An Interesting Journey
SoCal Media Pros member, Tom Smith, is a well-known producer-director with a wide variety of clients. Besides the CEO of Thomas Smith Productions, he's also a respected videographer who freelances for a number of large event companies. We got to chat with Tom about his very interesting business and how he got here--a journey you may find surprising!
SoCal: Tom, What excites you about your business?
Tom Smith: The best part of my job is the wide range of people I get to work with. Last month I worked for a large Catholic university on an immigration and refugee program, very different. Last week I was working with people in the General Aviation field and shooting state-of-the-art aircraft, next week interviews for real estate. Always different and Fun!
SoCal: We know you have a wide variety of clients. Which projects have been the most rewarding for you?
Tom Smith: I have worked on hundreds of projects over the years but two stand out as the most rewarding. The Unbroken Circle was a dramatic film I was an associate producer and co-Director of Photography on. We shot it out at the Tustin air base back in 2003 or 04. It was set in the Middle East depicting social conflict between two families on opposite sides of the Palestinian issue. The film won a number of awards as a short.
Aother is a commercial campaign I produced for a food producer in LA county. The four commercials ran for over year. It’s fun to see your work pop up while viewing a show in prime time.
SoCal: You weren't always in video—In fact, we know you had a 20 year career as an Orange County Deputy Sherriff! How did you ever get into Video?
Tom Smith: Well, that's true my "day job" from 1986 to 2006 was a Deputy Sheriff. It was a great career and I'm very proud of it. I have a box full of honors as a Deputy Sheriff from MADD for making DUI arrests. I also have the Medal of Merit.
But my journey into media actually started long before that— in high school with a super 8 movie camera—that’s where the bug started. I was involved in music and art and had a great art teacher, Mr. A. E. Anderson, who was a great encourager. With my artiest friends we shot music videos, I wish I still had them.
I earned an ABA in Fine Art at Mt Sac and a BA in Sociology from Vanguard University. I was on the ten-year plan and should have a MS or PHD behind my name with all the college units I have accumulated. During the whole time I spent in college I paid for it in part doing photography. It wasn’t until the mid 80’s that I was able to jump into video with both feet working in production at my church. We had a very nice set up with three Sony tube cameras, switcher and ¾ inch tape decks, editing was very, shall we say, "interesting." We recorded our church services for cable and weddings. IThe ¾ inch recording sounds primitive now but it was great training and we did some nice stuff.
In the late 90’s I was introduced to non-linear editing by my son. He had a bootleg copy of Final Cut and he cut a music video from anime cartoons and won 2nd or third place at an anime convention. I was amazed at the ease he was able to make transitions and effects on the computer. I was hooked and went over to Saddleback College and started taking classes in editing and production. In 1999 I started moon-lighting on my days off and in 2006 when I retired from the Sherriff's Department, Thomas Smith Productions was born.
SoCal: So you've seen a lot of changes in the technology of our business.
Tom Smith: I have done some teaching at the college level in production and the first lecture always started like this, “The Digital Age is the best thing that has happened to production because anyone can do it, but at the same time the Digital Age is the worst thing to happen in production, because anyone can do it.” The whole process has become so much easer and cheaper to do. Try editing an hour church service using three decks on ¾ inch tape. I can say without doubt you won’t like it. Editing is still time consuming but so much faster and cleaner on the computer and in 4K.
I think it goes with out saying our cameras today, even on a consumer level, are outstanding. Lighting with LED’s, fast efficient and so cool. My interview kit, camera, lights and sound are in two cases over my shoulder. You call, I haul.
SoCal: What Advice do you have for folks just getting started in professional media?
Tom Smith: Learn a skill and keep working on it and be on time and on time is 15 minutes early.
SoCal: You are currently on the Board of SoCal Media Pros. Has the organization helped your business?
Tom Smith: Over the years I am grateful to have been impacted by a lot of different folks, both men and woman. SoCal Media Pros has been important to me as I am continually in contact with local talent in every area of media who I can call on for help and friendship.
SoCal: Besides keeping your clients happy, what's new on the Horizon?
Tom Smith: I’m pretty laid back these days but I can get very intense while working on a project but in a laid back way. I think this comes from my training as a deputy—you have to get the job done but keep your emotions in check. My wife and I love to spend time with our family and having a granddaughter make life even better yet.
For what's new…My wife and I also write and we are working on a number of scripts together. We will see how that goes.