FYI: I did not know what I was getting into when I wrote this.
It all started with me and my bro.
The usual intro for our company goes something like, ‘Occulus Films is a commercial and film production company based in Arizona. In business since 2013, we offer...’ blah, blah blah.
Here’s the truth: a little brother was making silly little short films for school with his friends, and a big brother with not much to do wanted to help out.
We’ve both always been creative; Dominic a martial-artist, dancer, then filmmaker, and myself a writer, sketcher, and singer. Dominic was always the more talented in hands-on tasks, as he seemed to catch on to those things more quickly than I ever could (I swear, I’m not jealous at all).
So, what started out as school assignments for my brother soon blossomed into our shared passion for filmmaking. Dominic was doing something he enjoyed immensely, and while I definitely enjoyed the creative aspects, I took joy (somehow) from the organization of our projects, bringing everything together so we could make our vision a reality.
I also took great joy in the process of creating of the entity itself; Occulus Films. After all, how could we be cool filmmakers if we didn’t have a cool name and logo to go along with it? ‘Let’s make it legit!’ I thought. I convinced my brother we needed to act fast, lest we look incredibly lame.
I rustled around in a drawer to rediscover a sort-of-decent, odd doodle I’d created during an idle moment. I thought it was cool enough, and I decided I’d sell my brother on it.
“Check it out this old doodle. I think it’d make a dope logo. It’s kinda dark, intense, it’ll fit the films we want to make. Our style. It’s unique. And we don’t have to pay someone for a logo.”
“What’s wrong with D.L. Productions?”
“There’s like a million people on YouTube with that name. Ours should stand out. What about ‘oculus films’? Oculus means eye in Latin. Makes sense, because it’s filmmaking. Our vision is what people see. I dunno. Why not?”
Well, I was pretty set on it (and it wasn’t a bad idea if I do say so myself), and my brother didn’t really have any issues with it. So I powered up a cheap photo editing program and whipped up a logo.
After a while, we either got tired of the logo as-is, or decided we needed a slightly more commercial brand look to appeal to clients, since we wanted people to hire us. That led to this visual monstrosity.
Eventually, we moved on to our current logo, in all its glory.
Then, production began in earnest
Together, my brother and I spent all our spare time and our Summer months trying our best to make awesome movies like the legendary filmmakers that we admired. We wanted to make sweet action movies, where slick heroes ran around beating up bad guys with relative ease. The problem was that we didn’t have proper actors.
The more serious problem was I didn’t look like a buff bad-ass, and my dad looked like he could fit the role of ‘bad guy’, but he sure didn’t sound like one. But that’s who we had available.
The other problem was we had no external microphones. Just the on-camera mic. (This is a great filmmaking sin... and an inevitable beginner’s mistake.)
A family business from the start
Well, numerous productions and several years later, my and Dominic’s paths took unusual turns. In 2014, I joined the Army National Guard as a paralegal, where I continue serving today and as I learn, I apply those skills to my video production work.
Dominic focused on his career as a professional (really, world-class) dancer and performer, but still jumps on set to lend his great work ethic and talents to our shoots. He’s really great. Seriously, you should check out his dancing. I bet there are GIFs of him. That’s how good he is.
*Clears throat* Ah, yes. Anyway.
At one point, our mother, Tami, began to get involved in the business as well. It was becoming quite the family business. Our dad continued to offer advice and support along the way. Though mom had offered her support all along, she now took on a more direct role, especially since I had left for Army basic training.
My mother was a ballet dancer in her youth, worked in the entertainment industry setting up body building events, and was a real estate agent as we grew up.
She was sweet and extroverted, always thinking of how to serve others. She was in her natural environment networking and working with people. This led her to helping us organize shoots, as well as cast for our films, which over time she developed into a full-fledged startup business of its own.
While me and Dominic’s paths diverged for a while, eventually things got back to a semblance of normality. After returning home from Army basic training, I had hoped to attend film school with my brother, but it didn’t work out that way.
Then, we made a movie
Despite the change in plans, Occulus Films lived on. In 2016, I got the opportunity to work on a feature film for the first time, and was thrust into a role of significant responsibility. I was hired as assistant director, which I took on with fervor. It was there I met Joseph Mbah, a solid filmmaker in his own right (but really, just a great Human being with an unmatched work ethic). After working together 14+ hours a day, 6 days a week, for 3 weeks, that film wrapped, but Joe and I were filled with a fire to create something of our own.
We decided to make our own feature film. Long story short: it was an incredible challenge, took us a year of our lives, and more sweat and money than we could have anticipated... or hoped. But we got it done and out to the world like we set out to do. (You can watch the trailer, and if you like indie movies, click here! Hey, but cut us some slack, will ya? This is what our work looks like now.)
So, that’s a neat little milestone.
I’m going to fast forward a bit here. Occulus Films has many stories of triumph, and probably at least three times as many of failure and adversity. I’m sure we aren’t alone in that, as filmmakers or as entrepreneurs.
In there somewhere, my mom spent a significant amount of time helping put together a feature film. She had really come into her own as a casting director in town. People loved working with her. She did great work and had a knack for finding good actors. Mostly, she just worked hard sifting through hundreds of emails and videos from actors. Unfortunately, this was one of (but not the first) time we got ripped off.
My mother basically casted this entire film, including some known actors, then set up a (seriously!) elaborate party to create buzz for the film. The party was a hit. Unfortunately, the entire project turned out to be a sham. The director had duped everyone into thinking he had funds that he did not have. We all were very eager to work on a grand project, and our eagerness was our downfall.
Along with our other jobs, training, school, and video work, at some point, Joseph and I decided to make another feature film, “Expo”. I was a producer, and Joseph directed. We ran into the fray again, investing our time and money as we set out to make this crime/action movie.
It was a particularly tough film to shoot. It stretched us as filmmakers. I was lucky that I was just a producer and didn’t have to be on set every day. These folks worked hard, long days.We were nearing the end of the production. We had one last major set of scenes to film. We were shooting out of town, with all the challenges that entailed.
It was a hell of a week
A month prior, I learned that me and Dominic’s mother was sick. I overheard it when my parents had some close friends over, ‘...cancer’. I almost couldn’t believe my ears. Dad broke the news shortly after. We didn’t really know how bad it was, but she was getting checked. We were hopeful and we prayed she would heal.
Mom’s condition slowly deteriorated. She was able to make it to one session of therapy before her test results came back. We had discovered the cancer after it had spread too much to be treated.
[I debated on whether to elaborate, but I didn’t want this to be overly dark, so I left a lot out.]
At this point, mom was simply asleep all day, at peace. She couldn’t maintain the energy to stay awake. I said my final goodbyes to her as she slept, and made the three hour trip to Globe, Arizona for our film shoot. We would shoot for four days. I couldn’t bear to stay and wait for the inevitable.
On the 2nd day, I received word that my mother passed. I kept it to myself. Our shoot had proven to be harrowing, and it would have been selfish to burden the crew with something so heavy - especially as producer. I decided that was not appropriate.
We pressed on and eventually struggled through the shoot. A couple others in the crew also faced family tragedy soon after the shoot, much to my despair.
Looking forward to the future
I didn’t tell you about my mother to make you feel sad or twist your arm. We all face tragedy in our lives at some point. We aren’t unique in that.
I just wanted to answer this for you:
What is Occulus Films? Who are they? What are they all about?
I wanted to tell you our story.
Dominic and I, and Occulus Films, has had the great fortune to be able to work with many incredibly hard-working, talented, and reliable people (such as our mother). We greatly value those connections. We value them not only because they are valuable to our clients, but because they are people who will be there when you’re in a pinch or need someone to get a drink with.
We’ve created some incredible work together with our team and with clients. Sometimes the conditions aren’t the best (understatement!) and it certainly challenges our patience and endurance, but you know what they say about diamonds...
As our business and skills have grown, we’ve always remained dedicated to our craft. We want to create stunning images. We want to tell moving stories. We want to share your story with the world. Whether it’s about your machine that polishes ball bearings or about a man who decided to start a boot company after almost dying on a hike through the Appalachians, we want to tell your story.
A good story is worth telling, and not only do people want to hear a good story, but they will remember it, and likely share it. That’s the power of a well-told story.
We take our joy from the process, from the result, and it doesn’t hurt when we get notes and thanks from a satisfied client. Telling a good story allows us to share with the world, and be with great people while we do it.
We’ve come a long way, and we don’t plan on stopping soon. What’s next, you ask? We don’t know, but we look forward to seizing the next adventure when it comes.
Yours in service,
Nick LaRovere, Co-founder, Occulus Films
P.S. if you made it through this whole thing, thanks for sticking with it. I appreciate it.