Scott Lazes and Kevin Beaty, the co-founders of the Charlotte Video Project, saw the Democratic National Convention as an opportunity to showcase the city's cultural scene. The young entrepreneurs not only created nearly 100 topical film essays, they inspired community-wide collaboration and support of their film venture.
In spring 2011, right after graduating from Rutgers, Lazes heard that Charlotte would be hosting the DNC. "It seemed historic to me and I started thinking about ways I could contribute to this big event," said Lazes, 23. "I'd been doing movie story telling and commentaries for a few years at that point and I thought, 'What if we started making movies about Charlotte?'"
So the two began filming. Their first subject was a pair of farmers, the restaurant they opened, and the connection between farm and table. Just over three minutes long, the film demonstrates the project's fly-on-the-wall approach. The cameras and microphones follow the two women from feeding the pigs in the slough to dishing up pork chops to customers. Though the final product wasn't what the farmers, Cassie Parsons and Natalie Veres, expected, they liked it and eventually became staunch supporters.
From there, Lazes and Beaty, 22, dove into the diverse cultural fabric of Charlotte, filming events like a female roller derby and a Civil War reenactment.
In a city with 10 percent unemployment, the project also aimed to shed light on jobs in industries that have been hit hardest by the recession. Lazes and Beaty produced films on manufacturing companies like Boxman Studios, which modifies shipping containers, and Poly-Tech Industrial, which invents 1,000 new tools a year. (According to the 2011 North Carolina Economic Index, "nearly a third (99,300) of the nonfarm jobs lost since December 2007 were in the Manufacturing industry.")
Lazes and Beaty initially planned to produce a movie a day during the 15 months leading up to the convention, but in order to achieve the level of quality they wanted for the project, they decided to aim for 100 videos.
To fund the project, CVP partnered with local businesses and foundations, including Charlotte Magazine, Lime Energy and the Charlotte 2012 Convention committee. A successful online funding campaign on Kickstarter also helped, raising $7000 in 10 days.
The outpouring of support allowed Lazes and Beaty to hire several freelance editors to help cut the footage as the date of the DNC approached. By the time the convention rolled around last week, they had finished almost 90, with several more in the final stages of production.
But despite the delegates, politicians and 15,000 journalists who flooded into Charlotte, outside interest in the city seemed tepid. "We were hoping the national press was going to say, 'Hey, we're in Charlotte, we should look into what goes on here,'" Lazes said. "There were some things done, but it was a little light. I was a little peeved by that."
The videos did, however, see a bump in views during the convention, as the number of daily viewers went from hundreds to thousands on the website and CVP YouTube channel.
More importantly, Lazes and Beaty realized that the project had become something more than a week-long showcase for visiting media. "Because the internet is the way it is, the content will stay there forever," Lazes said. "We had a lot of people who contributed, we have had good press from the local media and locals have been very happy."
One local contributor, Jared Daye, 17, was working in the same grocery store Beaty once worked in when the two CVP filmmakers found him. "Jerad was a senior in High School, getting ready to leave for film school at UNC-Wilmington," Lazes recalled. "He said, 'I just want to learn.' He ended up helping a lot."
The CVP gave Jared valuable experience in a field where it's tough to get started and gave the Charlotte community something to be proud of. "We created some temporary jobs, we gave people experience who could now go find other jobs in the field, and we showcased jobs that are here in Charlotte," said Lazes.
The videos also provided a professional and cultural showcase for a community not necessarily known for its culture.
"The people we've talked with have been really happy with the work, and the people we've worked with like the content and quality" Lazes said. "It was a community initiative and the stories are about the community."