guy. We all had the same ambitions and goals – be great at digital filmmaking from the comforts of your home. Like others, I was married with kids (eight children, to be exact), and the move to Hollywood was off the table due to the sheer high cost of living (housing, especially). Therefore, without a formal film production education, I had two options: wait till the kids move out, or pursue filmmaking through an aggressive pursuit of knowledge. I did the latter.

Alongside my ongoing pursuit of knowledge, I also struggled to find collaborators in my small, non-film focused community. Most “filmmakers” (as they called themselves) were commercial producers who had little time or passion to invest in the production of a feature film. Anyone would work on a film for a high day rate, but my limited resources couldn’t afford me the opportunity to hire for top dollar. This scenario often left me with an eager crew, yet not quite ready to tackle such a large project; I was often stressed, while they received a great education on the process. Through several films, those that stuck with me became valuable assets and colleagues.

Speaking of “limited resources”, money is forever as an indie filmmaker’s concern. Having an angel investor is great, but that’s also assuming you, as the filmmaker, truly understand the market and what it takes to produce marketable projects with a strong ROI (return on investment). Sadly, many of us still struggle with knowing what is actually marketable, and an ever-changing distribution landscape doesn’t help.

Finally, I had to be willing to give up having the best of everything NOW: latest iPhone, new car, fancy clothes, etc. I had to learn to set aside having new things to focus on investing in myself through acquiring gear and pursuing non-paid opportunities to learn something new. That sacrifice became a lifestyle, affording me the freedom to grow as a professional.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Alexander Films – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am a filmmaker. I call myself a filmmaker because I actually produce feature films. Many “filmmakers” out there are ambitious but lack the courage to follow their dreams and take big risks. Without taking risks, and even losing big at times, I would not be where I am today. I play the long game – I stay with the program, continuing to move forward, long after others have given up and gone home. My dedication to my craft, to myself, to my hunger for success in independent film production is unmatched by many. There are those, like me, who are driven to succeed, but in my experiences, it’s more rare than common.

Through nearly two decades as a filmmaker, and over 17 years as a company, I have amassed an impressive list of resources: camera packages, audio packages, car mount, 24ft jib, dolly, GNE, and post assets and software. Through that focus, I have been able to produce entertainment at a reduced cost, avoiding expensive rentals, giving me the freedom to shoot anytime and anywhere without gear limitations. I am proud to be a one-stop-shop for production and visual entertainment.

I have also specialized in several crafts, making what I do and how I do it highly marketable. From development (writing, fundraising, packaging) to preproduction (breaking down the script, scheduling, budgeting, casting, crewing, etc.) to production (directing, asst. directing, cinematography, location sound, production management, location management, line producing) to post (editing, post-production supervising) to M&D (shopping and marketing), I have a strong handle on all the steps of the process and an understanding on what it takes to get a job done. I know and accept my limitations, and I know and focus on my strengths.

I have always valued integrity in my work – both as an indie filmmaker and when collaborating with others. No matter where you are from, the indie film community is smaller than you think, and maintaining a high standard and integrity should not be undervalued.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Through a disappointing turn of events, the college that hired me to create and run a film production major has changed its mind over the last school year and will no longer make that the upcoming goal. Although I am still teaching film production courses, the students who are taking the courses are doing so as electives, with little to no genuine interest in filmmaking. This creates a less than stellar atmosphere for a guy that truly LOVES filmmaking and wants desperately to work with students who share that passion. Therefore, I have begun to look for other teaching avenues and considered returning to film production full time. Either way, I will stay active and relevant in the industry as I march forward, continuing to produce feature films.

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Image Credit:
Summer Medina

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