A Love Letter to Collaboration
A Love Letter to Collaboration
A Creative Obituary for Zachary James Breitengross
I don’t know how to start this without including myself, so here it goes. My name is Jenny Kleiman. I recently lost a friend, and I’m not sure how to deal with it. That friend’s name was Zachary James Breitengross, and he was as amazing and complex as that last name is to spell.
My friend was a very special person on a micro basis. I really liked his weird brain, his eccentric personality, his ability to crack jokes and make me giggle. Together we enjoyed meals, car rides, work sessions, drinks, lots of drinks, hugs, creative moments, moments of disagreement, and I think he once took a nap in my presence.
On a macro basis, we were/are (how does that work?) both filmmakers, although he was part of the production company Seamless Pictures, which I’ll get to a little later. Zac was a large part of the film community here in Charleston; he contributed to every major show that came through town, was an alum of Trident Tech’s film program, and, to make a long story short, was the first person who helped me work my way back into the film scene in Charleston.
I left my hometown of Charleston for eight years to go figure out who I was as a person, and in the meantime, the city of Charleston found itself, too. It came out of a dark economic depression, a time of heavy drug use and businesses closing doors. In the new Charleston, you could easily forget that phase in our beloved city’s history, although it was not even 10 years ago.
I moved back with a love of film and no idea where to meet people of my kind. I wanted to shoot a little short called “Mismatched: A Fashion Story” to enter into the upcoming Fashion and Film Contest for Charleston Fashion Week. A friend of mine, Ally Ackert, had gone to film school with Zac and recommended him as a director of photography—or the camera man with all the ideas who makes your vision into a reality on the screen.
Zac walked into my mom’s front yard on a sunny February day in 2013. When I had invited Zac over, I had asked for maybe 20 hours worth of work, for free, for a shoot that was days out without a creative team. We stood in my mom’s garage, filled with boxes and cobwebs, and I instructed him to imagine that the whole room would look like a bedroom in a few short days (thanks to my magnificent art department team, Justin Schram and Kenneth Hyatt).
Again, he had never met me, there was nothing to look at in terms of a whole idea, and this was free work. I think I probably would have walked out.
But Zac was on board.
I remember falling asleep that night thinking, “I’VE GOT A TEAM! I am so nervous that I could throw up, but Zac said yes!” And a few weeks later, a fantastic group of people dedicated a Saturday to making a little short film. Because that’s how creative collaboration works. Because enough people say yes, and then I get to take all of the credit when people see things on my website. Because I have a group of talent around me that makes me look Seamless. Because a bunch of people are willing to jump on board.
The thing I would learn is that Zac was always on board. For anything.
You can see "Mismatched" here: https://vimeo.com/59954242
Zac’s glitch-art edit of “Bliss": https://vimeo.com/59731739
A few months later, the bold and amazing Rachel Kate Gillon gave my co-director/producer, Landon Phillips, and I free reign to take her song “Lost” and do whatever we felt like with it. We immediately called Zac.
That video would later earn accolades from different local outlets: Charleston City Paper, Charleston Grit, Indie Grits Film Festival, and a few more, although Zac was typically unmentioned in those articles. However, that music video represents so many different people and artistic forces in its final cut.
Once you have been on set, you realize that the film industry is the opposite of glamorous. It’s slow and methodical, and if you aren’t passionate about it, you will find out very quickly. However, the Zacs of the industry make all of this manageable, both emotionally and professionally. Zac and his second camera operator, Justin Jay of Drill Films, were patient with us. They let us agonize over details. (There’s too many pieces of fabric blowing in the wind! When you duck under water, you have to stay under or we can’t get the hands shot!)
There are very few people who would jump at the chance to drive out to McClellanville for three days in a row to get attacked by mosquitos and put thousands of dollars of your equipment in a 12-foot canoe. I remember his excitement over the end shot of Rachel Kate reflected in the water—he was really proud of how the video turned out, even if he never forgave me for getting stuck upstream, paddling the canoe with our camera rigs on our shoulder, fighting a current that was sucking us farther from our crew standing on the shore. These are the little things that stay with me now.
Zac made that video come to life, and it is as much his as it is Landon’s and mine.
You can see Rachel Kate’s “Lost” here:
I realize that I haven’t even gotten to Seamless Pictures yet. I could spend a whole 20 paragraphs trying to explain my appreciation for this group both personally and professionally, but I’ll try my best to make it bite-sized.
Seamless Pictures is a group of filmmakers, directors, DPs, producers, and collaborators who treat filmmaking like a beautiful game of tag where everyone gets a chance to be “It.” If friends are the family that you can choose, then they decided to choose the most talented individuals in Charleston (and New York) to add to their roster. They also happen to all be best friends. And not the type of best friends that secretly are envious or jealous of each other’s successes. They have mastered the art of lifting everyone up together as one unanimous voice. They truly collaborate. They create insanely amazing art. While they each have their own approach, the images from their films cross dissolve into a solid, definite look, feel, and style.
It is an understatement to say that I have respect for their work. Zac was my original connection to the Seamless crew, but one by one, I would meet rest of their team on different shoots and events. I was consistently amazed by the amount of work that they produce, their dedication to letting each team member share his/her own vision, and their cohesiveness, even between genres. They seem to skip between experimental, documentary, narrative, feature, or short like it’s a yoga flow session. There’s no line drawn in any sand.
I first saw Zac’s final work, “If You Return,” on the Seamless Pictures website. I had gone to an experimental film school, but I had never seen a film that took dreams and accurately portrayed our floating, sleepy cognizance. It defined the way I look at Zac’s work before our first collaboration, and his most recent film, “The Past Recedes,” defines how he left us. I encourage you all to explore the Seamless Pictures website and spend some time getting to know each of the filmmakers.
You can see "If You Return" here: http://www.seamlesspictures.com/#!if-you-return/cgcl
I attended Zac’s memorial at the house of Charlotte Savage, my fellow female filmmaker (and girl crush), on Saturday, January 31. The Seamless team members had clearly mourned together, but while their eyes appeared puffy, they created a united front of strength. There were team members in town escaping the NYC blizzard and others out on productions that didn’t allow for them to come home to Charleston to attend the service. It didn’t matter. They move fluidly as a unit, with or without all of their pieces intact.
And they will continue to make great work even with the loss of their friend. There is more to the name Seamless Pictures than a slight editing pun. There is a nature and fluidity that envelopes each of them.
This has become a love letter of sorts to collaboration. Throughout this letter, I have been happy to namedrop a few names who make work enjoyable. I probably have a list that could span another 30 paragraphs of people who didn’t make it into this letter. I am going to make it a point to tell them how much I appreciate them. I have many people who I still want to collaborate with, and I hope our paths cross sooner than later. But the point is that we can’t do it without each other. We shouldn’t have to. None of us live in a vacuum. We need creative checks and balances. Some people get the recognition they deserve, others get too much or not enough.
Zac’s death has put many things in perspective over the last few days: You should always tell your friends and family that you love them. You should always talk about passion instead of work. You should write things down about the people who made an impact on you in case you’re not sure that they understand how much you respect them.
And finally, seek out collaborators that will make you feel like that without them, you aren’t your full self. Share your creativity with others and let it make you vulnerable.
Thanks, Zac, for all your hard work, sharing your talents with us, and—most of all—your friendship, your willingness to jump in with both feet, and letting me into your world. You’ve left a huge impact on mine.