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Life & Work with Cory Messer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cory Messer.

Hi Cory, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
If I think back on where this whole filmmaking journey began, I would probably trace it back to my music obsessed teenage years. Bands like Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, and Linkin Park really held my ear and I became enthralled by the compositions of the songs and the emotion put into every note. It wasn’t long before I found myself with a guitar in my hands, playing with some of my friends in their parent’s basement. That’s probably the first time I had ever created something from scratch in a collaboration with other like-minded people. No feeling really compared to it at the time and I was convinced this was my calling in life. My time as a musician spanned into my early 20’s and eventually allowed me to tour the country with my best friends. We had the time of our lives playing shows, sleeping in a 16 passenger van, and traveling from city to city. In time though, all good things must come to an end. Friends got married, had kids, and eventually we all split ways mutually to pursue our next calling in life… In 2012 my then girlfriend at the time (now wife), Breanna, had thrown out the idea of going to college together. I had first gone to college straight out of high school for Bio Science, that lasted about two semesters and I realized I wasn’t happy. So this time around I knew if I was going to invest into an education, it needed to be something I could be creative with. 

After much deliberation, I eventually landed on the Video Production department at my local college in Mansfield, Ohio. I had always found music videos intriguing having been in a few on the performance side. Again, music being the through line here. During my last year of college, I was partnered up on our first big film project with Zebulon (Zeb) Griffin, he and I clicked immediately and started working on each others projects and pushing each other creatively more and more. We started out filming short documentaries and music videos mostly but that was enough to really spark my passion for film making and I wanted more. Not long after college, I briefly moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. Breanna and I always wanted to live near the ocean and I had heard there was a thriving film industry in Wilmington. Blockbusters like Ironman 3, The Conjuring, and popular TV shows like One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek were all filmed here, this seemed like the right move! We absolutely loved the town and the vibe but quickly realized we came here too late. This was in 2015, which also happened to be right around the time North Carolina cut its In-State film incentive program, which practically demolished the industry that was once thriving. During our year and a half there, only two small television shows were produced in an area starving for work. We were both working at coffee shops to get by and we quickly realized this wasn’t it… 

Fortunately, I connected with another filmmaker named Chaysen Beacham and we began filming around town making music videos and eventually landed a contract with UNCW to film a series of content for the university. Things seemed to be going great and Breanna and I even got engaged in Wilmington. However, once those projects ended it seemed the well had run dry again and so we made the decision to move back to Columbus, Ohio to save up for our dream wedding. I searched and searched for work in Columbus but ultimately, Zeb, who was living in Dayton, Ohio at the time, helped get me an interview at a job he was leaving. I ended up landing the job in Dayton (a 90-minute commute each way) at a local news station creating commercials for small businesses. This wasn’t ideal but it was in my wheelhouse and it would do for now. After all, some of my favorite filmmakers started off working for small news stations. Just before I started the job, I got a call from Chaysen, he had just secured his first international client and wanted me to come to DP the project. We headed off to Belgium to film a horse genetics research documentary. It was my first time traveling out of the country and I was hooked! The fact that I could travel, make films, and get paid blew my mind! If only I could make this the full-time job.

After the Belgium project, I came back to Ohio and for the next year and a half I commuted and I worked. All while trying to sharpen my filmmaking skills from production through post and keep these passion projects going in my downtime. Zeb and I were constantly looking for ways to stay creative. Again, music videos being the default but we both wanted more so we began working on our first short film “The Chair”. During March of 2018 when we were finalizing pre-production for The Chair, I received another call from Chaysen. This time the project was bigger – we were heading to Kenya to film a feature-length documentary about charity reform and he wanted me to DP this project as well. I immediately said yes, not knowing how I would pull this off with a full-time job but I was determined. I used some of the pre-production budget to rent and familiarize with the camera I wanted to film the documentary on. This ended up being the perfect opportunity to make our first short film. In April of 2018, Zeb, myself, and few of our film friends made The Chair and I remember it being the most eye-opening experience creatively. This was my first narrative film and it was so much more intentional and creative than anything I had done before. This passion project went on to win multiple awards on the festival circuit and was the birth of our film collective, Columinati Films. Something sparked in me and I knew this is something I wanted to keep doing.

In May of 2018, I somehow managed to negotiate with my boss to let me take a leave of absence to go film in Kenya for three weeks. I asked Zeb to come be my B Camera Operator on the documentary and within a few weeks time, myself, Zeb, and Chaysen, along with our crew and talent, were on a plane to Africa. The experience was incredible and I really look forward to going back someday. I knew once I returned, doing the routine 9-5 would be difficult. I stuck with it for a few more months before Breanna and I got married near our hometown in August of 2018. Then in October, I was once again approached by Chaysen who had recently moved to Los Angeles, he was about to work on his first feature film. I was originally supposed to come out to help edit the documentary we had recently shot back in May but once I arrived in LA and met the director and crew of this film, I ended up on set during production in the Grip and Electric department and my connections began to grow. Afterwards, I took an assistant editor job at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood that would span through the top of 2019, in that moment, I knew that we should make the move to LA permanent. On January 1, 2019. Breanna and I, along with our dog Niko and what little belongings we could fit into our Honda Insight, made the big move across the country to our new home in Los Angeles. After my editing job was finished, I wanted to work my way back into the camera department so I took lots of Assistant Camera jobs. I wanted to learn the craft and I thought working under other DPs would be the best way to do so. This really allowed me to step back and observe but I discovered that I was more ready for this line of work than I had realized.

Around this time, Zeb had followed suit and made the move out to Los Angeles as well, while he crashed in our living room we began prepping for the next series of productions for Columinati Films. While making our award-winning sophomore short film “7 Steps To Inspire Creative Writing”, I was offered a full-time job for a popular wildlife YouTube channel as a Producer/Director. This seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime and I knew I had to take it. With all of my experience in the world of documentary and my love for wildlife this was the perfect role for me. I signed on and have been traveling the globe since. It’s taken me to places like Guadalupe Island to film Great White Sharks and Australia to find some of the most venomous creatures that inhabit the coastlines. During my days home, when I’m not traveling for my full-time gig, I’m focused on Columinati Films. We’ve recently produced a series of micro-shorts, music videos, and are in pre-production on our first feature film that will be filmed over the summer of 2021. Reflecting back on all of this has made me realize how far I’ve come in a seemingly small amount of time and reminds me that this is only the beginning.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As exciting as this journey has been, it has most certainly been challenging every step of the way. I’ve come to realize that you have to learn to embrace the struggles and leverage it in a way that allows you to grow. Without adversity, you will never learn how to persevere and you will never experience life’s sweetest success. My advice to anyone pursuing a passion that seems impossible is to surround yourself with other like-minded people and press on. If you’re working a day job, you have to sacrifice your downtime to work on yourself and your goals. Otherwise, they will never be obtained. One of the most important lessons I have learned along the way, and this comes from the filmmaker Mark Duplass, “The Calvary isn’t coming”. This means that no one is going to magically appear someday and make your dreams come true for you or fund your feature film in my case. Instead, it’s important to have the mindset of “I’m doing this thing with or without you”. Undying persistence is key.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
My work consists of a variety of film and video forms. Anything from music videos, commercials, documentaries, reality shows, short films, and feature films! While I’ve working on projects for networks like Netflix, History Channel, CBS, Discovery and famous YouTube channels such as Brave Wilderness. A lot of my passion projects and favorite work is done under my film collective Columinati Films. We work on mostly music videos and short films, however, we’re gearing up for a feature film this summer that is bound to be one of my favorite pieces of work.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
Keep creating and keep learning. It’s important to always stay sharp and be a student of your craft. In an industry that is ever-evolving you have to strive to stay on top of the latest technology and practices. For me this is an easy step, I’m very passionate about film and also a bit of a gear head, so I’m naturally drawn to the advancements in filmmaking practices.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Chaysen Beacham, Justin Holdstock, Breanna Messer, Zebulon Griffin

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