Wednesday, January 30, 2008

RIKK DESGRES: Making More Than a Go of it in the Digital Economy

Rikk Desgres may have to hustle hard, but he no longer moonlights as a dishwasher in between video editing jobs.

This boomer with great hazel eyes and a Fu Manchu facial hair is walking evidence that it’s possible to do just fine in the virtual economy as long as you’re skilled, versatile and, above all else, flexible.

Owner of Pinehurst Pictures & Sound, which he describes on his Website as “located just 2 miles from scenic downtown Northampton, MA.,” Rikk has been supporting his family for 20 years through his film editing expertise – long before film was video and then video became digital.

He has edited for the famous documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and made many a TV commercial for a local institutions like hospitals, as well as handling sound documentary filmmakers, and all without fancy degrees from big-name film schools. In fact, although he studied film at two regional state schools – Springfield, (Mass.) Technical Community College and Fitchburg (Mass.) State College -- Rikk also learned on the job.

With his sort of vocation, he points out that “the classroom can only prepare you so much.”

Rikk lucked into a subcontracting job not long out of school with Florentine Films – the studio that Ken Burns started with partners Larry Hott and Diane Gary in the mid-1980s. At that time the filmmaker group was operating out of an old fire station just west of Northampton in Haydenville, Ma. Burns, a Hampshire College grad, had gained fame with the release “The Civil War.”

Burns hired Rikk to work on “Baseball,” which was once known as America’s favorite past-time, though it’s probably been supplanted by Web surfing today. And for about eight years Rikk considered himself “a single film freelancer because that was the way to do it.” He’d sign onto a project like “Baseball” and work it to completion and then move onto the next. He went “from project to project,” working out of other’s studios because it was “too costly” to run his own place.

When digital came out in the early 1990s, Rikk purchased his first computer and, he joked, “the kid went out of control after that.” It’s hard to imagine this fairly reserved, soft-spoken guy out of control, but at further investigation it’s also possible to see that with Rikk passions run deep. His eyes light up talking about how he learned to transfer video to what was then “something strange – a DVD. I decided to take that on and now I do DVD work for publishers.”

Because of his technical curiosity and ability, along with not having a Prima-Donna bone in his body – rare in this industry – Rikk no longer works other jobs to support his film work. And he’s had the joy of being able to produce artistic work along with the run-of-the-mill commercial project.

Right now he’s promoting a new documentary that he edited called Including Samuel by Dan Habib, the photography editor of the Concord, N.H. Monitor since 1995. Built on the efforts of Habib and his family to raise a disabled child, the documentary examines the educational and social inclusion of youth with disabilities and also features four other families with varied inclusion experiences, plus interviews with dozens of teachers, young people, parents and disability rights experts.

Rikk proudly notes that the film recently won the annual Positive Images in Media award from TASH, an international group committed to the full inclusion of people with disabilities. The film was also named "Best Documentary" of the 2007 Somewhat North of Boston Film Festival.

One of the nicest things about Rikk is that he’s never too busy to help out others. And given that the technology behind making films is become cheap enough and accessible enough so that even kids are doing this, he notes that it’s possible for a boomer with some skills to make a living producing and editing film today as long as you don’t expect to be at Sundance or Cannes the first time out.

What does Rikk advise those of you who want to make film a business?

Well, he pauses, creative ability is good, “but nothing beats experience. There are computers today where you edit right out of the box. If they want some instruction there are great places like the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine where they offer week-long sessions. People have a blast and learn a lot.”

Some folks with film interests go into television broadcasting or nowadays may set up companies to do podcasting via the Web, but the news world never interested Rikk. Although he says there’s “no easy money as a film editor, events are a good starting ground, whether that’s filming weddings, bar mitzvahs, plays or football games.”

As much of his bread-and-butter-work is local and regional, Rikk gets a lot of jobs from “world of mouth.” In the days before he had built a reputation “I used to send postcards to current clients and to prospective clients. Sometimes I find people I want to work for and then track them online,” but he admits that he’s the “weakest” at marketing.

To handle work flow he operates what I call “the accordion” method of managing growth, by hiring “a lot of subcontractors to do things I can’t do or don’t have time to do.” And he also has alliance partners, some of whom are “huge corporations and others that are individuals.”

Here’s what Rikk has posted on his Web site that gives you an idea why he’s more than making a living:

“At Pinehurst our main concern is our client. You. We understand production schedules can be chaotic. We understand budgets can be tight. We work with you to create the best fit possible for your goals. We do the simple things as well. We return phone calls, reply to emails; keep you in the loop at all times. We'd like the opportunity to work with you. Please give us a call at 413-584-6200 and we can discuss the possibilities.”

The following are some examples of Pinehurst Film projects:

Cleveland, Ohio -

Pinehurst, again working with Florentine Films has created the Sound Design for the film Return of the Cuyahoga. National premiere in high-definition TV on PBS in 2008

Sunderland, Mass. –

Pinehurst has created a the DVD companion for the textbook LIFE: The Science of Biology, Eighth Edition for Sinauer Associates.

Albany, N.Y, -

Cindy Parrish's Heroic Girlz is a wonderful short film about four 11 year old girls who go back in time to live the lives as the 11 year old versions of Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Earhart, and Amelia Bloomer. We were proud to the sound sweetening on this project.

Boston, Mass. -

Pinehurst Pictures was part of the sound design team for the American Experience project Race to the Moon.

New York, NY -

Pinehurst Pictures & Sound has completed a DVD companion for the McGraw-Hill textbook Teachers, Schools, and Society

Las Vegas, NV -

Collaborating with Monadnock Media, Pinehurst Pictures & Sound created stunning 5.1 surround sound exhibitions for the Atomic Testing Museum.

1 comment:

Shel Horowitz, author, Principled Profit said...

Rikk is also a good resource for much smaller projects. Thanks to him, I finally have a demo video for my public speaking: http://principledprofit.com/speaking/

Shel Horowitz, award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and six other books