Chicago is the home of many talented entrepreneurs. This blog series is made to highlight their talents and spread awareness to their individual and unique businesses. Meet Joe Mastrino, a cinematographer who always has something uncommon to add to the conversation. His adventurous personality allows him to explore new opportunities and produce buzz-worthy content. Here is his story.......
Q: Tell us about yourself in general:
I am someone who is taking a different path and forgot to bring a machete to cut through the BS. Eight years ago I found myself sweating inside a mascot dressed as Cuppy Coffee passing out samples of the best Iced Coffee Dunkin' Donuts had to offer. My introduction into the advertising world had begun.
As my friends began their careers on the right foot and started their way up the appropriate ladder within their field, I found myself becoming more envious and less ambitious. In short, I started to become a bitter person who thought, simply because I had a degree, I was somehow entitled to a certain dollar amount or deserved a certain lifestyle. Why wouldn't I think that? My twenty-three year old manager had that when she taught me how to sell knives during my "internship" at CUTCO. The twenty-five year old Store Team Leader was making $60,000 during my second internship at Target. Success, or at least what I thought was success at the time, was around me. Yet, even at thirty years old, I still find myself figuring out what success is.
In between using an excessive amount of Dunkin' Donuts gift cards for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a short lived attempt to save money and watching TV until three in the morning while my high school achievements and accolades began to collect dust, I dared to be different by taking improv classes at Second City. I quickly found out there was a world outside my feel-bad-for-myself bubble of which sparked my interest in the entertainment industry. By having a unique work schedule, I was able to expand my interest of improv by auditioning for student films. Not to go into detail but my experiences of trying to be an Actor vary from... horrible to "man this sucks". I shouldn't dog my acting experiences completely as they did lead me to where I am today as well as introduced me to truly wonderful people who take their craft seriously both in front and behind the camera.
Oddly enough I ended up landing a role for a Dunkin' Donuts commercial. I guess it pays to have friends in high places or maybe Cuppy Coffee was looking out for me. While on this shoot, I noticed the production was using a small DSLR camera. A Canon 5D Mark 2 to be precise. I began looking into these types of cameras and while film students chased their next feature film of which most likely would end up being nothing but a waste of time with nothing to show for it, I saw a different use for them.
Coming from the advertising industry, I saw these powerful DSLR cameras as tools to help convey an idea, feeling, product or really anything as something interesting to watch. So...I began filming and I fell in love. I started to become excited about work, my confidence started to rebuild itself and people began to notice. Not only did I start to love every aspect of film production, but as cliche as it may sound, I really started to truly love myself. I guess you can say my passion took over.
Q:What do you do? What does the process entail?
I don't know exactly what I do. But if you need a definitive answer, I suppose video production would be the best option. The process varies from project to project. Shooting a wedding is much different than shooting a small business commercial, mainly because there aren't any re-takes when shooting a wedding. However, I approach each project with the same mindset. The mindset of shooting everything to the best of our ability with the circumstances we face.
I'm not as far along in my business to give you a detailed list of the process as I'm still figuring that out myself. However, I am noticing two types of processes as I progress. Mentally there's a process of understanding the client and organizing my thoughts on how to approach the concept. I've found that by expanding my horizons with life experiences, my mind has become a welcoming sponge where I'm able to squeeze out the good stuff. So I always encourage others to go to concerts, take someone out on a date, eat an Arugula Pizza. Just keep doing cool stuff. From these experiences, I've found them to be great creative brain ammunition.
Physically, there's a process of actually doing the work. Pen to paper, pitching, logistics, literally holding a camera all day etc. Don't get me wrong, I do take naps. In fact, I love naps. However, I'm starting to realize my naps will have to be shelved until my processes are locked down.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
I know my "why" better than I know my "what". I listen to TED Talks a lot and one of the episodes was titled
The episode focused on Apple as a company, Martin Luther King as a leader, and the Wright Brothers as forward thinkers. Out of all the RadioLab and TED Talks I listen to, this episode deeply resonated with me. The episode focuses on differences between leaders and those who lead. It wasn't what they did, it was why they did it that inspired their followers and consumers. After all, Martin Luther King gave the "I have a dream speech", not the "I have a plan" speech. In no way am I comparing myself to Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright Brothers. I hold no weight compared to them. However, I am driven by the same belief system. Simply put, I do what I do because I believe in it. I believe my team and I have a talent indoing work that is beautiful and emotionally captivating. I truly feel that what we do helps people see their lives or product in a different light. Most importantly, I believe in myself. Why I do what I do is the foundation of my business.
Q: Why Cinematography, What sparked your efforts to pursue a career in creative?
Videography, cinematography, film whatever you want to call it is still in it's infancy stages, at least with the emergence of these DSLR or Mirrorless style cameras. Canon really opened the doors for amateur wanna be film makers to get their hands on a powerful tool at a reasonable price. The combination of interchangeable lenses, higher resolutions and various frame rates really started to change the game. Adobe Premier Pro as editing software also helped tremendously and I began to see a path.
Coming from the advertising world, I saw video as the fastest and most creative way to make something stand out or catch someone's eye. YouTube and Facebook were obviously being used to host these videos and if you're like me, you most likely were incessantly watching everything from cat videos to pranks. I didn't go the route of cat videos nor do I care for pranks all that much, but in-between watching these videos, I came across a lot of tutorials and un boxing videos of camera gear. I watched a lot of "how to edit' videos by some twelve year old Russian kid even though his programs were like two versions behind mine.
So, I thought people like to watch videos, why not find a way to feature them or their products in their own video. And try to make a buck doing so. Thats why I started shooting wedding videos.
Q: What problems have you run into? And how have you solved them?
There are constant problems. I haven't read a "business start up" book, but I'd imagine thats what a chapter should be called. The thing with a start up is that your personal problems are business problems. For instance, when I started, I pretty much shot anything for anything because I needed to learn. But I also needed to make some sort of income. Figuring out what to charge clients was a challenge. When I started, I found it difficult to actually charge someone for something. I felt awkward asking for money. I used to not even take deposits for weddings. Looking back on it, I've been paid in gift cards, sometimes just a card with no gift, someone once gave me an Apple Track Pad to replace my mouse. That actually was awesome and I still use it. You get the point. The problem that I started to face was that I was becoming the most affordable video production company ever because I wasn't putting a value on my ability or talent.
Not that I am no longer affordable, but my solution to this problem was to realize the amount of work and effort that goes into a quality video and charge fairly. However, I wouldn't have know how or what to charge clients without doing those projects of which I was paid in hugs and handshakes.
One of the biggest problems that I faced was time. Specifically editing. Editing takes forever and I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to editing my wedding videos. Sitting at a computer screen editing all day is not always the easiest or most fun thing to do. The end result is great, but that specific journey is lonely and full of coffee. As you can probably tell by my ever lasting answers to these questions, I'm a talker. I love pitching ideas and getting amped up about a potential project or client, but I wasn't finding time to go out and sell myself or business because I was editing. So after realizing this, I began to take the appropriate steps in letting go of some of the responsibilities.
Q: What Inspired you to start this? What inspires you to continue? What inspires the videos you make?
As cheesy as this may sound.., I think Love would be the best fit for all three. When I was at the ad agency, I used to watch all these types of videos that I mentioned above.
In order for me not to get into trouble at work, every now and then I had to watch something that actually had to do with advertising believe it or not. So I stared searching for commercials of brands and products that I liked. Sony Bravia did a campaign titled "Touch of Color" or something like that to promote their new TV's with a new color feature. The campaign featured various ways to feature color in a unique way. One of those commercials within the campaign was a commercial of literally thousands of colorful bouncy balls bouncing down a street in San Francisco. The commercial itself was beautiful as a mix of artistic shots were met with high definition slow motion clips. I mean I was obsessed with it. So much so that I found the "Making of" video about it. Once I saw the "Making of" video I was in love with what it takes to make something like that.
What inspires me to continue is the sense of accomplishment I feel when I can get something done that for any other reason should not have been feasible. I love backing myself into a corner and figuring out how to get out of it. There's been a lot of times where I have felt I was in way over my head, but somehow got it done. This is largely due to the fact that I surround myself with people that would literally walk through fire with me and film it. Another inspiration that helps me continue is that I have told myself that there is no other option but to have my company succeed. I don't believe I'm made to do anything else. One of the ways I ingrained this thought into my head was that I printed out so many decals of my logo and placed them around my parents house. I have my logo in the shower, on my head board, on a toilette, in the fridge. I sometimes discover new ones I forgot I even placed. To me my logo is like my super hero emblem and serves as a constant reminder of never to go interview with another company again.
Love has been peppered all throughout my responses and again it is what inspires the videos I make. I love hearing about a wedding video I have done from the bride and groom. I am pretty much in charge of capturing their most important day of their lives so to see their emotions go from nervousness to excitement and from love to relief once they kiss is pretty cool. Their day happens so fast, that they don't always see or remember the little things from their wedding. So to receive a note or email from them expressing their gratitude for what my team and I were able to do for them, is very rewarding and I love meeting and exceeding expectations. This goes for all my types of projects. Weddings are inherently full of love.
Q: Why the name ojo?
Ok, firstly it's not the spanish word for eye nor is it pronounced that way either. I learned this the hard way when I received a wedding inquiry and the whole thing was written in spanish. The truth is, ojo was chosen by default. I had given requirements of color, feeling, and what I wanted my company to look like to two separate graphic designers. One designer was someone I didn't know and the other was a good friend of mine who sat next to me at the ad agency. I made a conscious decision not to come off as a frou frou wedding video company as I have hopes of being more than that agency wise. But I didn't want my logo to look way too masculine and over the top. When I got the first draft of ojo from the designer I didn't know, I hated it. It was too fiery and dragonish. But the second draft by my friend was perfect. I knew immediately it was what I wanted. It felt like me.
Oddly enough ojo didn't necessarily mean anything. I just liked how it looked. It looked like it could be an app or something easily recognizable that you would know what it was or what it meant. At least that was my thought behind it. I didn't want to use my name in my business, because my business isn't just me doing it. I want it to be something that can be run even if I was no longer around. However, as my business begins to grow and people are now associating my logo with quality videos, I am noticing people say ojo subconsciously all the time. People will say things like "Oh Joe, yeah he's my buddy", or "Ohhhh Joe... Yeah he's a character." or "Oh Joe... yeah I paid him a pack a cigarettes for my wedding video" The phrases vary from person to person and project to project but you get the point. The people who work with me, I want them to be ojo's. The people I shoot for and come across, they're ojo's. Just people who stand out.
Q: Where can people find you?
ojo Evi Simjan Shoe Launch Party
ojo Wedding Paula & Bobby
Q: What does the future hold?
It's hard to tell what the future holds for ojo Creative because I'm still working on the present of it. Ideally, I'd like ojo Creative to be creative agency where people much more talented than I am are running the show and where clients come to us for super underground and thought provoking work. Currently, I just bought a BLU-RAY Burner and Laser Printing device to make DVD labeling a bit easier. I've been putting labels on by hand and its been challenging to say the least. This new Robot I call Bravo will certainly make things easier and make my product look more polished. Once my Facebook page and Website are up, I hope to have a wide range of films that I wrote, direct, and I guest star in. My hope for ojo Creative is for it to be something that I can look back on and say, "I can't believe I made this work." Cause right now, it seems super impossible.