For our first interview this year, we’re thrilled to feature director, producer, and cinematographer Andrew Wonder from Station Film. Wonder, who started out at 17 as a field producer for MTV, has built a successful career by embracing technology and leveraging the power of story. Whether crafting commercials for national brands or directing films that bring about change, he’s always looking for new, innovative ways to give his audiences an out-of-the-ordinary visual experience. Here’s what he had to say…
How did you start out in the business?
I always wanted to be a gender studies/cultural anthropologist, but when I was 17, MTV gave me a camera and put me on the road to produce an episode of their series “Made.” I had no money, no crew and had to shoot/produce/sound-mix/edit. Getting that camera was like finding my paintbrush. I learned that you don’t need money or toys as long as you have a strong story and an emotional way of telling it.
What prompted your work for the ‘One More Day’ Campaign?
“The cell phones in the pockets of the dead students were still ringing when we were told that it was wrong to ask why.“ -Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, April 30, 2007
Every time another bullet fires in a school we feel that much more helpless to stop the next. Like many of us in the US I felt powerless to stop the barrage of shootings but wanted to make a difference.
This project will always be special to me because of all the people who helped make it come to life. After producer, Scott Chinn, suggested the sleeping kid in a sweatshirt what had been a series of disjointed images in my head was finally coming together. Everyone was excited about the project but no one understood what I was talking about until I called Joe.
A lot of elements go into creating a movie but to make it work you need an emotional core that ties everything together. So much of that core came from Joe’s experimenting with the boards to bring this story to life. I remember the first draft of the boards coming in and that was the moment I finally knew the film and project could work.
From those boards grew the film, our sound design and our campaign. We didn’t want this to be just a video, but rather a way to have positive conversations with students about gun violence. If one student with a gun can make sure a huge difference, why can’t a student with a kind word?
So many amazing things came out of this project. From the students we spoke to on our school tour to the Lion we won at Cannes. Still, what makes me happiest about it was the love that went into it from everyone. So many people believed in the concept but Joe’s work is what brought everyone together to bring this mission to life.
What are you working on now? Tell us about your most recent project.
Things are always different for me. Between spots, I’ve spent the last year consulting on VR projects and then got busy with narratives again. Right now I’m in a hotel room in the final days of prep on a feature documentary about how app development and APIs are creating a new American dream for anyone with a good idea who is willing to work for it. We have teams all over the world about to come to San Francisco to see if their hard work and determination is enough to finally make their dreams real.
What part of the creative process is your favorite?
Today’s challenge is the ever-changing sea of formats and content. It’s easy to forget with these new tools and delivery systems that we are still teaching people through narrative. We get stuck in the past, obsess over film grain and movies from the ‘70s, but forget that we are the luckiest group of filmmakers in history. For the first time, we have the ability to create images no one has ever seen before and deliver them in whatever way makes most sense for the story.
I really do believe if you could go back in time and tell Kubrick or Welles about the tools we have today they would be right here with us, working everyday to find a new, better way to tell stories. I’m prepping a feature written by my mentor, Paul Schrader, and we wanted to find a new way to communicate our story rather than a traditional look book. Using Tumblr (http://leftoes.tumblr.com) we created a digital storybook and it was one of the most rewarding storytelling experiences I’ve had yet.
Best advice your parents ever gave you?
My mom once asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her “I want to be a Jack of all trades.” She was very disappointed and her words always stayed in my head. “If you’re good at everything and great at nothing then there will always be someone better than you.”
I never knew what I wanted to be because I always liked everything. I’m so grateful I found a career where that scattered curiosity is an asset, not a hindrance.
Since beginning his career as a 17-year-old field producer for MTV, director/cinematographer Andrew Wonder has lived with mole people, taught high school, raided drug cartels with the DEA, and captured the last days of NASA’s space shuttles in 3D.
Working with filmmakers like Paul Schrader and Harris Savides, ASC, Andrew learned that developing new technology is the key to bringing humanity into filmmaking. Whether creating commercials for clients like GE, AT&T, Prudential, and Microsoft, or directing second unit on films like Dog Eat Dog (TIFF 2016), Andrew strives to create a new tool for every project. From designing new VR solutions to rebuilding Kubrick’s trademark zoom lens, he is constantly looking for a new way to immerse his audience in a world they haven’t experienced before.
Other accomplishments include winning MTV’s MADE an Emmy for its 200th episode, creating a film for Venice’s 70th Anniversary “Future Reloaded” series, releasing his viral hit film, Undercity (https://vimeo.com/18280328), and winning a Cannes Film Craft Lion for the film he created for his anti-school shooting organization, “One More Day.”
Andrew’s passion will always be education and working to help high school students. His foundation, Right to Win, sponsors student athletes in Ohio dealing with controversial Pay-to-Play fees. www.righttowin.org
Stay tuned next month where we will highlight one of last years projects!
If you’d like us to feature someone in the industry on an upcoming Q&A, just let us know.