It’s bittersweet to be writing this. Today we officially say goodbye to Chicago Creative Space, a company that started as an experiment with no revenue model and evolved into a bona fide video production company entrusted with telling stories for some of the world’s most iconic brands.
I never went to film school and have no formal training in filmmaking. But I have always loved video. From making a videotape (yes, a VHS tape) for my little brother’s 3rd birthday with two VCRs and a radio shack mixer to all nighters in front of iMovie at the university library putting together a tribute for a beloved marketing professor, the process allowed me to embrace my creative freedom and empowered me to share the stories in my mind with the world (or at least my 20 person marketing class).
After college, using my MIS degree at a Fortune 500 company sure looked good to my parents, realizing their dream of a better life when they brought our family to the US in 1992. But it didn’t feel right. My passions were slowly dying inside me as I lived someone else’s life.
The incredible work produced by our wedding videographers John and Jen Moon from Northernlight Filmworks put me on a collision course with my parents’ expectations and closer to the cliff from which I would jump just a couple years later. In the first half of 2012, I made two more videos for my brother, this time rap videos for his fledgling music career (still on YouTube – search for Daniel Chopovsky). We ran around Chicago and shot on rented DSLRs with a Glidecam stabilizer and it. was. awesome. When we got caught in a downpour on Michigan Avenue and didn’t make it to my car in time, we set up our gear on Illinois St under Michigan and shot a scene, blasting the reference track, Magnetic, for everyone around us to hear and as lightning struck while we were rolling on a take, we both had the biggest grins on our faces. I was smitten. As an aside, I got in touch with the director of the music video the song which we stole for my brother’s video, Todd Angkasuwan, and I credit him with writing an email which remains a pivotal moment of validation in my journey. Todd – thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The turning point was a late summer 2012 trip to Greece during which I confided to my wife that I had to try my hand at video, even if I had no idea where to start. The truth is, I told her, I would never forgive myself if, looking back on my life like the cynical old man in The Giving Tree, I had the unbearable and inconsolable pain of knowing that the company I could have and should have started never came to fruition. But it would be too late.
So on the flight back, I started sketching out what this whole thing would look like. It was clumsy, unguided, and haphazard, but it was a start. When I got back, I found the domain name, put together a landing page, and started calling companies and offering to shoot their office spaces and employees for free, capturing their ethos for prospective employees. Most said no but some said yes.
I was so nervous when we showed up for our first shoot at Red Frog Events in the fall of 2012. I had no clue what I was doing but I was determined to make it work. I thought the shoot went great and then I realized that night that we lost half our footage because I didn’t have a system for transferring data off our SD cards. It would be the first lesson of many I would learn over the years. The war stories are abundant to say the least.
As time passed, the company grew and evolved. We tried our hand at events, putting on half a dozen Ethos events at VenueOne with panels of tech CEOs and showcases of our work and even did an awards show with hundreds in attendance. We worked with real estate service providers as advertisers, helping them earn business and giving us content. We focused on the connection between culture and space, running a podcast, interviewing executives with leading brands, and even evaluating culture consulting. These were tangential moves, each of them incremental but together, a loosely aligned series of initiatives that made it hard to focus.
All the while, my favorite place to be was behind the camera, getting the shot, directing talent, and running the set. It felt right.
Not so comfortable was the feeling of leaving my full time job in 2014, when I decided to go all in on this crazy company idea. My daughter was three months old. You know how they say it’s never a good time? Yeah – not even close. But I knew that if I only dabbled, it would never be real. So I took a deep breath and jumped.
It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and kind of exhilarating at the same time. As we continued to grow, the lessons and mistakes came fast and furious. I learned about frame rates, the rule of thirds, and apertures, but also about intellectual property ownership, health insurance, and gross margins. It was like an unforgiving version of business school, a sadistic casino where you’re betting your life savings on a game you don’t fully understand. But I was so hooked.
I was also more and more aware of the friction between our various business models and what I really wanted to do, which is make videos. This friction grew until one day I realized that I would rather fail at making videos than succeed at running a bunch of now disparate business models that I wasn’t very passionate about. So we began the long and arduous journey to rebrand Chicago Creative Space into a full service video agency.
It was like a rollercoaster within a rollercoaster. Domain names, websites, registered trademarks, logos, color palettes, and so much more, all while operating the company and continuing to grow our business, hiring, investing in gear, delivering on deadline and still remaining a good father and husband. Crazy would be an understatement. But it felt so good to finally be moving toward alignment between my heart and my work.
And now, today, we launch the new brand, ApertureOne — a full service national video agency that provides professional video for brands who refuse to settle. Because we refuse to settle. I refused to settle. For a job that I didn’t love. For a dream unfulfilled. For a life that wasn’t mine.
In a way I’m kind of back to square one. New name, new brand, new future. But this time, no crutches with ancillary revenue streams. No excuses. And definitely no going back. And to be honest, I fucking love it.
A few shout-outs:
John and Jen Moon, for the inspiration.
My brother Daniel (aka Money) for wanting to make that music video!
Andrew Dietz, for helping me flesh out the original concept, and for always telling me to “just keep going.”
Todd Angkasuwan, for that crazy email.
Eric Papczun, for being the first one to say yes.
John Gavin, for having faith.
Sean Cannon, for a home for Ethos.
Casey Gordon, for tirelessly working on everything I gave you and then crushing the new ApertureOne website.
And everyone else along the way who in one way or another helped me to believe that I was on the right track and could make this happen.
It has been over four years since I started Chicago Creative Space, and almost three years since I jumped off that proverbial cliff. I’m still growing wings but damn it feels good to fly. Here’s to the next chapter.
Without further ado, say hello to ApertureOne.