6 Young Videographers To Watch In St. Louis

In March, St. Louis-based videographer Jon Alexander released a teaser for his docu-series “St. Louis Made,” presented by Vess Soda. The teaser features shots of the city’s young and hip cultural innovators, most-coveted restaurants, and some of the city’s traditional landmarks. Complementing the shots in the 45-second trailer are voiceovers discussing why St. Louis is so special. One voice murmurs, “We have our own flavor.” Another boldly states, “It really allows you to be yourself.” It is the voiceover that hits right at 20 seconds, however, that resonates the most. “You would see all these places, Atlanta, Chicago, New York,” the voice says. “And we just kind of wanted to expose some of our own things that are going on in our city.”

From producing music videos for local hip-hop artists to documentaries on the displacement of African Americans in St. Louis neighborhoods, meet videographers Jon Alexander, Jessica Page, Emma Riley, Mike Roth, Alessio Summerfield and James Reichmuth, six young and creative entrepreneurs who are visualizing a new way of looking at St. Louis. Keep reading for our Q&A’s with each, as they share their thoughts on craft, creativity, their favorite projects and why St. Louis is a special place to be as a creative entrepreneur.

jessica page photo 2

Jessica Page

You got your start in photography. When did you develop your affinity for videography? 
My main inspiration to start recording things were music videos, perfume commercials and fashion videos. I had a record function on the camera I bought and decided to record my friends, with music over it. Then, I was asked to do music videos and got my start to becoming comfortable with the title “videographer.”

Have you had any formal training in photography or video?
I have not had formal training in either subject. But YouTube and practice are both wonderful things.

You recently released a video with local music artist Eric Donté. A great deal of your work involves music videos for emerging music artists in St. Louis. What has that been like?
It is an amazing experience! I am so thankful that amazing artists like Eric Donté trust me to create videos for them, which I’d describe as alluring, vibrant and clean. I really love what I do: capturing moments and creating a story. To have a relationship where my client and I admire each other, and that we live and work in the same city, is just everything.

Are there artists that you look up to who inspire your work?
Right now, I am really into Petra Collins and the late Patrick Nagel. Collins is a photographer who curates vintage over-exposed looks. You can often see her featured in Wonderland Magazine. Patrick Nagel was an amazing graphic designer from the ’80s whose work is commonly associated with “nail shop art.”

How do you usually approach a project? I noticed in the credits of some of your videos, you note that you are collaborating with the artist. How much of it is the music artists’ vision, and how much do you contribute to visualizing the narrative?
A lot of my music videos are directed by the artists. They will come to me and say “Hey, I have this idea. How can we do this?” And then we work together to bring their vision to life if I feel like it’s something I’d be good at creating. For the most part, I work with artists with whom I have a natural chemistry. I am completely open to referring people to other videographers for some ideas. But I would be lying if I said collaborations were my favorite thing to do. I find a lot of peace in having full creative control.

What has been your favorite project thus far?
I absolutely loved doing the photography for singer Bloom‘s upcoming EP “Psychedelic Bloom.” I was really able to dive in and do some creative, trippy looks inspired by her EP title and theme. I am very proud of what I was able to do with the lighting and composition.

What is it like for you as a creative entrepreneur in St. Louis? What makes the city special to you? 
I love being able to say I was raised in St. Louis. I take so much pride in being able to be a raw, authentic person and artist in a city where individuality and art were not pushed while I was growing up. I feel like every day when I walk the streets and share my work online, I am showing that you can be more than your environment. Most importantly, I feel that St. Louis is becoming what I always wanted it to be. I am seeing so many more avenues that push the agenda of creativity. Art is a really big trend here, from the increase in local shows to the unity and support within the art scene.

Talk a bit about your creative community. Do you ever collaborate with other photographers or videographers? 
I wish the general public held more interest in art. Maybe that is on the way. But for now, I feel like all the artists in St. Louis have each others’ backs, and that’s really cool to be a part of. I don’t plan to collaborate with other photographers and videographers, unless it’s as part of a crew for a project I’m working on that simply needs more hands. That is just a personal preference. That being said, I do a live stream with videographer Michael Roth called “Inside The Frame, Outside The Box,” where we discuss our video and photography ventures.  It streams live once a month on Facebook.

Displaced & Erased from Emma Riley on Vimeo.

Emma Riley

When did you develop your affinity for videography? 
My formal training is in graphic design, and that world crosses over with videography a lot. Coincidentally, most of my jobs in graphic design have been at production companies, but I didn’t develop a personal interest in videography until a year ago, when I realized how essential it was as a communications tool. I like to decide on the medium I work with based on the audience I am speaking to, and I realized that videography is one of the most effective ways to communicate, particularly to younger audiences. I wanted to add video to the list of things I could do if the project called for it.

Some of your work focuses on marginalized communities. You’re currently working on a documentary, “Displaced & Erased,” on the displacement of the black community in Clayton. How did you stumble upon that story, and what has it been like documenting a narrative that a lot of locals don’t know about? 
I grew up in Clayton, which is a very insular community, and when I came to Washington University, I was shocked to learn about St. Louis’ racial injustices, historical and present. I realized that realities I had never questioned about St. Louis, such as North City being so much poorer than South City, were built realities based on decisions that black, brown and Asian people were seriously hurt by. For that reason, I had the intuition that Clayton’s exclusivity was likely designed and not accidental. I bought Dickson Terry’s book, “Clayton, a History” and two thirds of the way through, I stumbled on a single paragraph (the only paragraph) about the removal of Clayton’s black community.

Latching onto that information, I reached out to local historians like Donna Rogers-Beard and Daniel Gonzales who put me in touch with black people who used to live in Clayton, like Dr. Doris Graham, and my web expanded from there. Having shown “Displaced & Erased” to other St. Louisans, I’ve found that most people are just as shocked to learn about this community as I was, including white people who lived in Clayton and black people who lived in St. Louis outside of Clayton at the time. It feels good to legitimize the stories that I’ve heard and show people that these stories of displacement are not far from us in terms of both time and place.

Do you find that stories about inequality and social justice easily work their way into your work? Or do you make a conscious effort to seek out such stories? 
I make a conscious effort to listen to people whose experiences are different than my own. When I do, it is easy for me to want to tell people’s stories, provided they want them told. I think it’s important to share the stories of marginalized communities because they are so rarely heard by larger audiences, and our society has a serious lack of understanding for that reason. That said, people’s stories should be told respectfully, which is easy to do when people are telling their own stories. It is much harder to do (but still possible, I believe) when non-marginalized people—or people who are marginalized in different ways—are telling others’ stories. While recognizing the richness and diversity of the black experience in St. Louis, I know that I will never understand what it is like to be a black St. Louisan because I am white. I hope that by listening a lot, I can share the stories of the unheard with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

Are there artists that you look up to that inspire your work?
Maya Lin for her ability to transform data and abstract concepts into physical, felt experiences. DeAndrea Nichols for her honesty, passion, and relentless determination. She inspires me to look within myself for inspiration and to put all my energy towards the ideas the come from within. Ava DuVernay is so talented. I watched “13th” three times, and I continuously went back to it for inspiration as I was making “Displaced & Erased.”

What have you found most special about St. Louis?
When I was in high school, I thought St. Louis was boring, and I assumed I would leave for college. Over my last four years at Washington University, I’ve grown to cherish my home. I think there’s a world to be discovered in every place, but St. Louis is especially rich to me. As someone who likes to swing dance, the live music and dance scene here are really special to me. The city has big problems with racial and economic inequity, but I wholeheartedly believe that the city is worth fighting for. What else can we do?

What’s next for you? 
I worked for the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University for two years, and I loved the experience. This summer, I am returning to the Institute as the design lead for Gephardt’s brand refresh. It’s a big responsibility, and I feel ready for it. I am also currently exploring ways to expand my senior thesis into something more in-depth.

 

St. Louis Made Docu-Series Teaser from Jon Alexander on Vimeo.

Jon Alexander

When did you develop your affinity for videography? 
My love for videography and filmmaking began in high school when I began experimenting with photography. I started out shooting landscape photos and naturally took an interest in shooting video.

Have you had any formal training in photography or video? If not, how did you come about teaching yourself the craft?
I went to Full Sail University, where I got a bachelor’s in film production. That’s where I learned a lot of the technicalities and structures of filmmaking and photography. However, real-world experience, success, failures and experimenting all taught me how to grow within my craft. I also spend a lot of time watching tutorials and practicing those techniques.

You do a lot of documentary work, and you recently released a teaser for a project you’re working on with Vess Soda. Are documentaries something you found yourself doing more, or has that genre always interested you?
I really enjoy documentaries. I love getting lost in a story and having my beliefs and thoughts challenged. My work is a direct reflection of me, so naturally I gravitate towards that type of storytelling.

What has been your favorite project thus far?
That’s a hard one, because I have two projects that are very meaningful to me. The first is the Show-Me Cypher 2. It was the first project I did that gained a lot of organic traffic. At that time, none of us in the project had made a name for ourselves, so it was rewarding to see it get so much attention. The other is a documentary I did while at The Nine Network, called “Gentlemen of Vision.” We followed this step team for a year and were able to see them grow and develop right before our eyes.

What is it like for you being a creative entrepreneur in St. Louis? What makes the city special to you? 
St. Louis is a make-you-or-break-you kind of city. I feel like certain opportunities are a little harder to come by since the world really isn’t checking for the St. Louis creative scene. So it filters out people that really live and breathe their craft because you have to be in it for the long haul. This city teaches you how to put the pieces together to make something out of nothing, and I think that’s extremely valuable and one of the things I love most about St. Louis.

What is it like being a part of that budding community? Do you ever collaborate with other photographers or videographers? 
It’s a beautiful thing to be around other artists who are starting to flourish. I know the work it takes to get to that point—the ups and downs—and to see someone conquer that is always rewarding. All the amazing art coming out of the city inspires me to keep pushing. I collaborate with other videographers from time to time. It’s always cool to see another person’s perspective, and it opens up your mind to see things in a different way.

What’s next for you? 
After the St. Louis Made docu-series, I plan on jumping into short films. I’ve had a few scripts on the back burner for a while, and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and the success its had really inspired me to revisit those and bring them into fruition. I plan on beginning production later this year and releasing my first short in 2018.

 

Mike Roth

When did you develop your affinity for videography?
I grew into video in college after watching short films from my university’s student-film department. In the dorms, a channel dedicated exclusively to student-produced shorts ran continuously on television. My friends and I watched them almost religiously for entertainment. I eventually created a student organization on campus with the vision of bringing different aspects of video together.

Have you had any formal training in photography or video? If not, how did you come about teaching yourself the craft?
My training is all hands-on experience from my own research in addition to trial and error. I learned some things from my film friends in college and the rest from Google searches. 

You’ve worked with a slew of hip-hop artists here in St. Louis–Mvstermind, J’Demul, Anthony Lucius. What has it been like working with these artists and collaborating with the local hip-hop community?
I only work with artists from the St. Louis metropolitan area. I started over five and a half years ago with Doughboy and have grown to work with others whose music moves me as a fan of hip-hop. Truthfully, the process is a grind. The city has essentially no connections to the industry, so you have to earn everything for yourself and create opportunities to be noticed. My goal has always been to show the creative talents of my hometown to the rest of the world. Every artist is different, but we all share the same passion for expressing ourselves in original ways that are authentic to our personality.

Are there artists that you look up to that inspire your work?
Any St. Louis artist that has a passion for their craft and works tirelessly to achieve their goals is an inspiration to me.

What is it like for you being a creative entrepreneur in St. Louis? What makes the city special to you?
Being creative is a lot of fun. It allows me to interact and engage with others who have talent and energy, and I believe that allows us to build and thrive off of each other. St. Louis is my home. I was born in South City and outside of college, I have lived here my entire life. We have a rich history of entrepreneurial spirit that begets persistence, toughness and originality.

You also host a show on YouTube called The 314 (above) highlighting things going on in the local hip-hop scene here in the city. How did that project come about? 

I know and follow a lot of artists associated with the local scene. Recently, there has been motivation among players to build promotional content to allow the general public to know what is occurring. St. Louis has a reputation of being insular in its communities, and those who aren’t actively involved in something can struggle to participate in events and consume media that is relevant to their interests. I look at my personality as capable of bringing others together, with my passion for local music serving as a catalyst to create regular video content.

The creative community in St. Louis is growing, specifically among millennials. What is it like being a part of that budding community? Do you ever collaborate with other photographers or videographers?
I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to foster a sustainable arts community in St. Louis. I want to serve as an example for others that you can live in your hometown and do what you love without feeling the pressure to move to a bigger market. My worry is that artistic expression does not become a trend for those who want to capitalize on others’ inherent abilities and reap the benefit of exposure for selfish purposes. I have been shooting video for over a decade and have been intimately involved in the scene for almost six years, which takes a lot of dedication and patience. Many of my friends share a similar experience. We must build a platform for artists to succeed in town, and I think that is possible with the current momentum.

 

Alessio Summerfield and James Reichmuth of Forever an Astronaut

How did you two meet and when did you decide to launch Forever an Astronaut? 
James: I used to be the Artist Services Director over at St. Lou Fringe, a performing arts organization based out of Grand Center. Alessio was our featured filmmaker working on a storytelling workshop, and then-executive director Em Piro introduced the two of us. I stalked him on Facebook for a hot minute, asked him to grab coffee and the rest is history.

Is there a story behind the name of your company? 
James: Forever an Astronaut was the name Alessio had been using for a few years, and he had produced a fair amount of content under that moniker at that point. So, it didn’t really “launch” with me coming on board. I think it just became this newly focused creative energy unit once we decided to go all in on the Dev Diary project and really start expanding our portfolio while utilizing that name.

Alessio: And to give some background to the origin of Forever an Astronaut, it actually started in Fall of 2013 as a placeholder name for a group I’d assembled to work on a short film (Father of Curiosity) for the festival circuit at that time. We’ve been carrying the spirit of the short on ever since.

You recently released your documentary series, “Dev Diary,” about two game developers in St. Louis. Not to give away spoilers, but it’s a very emotional story that traces a very special bond between two brothers as one battles with cancer. How did you stumble upon that story, and what was it like working on that project? What has been the response? 
James: At first, we didn’t have plans to do this broadcast-ready show. We just wanted to do some brief spotlights on the games scene in St. Louis. We showed up to Sam Coster’s apartment, ended up shooting for six hours and left saying “We have to do something bigger with this.”

Alessio: I had also been tipped off by a good friend, and designer of our logo—Jared Peck—that there was this thriving community of indie-game developers in town sometime in 2014 or so. That, combined with my love for video games, led me to really invest time into the prospect of doing a film project centered around games and their creators.

James: The response so far has been exciting and interesting to see. We’ve been reviewed by places like the Boston Globe, had a few write-ups in gaming publications like Polygon and St. Louis Public Radio. People seem to really be digging it and, most importantly, connecting with it. We’ve gotten feedback about how this isn’t just for people interested in video games. It’s wonderful that it’s resonating with folks.

Outside of documentaries, what other types of projects do you all work on?
James: I think we’re both of the mind that if it’s a cool story, we want to tell it. We write a lot. There’s a lot of creative development happening in the realm of narrative right now. We’ve got a comedy and a thriller series in the works, an animated show, and a slew of short/feature film ideas. Outside of that, we produced a music video earlier this year for an artist named DClare alongside Allyson Mace from Sauce Magazine.

Alessio: I do a lot of writing and brainstorming about feature films, and I definitely share James’ enthusiasm for music videos.

James: We also produce multiple podcasts weekly. I’ve got a Dev Diary podcast where I chat with indie developers from literally all over the world, and Alessio hosts a fan podcast for the Metal Gear series of games called Metal Gear Mondays. We also co-host a filmmaking podcast called Nocturnal Transmissions.

What has been your favorite project thus far?
James: Dev Diary, 100 percent. Recently, I sat down with my two oldest friends from childhood and showed them the whole series. And even after all the time spent working on it, it still made me choke up throughout. It’s just such a good story. It’s really special to me that we got to capture this moment of these three brothers and their family’s lives and preserve it the way that we did.

Alessio: Dev Diary feels like the easy answer. I think my favorite project is always the one that I’m currently working on, so my answer to this question would be ‘Foxglove.’ But that word means nothing to you yet.

What is it like for you being a creative entrepreneur in St. Louis? What makes the city special to you? 
Alessio: I’m a transplant, so this place is a bit different for me than it is for other people. I just showed up and started working like I’d been here all along. I met a ton of people, networked a bunch, and just said ‘Yes’ to everything during my first few months in the state. I dove in and never looked back. The city allows for that kind of approach, I think. There’s a sizable population, but it’s not overly saturated with people doing exactly what we’re doing, so it’s easy to just be friendly and unabashedly up-front about wanting to talk to folks when you want to.

James: St. Louis is weird. I grew up here and something about it seems to pull people back into it. Working at Fringe for as long as I did, I got to see a lot of different artists from all walks of life come in. I think that’s what makes St. Louis special. The general public doesn’t typically get out of their pocket communities. It’s really fractured. But there are still people doing the damn thing. It’s a tenacious city, and I hope that people don’t give up on it. Great strides have been made, and I think that trend will continue.

What is it like being a part of the artistic community here? Do you ever collaborate with other photographers or videographers? 
James: That’s the other thing that’s cool about St. Louis. If you’re interested in an artistic medium, you can find other like-minded folks who are interested in doing similar stuff. It might not always be easy to find them, but they’re there. As for us, we’ve had a couple of really solid interns work with us over the years, we’re working with some great writers, and we try to collaborate with other film folks as much as possible.

Alessio: I always make it a habit to incorporate as much local talent as I can into everything that we do, so St. Louis made it easy. I think Dev Diary had at least three local musicians contribute to the score, if not more, and 90 percent of the rest of the cast and crew were local, too. I like cross-pollinating, so St. Louis makes that easy to do.

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