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Meet DJay Brawner of Tuff Contender in Echo Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to DJay Brawner.

DJay, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Early on in my life, I loved cameras. I loved taking photographs and filming with my parents vhs camcorder. By high school, I was filming skate videos with my friends, running around San Francisco to film skits in an amateur “Jackass” sort of way (before Jackass was a thing). I started buying every VHS tape with music videos on it that I could find, and I started to analyze what made these stylized videos cool.

After graduating high school, I attended Chapman University to pursue filmmaking. I was introduced to a music video director named Derek Dale, who had directed and shot many of the punk rock videos I had on tape. Derek took me under his wing to mentor me, and while I was school, I PA-ed for him on any set I could while directing my own projects on the side. In 2004, I directed my first commissioned music video for the band Emery, on Tooth & Nail Records. From there, I worked to get as many directing gigs as I could.

Fast forward to 2007, I founded my first production company Anthem Films. My goal in starting Anthem Films was to support myself as a director and help other directors grow their own portfolio of work. I started the company in the living room of my apartment, and over the years it blossomed. We produced all sorts of projects during Anthem’s ten year run.

In 2018, I decided I wanted to change the course of my career professionally. As a new dad at the time, I felt I needed to make a shift not only for myself, but also for my family. As a result of this, I decided to shut down Anthem Films and start fresh laser focus on commercial production. In 2018, I launched Tuff Contender, with my new business partner Max Rose.

Since opening, we’ve produced content with an awesome roster of directors and photographers for brands like Qdoba, Home Depot, Rae Wellness, Victoria Secret Pink, Twix, M&Ms. We’ve also continued to make to music videos, and I‘ve been able to continue to direct on them as they have been my passion from day one. This last year I directed projects for Bad Cat Amps, Corey Taylor, fever333, and Hope Depot.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There is a saying that I’m sure other people have said here at VoyageLA – if it was easy, everyone would do it. In this instance, that could not be more true. I began my career at a time when the music industry wasn’t profitable and budgets were shrinking. Finding work was extremely difficult, and finding music video work where I’d actually make a profit was even more challenging.

Then we were hit with the great recession – I ate tons of toast and ramen for a few years just struggling to survive. I was always a hustler, so I could always find enough money to pay my rent doing odd projects editing or searching craigslist for videographer positions. After found Anthem, I saw a shift in the industry. Streaming was bringing the labels money, and YouTube was becoming a platform that people consumed music, and the need for more content started to grow. While I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, getting there was hard. The obstacles of owning a small business, to scaling quickly, can be very challenging; you are constantly chasing payments, and leap frogging from one project to the next. There were plenty of months and years where I made sure everyone else was paid before myself. Top Ramen can be your best friend.

Tuff Contender – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Tuff Contender is a rostered based commercial and music video production company. What sets us apart from others is hard to define, as there are a lot of companies out there doing what we do. At the end of the day, the thing that separates us from everyone else is the people we work with and surround ourselves with. We bring a lot of passion to what we do, and treat it as not just a job, but a way of life. I couldn’t imagine not putting my all into something, and with Tuff Contender, I do. We’ve’ve been able to adapt and navigate even through the pandemic. We continue to push forward.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success for some people is purely a financial reward – I think that was just what I was after, I would have entered a different field. I’m extremely passionate about content creation and being a part of the cultural zeitgeist, which is a really an awesome feeling. Watching our projects become memes, parodied, referenced, shared, and dissected is exciting. Making a piece of art and having people enjoy it and share and love it is what success means to me. It’s contributing to the world. If we made work and it sat in a bubble, maybe the process would be rewarding, but in the end I’m not sure I would feel like a success. If we can touch on people’s emotions in anyway and create something that brings joy to others, even if it’s a commercial, I’m all for it!

Contact Info:

  • Address: 2148 1/2 W. Sunset Blvd
  • Website: TuffContender.com
  • Email: hello@tuffcontender.com
  • Instagram: @djaybrawner
  • Other: @tuff_contender

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