Let me start by saying; never in a million years would I have imagined that I would win a national photo competition, let alone one where almost 100,000 people entered, or one where a Hollywood movie director selected the winners and made a movie based around the shots….
I am blessed…honored… and deeply humbled.
These last four months have been a whirlwind of emotions, events, and triumphs, and I am so thankful for every one of them. From Shooting Sigma’s international Ad Campaign, to getting married and going on a honeymoon in Italy, to walking the red carpet at the movie premier for Canon’s Project Imagin8ion… 2012’s going to have to be a pretty epic year to top this one!
Canon flew up the eight winners from the Project Imagin8ion contest from all corners of the country to New York City. My wife Amanda and I came up a few days early since she had never been to NYC. We checked in to the Park Central Hotel, just a few blocks south of Central Park and across the street from Carnegie Hall.
I played the role of tour guide as we visited the obligatory sights; Times Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Radio City, Statue of Liberty and the Staten Island Ferry, Grand Central Station, The theater district, and of course Ray’s Pizza!
We met up with another one of the winners; Chris Wehner, and his girlfriend Sarah, who had also arrived early. We had dinner at the Red Eye grill and afterward, explored the city together at night.
Chris had remembered seeing an old firehouse on a side street nearby so we set out to find it. After walking about 15 blocks we finally stumbled across it! The door to the station barely looked big enough to get a truck through! As Chris and I were admiring the vintage facade, Amanda and Sarah were in the entrance and one of them unknowingly brushed against the doorbell to the station. We were about to walk away when a fireman literally burst through the door, scaring the living daylights out of all of us! He was laughing pretty hard at startling us as Chris and I introduced ourselves. Not only did he not mind us photographing the outside of the building, he raised the garage door and invited us inside to shoot wherever we liked! We explored the vintage fire hall which was built in the early 1900’s and photographed everything we could. Mike, the fireman that let us in told us some interesting facts. Such as, each day at least 3 three people are hit by cars, and that they usually have well over 3000 calls a year! Also that truck that we thought could never make it through the door, really only has INCHES of clearance and they have to back that giant rig into the garage over 40 times a week!
After two days of exploring the city, the night of the film premier was here! “When You Find Me” directed by Ron Howard and his daughter Bryce, premiered at the American Museum of Natural History on 11/15/2011. The eight winners met in the lobby of the hotel, many of us meeting in person for the first time. We had a few short minutes to chat, congratulate, and take a few snapshots before we were ferried over to the museum.
None of us really knew what to expect. We were all excitedly nervous and anxious to see what was in store for us.
Our ride pulled up in front of the entrance to the museum where a long red carpet was laid out from the curb to doorway. We walked into the museum and just around the corner was the ‘real’ red carpet where 25-30 reporters and cameramen awaited us. ABC, CBS, NBC, E! Tv, Access Hollywood, all there…. With big cameras, microphones, and banks of LED lights and flashes to fire in our faces! This was the point where I had expected I would get really nervous. However, in the second we marched out in front of everyone, the magnitude of the situation overwhelmed any sense of fear or apprehension and I just ‘lived the moment’. It’s hard to describe, but it was so overwhelming that it had the opposite effect on me and I actually calmed down and relaxed. At least that’s how I felt on the inside; I may have looked like a deer in headlights for all I know!
After group shots, we moved aside for the guests of the hour, Ron Howard and Bryce Dallas Howard, as the made their way onto the red carpet. We all watched them talk to the press and take pictures, and then we had our opportunity to get a group shot with the both of them.
After the red carpet we headed towards the movie theater, but on the way we found ourselves in a hallway which (brace yourselves) had all 96,000+ images printed on the walls from floor to ceiling! It was at this point that we all fully realized the magnitude of this project and the enormity of it all. The best word I can use is ‘dizzying’. I had never seen anything like this and it really helped me understand just how lucky I was to be selected out of a sea of images from all over the country.
The gallery progressed to larger images of the top 30 semi-finalists in each of the 8 categories, and then finally large framed photos of the winning 8 images.
Then, the theater…
The winners got front row seats and we took our spots. Moments later Ron and Bryce walked in and sat directly behind us. I mean I could have leaned over and asked for a stick of gum I was so close!
The lights dimmed…
Who knew, that so much emotion and drama and feeling could be packed into a 25 minute time span? Not only did the movie do justice to every one of our winning photos, but we were all blown away seeing them come to life right before our eyes! I am sure I was not the only one in the theater choking back tears during the film. It was very emotional and powerful on many levels. Both Bryce as director and Dane Charbeneau as the writer masterfully crafted our images into a cohesive story that gripped the viewer from the very first seconds of the film.
After the film we watched Ron, Bryce, Dane, David Edelstein, (Chief Film Critic, New York Magazine) and the head marketing rep from Canon talk about the movie, the making of, and the inspiration from the photos. It was so cool to hear them talk about our individual photos and call us collaborators of the film. Truly surreal!
Then it was time for the after party!
As a kid I had been to the Museum of Natural history more than a few times, and the one room that I can still remember to this date was the “Whale Room”. This massive two story room held dioramas and exhibits all around the perimeter, but hung from the ceiling was a gargantuan life size blue whale. Who could forget something like that??? So imagine my surprise when we rounded a corner and entered the very same room, now decked out as an upscale NY nightclub. Fancy spotlights cast light and shadows all around the room which was filled with couches and a few standing tables. Digital screens surrounded the upper levels of the hall with “Canon” and “Project Imagin8ion” flashing on them. The center of the room held the (open!) bar, for which they had purchased giant digital touch sensitive countertops which displayed thousands of pictures from the contest that you could swipe and sift through with your hands by touching them. It was phenomenal!
We hung out at a cluster of couches and snacked on some food and drinks. Ron and Bryce mingled nearby and we were able to grab them for a few moments to chat and take pictures. The thing that struck me the most about Ron and Bryce is how unbelievably kind and down to earth they were. They were two of the nicest people I have met. Even though they were being swarmed with people looking to talk to them, they didn’t mind to take a few moments to chat and have their picture taken with us.
( Bryce the Director and Dane the writer)
Some of the press were still there and we did a few more interviews one on one. We were also able to hang out and talk with some of the actresses from the film. They were so wonderful to talk with; they were just as excited to meet us as we were them. I complimented them, telling them how impressed I was that they were able to evoke so much emotion in the film in the very short time span they had to film. I met some of the top Canon execs from Japan as well as some of the marketing guys from Grey (the advertising agency for Canon) who actually came up with the idea for Project Imagin8ion. Everyone was so excited to see this production come full circle and be executed flawlessly.
Around midnight we made our way back to the main entrance, claimed our gift bags which had a large framed print of the 8 winning images, a signed screenplay by Ron, and a Project Imagin8ion hat! We joined the winners and a few of the folks from Grey and Alliance Agency (the PR company for Grey) at Columbus Tavern a few blocks away for an ‘After After Party’. We celebrated some more until 2am when we hailed a cab back to the hotel.
Words cannot express all of the emotions and moments of the evening. Suffice it to say that it was a once in a lifetime experience and one that I will never forget!
Best of all, it’s not over yet! The film will air online in December 2011 for a few weeks, and then it will be coming to each of our regions in 1st quarter of 2012. Also it will be shown at Sundance, Tribeca, and will be screened by the Academy for a potential nomination for an Oscar!
So a big THANK YOU to Canon, Grey, Alliance Agency, Ron and Bryce, all the 8 winners, and all of my fans, friends, and family who have been so supportive, cheering me along every step of the way. I thank you ALL from the bottom of my heart!
Now… On to the next big thing!!!