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Jason van Genderen Jason van Genderen
14 June 2018 Posted by 

Filming his way around the world with a smart phone

ASSOCIATE Editor Dallas Sherringham chats with the uniquely talented man at the head of Treehouse Creative, Jason van Genderen. 

TERRIGAL based Jason van Genderen has become known world-wide as the man who turned his smartphone into a powerful new form of film making.
In a world captivated by billions of smartphones, it was Jason who saw the potential of capturing that same world on that very same smartphone in a series of short, sharp films that gained international acclaim.
And like so many great Australian success stories, it was a case of just “going out and doing it”.
However that success is deceptively simple to the outsider. It is actually the result of many years of hard work and a great love of film making to get to where he is today as head of Treehouse Creative, one of the nation’s most innovative multi-media companies. (See attached details).
In recent weeks Jason has won: Best Micro Documentary at London’s @discover.film Awards for ’”The Missing Things” a poignant journey of his own mother with dementia.  There were 1,782 submissions from 40 Countries with 31 finalists. 
And, he was awarded Los Angeles Film Awards Winner, Best Documentary Short for the same film.
To top it off he was selected to interview Australia’s Simon Baker who made his directing debut with “Breath” at the Avoca Theatre.
Best of all, he does it all from Terrigal, right here on the Central Coast.
DS: I read about your early entrepreneurial schoolboy efforts selling pet rocks, followed by an arrangement with Mr Whippy and the location of school excursions, but what got you started in the media?
JASON: My creative career started at the tender age of 14 as a freelance illustrator, finishing high school to work for 13 years in the advertising industry before founding my own creative studio (Treehouse Creative).
DS: And what was your lightbulb moment?
JASON: In 2008 I picked up a smartphone, filmed an accidental short film success that won the hearts of festivals the world over and started a movement known as Pocket Filmmaking.
DS: That was the three minute film called ‘Mankind is No Island’ shot in Gosford and New York which graphically portrayed homelessness and has now been viewed 1.2 million times on You Tube.
JASON: Yes and since then, my presentations on simplifying the art of storytelling using your smartphone have inspired audiences from Colleges to TEDx events to the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2016. My pocket films have won major awards at prestigious festivals such as Tropfest NY and Sydney, Sundance London and even a coveted IF Award. They've also been inducted into the National Film & Sound Archive and the Smithsonian.Treehouse Creative has given me 16 years of new wisdoms helping imaging brands like Sony, Nokia, Nikon and Apple Australia tell their stories. In 2014, I was fortunate enough to be recognised at Vivid Sydney for my contribution to the creative arts, using my prize to establish the Pocket Film Academy, a training entity for storytellers brave enough to unleash the broadcast power of their smartphones. After travelling the globe in 2016 delivering my sold-out Filmbreaker masterclasses, I returned home to help brands mastermind their own story power through my own signature 'StoryArk™' system. There is an undeniable ecology to storytelling that can transform businesses into powerful Humanistic Brands.
DS: Yes, I have watched your inspiring You Tube presentations, your excellent short films and read your Treehouse Creative web site plus some news articles about you. This is all great for me, because normally business people aren’t as “out there” in their media exposure as you are.
JASON: Well thank you… I’ve not always been the most keen to be ‘out there’ but given the nature of work I do sometimes we can’t help but become the story too. It’s nice sharing experiences and knowledge if it helps or inspires people.
DS: In today’s digital world, every business needs to think of its branding in visual terms. The days of coming up with just a name and a fancy logo have now gone. How does Treehouse Creative convince often conservative companies that they need to embrace the new technologies and the amazing opportunities of the internet and social media?
JASON: Change is scary for any business, from a solopreneur to a giant multi-national. I saw this meme the other day that read “Everybody wants to change the world but nobody wants to change.” That kind of sums up the whole ‘me too’ approach… everybody wants the end benefits but sometimes finding the agitator within to instigate that change seems impossible. No one likes putting their hand up to assume the risk. But that’s also our greatest opportunity to learn and grow. When we push our capacity to its limits, we discover new approaches and pathways which never appeared before. It beautifully mirrors our approach to any kind of creative thinking and messaging.We’re very upfront with clients, and we’re very clear to not promise end results we can’t predict. But what we do encourage clients to do is challenge their perceptions of their brands… to re-evaluate how their internal stakeholders feel and see themselves. To really look and see how the outside world is looking in on them. If we can encourage a business to be impartial and to allow us to be their audience/consumer advocate, then we establish a beautiful truth. They know we have their best interests at heart, but they also know we’re not afraid to have the difficult discussions around what’s not working well. When we can be THAT frank with a brand, we have real opportunity to step beyond marketing pillars or mission statements and enact a fresh, tactile conversation about them.All the guys here at Treehouse carry that same sensibility and that’s how we’ve built our brand I guess. We’re only a small team but we’re obsessed with doing good. We really sell our process as opposed to our end product. If we can show a business how we think and why we think that way and they agree with that approach, then the tough stuff is ticked off the list right away. It really starts with powerful and intentional listening… because the way we may see a particular communication objective or challenge can often be quite different to the internal stakeholders and you know what, that’s a great thing. That’s what creates the opportunity.So to summarise, we like to let our previous work stand for itself and we definitely have a style and flavour to what we do (and there’s many types of projects we’ve walked away from because we don’t think we’re the best fit for the client), but what’s important for us is to understand if the client is willing to take the risks needed to allow real change to happen. If they do, then we’ll swing in every corner we can to create the best outcome possible. We’re lucky that businesses are actually quite spoilt for choice here on the Coast. There’s a number of excellent creative agencies living here that all produce inspiring work. The secret is finding someone who ‘fits’ with the personality of your brand. Everyone’s different, and that’s what creates opportunities for some and not for others. We’re not always going to be someone’s first choice, and that’s actually ok. Once we understood that – we felt more comfortable in our own skin.
DS: Making a great video is one thing for companies, but it needs to be seen. How do you recommend companies gain exposure for their corporate video?
JASON: Well the first thing I’d suggest is to walk away from that term ‘corporate video’. If someone asks you to watch their ‘corporate video’ it’s kinds like saying ‘Hey, let’s go to the dentist and pull some teeth just for fun!’  The first step a brand needs to do is step outside the expected messaging, the usual stereotype of their industry and be brave enough to stand clear of the pack. Ask yourself what your prime customer wants to know about you… wants to REALLY know about you? If you don’t know that, ask them. Your video story needs to be of real-world value or it won’t get watched, no matter where you put it or how much cash you throw at promoting it. Consumers want to know that you’re on THEIR side… you’re doing this for THEM, not for YOU. That will then dictate the type of story you make for your video and what type of content it becomes. I wish there was a ‘one-solution-for-all-videos’ when it comes to promoting your story but that really does depend on both the type of content you’ve made and who you made it for. The days of reaching all people, everywhere are gone. The beauty of today’s online channels is they allow very focused targeting of messages to bespoke audiences, so narrow-casting is the future. Don’t try and be all things to all people; try and be that precise solution to your absolute a-grade client. The best advice I can offer for working out how to create the very best exposure for your video message is to ensure you lay it down in the footsteps of where your intended audience is likely to walk. What does your desired audience currently watch, read, listen to? What’s of prime interest to them, what times of the day are they grazing for content and how can you place your message squarely there? And how will you know they’ve seen it? Make sure you reward those that have given the time to watch your story with a payoff, a free tip, a way to save something, an offer to reward them for their attention. People’s time is more precious than anything, so ensure you acknowledge that and reward it.
DS: What equipment are you using now? I noticed an unusual camera being used in one of your projects plus a small steady cam.
JASON: Yes we’ve well and truly bucked the trend and become the first production house in Australia to throw away our high-end DSLR video kits and down-size to smartphone technology. We’re 100% iPhone powered for capturing our videos and we’re in the process of transitioning to 100% iPad Pro’s to run all other areas of our production and business. Our colleagues think we’re crazy and foolish. but I’ve seen the future path of this technology and I trust it enough to know what’s on the horizon. I’ve also had the benefit of showing my films on huge screens all over the world and the audience is always in disbelief that they’re shot on smartphones. You can film a bad story on any camera, regardless of cost. But the opposite applies too. If you can embrace camera miniaturisation for all the right reasons; for the distinct increase in filming productivity that it provides, for it’s incredible intimacy as a camera tool, for the non-confronting nature of the tool… then you open up a whole new scope as a storyteller for brands.The other brilliant thing is we’re using the same tools as what our clients have access to, meaning we can train them how to capture their own brand stories as well. Often it’s THEM on the frontline of a story opportunity for their business (not us) so if we can empower a client to capture that, we’re all ahead!And we’re not just making $5000 videos on iPhone. We’re shooting large-budget national television commercials. Our work has even been regularly played to Apple execs in Apple Park, USA.
DS: What is the next step for you creatively?
JASON: For me it’s inspiring more people to take charge of their storytelling capacity. For businesses it’s showing and training them about the stories they’re perfectly positioned to capture for their brand and how accessible this medium is for any business large or small. For budding film students and storytellers it’s about empowering them with entirely new possibilities to get their film stories made… NOW rather than in 5 or 7 years time. And for professionals working currently in the video production and broadcast space, it’s about showing them how smartphones need to become part of their production kit and workflow. My mission is to spark a brand new cinematic movement dedicated to everyone making great stories with their smartphones as a production choice, rather than a liability. I’ve called this the ‘Filmbreaker Movement’. In March we launched the community on Facebook (@Filmbreaker): today we number more than 29,000 members already. Everything we share on this page is free knowledge, and currently I’ve uploaded over 2 hours of free tutorial videos to help people understand the power within their smartphone’s camera. This is the future that’s going to be accessible to everyone, not just the limited few with deep pockets. I’m currently touring the world throughout 2018 offering my talks for free to any film or creative festival that’ll have me. That’s how passionate I am about making storytelling accessible to everyone.
DS: Have you tried to pitch a movie in Hollywood? How did you fare and what will you differently next time? I guess you have to find the ‘Jaws in Space’ moment you often quote, referring to the famous three word pitch for ‘Alien’.
JASON: I have, and the most impressive discovery about that whole process is realising how disjointed that is for any storyteller thinking that’s the way to get their work made. Making it in Hollywood takes the perfect storm of opportunities aligning. You need to be represented by a stellar agent. That agent needs to be someone the studios already know and use. Those studios then need to have a reason why they want you to pitch. And then you walk in the room for a 15 minute tap dance filled with uncertainty.
Don’t get me wrong, I have friends who have absolutely done that successfully and loved the ride. But for the great many amazing writers, actors, directors, producers out there with brilliant ideas to be realised… the Hollywood system will destroy their souls. Unless you’re willing to move there and work a project for a number of years under your own steam, the phone will stop ringing as soon as you head back to Australia.We’ve even been head-hunted by the Weinstein Brothers in NYC before. They called wanting a meeting with myself and my talented collaborator Shane Emmett. We jumped on a plane to New York, feet on the ground as they say and waiting a week for the umpteen phone calls (to set up a date and time) to be returned. Zilch! We left without every receiving a meeting slot. That’s the reality of chasing those scale dreams and it can destroy you if you let it. But if you look at it and learn why it doesn’t work for everyone, then it gives you a unique insight to create another way through – and that’s way more exciting for everyone.
DS: If you could make just one movie, what would it be about?
JASON: My work is always documentary based, so I’m very much affected by narratives that intersect with my own life and how I experience the world around me. My current short film (The Missing Things) was filmed on iPhone and is a 3.5minute journey into caring for my mum who has Alzheimer’s. It’s been doing very well in a number of festivals and is still touring throughout 2018. They joy I get from that is connecting with so many people globally who reach out and say ‘Oh my god, you’ve perfectly captured what life is like for our family, thank you’. If that little film can help cast some light on the effects of dementia on families and increase awareness about its effects, than that’s plenty for me. I’d love to look at creating a longer-format story following a number of dementia journeys and rather than focus on capturing the sadness, turn it around to capture the love and beauty that fragile state creates too. When your 85-year-old mother reaches out for your hand as support before crossing the road, it takes you from being her child to her protector. This happens millions of times everyday throughout the world; wouldn’t that be a beautiful legacy to watch?
DS: With this in mind, what is your favourite movie?
JASON: I hate picking favourites, because I love so many different films for different reasons. The first film I ever saw in a cinema was E.T. That made a stand-out impression on me because for that entire screening I was convinced that cinema screen had teleported me into another world. I didn’t know then that I wanted to make films myself, but I’m sure it kicked off something inside me that was waiting for a stage of my life to become relevant. I still cry when I watch E.T.
Probably my favourite (surprise) film is an unassuming documentary called ‘My Date With Drew’. It was made by three friends with a borrowed handycam in 30 days… and it’s amazing. It inspired me that storytelling IS possible on any budget and with any dream.
DS: What was it like meeting Simon Baker? Do you have a chance of working with him in future?
JASON: You know I actually met him in the men’s bathroom at the Avoca Beach Theatre, right? His publicist almost had a coronary! Simon was just a beautiful soul, down-to-earth and generous with his time and talent. I made a joke on stage that I would give him my card. But you know what the real opportunity is here? It is that wonderful magic of serendipity. I know somewhere, someplace our paths will likely cross again and if everything is aligned then that opportunity may well arise. As a geeky teenager I was obsessed with Billy Field the singer. When I re-married he played at our wedding. Last year I even got to film him for a local video series. Could I ever have predicted that? Not a chance. Did I ever stop hoping and imaging... not for a second. That’s the secret here. If you keep believing something’s possible, it always will be.



Michael Walls
P: 0407 783 413
E: Michael@accessnews.com.au

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