CALLING YOUR OWN SHOTS IS EVERYTHING
You may have met WNW Member #8776 Stephen McFadden at the 4th Annual WNW Holiday Party. He was the one filming it, so we can relive the GIFs, the drinks, the jams, and those spontaneous Shake Shack burgers. We recently interviewed Stephen so the WNW community could get to know a little bit more about the director's background and aspirations.
Stephen developed his television and broadcast chops on cruise ships and tourism videos. "My biggest reward has been traveling around the country and the world without ever having to pay for it." After returning to land, Stephen started his own one-man freelance outfit, McFadden Creative. And it seems that being his own boss suits him: "Having the ability to call your own shots is everything."
We also spoke to Stephen about which of his projects he's proudest of, and what he's learned from the high seas in case you're ready for an epic adventure yourself.
Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer and director?
No, I didn’t always know but when I got to college, I went down the list of majors and chose Radio, TV & Film and it’s been my life’s passion ever since. At this point in my career, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s been a very unknown and exciting journey.
Who's inspired you?
No one person has inspired me but I’ve always admired people who’ve paved their own paths and did things their way. Currently, I feel that I’m a part of the new era of “auteurs” that seem to be disrupting internet video content.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get here?
After getting degrees in Entertainment Business and Film, I found myself interning at a major network (BET) where I learned the day-to-day operations of national televised programming.
Then from there, I started working on cruise ships (Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line) in the television and broadcast departments where I really cut my teeth in a fast paced, shoot and edit environment. My cruise ship experience really gave me the confidence and autonomy to manage my time and workflow. Back then, we were still shooting to (digi beta) tape. Ship life also gave me the opportunity to see far corners of the world while having amazing travel experiences.
After a couple of years of working and living on ships, I transitioned into shooting and editing travel/tourism videos which was a blast (Miles Media Partnership). Shooting/editing tourism videos helped me realize the power of content and how far reaching a “local” video could really be. During my travel/tourism time, I learned how important stories and characters are to unscripted content. This time also solidified that work can truly be fun.
From 2010-2015 I split my time between being a Project Videographer in education (St. Petersburg College) and freelancing as an “one man band” producer/shooter/editor under my own freelance outfit, McFadden Creative. The work I’ve done under McFadden Creative, hands down, has been the most rewarding work I’ve done to date. It’s given me the opportunity to create original web series, mini docs, fashion videos and other types of content. Having the ability to call your own shots is everything.
Currently, I’m a video editor at a New York video content agency.
Five Lessons from Working on Cruise Ship
1) Be prepared to work really long days. The average day as a Broadcast Tech involves managing and scheduling .mpg players for TV content, filming on board activities & live shows, turning around quick edits, constantly trouble shooting satellites and old equipment. It's the best crash course I've ever had in time management.
2) If you're lucky to get a great itinerary, it's the best way to travel the world. I've spent months in the Caribbean and one six month contract in the Mediterranean. Waking up in 10+ different countries, on two continents over the course of several months is pretty awesome.
3) When the ship docks, go get lost. Living six months at a time onboard ships can be really intense and can feel quite claustrophobic. The best cure for cabin fever is to go get lost in whatever city you're visiting. I spent a lot of time walking around with my camera, taking in the native cultures. Most places are extremely touristy, so get as far away from the main areas as possible. Always make good friends with cabbies, they will know where to take you for a small fee.
4) Your world view will change. One of the last ships I was on, I was 1 of 19 Americans out of 700+ crew members. It felt very different working in an environment where most people don't sound like you. Although, everyone spoke english, it wasn't everyones first language. It truly opened my eyes to see how big the world really is and how the rest of the world views Americans.
5) If you work hard and play harder, you will have created life-long memories that will last forever. Between all the new friends you'll make, the long hours of work, the long sea days (days spent at sea, not on land), great crew parties and beautiful destinations, it's the most amazing and intense work life you'll ever have.
Do your parents understand what you do for a living?
Not quite. They understand that I do stuff with cameras and computers. Aside from that, it doesn’t really makes sense to them.
What's your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is selling clients on my personal visions for their projects. It’s an ongoing, healthy challenge that I face.
My biggest reward has been traveling around the country and the world without ever having to pay for it. Most people would love to travel but don’t want to pay for it. I went years without ever having to pay for tickets.
What's it like shooting the annual WNW Holiday party?
Shooting a WNW Holiday party is a blast. WNW brings together an interesting mix of creatives who might not otherwise party together, so being able to document people having a good time from so many different backgrounds was the coolest part for me. Obviously, the music and drinks are great but this year Shake Shack was in the house passing out free burgers so that was pretty awesome in itself. Justin and Adam do a fantastic job of hosting a great event. I loved it so much, I wish they would host a summer party.
Favorite piece of your own work and why?
I would say my favorite piece would be a video I created with Chef Steve Phelps of Indigenous restaurant. It’s a piece I worked on for probably 3 years. The final video was called “Being a Chef” which basically documented the three year journey of a chef as he builds his brand and comes into his own as a star chef. He and I did numerous videos in between “being a chef” but he wanted one video which was a statement and testament to what it means to him to be a chef. It’s probably one of the most impactful videos I’ve made.
What's a dream project of yours?
My dream project would involve telling a brand’s unique story through culture, fashion, and food in a docu-series.
Any resources that have been helpful to you in what you do for a living?
The internet as a whole has truly been helpful for me. There are so many resources and avenues out there. Vimeo has been pretty integral in me discovering new ways to do things, discovering other creators and finding inspiration.
What's advice you'd give your high school self?
I would tell my high school self to stop being afraid that everyone is somehow better than you. And do something everyday that helps build my confidence and self-esteem. It took me years to finally realize that I was just as good as most creatives. And the other thing would be to always ask her for her phone number.