Journey of a craftsman: Tim Duggan

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In this episode we hear from Tim Duggan, a filmmaker from Nashville Tennessee, and partner at 5Folds Creative. He lays out his roadmap for how he got to where he is today and what he has learned along the way.

Check him out on Instagram @timothyariel, @5foldscreative, @gemsonvhs

Full Transcript

01:03 Jeffrey Shoup: Alright. So, here we go, our first episode. We have Tim Duggan on the episode today. He is the co-founder of 5Folds Creative here in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his partners run that as well as a YouTube channel called GemsOnVHS. Let’s jump right into our chat with Tim Duggan. In this section, he is giving us the story of where he started, coming out of school as a photographer, on his way through to transitioning into videography, and where he is now with 5Folds Creative.

01:42 Tim Duggan: I would say there were two pivotal moments in my work life or periods of time where I had to really double down on my commitment level to the idea of being full-time. And one would be coming out of school. I came out of school in 2011 and I had been studying art photography. And at that point, for most of school, I had figured that photography was an unrealistic career, and then near the end of my schooling, I decided with one semester left in undergrad, that I didn’t wanna be an elementary school teacher. And despite having… I graduated with a hundred extra hours, it’s absurd. It was… No, it wasn’t 100, it was 70, though, but [laughter] I graduated with 70 more hours than I would’ve needed just to technically graduate because I changed my mind so many times, and I felt like the thing that I had been passionate about for years on the side was a hobby.

02:53 TD: And then my last semester at school, I decided I didn’t wanna be an elementary school teacher, let me look at photography seriously. And I went out and I just emailed everybody that I could find in Knoxville who seemed to be a respectable photographer and just see if I could meet up with them, intern for them for a second, something like that. Got coffee with a few. Some of them were wedding shooters or did some architecture photography on the side, and those were encouraging. I didn’t wanna be a wedding shooter, but I knew that was there so that helped make it more realistic. A lot of this was me building a case for how this could really work. I had to find solutions before doing it. And then I got… I did a two-week free internship with Jeremy Cowart, who’s a photographer, who I think is still in town, I don’t know. And he had seen some weird piece of art I’d made that was like a landscape made out of my hands and body with lots of warts on it. He’d saw that and he was like, “This guy is weird. He should spent two weeks with me on his winter break.” So I interned with him very briefly, and that, again, gave me confidence like, “This is a real career path.”

04:15 TD: Once I got back to Nashville, I knew I was gonna find a career in photography somehow. So, around that time in college and around that time coming back, I did a few weddings for like 300 bucks. It sucked, man. It’s the worst, [laughter] and not for me, anyway. For some people, it’s fantastic, but… And then I started building up a portfolio on the side and I had to decide what I was trying to build up. I ended up picking up just trade shoots with models on Model Mayhem, and doing those on the weekends off of my restaurant job, but then also having… In Nashville, working in a restaurant, everybody’s a musician, so they’d ask me for some portraits, stuff like that. And it came a time when I needed to push out and I decided… I’d been there like a year and a half, so like “This is long enough. Let me make sure I have a few grand in the bank. I’ve got really low living expenses right now, I could live off this three grand for six months if I have to. I’m just quitting and at worst, I get no jobs for the next eight months and I go back to the restaurant.”

05:39 TD: And so that was the point where I needed to… I was actually getting tested in the market, and I really… Looking back, what I needed from that to build the confidence to keep going was just that anybody wanted to work with me. I email blasted everything I could find: Businesses, bands, anything. I spent the first month just “How many emails a day can I send?” and started meeting some people, and met new bands and started working with some of them, and some of them wanted me to come back and do something with them again. It was an extremely low price point and that was all I felt comfortable with at that point. But I did get stuff picking up enough. And like I said, after the first year of doing that, I got a email out of the blue from somebody who was a friend of a friend to go work with this country artist. And so that was reaffirming, too. Within that first year, I really just got feedback that told me that this is viable, even if I made shit for money. And then a few years later, after I quit that Dirks job, I was back to freelancing, and I just had had enough referrals through that that I didn’t really think enough about how much I need to stoke the business with new work and new people, and meet people and talk about what I do with them.

07:09 TD: And so I hit kind of a low point, I had… With actually what I was pulling in from work, as well as just my motivation, because now people weren’t hitting me up, I didn’t have that feedback. So, that was a second point where I had to turn another corner and figure out, number one: Is this something I wanna continue to do? And if so, how do I do it in a way that makes me just a middle class income? Because that’s something I hadn’t done before and I hadn’t cared, really, until that point. I was just getting older, having at that point, a fiancee, or at least a girlfriend that I knew I was gonna marry.

08:00 TD: And I really searched myself high and low for motivation and what I wanted to do, and I still didn’t have great answers. So I went and just asked people what they thought, friends. And at least one friend pointed me to his dad, who’s been a commercial real estate developer for 30 years and with a brokerage, but essentially, that is freelance, for the last 30 years. And I asked him, “What do I do? [chuckle] I think I wanna do this.” And he really gave me a pep talk that kinda set me straight as to my choice here. And it was essentially just saying, “You’ve been doing this. You see what the landscape is like out there as a freelancer. You see with the real landscape of work where there is no safety net ever. When people work at a normal job, that shit can drop out at any point. You don’t actually have a safety net underneath you. You might have some, as in severance or you can build your own with savings, but you can do that in freelance, too.”

09:20 JS: The next part of this conversation, we chat a little bit about how things have changed for 5Folds Creative as they’ve gotten larger, and also how things have changed for Tim, going from being a freelancer to being a part of a partnership, and how that changes things.

09:35 TD: 5Folds Creative is about making fun stuff for money. That’s our goal. It’s like, “Let’s enjoy making money and making cool stuff that people actually want.” That’s the best way to make money, making cool stuff is… They should actually get use out of it, too. It’s not just for us, it’s for them. It’s really changed a lot to have a partner who I work closely with and have spaces. When Anthony and John and I partnered up originally in 2016, just as 5Folds Creative, we would work out of my house or out of our own homes and kinda just loosely say like, “You wanna come over to mine? We’ll make some coffee and we’ll work for a while.” And eventually, we got to the point where we were working out of a studio space in Donelson that was kind of janky, pretty cheap and had a cyc wall that we could kinda use whenever. It had a windowless room that we could set up some desks in, but it was good for the moment. But just me and Anthony there, still allowed us to get a lot more work done and be a lot more focused.

11:00 TD: And then eventually, when we moved to 100 Taylor Street, to the Arts Collective, now, we’re surrounded by lots of other parties. We have other desks where we have our loaned employee, Monica Murray. And we have John Taylor, has his own desk, and another friend of ours, Yuri Figueroa has a desk and we can all kick ideas off of each other, and it can be more and more a focused place to work. I think the partnership in a less physical way has become a focused place to work as well. Having people in the office that you’re usually there when they’re there, they’re asking where you are when you’re not there. That helps. Having a partner that can be like, “Hey, it’s end of the month, we need to run finances.” Like, “What are you doing? It’s the 31st, we need to do this.” That helps. You don’t just be like, “Well, I’ll do my books Wednesday, whatever, fuck.” When you have accountability, you do a lot more, and it can be a hard thing to do when you’re truly freelance. It’s also something that can be the advantage of being truly freelance where you’re like, “I’m leaving, I don’t know.” [laughter]

12:15 JS: Throughout my chat with Tim, I just asked if he would be willing to give us some influences, give us a little bit of homework, something to check out if we haven’t already. And so, here he is.

12:26 TD: I would say most of my work, I would think doesn’t really reflect what I’ve been influenced by, or really like, but maybe it does more than I know. With the GemsOnVHS YouTube channel, shooting take away show, performance videos of musicians, both Anthony and I watched La Blogothèque a lot in past days, which is a… I don’t know if it’s the original, but maybe the inventor of the Take Away Show term. And loved how some of those performances were just really… You could hear the winds passing by and strangers and felt very authentic. I’ve been influenced mainly by things that are… I would be misusing the term “cinema vérité”, but in the more vérité style, documentary style of things, as far as photo and video.

13:29 TD: Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March was one of my favorite documentary movies, shot in the ’80s? It’s kind of a meandering, strange tale that starts out as a guy with a grant, trying to look at the influence of Sherman’s March across the South, and instead finds himself in and out of love with various women along the route of Sherman’s March across the South as a 30-something whose family is asking him when he’s gonna get married. Awesome, strange movie, very POV. I love Werner Herzog. Encounters at the End of the World or Into the Abyss are two of my favorite documentary films. And then I used to look at a lot more photo. I loved Edward Burtynsky’s photography and documentary movie Manufactured Landscapes. It’s a lot of tripod or slow dolly shots that are just kinda grand and you can just live in them for a little while. A lot of this stuff I’ve been influenced by, I guess, are slow documentaries. [chuckle] But I don’t watch that many anymore. I watch a lot of… I re-watch Louis Theroux documentaries a lot. He had a series on the BBC called Weird Weekends for a long time, and he would embed himself with neo-Nazis, or he did a couple episodes with the Westborough Baptist Church, or pornography actors and do kind of an experiential gonzo journalism doc about it. Always controversial topics. Really cool.

15:23 JS: We’re gonna wrap up the podcast there. I wanna give a big thanks to all of you for listening, and the biggest thanks, of course, to Tim Duggan. He was the first interviewee for this podcast, discussion, chat, whatever you wanna do. He knew he was gonna be the first and so I really appreciate him being the guinea pig of sorts, and he did a great job. I had a great time learning about his journey to becoming the artist and the filmmaker that he is today. And of course, his influences. I have a bunch of homework now. I’m gonna have links to everything in the show notes, so please check it out, check out 5Fold Creative, GemsOnVHS, all that good stuff. If you would like the podcast, please subscribe, comment, star. And until next time, see you.

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