Winner’s Spotlight: “Drywater”


Hello, Zooppers!

This week we are featuring Zoopper “Drywater” (a.k.a. Stephen) for his recent multiple wins! I am excited to be writing about him and his work. He has great stories and suggestions, Zooppers, so enjoy!

Cristina: How does it feel to win so many prizes?

Stephen: It feels great to have won so many prizes! There are a lot of great filmmakers competing in these competitions, so it’s both exciting and an honor to get chosen by some of these top companies we’re shooting for. These competitions have also given our video production company, Drywater Productions, a much needed financial boost in order to go full time. […] This is a tremendous blessing!

C: On average, how many hours go into a 1-minute video?

S: Filming takes anywhere from 4 to 8 hours, but editing is where the real work is. We can spend anywhere from 8 to 16 hours (or more) in the edit room. I was taught to “worry” the edit, or to watch each and every edit again and again until it’s just right. Sometimes moving a single frame left or right makes all the difference. Using our final edit, our composer, Rachel Hsiao (R.L. Wolf), composes music for the commercials in just a matter of hours!

C: Where are you from? Where did you go to school? Where did you study in school?

S: Born and raised in Southern Wisconsin, I attended University of Wisconsin for my Associate’s Degree. I studied filmmaking in British Columbia, Canada, where I attended Vancouver Film School. I focused on directing and cinematography while there.

C: Which are your favorite videos you’ve made? Are there ones you prefer more than the ones that won?

S: My favorite commercial we shot is “Lunch Interrogation” for Hormel.  We shot it last minute one night in my dining room.  We have tall windows and bright white trim work which would ruin the “interrogation” look if were to get them in the shot.  So we chose one wall and shot against it for every take, physically rotating the table (and actors) instead of moving the camera so as to keep the dark wall in the background.  We hung a utility light from our chandelier in order to get the “spot light” effect above the table. It wasn’t until I started editing when I realized just how fast 30 seconds really is. It came down to trimming a half-second here and a half-second there to get it down to 30 seconds. I love fast edits but this fast of an edit was pretty challenging.

C: Is that your wife in the videos? You two are definitely a powerhouse couple!

S: Yes! Cameron is my wife.  A “powerhouse couple” is a great compliment.  Cameron and I run our business, Drywater Productions, together. She learned editing while watching me edit weddings and has since picked up a lot of skills to help me both on set and in post. On most of our projects, she is the main editor.  Cameron and I both prefer to be behind the camera and have only acted out of necessity when we knew logistically (time, locations, etc) it would have been difficult shooting with actors. For example, our Orbitz commercial was shot over 4 days (and two nights) because we never had more than an hour or two of free time to shoot. Along with running our production company, we also have two young children, which means we shoot the commercials whenever we’re able to- even if it’s at 2am.

We complement each other very well, especially in editing.  We often disagree on the edit and end up compromising to get that “perfect” mix. As far as our acting goes, we did find that we seem to play a really good couple! Cameron is not only a great actress, but also a great editor, great mom and great business partner. I wouldn’t be able to run our company without her!

C: Has filmmaking always been a part of your life?

S: It sure has. I remember making make movies with my parents’ VHS camera. Of course, there was rarely a plot and most often just involved chase and fight scenes. As I got older I began making more complex stories and eventually grew out of in-camera editing and advanced to non-linear editing. My dad helped me build my first computer which I was able to edit (more or less) the footage on.

C: When did you discover Zooppa? How?

S: We were first introduced to Zooppa in March of this year. Ruben (the younger detective in our Hormel commercial) had heard about your site through Manny. Ruben contacted me asking if I’d like to help. We were each expecting our second child right around the corner, so we figured it was worth trying to nab some cash for diapers!

C: If you could choose any brand(s), to submit content to, which would it/they be?

S: Honestly, I have no idea!  Geico would be fun, but I think of them only because they have such great commercials already.

C: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for novice/ace video makers?

S: Where do I start?  First, learn the fundamentals of filmmaking. Learning the rules of filmmaking is pretty easy. The Rule of Thirds, Crossing the Line, 30 Degree Rule, etc. Though these rules can certainly be broken some times, it’s hugely advantageous to know the concepts and why they work.

Second, learn your equipment and use it to its potential. You don’t need a $3,000 camera to make a great film.  By knowing how to use what you have, you will also learn the limits of what you have, which will aid in determining if it’s time to upgrade. It’s easy to see the talent of a great filmmaker, even with poor equipment. Likewise, it’s always obvious when someone has nice equipment but doesn’t know the first thing about how to use it.

Third, make sure you have a story. Even a 30 second commercial should have a beginning, middle, and end.

Finally, don’t settle for “pretty good” unless it’s the best you’re going to get. We originally shot (and edited) a commercial for Orbitz, but after watching it again and again (and having some friends watch it) we determined it just wasn’t working and scrapped the entire commercial. We then re-shot it all over again for the new commercial, “How Many Times do I have to Tell You?” Our commercials are by no means the “best” in each competition. There are plenty of commercials which are clearly shot on more expensive cameras than what we use, but if we know it’s our best we’re happy to submit it. We would never ask our friends to vote for a commercial that wasn’t done to the best of our ability.

C: What kind of camera equipment did you use?

S: We’ve shot most of the commercials on Panasonic’s HMC-40 video camera.  They’re HD and shoot on SD cards. We’ve since bought a DSLR camera and some prime lenses. For lights, we’ve actually used a lot of home-made gear (halogen work lights and painter’s lights). We’ve also recently added dimmable LED light panels. We use Sennheiser wireless lavaliere mics running through our Beachtek mixer. We use professional gear, but we equally use home-made gear. However, you do need to be realistic when it comes to “professional” versus DIY. Oh yeah, we also edit using Premier Pro on a PC.


Lots of great stuff, huh, Zooppers? I hope you were entertained and inspired by his stories and advice!

Ciao ragazzi,




Meme E

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