A Conversation with Dan Martin—videographer, editor, and founder at Kzoom.
As a videographer who founded his own company, how do you define your role?
I’m like a rainmaker in training. I’ve shifted from doing things to making things happen. I still am actively involved in almost every key project in some way, but sometimes it’s oversight.
When did you know that you wanted to do this?
Coming up on Christmas time during eighth grade, my parents asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” I said, “I really want a video camera.” They said, “That’s it’s way too expensive.” The one I was looking at was $750. My mom made a deal. She said, “We will do this, if this is your present for your birthday and for Christmas.” My Aunt Ellen, always a very close family member to our family, went in half with them.
How did you start your business?
It was 2003. I had just moved on from another job unexpectedly and, my father-in-law with full faith in me as I did not have the skills or the experience of running a business, said, “How much do you need a loan for?” I calculated (an amount) way smaller than I ever should have because I didn’t know what I was getting into. He wrote a check to me for $7,200 to buy a computer and my first camera online. When it came the next week, he said, “I have project in Three Rivers, Michigan, where I need some photos and video taken of a strip mall. How much do you charge an hour?” I gave him some low price. He replied, “Nope! You charge $100 per hour!”
How do you kick off a project?
Sometimes, it’s just a verbal conversation. One thing that we’re really good at and that a lot of people need is delivering immediacy. (Customers) want something done, want it now, want it live, and want what just happened tonight or tomorrow. A lot of times, I’ve heard somebody use the phrase, we “build the plane as it’s flying.” I think it’s more of a conversation than a storyboard now. We’ll overshoot, so we end up with different options. Some of the best, most genuine, authentic, trustable work that we’ve done is when we catch somebody off-guard, when we catch them as themselves. I enjoy that process of seeing a piece evolve as it happens versus over-planning it.
What makes videography special?
We take for granted the capability to preserve a moment. It’s fascinating, to capture something in the present so that someone can come back and relive that moment. It’s bringing somebody’s eyes into your eyes to show them the way that you’re seeing something or have them experience a point in time. Don’t we all wish we could live forever and not be bound by time? Video is this thing that helps us supersede that desire to push pause. Video has that capability to allow us to reflect on something that is bigger than time. Kzoom (concentrates on) the human element; we do a lot of projects capturing culture. You can work with a marketing agency to drill down on your core values and script it out on paper, but it doesn’t breathe like video.
What is your favorite part of your art?
My favorite part about the design process is taking an idea, making it better from the brainstorming phase, making it better from the shooting phase, and making it better than what the customer expected in the editing process to the point where the customer says, “This is incredible!” I love that process of starting with an idea that’s a good idea, and then at each phase taking it to the next level beyond what the customer or we imagined at the time.
What skills are important in your industry?
Skills that are most important for somebody who works for Kzoom are relational. Of course, somebody needs a background with editing, videography, shooting, and having an eye for a shot. But a lot of that can be taught. We want to be known as a company that is excellent at working with people. We value having interpersonal skills. It brings people out in an interview when somebody is interested in them. If I’m smiling at you while you’re on camera, I can cause you to smile on camera.
How has videography changed?
In the early 2000s, I read an article that said the future of this field will require someone to be multi-talented. Up to then, a lot of professions historically had been totally specialized, for example you were just a boom mic operator, or just an editor, or just the director of photography. Something that’s unique about Kzoom now and, it’s not just here, is that you have to be multi-disciplined. Today, all our employees are shooter-editors. If (a Kzoom employee) shoots a project, they’re editing it and they’re the project lead communicating with that customer. They customer knows who they worked with during the shoot and has access to communicate with that person at any time. Our customers have direct access with the person who knows the most about that project.
Do you ever think you’ll age out of your field?
My wife just asked me this the other day. At Kzoom, we got into this because we had a passion for it. That doesn’t go away over time. Being in a technology generation, we’re excited to get and use the next thing.
What’s your dream project?
My older brother and I dream about creating a tourism website or business. Our family grew up going to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee for vacations. We go as extended-family now with our kids. I would love to build out a tourism website that was video-based for families to see through video what a hike looks like through the Smoky Mountains or what an attraction looks like. It would be catered to a family so that they could plan an entire vacation.
How do you sharpen your creativity?
We subscribe to blogs to keep connected to companies that create technology. We like those emails from places before they launch a product so we stay on the forefront and can order (the product) before it hits the market. We seriously invest in training and developing our staff (and attend) Catalyst University, the Christian Business Roundtable, Kalamazoo Social Media Week, and local American Marketing Association events.
If you had to change careers, what would you do?
Hobby farming. My wife and I have five kids, from age one to 12. We have farm animals on 80 acres at home. Right now, we have seven goats, seven pigs (a couple of them are not going to be here with us next week), around 40 chickens, rabbits, cats, cows, four turkeys, and four ducks. Our farm is Woodsong Farm. You can find it on Facebook. We have two goats that we milk every day, twice a day, and whose milk we share with people in the Kalamazoo area who are lactose-intolerant and with families who have kids with autism as prescribed by their doctor. When you work seven out of every eight hours a day behind the computer, you want to go home and milk a goat!
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Find a local nonprofit or charity that you’re passionate about, and then volunteer to donate your time to create a project for them. If you’re passionate about what they do, you will put your whole self into it.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
There’s a scripture that says, “You reap what you sow.” It goes back to the farmer thing. It’s so simple, but it’s true: If you invest in a relationship, it’s going to bring fruit. If you work hard, you’re going to see a harvest. If you care for your customers, you’re going to build a trusting relationship; you will reap what you sow. Another passage that I think (holds true similarly) says that, “He who sells sparingly, will reap sparingly. He who sells richly, will reap richly.” If you invest in people and if you invest in caring for your business and caring for a project, you’re going to realize success in that hard work and that in