Authority Magazine Interview
This was originally posted in Authority Magazine: https://medium.com/authority-magazine/filmmakers-making-a-social-impact-why-how-filmmaker-jason-cherubini-of-dawns-light-media-is-fbd97e9598d1
For the last few years, we have been working to move our film production in an environmentally friendly way with the goal of producing carbon-neutral films in the future. With the upheaval that the Coronavirus has caused, we have to rethink some of our policies, but as we are starting back to filming, we are finding a balance between the health and safety of our crew and not losing the advances we have made in being environmentally friendly.
Asa part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Cherubini. Jason Cherubini, CPA/MBA, is an entrepreneur, consultant, and academic. In 2014, Cherubini co-founded the media financing and production company, Dawn’s Light Media with partners Richard Switzer and Alexander Ferguson and in the last five years, Dawn’s Light has produced and distributed over twenty-five feature films, including theatrical releases such as Black Water starring action stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, and Money Plane starring Adam “Edge” Copeland, Kelsey Grammer, and Thomas Jane.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career? Ending up in media production was never a goal that I had, and it is only through several turns and tangentially related projects that I ended up there. After graduate school, I began consulting for alternative energy companies, mostly electric vehicles, and biofuel manufacturers. From there, I got involved with some “green” data centers. Data centers led me to projects with government contractors who were working on optimizing federal agency data centers. Working with those government contractors got me working with Software as a Service (SaaS) software companies. Those software companies (and my background in education) gave me opportunities in EdTech. From the EdTech projects, it was a natural step to video game projects. And from video games, it is a short hop into the film industry. When we first looked at film projects, we were primarily looking at acting as an investor and financing projects with minimal risk, including a lot of ‘bailout’ type funding. We did well with this, but we began seeing patterns of where these filmmakers were falling short, and we saw an opportunity to step in and produce our content. This involved more operational activity on our part, but it allowed us to control all aspects of the project. We have spent time working with our projects to get the production as streamlined as possible, from conceptualizing to delivering a final project. By systematizing these processes and maximizing the efficiencies, we can offer a higher quality product at a lower cost than those filmmakers who only deal with one-off productions. Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career? In an early film, our line producer had tried to save some money by scrimping on crew costs to build a set. With the limited crew, a physical set was not going to be ready in time for filming as scheduled, so my partner Richard Switzer and I were carrying 2x4s and holding up sheets of plywood trying to help make up time. Luckily, we were able to rearrange the shooting schedule, so the set wasn’t needed right away and the crew had time to finish construction. This was a genuine (and physically demanding) lesson to not be penny wise but pound foolish. If the appropriate money had been budgeted, then there would have been no risk of losing a day of filming, something that would have been a very costly mistake. Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories? Being involved with the production of films has brought me in contact with many actors and actresses that I had previously only known from seeing them on screen. Meeting action stars like Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren was incredible because I grew up watching them blow things up in movies. I think one of the most shocking things initially (and can still seem a bit surreal) is how normal, and down to earth many of the actors and actresses can be. Last year, while on the set of Money Plane, I got the chance to meet and hand out with Adam “Edge” Copeland. Adam is a professional wrestler and a big guy, so he can cut a somewhat intimidating figure. While at the craft services table with my business founder, Richard Switzer, Adam came up to get a cup of coffee. We were making small talk, and while he was looking for creamer, it came out that he liked Pumpkin Spice coffees. It was hysterical to think of this big and tough professional wrestler being ‘basic’ and wanting a pumpkin spice latte. It became a bit of an ongoing joke, and we made sure to have pumpkin spice for him, but it showed the down-to-earth side of these stars. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? We are fortunate enough to be at a point where we get a relatively large number of filmmakers to reach out to us with projects. We only rarely invest in projects other than our own, but we have been able to help many new filmmakers out by giving them advice and helping them make connections. In this way, it is not an individual project that is in itself exciting, but the ability to work with the next generation of storytellers who have new and fresh ideas and ways of getting their points across. Which people in history inspire you the most? Why? Teddy Roosevelt is always inspiring. Growing up sickly, he transformed himself through hard work and determination. He led an adventurous life and one of service, balancing some very ego-driven characteristics with a mind for helping others. He led with the belief that those who had been fortunate had a responsibility to do good for others with it, his quote “Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us” is more famous these days in its adaption by Spiderman’s Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility.” Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview; how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now? For the last few years, we have been working to move our film production in an environmentally friendly way with the goal of producing carbon-neutral films in the future. With the upheaval that the Coronavirus has caused, we have to rethink some of our policies, but as we are starting back to filming, we are finding a balance between the health and safety of our crew and not losing the advances we have made in being environmentally friendly. Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger? It was more of a “why not?” moment. In looking at the choices we were making on productions, there were a lot of times where we could choose to do things in a better way. So we had to ask ourselves, “Why not choose the better way?”. In some cases, it involved a little more work or a bit more money, but the most common reason to not choose the better way was that things had always been done the other way. So we made the conscious decision to look at all of our choices and options, and choose the better way where we could (or have an actual reason why we didn’t choose that). Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause? This is actually one of the frustrating and potentially disheartening things about putting in efforts that lead to small changes; they often go unnoticed, and you don’t get to see any immediate results. To try and combat this, and to show some results of our actions, we quantify as much of our improvement as possible and inform our cast and crew about it. It’s not the same as seeing the direct impact on an individual’s face, but knowing how many tons of emissions you helped avoid or amount of trash you kept out of a landfill at least gives some feeling of accomplishment for the work put in. Are there three things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort? I think individuals can do the most good by making small changes consistently. Things like idling lawnmowers and long showers may seem small on an individual scale, but when multiplied by hundreds of millions (or billions) of people, it can have a significant effect. Society can take huge steps by avoiding a perfectionist approach and adopting incremental changes. If you are looking to reduce the environmental impact of livestock, promoting a “meatless Mondays” will markedly drop the demand for meat without alienating part of the population, while promoting veganism as the only option will have little chance of being adopted by a significant number of people. The government can help by reviewing old regulations and repealing where they are no longer beneficial. As we are shifting to economically feasible solar power for residential homes, some of the existing regulations in regards to energy production and the grid are actually slowing down adoption. While these regulations were initially good, they are now actually having the opposite effect as intended. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each. 1. The entertainment business is still just a business. When I first got involved in the filmmaking business, I was always told that this industry was different than others, and things worked differently in entertainment. I quickly found out that was not true. The business of entertainment is still business. It has different facets and can seem more significant, but it is run like any other business. 2. It is all about personal connections. More than most other industries I have seen, the film business runs on personal connections. Being on good terms with someone is a defining factor in their choice to work with you. We have made good relationships with certain actors, who come back to work with us over and over again solely because of the relationship. 3. The egos in entertainment are unrivaled. Having worked in the startup and venture worlds, I thought I had seen how ego-driven people in business could be, but the film business is leaps and bounds above anyone else. Everyone involved in production feels they are the next great filmmaker, and they know what is best. 4. A good film doesn’t mean a good investment It took some time for this to crystallize, but quite often, the quality of the film has very little to do with its commercial success. This can be a difficult thing to express to new filmmakers who want to make a piece of art. In many cases, a better investment is to create content and not art. 5. Say no early If a project is not something you are interested in, it is better to give a definitive “no” early than to try and cushion the blow. By trying to be kinder, you end up causing more work and stress for everyone involved. It is better to make a clear and definitive “no” and then move on. If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them? I’m not sure I would tell young people to focus on making positive impacts on the environment or society when they are first getting started. While I appreciate the zeal of those young people to devote their early life to making positive social change, I feel it may not be the most effective way to get the results they want. Think of all the good that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing around the world right now and realize that none of that would be accomplished if Bill Gates spent his 20s on anything other than Microsoft. With this in mind, while I wouldn’t tell young people to focus on the positive impacts as their primary goal, it shouldn’t be something that is forgotten about. By making strings of conscientious choices throughout life, positive results are achieved. And those positive impacts will grow exponentially as their resources and power also grow. We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. :-) There are so many reasons why I think he would be a great person to collaborate with. I think Arnold Schwarzenegger’s view on environmentalism is a realistic, balanced, and productive approach. I feel the work he did as Governor of California and the causes he continues to champion layout a robust framework for what can be accomplished when environmentalism works with capitalism instead of viewing it only as an enemy. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? My favorite life lesson quote comes from a fantasy novel, The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. “Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.” I first read that line during a period of the rapid growth of my consulting practice. There was a constant onslaught of tasks that needed to be accomplished, and quite a few of them were unpleasant. Many of those unpleasant tasks had been continually being pushed to the bottom of the list because I didn’t want to address them. The line hit me so strongly that I had to stop and put the book down for a minute. I pulled out a pen and a pad of paper and copied it down and taped it to my desk. I realized that I was living in fear of those unpleasant tasks, and by not tackling them, I wasn’t making them any easier. I was making things harder than necessary by not just dealing with them. To this day, I still have that quote on my desk. Whenever an email comes in that I don’t want to deal with, or there is a job that I want to put off, I remind myself that it is better to just get it done than it is to worry about it until I finally am forced to get it done. How can our readers follow you online? I can be reached on my website, www.jasoncherubini.com or across social media at @jasoncherubini This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!