Photos by Alicia from Shotcha Photography
I knew who Tyler was before I knew I knew who he was.
That’s because the week prior to our interview, I’d seen him on the front page of the Rochester Post Bulletin with our mutual friend, John. They’d landed the spot after creating art on canvas...well, that’s not exactly true. It was a murder of crows that created the art. John and Tyler simply placed the canvas on the ground while the crows dropped “the paint.”
I made the connection shortly after our conversation began. That’s because Tyler is developing a video documentary about said murder of crows. And, that’s something he’s passionate about. Video. Not necessarily crows.
“The documentary started because the city had an open season on the crows in order to control the population and somebody posted an awful photo online of themselves alongside a huge pile of dead crows.”
It struck Tyler as a waste. “I mean, they're extremely intelligent birds. Next to ravens they are on the top of their food chain. Their extreme numbers are a result of environmental factors and a disordered ecosystem. The documentary is like a fictional documentary in which we're driving facts into kind of a more humorous approach. So, we get in hard facts and then we drift off to watch John put down canvas and create poop art.”
And, this is how our interview started. Tyler’s smoky, deep voice filling the room with talk about video production, crows, and excrement.
A Walk By
A Rochester native (Cooke Park neighborhood to be exact) and John Marshall grad, Tyler’s passion for film & video production began at an early age. Eventually, he honed his craft at the U of M along with a brief stint at Columbia College in Chicago. Afterward, he looked around for work in the usual big city places, but saw a gap back home, so moved here. That was three years ago, and, in terms of video production, he nearly stalled out before he got started.
“I was working on the little building next to the Redwood Room/300 Building for a woman who was opening a photo gallery. I’d kind of given up on video. I mean, I was doing personal projects, but it was hard. I didn’t have the money to get ahead or get equipment and was still paying off college.”
He was working on the outside of the building when an old friend just happened to walk by. The pair started talking and the friend started sharing about this underground arts community. He was slated to make a promo video for one of the artists, but it wasn’t going to work out, and, knowing Tyler had that skills, asked if Tyler would be interested.
That underground place was the (now defunct) Creative Salon. It hadn’t been there when Tyler left Rochester, but to Tyler, its existence meant Rochester was growing in cool factor. He got involved and quickly realized someone needed to let people know about what was happening in Rochester; not only know about it, but get their hands in it. And, no one was using video, particularly online, as means of communication or promotion.
one thing leads to another
“There was this pull of, like, here's something I could do that's missing,” Tyler explained. “At the time, if you typed ‘Rochester, MN’ on YouTube you’d get old videos of people shopping and, excuse me, but it looked so bourgeois and shopping wasn’t the only thing going on in this town. There's so much more.”
One person or project led to another and Tyler found himself producing 5-7 minute videos featuring local people and their endeavors. Eventually, this work blossomed into an online social media platform called The Rochester Experience.
“Events were going on all over town except they were scattered to the wind and nobody had one place to go find out about them.”
The Rochester Experience became a way of connecting people with those events. People started to take notice and soon The Rochester Experience was seeing some traffic flow.
“So just having that Facebook success or, at least, getting noticed in this town, lent some legitimacy,” Tyler told me. “I wasn’t looking to make money, I was looking to learn and create.”
On top of that, Tyler also built the reputation for caring deeply about his community and the people in it. His work caught the attention of Sean Baker from online news source The Med City Beat.
“Yeah. So, Sean came at me, you know, loved what I was doing.” What came of Sean and Tyler’s partnership was 60-120 second videos released each week featuring the top five events happening in Rochester over the weekend. These were aptly named, “Five Things to do in Rochester this Weekend.”
“The videos,” Tyler said, “were, like, down to a minute or two; something that would hook people and have them follow through or get past a certain point. We made a rule that we would have at least one person talking on camera to make it personable.”
After about 60 episodes; however, Sean wanted to get back to writing, so Tyler focused on freelance work while working as a delivery guy for Hunt Drug.
No Tripods Allowed
“So what do you consider yourself?” I asked.
“A video artist, essentially,” he replied. “A videographer, professionally. I kind of came out of you know, a lot of consumption of media. Like, I can't stand commercials. But, as videographer, I want to make a commercial that's fun and something that I've never seen which ended up becoming a certain kind of style that I had borrowed from filmmakers; something that fits my attention span or, at least, a new generation of attention span.”
“Tell me about that. What does that look like practically speaking?” I asked.
“Coming out of film, you're always realizing that there's this motion going on and how do you keep motion going? You just get dropped in and it's go, go, go. It's like a little ride.” He spoke with an air of satisfaction. “You get such a natural high off of seeking out a challenge like that and making it happen.”
Tyler got his start in video production as a high school freshman going through John Marshall’s TV production program; a program that, unfortunately, no longer exists.
“We would do fun little videos to show on, like, Fridays featuring the birthdays every week,” he explained. “It was all analog back then. If you messed up you had to redo. You really had to make sure you had the foresight of what was coming and do on the fly editing. Now, we have nonlinear editing which is easy. Back then, if you had to rewind because you made a mistake it would ruin it.
“My brain hasn’t left that so when I’m ‘in the zone’ or at a shoot,” he continued, “I'm already on the editing room floor. I look like a mess when I'm shooting because I'm going in circles or I'm running around and it looks crazy when I’m doing it. And, I hate tripods. Yeah, I can't be mobile on a tripod. And as soon as I see that nothing's moving or we're not going anywhere, I'm going to fast forward or move on to something else.”
As I listened, I realized Tyler’s style of video production is a natural extension of the rhythm of his own life. And, metaphorically speaking, tripods are anything that could hold him back from living that life in motion. I got the impression that each of his moments are strung together by adventure and fueled by an innate sense of passionate purpose. No tripods allowed.
Since Tyler tells stories with video I had to ask, “So, what's the greatest story ever told?”
“The Old Man and the Sea,” he said. “We try our hardest to get that thing that we think we want and that we think we need and by the time we get it back to shore it's just been picked away by everybody that we met along the way. Now, we're back to nothing from whence we came and that's all right, because we keep going.”
“Think of yourself as a 13-year-old. What were you doing?” I asked.
“I was finding any excuse to turn school projects into video projects so I could avoid presenting in front of the class.”
“What was your favorite movie at the time?”
“Well..that era....Titanic was still lingering.”
“I've never seen Titanic!” I exclaimed as if it were some sort of badge of honor.
“That's a lot of movie, but my all time favorite is The Shining and I ended up seeing that late one night; some edited version on AMC or something.
“Redrum,” I said in my creepiest throaty voice.
“Yeah. There was something about the way that movie looked and sounded and that space and then going into academics about it, you get obsessed with realizing something could emotionally affect you and what it takes to create that sort of thing from scratch.”
There’s a whole lot more Tyler relayed in regards to The Shining, and it was all really fascinating, but this is a blog post after all. We ain’t got time. Ask him about it if you see him around town.
From there we talked about movies from old westerns to Rebel Without a Cause to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Hitchcock’s Notorious.
“Yeah, that’s one of my all-time favorite movies,” I said.
“That’s the one with the milk that glows?”
I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Yeah, they put a light in the milk to make it glow.”
“Huh. All those old tricks,” I said. I’ll have to watch it again and see if I catch it.
From there we moved on to movies like Pillow Talk and Some Like it Hot.
“They mention the Mayo brothers in Some Like It Hot,” I pointed out. Like, who cares?
“Oh, yeah,” he said politely.
“What's the last movie that made you cry?” I asked inquisitively.
“I'm always an emotional wreck with movies sometimes.” He though for a moment. “Titanic always made me cry, but the one that I got what I call the ‘goose bump cry’ where you just get kind of flush with emotions, was a movie released recently on Netflix called Roma directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
He told me all about it and got goosebumps just talking about it. If you watched the Oscars, you heard all about it.
“What else, besides film, did you do in those formative years?” I asked.
Turns out Tyler’s dad’s cousin owned an antique shop in town and Tyler would spend a lot of time hanging out there.
“I loved collecting on that culture and taking it in, and in the process the thing I came back to and sort of got obsessed with was the Red Owl icon.”
He pulled up his pant leg to reveal a tattoo.
“Red Owl!” I said like an owl hooting out the words.
“Anytime you see a Red Owl in a shop it’s the one thing that stands out more than anything else and it just hits you; this iconography. I don’t know why, but the Red Owl thing is one of those things that has stuck with me,” he concluded.
“Do you think it has a certain nostalgia?” I queried.
“Well, I was never in a Red Owl grocery store, but I think it just always stood out. It might have something to do with the gentrification, or renewing, of culture across the board because of the effect imagery has on people. So many companies are bringing back vintage packaging from the ‘50s. It's like, are we gonna just reset everything and start over again?
“What is the greatest tangible gift you've been given in your life?” I asked changing subjects.
Tyler’s voice took on a hushed, reverent tone when he spoke. I knew I should listen carefully.
“My mom’s father was big on wood making and crafts and always over decorated for the holidays and was this powerhouse, this presence. When he died, I got his VHS camera because nobody else wanted it. It was like a toy and I filmed my toys with it.”
“So, that’s where it all started?” I asked already knowing the answer.
“Yeah. That’s where it all started.”
“So, after The Rochester Experience and the Five Things videos, you’re doing your own thing and delivering for Hunt Drug. What else was happening?” I asked returning my questioning to the nearer past.
“Before I had finished doing the Five Things videos, I had already started working with the Rochester Downtown Alliance who realized I could provide something fun, different, and affordable.
If you follow Downtown Rochester on Facebook, then you’ve probably seen Tyler’s videos. Like this promo for their recent Socialice.
“Tell me about your partner,” I prompted. Tyler had mentioned her a few times.
“She is a paint artist, self-taught graphic design artist, and also a gemologist. I met her on a shoot where I wanted to highlight an artist from Canvas and Chardonnay and Leah (that’s his partner) was working there teaching people how to paint.
“I wanted to talk to her because she was, and is, a working professional who literally paints for a living. That’s a huge deal. Painters make it in large metropolitan areas, but around here, it's hit or miss.”
And, the pair have now been together for the past 2+ years.
“Then, after six years of working at Canvas and Chardonnay,” Tyler continued, “her boss decided to move to Florida and Leah didn’t want to work for somebody else or see that place disappear so we all kind of pooled together. Now, Leah, her mom, we own Canvas and Chardonnay. We knew it was going to be a lot, but we knew enough people that were really excited about it.”
They seem to be having a blast. In addition to regular painting, fiber arts, needlework, jewelry making, and plant basics events, they have Tuesday night music, kids’ camps, and Tyler hosts various vinyl nights. But, their goal goes beyond running a successful business. It’s “getting people around the campfire,” as Tyler described it.
“I’ve always loved inviting friends over and entertaining. Like, let's sit down and listen to a whole record and chitchat and have shucked peanuts because those are fun. Like, coming back to people connecting and helping each other in ways they maybe didn’t know they could. That kind of social waltz is still there, but people maybe don't realize it.”
And, that’s the same impetus that’s been behind Tyler’s video work. A couple of years ago, he got together with two other locals (and friends) and the trio developed a new online platform called The Rochester Posse which seeks to inform about all the events happening in the area. Rosei Skipper manages the (mainly Facebook) platform, Tyler creates video and Mike Terrill is the audio producer.
“So tell me about the crows,” I asked bringing us back to where we started.
“Oh, yeah,” he said with a smile. “I'm excited about this one only because it's a lot...a lot of time and energy and not bum-rushing. The documentary starts with, ‘I remember the day when there was a crow genocide in town.’”
“That's a great opening line,” I said. Opening lines are big deals. In books, in movies, in blog posts.
“Yeah. I mean the crows are here and what are the solutions to the problems they bring? It’s also a mirror image of how much change is happening in this town with buildings going up like never before. That's our progress. I don't hate or love the crows but it's a subject that crosses all boundaries. The Silver Lake geese are protected, but why aren’t the crows protected?”
That’s a good point. Man, those geese are annoying sometimes.
“Do you have a release date in mind or it’s done when it’s done?”
“I'm learning the idea of asking ‘when is it done?’”
And, I’m learning I don’t think I’ll ever run out of interesting and worthy people to interview in our little city. Amiright?
Go and ‘like’ The Rochester Posse on Facebook and find out about all the stuff we have going on in town. And, more than that, go out and meet people, build community and maybe we can all get around that campfire sometime soon. No tripods allowed.
But shucked peanuts and crows are okay.