Friction of Life: Building a Brand

“For the most part, we just get out there. We stay involved with the community and we don’t hesitate to give someone a card and tell them, ‘Check out our work!’”

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By David Feltman

Hayden Bryars was a freshman at Jefferson State Community College and headed for a degree in IT when he saw the ad. Cadillac, in conjunction with the makers of the film “Be Cool,” had launched a short film contest to help promote the new V-Series. All entries had to be exactly five seconds long and highlight the car’s acceleration. Bryars came up with a story about a man stealing data and being chased by bad guys. He got a group together, raided his friend’s father’s weapon locker for two handguns and three shotguns, and got to filming. Just as they finished shooting, the cops showed up to bust Bryars for stealing the weapons.

“As I sat in the back of the cop car, all I really thought was, ‘at least we got the footage we needed,’” said Bryars. “That’s when I knew this is what I want to do for a living. Make movies.”

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Bryars is now the Creative Director of Friction of Life (stylized as FOL), a production company he founded with his friends. Ryan Evans (PR), Dustin Gray (Art Director) and Shawn Owens (Sound Engineer) all graduated with Bryars from Erwin High School. Cinematographer Jon Whatley is the only non-Erwin alum in the group, having befriended Bryars on the set of the short film “These Foolish Things.” Though just a year old, FOL has created a niche for itself making music videos for local artists, while dabbling in ads and promotional videos.

Assembling a Team

“It’s all who you know,” is an old adage in the entertainment industry and FOL owes much of its existence to that premise. As luck would have it, Bryars friends were passionate and already pursuing careers in creative fields. Whatley has a film degree, is a technical director for Sidewalk Film Festival and edits for a TV station. Owens has a degree in sound production and helped hand build a recording studio in Tuscaloosa. Evans is working on his masters in business and Gray has a degree in graphic design. So when Bryars was first approached to shoot a video for a friend, he had a pool of talented connections ready to tap.

“A meeting was set [to discuss the video] and I started thinking about the crew I would bring in,” said Bryars. “I started listing off names in my head and I just thought, ‘This is who I’m always going to go to first.’ So I called them up and asked if they wanted to start a creative collaborative.”

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Watching them work on set, it’s easy to tell they are a close-knit crew. Bryars speaks with his hands, describing the shot he wants, and Whatley immediately starts to set up the equipment. When the lighting isn’t right, Bryars snatches a light and holds it at a lower angle so Whatley can get his shot. Owens and Gray move around the edge of the shot, alternately filming b-reel footage on a hand held. Everyone knows where to be and what to be doing. The video, a music video for the rapper Missle, is shot on top of a parking deck in downtown Birmingham. The crew has their footage and is packed up in about three hours, despite a tardy artist and their generator running out of fuel halfway through the shoot. On the way out Bryars expresses concern about some police cars parked on the deck’s lower levels and laughs, “Guerilla filmmaking. You got to get in and out.”

The Job Hunt

FOL has been able to keep a steady stream of clients and projects flowing in since its formation, mostly on the power of networking. By attending music festivals and working on the sets of other productions, the crew has continued to hunt new acquaintances. The group doesn’t shy away from less artistic work either. If filming a wedding can finance a new project or pay for a new piece of equipment, Bryars and his peers will be there.

“For the most part, we just get out there,” said Bryars. “We stay involved with the community and we don’t hesitate to give someone a card and tell them, ‘Check out our work!’ We actively seek out local talent. If we like what they do, we’re trying to get a meeting with them. We also pull from our personal network. All five of us bring something different to the table.”

It was Owens’ connections with Oz Records in Tuscaloosa that landed them the job producing a Record Store Day promotional video. The opportunity not only allowed FOL to broaden its filmography, but Bryars learned that the owner and the general manager of OZ are friends with Birmingham-based indie darlings St. Paul and the Broken Bones and RED, the firm that represents the band. This gave FOL the chance to use the band’s music and get its video in front of a lot of influential eyes. Outcomes like these help grow the brand so Bryars constantly looks to branch out and take advantage of new prospects.

“‘RSD 2014’ was our first attempt at a documentary style project,” said Bryars. “We had a real good time doing it and it seems be getting a great reception. We look for more opportunities like that, but we also want to work in commercials and advertising. We’re in talks with a fitness coach that wants to produce a series of online videos for her clients that have to miss a session. That may not be as cool as a rap video, but there’s a demand for this content.”

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The Gameplan

Bryars’ goal for FOL is to ultimately move toward producing short and feature films. He has a couple of scripts and story ideas tucked away, but he refuses to discuss them just yet. He refers to them as his babies. There is another script he is considering optioning for FOL, a project on which the crew can test the waters. But for now Bryars is more focused on honing his craft and making FOL as marketable as possible.

“Right now we’re using our skills to monetize and support our goal. FOL is still in its infancy and its business model could change in six months, said Bryars. “Our mission is to create a quality piece of visual media that makes your art stand out from the rest. We want to accommodate your vision for your work with fresh and original content that separates you from your peers.”

You can find more about FOL on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @frictionoflife.