A week for director and cinematographer, Chase Rees, involves three things: directing, shooting, and then editing projects created all across Houston and beyond.
Taking a moment to reflect – now, more than a decade into his professional filmmaking career – Rees shares insights from his journey of becoming a creative professional in the city that gave him his start.
Do you remember what first sparked your interest in film?
I’ve always been interested in filmmaking, even when I didn’t know it. After I’d already established myself as a filmmaker, many old friends of mine all said, “Well we figured you’d make movies one day.” But like most, watching movies as I grew up is what really sparked my interest.
How did you approach starting a career in production?
Getting into film school was an accident. It’s a long story, but I originally went to school for audio engineering and soon learned that the school had a film course. I immediately switched my schedule to jump into it. My first job was actually an editing job. I was part of a professional gaming team in the early 2000s. We needed sponsorship to travel and enter tournaments, so I was chosen to edit a highlight video. That’s when I found out how much I enjoy editing.
How did you transition from editing to shooting and directing your projects?
It was a long road. I was a Production Assistant for a few years to learn my way on set. During that time, I would pick up a camera whenever I could. My old film school let me use two old Panasonic cameras when they launched their HD prosumer line. Editing allowed me to put together projects and not depend on anyone, it was up to me. I used that advantage and found people who needed projects shot… music videos, corporate films, and local indie movies is where I found most of my work in the early days. A local production company that produced indie films needed someone to edit, so I took the challenge and cut about seven features. They weren’t the best movies, but I knew that going in. I used the opportunity to better understand how to put a feature together and how to shoot. From there I decided to take the leap in camera ownership and invested in a RED One Camera. This was in 2007, the first camera to embrace the 4K resolution. I just began to shoot more of my own projects and things snowballed.
How do you manage to handle so many projects at the same time?
Yeah, so my schedule can be quite demanding. When I first started I used to do everything – every phone call and meeting. It was insane. Now I have an amazing team supporting me and it allows me to focus on what’s important the end product. Sometimes I can have over a dozen projects at a time. The way I tackle those is to just focus on one thing at a time. I remember listening to a podcast one day, and the guest was a Navy Seal. He began to tell the host how many people never make it to the end. He said people who do just focus on the task or obstacle in front of them. If you think about everything that you have to do as a whole it can be overwhelming, it’ll make you want to quit and I’ve been there. If you just finish and focus on one thing at a time, you’ll be done before you know it.
Why did you decide to start your own production company in Houston?
Well, I never planned on starting a production company. I always had some sort of entity to represent my name, but I never expected to have a production company with a team. It kind of just happened. It’s great to actually have a business that’s successful. I love being able to help people work on projects that mean something to them.
What are some challenges you faced when venturing into a creative career?
There are many. Financial security is one of them for sure. In the film industry, they say you usually don’t start making an actual living until about 10 years in. That’s true. You can make a big check here and there, but it takes a long time to actually have consistency. I also think another big challenge is to not take social media so seriously. Don’t judge your career by images someone else is posting about theirs. Oh, and if you can’t take criticism, this is not the industry for you.
Why is it worth it to venture into a creative career?
It’s worth it because it’s up to you. You control your destiny. And when it works, it makes it so much more worth it. One of the major things that keeps me going is the feeling of our work is worth something. As a documentary filmmaker, telling the stories of people that inspire other people to achieve greater things is amazing.
On many projects, how do you manage to take on the role of a Director and DP?
There are challenges, but they get smaller with a great team. As a director, having a solid production team, all the way down to the Assistants relieves a tremendous amount of stress when it comes to what happens off and onset. And as a DP, having my Gaffer and Grips are everything. I think the major challenge just might be the amount of questions that come at you all day long and making sure everyone around you understands what you’re trying to achieve.
Where do you reside and can you tell us about your family?
I’m from Houston. My family is from Texas but we spent a lot of time overseas. My dad worked in the oil industry and spent time in Southeast Asia. I was born in Rhode Island and immediately went to Taiwan and Singapore until I was 6. We lived in Malaysia and South America as well, so seeing the world definitely helped me get a little perspective on life.
Why is the city of Houston a great place to create projects?
The size. Houston has everything you need to tell a great story, as the most diverse city in the US, it allows a filmmaker like myself to tell diverse stories.
When you’re not working, what is your favorite thing to do?
I recently went on a 5,500 mile road trip. My wife and I recently purchased a Winnebago RV and drove to Glacier National Park, Montana. Basically Canada. Even though we absolutely love what we do in the film industry, time away is invaluable. Getting out and hitting the road with our pup, Ellie, is one of our favorite things to do. There’s nothing like driving down a road and not knowing what you’re going to see, experience. Meeting the people, seeing the places; it’s inspiring.
What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing a creative career?
Patience, give it time. You don’t know what you’re doing, but that’s okay, no one really does. A lot of the best things ever shot happened by accident. Go with your instinct and have confidence in your choices, even if people around you don’t agree with them. And most importantly, do what you want to do. Don’t sacrifice your ideas because someone doesn’t want to do the work to pull it off. In the end, it’s your project and it will represent you, so make it count.