By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
May 2, 2019
Chronologically speaking, Scott Wasserman, 24, is a child of the Digital Age, born at the cusp the generations demographers call Millennials and Gen Z’ers. Media-wise and hyperconnected, entrepreneurial in spirit – and as sharply focused as anyone who makes his living in front of a video monitor or behind a lens – Scott makes his mark in the community as an award-winning videographer – a documentarian and storyteller, keenly interested in his subjects.
Notably among the youngest listed in The Jewish News 2019 Class of 36 Under 36 – Scott continues to demonstrate an impressive work ethic, serving a growing roster of clients that includes Wayne State University, Bloomfield Hills Schools, Federation, Tamarack Camps, Friendship Circle, Hillel Day School, JCC of Metro Detroit, Kids Kicking Cancer, among others.
A resident of Royal Oak with a studio in Troy, Scott often books co-working space at Bamboo Detroit for meetings downtown. “I like the vibe and the creative energy here,” he states as we sit down in a conference room at Bamboo in March. Well-seasoned in the art of conducting interviews himself, he confesses that it seems odd to be on the other side – answering, rather than asking the questions. “I’m a big over-thinker. And a big listener, too. I’m not one to talk about myself.”
With no further loss for words, Scott opens the conversation, “Let’s start at the beginning. . .
In conversation with Scott Wasserman
myJDet: As you wish, please share a little about your family background and Jewish educational experience
I grew up in West Bloomfield, went to preschool at Adat Shalom and day camp at the JCC; I remember the first time I skated at the J was the day the inline hockey rink opened; I went to public school, then followed my older brother, Daniel, to Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA).
I would never have stepped out of my comfort zone to go to Frankel were it not for my brother. He was in the 8th grade at Adat Shalom when Rabbi Buckman — FJA Head of School at the time — came to visit his Monday night school class. My brother came home that night and told my parents that he was interested in taking a tour. After seeing the small class sizes and opportunities to get involved, Daniel enrolled, and two years later, I followed along with my cousin, Ilana Woronoff, who is my age. Four years later, my younger sister, Rachel, enrolled as well.
When did you develop your specific interest in video production?
I always knew I wanted to go into something in the field of technology. From a young age, I have always been into computers, gadgets, gizmos, you name it… if it had an on-button, I would tinker with it. I was my family and friend’s one-man “Geek Squad” that everyone called upon to set up or fix the computer equipment. Until I got to high school, the camera was just another gadget to me.
Computers, coding, design, photography?
The only hesitation I had in transferring to FJA was my own desire to pursue advanced computer and media classes at West Bloomfield High School. I remember in 8th grade meeting with Patti Shayne, FJA’s Director of Technology (at the time) who said that while FJA couldn’t offer me as many classes as West Bloomfield would, she would give me all the opportunities she could—including joining the yearbook class during my freshman year, an opportunity I would not have had until later years in public school. Though I wasn’t into design and photography at the time, the experience I could gain by working on the yearbook really opened my eyes to the ways I could develop my skills in other areas. What high school gives you the freedom to develop an elective like that?
In the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I took a year off from Tamarack. I had the opportunity to attend a yearbook photography conference, and that’s when it all clicked for me. I started editing video for the first time, created my sister’s Bat Mitzvah montage, and launched a podcast for my first freelance client. From then on, I was hooked.
On the journey at Tamarack Camps and MSU
My experience at Tamarack is a huge part of my story and Jewish identity.
Some of my most vivid memories of being Jewish began at Tamarack – where I was a camper for eight years and a staff for three. I worked as a specialist for two years in the multimedia area where I spent half my time teaching Photoshop and helping campers to become stars in their own music videos (though I actually would have preferred to keep kids completely unplugged and “screen-free” at camp, because they spend so much time plugged in at home).
The other half of my job—capturing the magic of camp—was what I loved most. After those two summers, in 2013, I successfully pitched my own job as the agency’s first photographer and video producer. From filming and editing treasured event highlight videos within just a few hours after an event concluded to producing a “Thank You” donor video, I believe I raised the bar for the camp’s online presence that summer and, personally, it was my own way to explore and learn my craft in the outdoors… at the greatest place on earth.
In college you had a similar experience, finding your own career path and starting your first company while still a student. Please share a little about your experience.
Based on my experience at Tamarack and my educational guidance from FJA, I chose to go to MSU because of the broad general media program offered there. I honed in on video production and joined the student radio station, called Impact 89FM, where they had a video team.
Video production is a competitive industry, where most people work years for a cinematic breakthrough. In my sophomore year, I had the thrill of producing a soccer documentary that won the Spartan Film Festival’s Best Picture award. The following year, I teamed up with Alex Scharg (an AEPi brother and now my partner in business) to capture the Festival’s award for Best Documentary.
Alex — a journalism and media major — was the host of the station’s weekly sports talk show. Though he wanted to give more students the opportunity to cover sports through a variety of mediums so he launched the station’s sports department and grew it to nearly 100 students. Later during our time at school together, Alex and I were hired by MSU and IBM to produce a recap video for their T-Summit conference, which covered the future of education and learning. That was our first freelance project together. Alex graduated one year ahead of me, but in my senior year, I was doing a lot of freelance work on my own and called Alex in on my first project for Federation — “70 Days of Good.” At that point, we both realized the impact of our work and knew we’d be working together for years to come.
On the work of Flow Video
Video production is rarely a solo enterprise. It’s collaborative. I started as a freelancer and, though I’ve had many clients, I can say that I’ve never worked for any company other than my own. It’s been a big learning experience, and I give a lot of credit to my partner Alex for helping get Flow Video off the ground and where we are today. We started officially together in 2016 because we loved creating videos, telling stories, making people laugh, cry or stand up and cheer. And now to have a business where we’re doing this — it’s a gift and a privilege to be able to call this work.
We started out as a team of two and over the past couple years, we’ve slowly grown our team, adding three team members here in Detroit and one in New Jersey. With this, our work is constantly changing and reaching different audiences. Recently, we went to Geneva, Switzerland to film the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, hosted by UN Watch – an organization monitoring the U.N. and promoting human rights. And locally, we’ve recently completed a 30-video, 6.5 hour training course for Kids Kicking Cancer to use for their growing team of Martial Arts Therapists throughout the world.
On the role of video production
In your view, what is your role as a videographer today?
It has changed a lot over the past ten years — even more so in the past year or two. Now, everyone has the ability to post a picture or video to Facebook or Instagram, but with so much grabbing for our attention today, the need to stand out and make an emotional impact is more important than ever.
A video has the power to touch almost every sense of the viewer and evoke an emotion. And so, I see my role not just as a videographer or marketer, but as a strong advocate for its mission or cause.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the state of giving. Today, when it comes to advocating for support or motivating people to give or volunteer for a cause, simply asking isn’t enough. Perhaps that worked in the past, and I still see that in my grandparents who really give with their soul — a quality I respect and admire — but I worry about my generation in terms of giving. There’s a bit of selfishness and lack of commitment as people spend more time engaged with devices which provide endless content without a required commitment. Seeing where dollars are actually going is becoming more important as people want assurance that the organizations they support are aligned with their own ideas and values.
As technology has made it easier for people and organizations to reach prospective donors and it is more accessible for donors to give, organizations are being forced to rethink strategies that may have worked for the past few decades. The bottom line for me as a video producer is that I have to be creative, passionate and really work to understand an organization in order to engage a viewer with a story that is compelling and rings true.
What fuels your creativity? Please give us a snapshot of your work flow.
Every day is different and that’s what I love about what I’m doing. I love filming, I love editing, I love telling stories. Today, I might be working on an edit; tomorrow, I’m filming all day in the city; the following day, a mix of meetings and filming . . . I choose to be on my feet, every day brings something new and something to learn.
On the business side, every job starts with a goal: whether it’s to thank donors, build awareness, get more clicks on social media, get more people into seats at events – whatever the project, it starts with a challenge or a goal. Our job is to come up with a solution and the creative strategy to get there.
Our work is our lens into our community, our insight into people doing interesting work with great stories to tell. I think of some of the work I’ve done with Federation, meeting people I would never have met before, hearing stories that people never had told before. In March, I was in Florida, filming for Jewish Senior Life’s annual “Eight Over Eighty” event. Rita Cohn Haddow had a story to share and as it turned out, Rita’s daughter who was sitting in the room had never heard the story before. Those moments of discovery are priceless; they are alive, and you don’t get them in a snapshot or still portrait.
What cameras do you own?
I laugh when I think back to the day I bought my first big (DSLR) camera. The night before I left for my first staff “pre-camp” at Tamarack, I went to Best Buy with my Mom. I remember standing in line to buy the Canon T3i and she asked me, “Are you really sure you want to spend all this money?” Looking back eight years, that was one of my best investments.
Fast forwarding to today . . .
We use professional video cameras from Canon’s Cinema line and the Canon 5D Mark III for capturing photos and timelapses. One of the most popular questions I get asked is, “do you have a drone” — we do, and after a few years of mastering the skies, I recently became commercially certified by the FAA . . . so the sky is no longer the limit!
On proudest moments and inspiration
Video production is perhaps the most collaborative of arts. Clearly you have drawn your strengths through your work with the community. Describe some of the work that makes you most proud.
Tamarack was the breakthrough. When I think back to the first videos I did at Tamarack, I realize how naturally it all came together for me. Everything clicked in finding those magical moments and letting the story speak for itself. Those video projects still hold a sweet spot in my heart.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve produced dozens of videos covering a broad range of businesses and nonprofits, featuring people of all ages, from newborns to seniors. It’s been gratifying to see our community’s stories literally come together from start to finish.
Working with Federation on their latest campaign video, “Come Together” really sums it up for me. Jewish Detroit is a close-knit community. Though each agency one has a separate mission and purpose, they work as one team to create a better community for all of us. And they are connected by something – I would call pure passion. Flow Video has had the privilege to tell some of these stories and I’m proud to be a part of that.
What inspires you?
Our clients never fail to amaze and inspire us to work hard for them. Working closely with our clients, we are able to see the true impact of the work we do. Just one example: the 30-video training course we produced for Kids Kicking Cancer at the end of last year has now been translated into four languages and more are on the way. Though I had heard about it years ago when my sister was involved in a fundraiser, I didn’t know much about them myself until I started working with them. Meeting Founder and Global Director, Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, seeing the program in action and watching children empowered by the power of martial arts – that’s been an inspiration to me.
Restaurants: Toast, Red Coat Tavern, Buddy’s
Places to meet for coffee: I’m not a coffee drinker… How about the Franklin Cider Mill?
Building in the Detroit skyline: Right now, the Ren Cen, but I’m eager to see the new Hudson development in the coming years.
Places to photograph: Tamarack, Belle Isle, Eastern Market and Michigan Central Station — I am very excited for its future in the hands of Ford.
Vacation places: Harbor Springs
Sports: I grew up playing hockey and love watching college sports.
Jewish Food: Matzoh ball soup, seven-layer cake, and seven-layer matzoh.
Jewish Expression: L’chayim (To life!) & Shavua tov (Have a good week.)
Jewish holiday traditions: Searching for the afikomen that my Zaydie hides at the Passover seder. And Chanukah… Now that my siblings live across the country (and this past year, my sister was studying abroad in Greece), I love FaceTiming to light the candles and say the blessings. together.
Guilty pleasures: My mom’s “brookies” (brownie cookies) and my grandpa’s apple crisp
Never leave home without (besides your phone and camera): My Water Bottle — Currently a Hydro Flask, but I’m always on the search for the best one!
Why We Sleep, Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker (Because I don’t get enough sleep)
WORDS TO LIVE BY:
Implement novel experiences daily.