Nicholas Janzen is the next generation of filmmaker — an amateur auteur spawned by the accessibility of digital technologies, the proliferation of online tutorials and the ever-present allure of becoming a YouTube star.
“My generation has been wanting to do that since they were 5,” says Janzen, a 17-year-old junior at Buchanan High School and the big winner in this year’s Scoopys, The Fresno Bee’s student film festival. He won a half-dozen awards, including best director, best screenplay and best editing.
Janzen owes his start in video to a broadcasting class he took in seventh grade and to the comedy team Smosh, whose YouTube channel has more than 20 million subscribers. The class gave him opportunity and experience. Smosh gave him inspiration.
While Janzen hasn’t created a multi-million dollar brand like Smosh, he has started his own production company and works with his school’s drama department and sports teams.
He also is working on his own original short films. He has done just about everything: dramas, documentaries and comedies. It’s comedy he likes best.
“I love to make films that make people laugh.”
If he laughs while making the films, all the better.
He started his career with a Flip camera he bought on eBay for $100. Flip cams were some of the first tapeless digital recorders and they were great — until Apple came out with the iPhone 5, Janzen says.
“Now Flip cameras are worth 5 cents, maybe,” he says.
These days, Janzen uses a Cannon 70D, with a 50 mm F/1.4 lens, which is just a bunch of tech talk to say: It’s an expensive piece of equipment that allows him to play with the aperture and get some really cool shots. He had planned on buying a less expensive camera. It took him a year to save up enough money for the upgrade.
It was worth it, Janzen says. If he could, he would upgrade to the Cannon 5D Mark III.
Of course, equipment only gets you so far. It can’t replace a good story.
“The story itself will win people over,” Janzen says, even if it is recorded on an iPhone.
Janzen has two pieces of advice for young, aspiring filmmakers.
Take advantage of available resources. There are a flood of YouTube tutorials. Janzen particularly likes the stuff from Film Riot, which breaks down blockbuster-style special effects like the shot in “Man of Steel” where Superman takes off from the fortress of solitude.
For students, videography classes (available in Fresno and Clovis unifieds as ROP courses) are a great way to get ahold of equipment and advice. Janzen credits Buchanan’s video course (and its instructor Daniel Pearce) for his growth as a filmmaker.
Pearce has 20 years in the film industry and knows everything, Janzen says, with hints of youthful hyperbole.
“I really have him to thank,” Janzen says.
There’s also the Community Media Access Collaborative (or CMAC), of which Janzen is a member.
More than anything, the trick is to get out there and do it, Janzen says.
That’s his second piece of advice.
“Pick up a camera,” he says. “Shoot, shoot, shoot.”