In their beginning, there was light… as well as the talent to capture it on camera so beautifully that big names in the auto industry could not help but take notice. And they saw that it was good…
Ok, so perhaps it wasn’t quite that biblical in nature. But in many ways, this is how the entertainment industry story started for three Los Angeles Film School alumni: Sam Ip, Justin Lozano, and Marc Olivas. Along with Ip’s friend, Cliff Sutrisino, the three Film Program alumni banded together and in 2014 founded Lightcapturers – a production collective specializing in visionary photography and cinematography of the automotive world.
Though Ip, Lozano, and Olivas came together as a group in their cinematography class, each took very different paths to their common convergence point, despite all three acknowledging that their respective enrollments in the Film program were done similarly as leaps of faith.
For Ip, his career path seemed set in stone long before, as he had freshly graduated from Le Cordon Bleu across the street, in preparation for taking over his family’s business as a cook and manager at the nearby Chinese restaurant, Hoy’s Wok (on La Brea and Sunset). And while Ip did possess a passion for the culinary arts as well as the determination to help ease his family’s workload at the restaurant, he also knew that the lifestyle of being a restaurant owner would leave him little opportunity to delve into a growing curiosity with film – one that he at least wished to have an honest chance at exploring. Unable to deny his fascination, Ip requested his family’s permission for a sabbatical from the restaurant, so that he could examine his passions while attending film school.
Lozano’s path, meanwhile, stemmed from the alum’s desire to challenge himself. Like Ip, Lozano saw a future career path already laid out thanks to several years of service in the military. And though a foray into security or some sort of civil service represented a safe and successful direction to go in, Lozano couldn’t shake a desire try something different and completely out of his comfort zone.
Between the three, perhaps it was only Olivas who knew exactly what he wanted to pursue after concluding ten years of active and reserve duty in the military, as the fellow vet always had a love of music and audio. And while initially, he sought to focus on composing, immediately after enrolling in the Recording Arts Program and getting a chance to learn the icon board, Olivas knew that it was either production/post-production audio or bust for his future. His appetite not satiated from the limited post-production concentration he experienced at the Los Angeles Recording School, Olivas decided to enroll in the Film Program, in hopes to network and latch on with film students who would appreciate his passion for audio.
As fate would have it, Ip, Lozano, and Olivas all sat proximate to each other in their cinematography class and subsequently found themselves grouped together for the class’ various projects. However, the true cementing moment that led to the formation of the Lightcapturers team came when Lozano, a huge car aficionado like Ip, demoed a car video that he shot for the class. Ip instantly recognized the type of car in Lozano’s video by its distinct whistle, and the two quickly bonded over their shared love of the sports car industry. Little did Lozano know that Ip belonged to a car club called Phaze 2 and had come to be known online in the automotive community for shooting highly-viewed YouTube videos of well-known car builds. While Lozano himself was more of a video novice, he was no stranger to recording car footage himself (though admittedly more in a hobbyist sense than Ip) and came to Los Angeles Film School partially to learn how he could record video footage with a more refined and professional look. Eager to study the inventive lighting and shooting techniques that allowed Ip to capture such breathtaking footage, Lozano readily agreed to serve as an apprentice of sorts under Ip.
At the same time, Ip realized that more than anything, he was finding it harder and harder to juggle his shoots as a solo act, especially with his reputation growing and more and more clients requesting him for his style of work. Astutely looking to assemble a team that would allow him to tackle the larger demand for his work, Ip also was able to convince Olivas to join the fold, despite Olivas’ complete unfamiliarity with the automotive world and stated desire to focus primarily on audio. Olivas took Ip’s offer as an opportunity to network with classmates that he had bonded with, though he concedes that he had quite the amount of extra homework, as he needed to educate himself about a completely foreign industry and also learn the lighting and camera techniques that Ip would impart to him. That said, he also found himself able to carve out a niche that reflected his primary interest in audio. As the three alums explain, while there existed several other talented car photographers and cinematographers, Ip’s team represented the only one that could shoot videos and also offer clean audio for those videos. Olivas’ abilities to capture the raw hum and drone sounds of the various cars allowed Ip’s team to break into various untapped client markets, such as exhaust companies. Olivas was enthusiastic about that role, and relished the challenge of finding the best positioning for lavalier mics in order to capture the clearest audio possible. Taking his role so seriously, he even went so far as to binge watch episodes of the British television series Top Gear so as to study and derive inspiration for new automotive sound capturing techniques.
Eight months into their enrollment, Ip’s team went on its first auto shoot together and was tasked with the videography of a Nissan 370Z sports car. Though it was unpaid project, the shoot represented a good test to see how well Ip, Lozano, and Olivas could work together in this environment. Using the footage that his team shot, Ip put together a :15 second Instagram video that he sent to a contact at the air ride suspension company Airex, in hopes that they might hire his team next time for a fully paid video shoot. Airex was so impressed with the clip that they posted it on the company’s own Instagram, which helped the video go viral. Racing magazine Super Street also came across the clip and helped the video blow up with even more views online after they too posted on their Instagram. The online buzz about the video caught Sutrisino’s attention, as he recognized that there was something unique and special about Ip’s team. A tremendous cinematographer like Ip, Sutrisino approached the trio in the spirit of mutual professional admiration and floated the idea of going into business together as a production collective. Much like Ip had, Sutrisino came to the realization that building a collective of talented individuals that complement each other both professionally and personally, would afford the entire team greater opportunities to take on more and bigger projects. The tight-knit foursome all agreed to join up in business together under Sutrisino’s creative directorship and financial auspices, and thus the Lightcapturers were officially born.
In combining forces under the Lightcapturers banner, the founding foursome automatically attained a type of credibility that individually they had never experienced before. Between Sutrisino’s and Ip’s contacts, the Lightcapturers were able to take on a level of project that allowed them to offer both photography and cinematography services to their clients, whereas most other contractors typically specialized in either one or the other. Moreover, Olivas’ expertise in audio added an additional dimension of service that many clients never even fathomed to pursue before. To further legitimize Lightcapturers as a full business entity, Sutrisino invested in obtaining a fully equipped studio facility located in Whittier, CA, and spared no expense on the highest end camera and lighting equipment for the team to use on their shoots.
As Lightcapturers continued to grow and make their mark in the industry, Vossen, a prominent wheel company based out of Miami, took notice and sent their media team out to Los Angeles to interview Sutrisino for a promotional shoot. Excited and wanting to make an excellent impression, Sutrisino asked Ip, Lozano, and Olivas to help set up the lighting and cinematography for the interview. Ironically, the footage for Sutrisino’s interview came out so well, that Vossen was afraid to use it in fear that it might upset subjects of previous interviews since the difference in lighting made the Lightcapturer shoot seem much higher budget and more professional. The scrapping of the interview, however, came with a tremendous silver lining. Vossen was so impressed with the production value of the Lightcapturer shoot that it contracted the team to work alongside its own media team for the shoots that would be taking place in Las Vegas during the annual automotive trade show SEMA. Moreover, rather than send a media team cross-country every instance that there would be a shoot on the West Coast, Vossen contracted the Lightcapturers ostensibly to serve as their West Coast media team moving forward.
The huge coup of landing Vossen as a regular client gave the Lightcapturer crew even more exposure. Soon enough, clients came inquiring from so many places that the team was finding it difficult to juggle their time. Not only did the Lightcapturers have regular client shoots in Los Angeles, Valencia, Orange County, and Carlsbad, but they also were getting calls at times to fly outside of Southern California, such as to Miami for Vossen shoots, as well as Chicago and San Francisco. Additionally, Sutrisino had to be very careful about accepting certain lengthy shoots, since he knew three-week and month long shoots would be impossible given Ip, Lozano, and Olivas’ class schedules. For several months, the three alumni managed a delicate balancing act with a target date of spring 2015 circled. The conventional thought was that if Ip, Lozano, and Olivas could somehow manage the juggling until then, they could then graduate and finally come into significantly more time to concentrate on their booming business.
As is inevitable, however, change happens…even if it’s little by little. Though Sutrisino had contracted on new crew members to help off-set the time constraints induced by his team’s school schedule, two of the company’s founding members found themselves approaching a career crossroads. With Olivas, he incrementally realized that in order to reach that next level in terms of talent in production and post-audio, he would need to make a decision on how best to focus his professional time. Throughout the juggling act between Lightcapturer shoots and school, Olivas also took on as many production audio shoots as could and jokingly mentions that he probably was credited as the sound mixer or boom operator for the vast majority of student shoots at Los Angeles Film School and New York Film Academy throughout 2015. Olivas could not ignore the calling to work on other projects – namely feature films – that would monopolize the time he could devote to the Lightcapturers. Moreover, despite providing a specialization in audio capturing that Sutrisino and Ip hoped would rope in more and more exhaust company clients, Olivas understood the reality that such a proposition might take time, and that not every one of Lightcapturer’s current clients had a burning need or desire for audio with their video. Guilty that his specialization might serve as a hindrance to the company’s business focus and not wishing to drain capital that the team might have felt obligated to spend on him out of loyalty, Olivas made the difficult decision to step away from his brothers in arms at the beginning of 2016. The hard transition, however, was made a little easier by Alex Goens, Olivas’ childhood friend and a former Recording School alumnus himself. Olivas credits Goens for introducing him to the world of production and post-production audio as well as to the Recording School. Most recently, the two have worked together as a production sound duo on a number of feature films including FML, an upcoming comedy featuring Vine internet star Jason Nash.
Perhaps even more shocking than Olivas leaving was a similar full-time exit by Ip, the visual visionary who had been originally brought the team together. Whereas Olivas’ departure was motivated greatly by guilt towards his colleagues, Ip’s departure was prompted by guilt towards his family. Though he absolutely could see himself continuing with Lightcapturers forever, Ip felt an obligation to devote his energy towards helping out with his family’s restaurant, especially since he knew how hard his parents worked to run that business. These days, while Ip still helps out on the occasional Lightcapturer shoot, he is on the cusp of expanding the family business as the Ips prepare to open a second restaurant for him to manage by himself.
Interestingly enough, while Olivas and Ip’s departures evolved organically after their graduations from the Film program, Lozano never had that down time to contemplate a crossroads. Instead, he recognized that Lightcapturers was his career calling. With their business taking off and operating under the assumption that Olivas and Ip would be able to take on more work now that they were done with school, Lozano felt that he could best serve the company by returning to school and enrolling in the Entertainment Business program. Given that the founding team was so young and learning things on the fly, Lozano realized that it would be a good idea for one of them to have a working understanding of such business aspects as permits or licenses. Moreover, Lozano saw that the auto industry could be just the tip of the iceberg for Lightcapturers. After recently being contracted on a shoot for the watch manufacturer Meister, Lozano knew that the team was well on its way to breaking into other product markets. He has found himself absorbed by and fascinated in various marketing strategies as instructed in the Entertainment Business curriculum. Beyond that, Lozano now finds himself driving Lightcapturers towards becoming a full service branding and marketing company, as opposed to framing itself simply as a creative photo and video company. The talented alum has always had a natural aptitude for social media and recently has been touting Lightcapturer’s ever expanding media services, including social media management for clients outside the Western US. Moreover, the company also has branched into creating a separate sister entity known as The White Rag, a Lightcapturer’s printing service designed to ensure that a client’s large-format, high-definition photo prints out in the exact rich color spectrum that it was captured in, minus the typical color degradation that often occurs when a digital image is transferred onto a hard photo paper copy.
With completion from the Entertainment Business program less than six months away, Lozano knows that the Lightcapturers will look completely different by the time he graduates for good and concedes that he hasn’t quite looked the same since Ip and Olivas departed. But having juggled a full-time commitment at Lightcapturers the entire time he has been enrolled anyway, Lozano appreciates the evolution and growth of his contributions. As Ip’s former protégé, he humbly acknowledges that he learned from the absolute best and has been trying to fill Ip’s rather large shoes, particularly when clients specifically request his mentor’s style. Lozano credits Ip with the exponential growth in his talent level and now serves as a primary cinematographer among his many responsibilities with the company. And while the company’s new team members capably fill some of the talent holes left by Olivas and Ip, Lozano acknowledges that one void that can never truly been filled is that of the sheer joy of working with two of his closest friends.
In fact, all three alumni admit that there has been no replacing that kind of comradery despite their current individual successes and that if it were logistically possible, they would team up on a Lightcapturers project again in a heartbeat because at the end of the day, they were, are, and always will be a family. Years from now, Ip may be working at his family’s second restaurant, and Olivas might be fulfilling that lifelong dream of doing post-production audio at a major studio. But the specter of being founding fathers of Lightcapturers and friends, first and foremost, continues to unite and the bond the trio. In an industry where they have learned that you “never say never,” with regards to the prospect of a professional reunion between the three, it sounds like there’s still definitely light at the end of their respective tunnels.
You can follow the Lightcapturers by going to their homepage: http://www.lightcapturers.com/
You may also find them on the following:
Please also check out Marc Olivas’ personal audio webpage: http://marcericolivassound.wix.com/marcericolivassound
And please stop by Sam Ip’s restaurant for a delicious, authentic Chinese meal: http://www.hoyswokla.com/