- The Idea
In my family Saturday was cleaning day. Every Saturday, after watching cartoons, as a family we would “clean the house”. Doing chores included vacuuming the carpets, or “dusting”, which for me meant smearing pledge on surfaces while daydreaming. My daydreams were long and cinematic like the opening scene of a James Bond film that went on for hours and hours. Much of my youth was spent in a dream state. School was the time of day when I would wander around in my head exercising my inner Spielberg. As a young boy I had the thought that some day I might be like Steven and direct the next great American blockbuster. I watched endless hours of television when I was not in school and gleaned quite a lot about the process of putting a story into moving images. As a senior in High School I was fortunate to have a “television production” class for which I was named “Executive Producer”. This class consisted of capturing the school announcements on video, editing them, and then broadcasting them on a closed network to the entire school: tube televisions flickering in the top corner of every classroom. We were given immense creative freedom. The announcements took the form of a ‘The Matrix’ parody no less than four times. (This was 2000-2001) This class allowed me to try and create the moving images in my mind and it also gave me the confidence to pursue my passion for image production as a career. In the fall of 2001 I attended Full Sail University, which was operating out of a strip mall and rented office space at that time. Full Sail Real World Education in Winter Park, Florida was an education in the life of a grinding film professional. 40 to 50 hours of classes a week, 7 days a week, technical classes at 3am, the real-life of early call-times and long hours. The course work was all technical, no theory. I learned what a Beefy Baby Double Riser is but could not have told you anything about Dogme 95.
At Full Sail I made a friend. His name is Sean Patrick. He was also my roommate through sheer happenstance. Full Sail did not have student housing, so students were left to find housing with each other through listings of students looking for roommates. Sean and I were chosen by another fellow to be his roommates. (An axe-wielding, tattooed, metal head Wisconsinite) I had a car, so I drove Sean to school everyday and we had many conversations with hip-hop beats bouncing in the background. On one day toward the end of my 13 month accelerated associates degree program, while driving home from class with Sean, I said “Some day we should open a Rental House.” The years of passion for moving images, a youth filled of weekend cleaning chores and lots of cartoons, as well as technical equipment knowledge bubbled its way to the surface into an idea.
- The Decision
It was a cold, lonely drive through western Pennsylvania in December 2009 while I drove back to Chicago after working in Pittsburgh for a few months on the Tony Scott film “Unstoppable”: a runaway freight train film based on a true story. My mind was wondering as I drove; barreling toward my potential future in the film industry. I had worked as a freelancer in the Chicago/Film and Video industry for nearly eight years. The month-to-month, year- to-year grind of the freelancer life had been an education. I spent those years working my way around nearly every department in the film/video production process. I even took acting classes. I wanted to really understand how everything worked, how it interconnected, and what was required of each department. I produced some of my own projects. They were short films that I wrote, produced, directed, shot, and completed all of the post-production. For one of my largest projects I placed a Craigslist ad for an Assistant Director. This was an ambitious project that included a 16 page party scene that would be shot in one evening. The first person I met with for this position was a fellow named Jonah Rubash. Jonah was intelligent, insightful, and sharp with a benevolent sense of life hiding under the surface that would often explode to the surface in jubilant laughter. Jonah and I became a two-man crew and completed a very aggressive shooting schedule without issue.
Having finally worked my way onto a sequence of back-to-back freelance feature film jobs, I found two paths before me. Continue to grind, working for faceless film producers on behemoth film productions or put my full force and full focus into the new venture that I had recently started.
In 2008 I saved up some funds and purchased a Panasonic HVX 200 and some P2 cards: cutting edge HD technology. The first widely used digital camera that could record to digital media rather than to tape. A little rental business operating out of my shitty two bedroom apartment in Bridgeport, Chicago, USA had starting to gain some steam. I was delivering rentals across the Chicagoland area in my beat up Hyundai Santa Fe. It was there on that cold road, barreling through a tunnel of snow, white flakes zipping past my window, where I made my choice. I would fully commit myself to building a rental company.
- The Process
I do not have a degree in business. I have an Associates of Science degree in Film and Video production, which I earned over a thirteen-month accelerated program all while maintaining perfect attendance. Approaching the prospect of being a business man was daunting. I told myself, ‘it’s all just simple logic’ and if I am anything I am a logician. There was a fundamental choice that lay before me. I knew that I could be constantly anxious or embrace the process as a challenge. I could approach it as one might approach playing a video game that one loves or a romantic relationship that is deeply important. I could take it seriously, commit myself to improving and being better, and enjoy it. I wrote a simple business plan outlining my experience in renting thus far and the opportunity I saw in the Chicago market. I presented it to my friend Sean Patrick. He invested in the idea and with in a matter of a few months we made our money back. We took those profits and poured them back into the business, buying more and more equipment. As the business grew I enlisted Jonah to be a part of our fledgling company helping out with rentals and as the technical-knowledge and support department of our operations.
It was clear that what we had was viable. In 2010 we officially incorporated and opened a storefront on Archer Ave. We were open everyday, all day, for which I maintained perfect attendance. There was trial and error, there was miscommunication, there was intense frustration, but above all there was joyous exaltation.
- The Progression
It is said that the universe is expanding exponentially in all directions, and from 2010-2013 so were we. In 2011, it was clear that Jonah and I needed help, so Sean moved from Baltimore, MD that January, surviving a perilous drive through a blizzard in the Appalachian mountains.
Upon his arrival in Chicago, he was greeted with 80-90 hour weeks. There were even stretches of 100 hour weeks, burning away the days in furious effort: coordinating, organizing, moving heavy objects, building a reputation and a real business. Exponential business growth is a combination of holy sacrament, Chinese water torture, and pure ecstasy. At the end of each month, we enjoyed a brief pause to see how much we had improved, how much we had grown, and then returned full force back into the fray more fully than before. The timing of our endeavor couldn’t have been better. The financial crisis of 2008 had shaken up the Chicago Film/Video rental landscape. By 2010 many of the main stay rental business had closed doors or down sized. Filling this void, some new shops opened, one of which was Magnanimous Media. We approached things differently, which ruffled some proverbial feathers. We posted prices on our website, which was not as common place as it is today. Our prices were very competitive, which was not as common as it is today. We took a different approach to setting up accounts and vetting our customers, which allowed us to offer rental services to a wholly under-served and sometimes completely un-served market. Business is so often painted with the brush of greed and unscrupulous scheming. These elements exist, as they do in any walk of life, not just business. The pure and unbending force that competition brings to a market place does one thing more potently than any other: it improves the market place for the customer. As we grew, we slowly changed the market. Businesses that were not previously open on the weekends began to offer weekend hours. Some businesses began to loosen their account setup policies. Businesses that didn’t post prices began to post prices and they were lower, and thus the market was improved for the customer. We can’t take full credit for all of these changes. The market was heading in this direction, but we undoubtedly had our foot on the accelerator. By 2013 we were bursting at the seams in our little shop and were ready to upgrade. That year we moved from our little store front on Archer Ave to our big beautiful shop on Cermak Road: a beautiful daylight filled timber-style loft shop/office space with a fully integrated sound-treated Studio Space.
In conjunction with our move we launched our own Rental Management Software System. You can talk to any rental house about their software and they will tell you how terrible it is. We encountered this same road block and decided none of the options in the market worked for us, so we decided to make our own. We partnered with a local programmer who also happened to work in video production who helped to lend insight into our process. This was a partnership that proved to be invaluable. The software quickly became the backbone of our operations and helped streamline our processes. In 2016, we re-launched our website from a single page rate sheet to a full service e-commerce platform with real-time availability and pricing. We also began to ship orders to anywhere in the continental United States. We were still taking big strides. “Growth Mindset” is a fashionable pop-psychology concept these days, but for us it was a way of life. A growth mindset asserts that we are not static in our mental abilities, but rather we all can learn from our failures and improve who we are and our fundamental approach to work, learning, achievement, and life; exercising the human capacity for growth is exponential. Over the last ten years we have built a strong foundation for not just a small business, but for an organization that can grow, change, shift, and continually improve well into the future.
- The Hardship
Taking on a lot of responsibility, probably more than is reasonable for one person to maintain, leads to stress and stress leads to spikes in adrenaline and other hormones that make one erratic and temperamental. Pair this with a poor diet, too much coffee, and not enough sleep, and you have yourself an engine running in the red. This isn’t good for anyone. Over the years, there have certainly been times that I have lost my cool with co-workers and customers. I do not apologies for the passion and seriousness with which I approach my work, but I do acknowledge that in the past my methods of communication could have been better.
You may have seen our mascot in the shop or pictures of him on social media. Some ask if he is Moses or Jesus or perhaps Socrates. He is Aristotle. He is the philosopher that invented the word magnanimity and defined it as: Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquility and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to accomplishments of useful and noble objects.
It is a high bar to set. It is our namesake and what we strive for everyday at Magnanimous Media Corporation. There have been times that I, my partners, and co-workers have fallen short of this ideal, but the key is to gain understanding from these missteps and course correct moving forward. We have most certainly done this and continue to do so. It is our goal as an organization to strive for perfection in our work, which can be achieved for long periods of time. It is aiming to be magnanimous that provides the foundation to achieving that goal.
- The Achievement
There was an evening, some time in 2014 or 2015. I do not quite recall. I was walking through the shop alone, after closing, and I marveled in the moment, reveling in the pure joy of self-actualization. For just a moment, I thought; it is real. Not just an idea contemplated while cruising in my ’97 Ford Thunderbird. Magnanimous Media is here, and thanks to all of my efforts, it exists. Without the passionate pursuit of an idea I had at 19 years old, without the persistence to learn from failure, and without the efforts of my business partners and co-workers, there would undoubtedly have been a void in the Video Production market place. I now have a tremendous team that is the backbone of our Chicago rental operations. This is a point of pride as well. It would be a lie if I said the responsibility of providing for our crew in the form of wages and health benefits didn’t keep me up some nights. It is the continuing challenge of finding ways to get more out of myself, our system, our employees, and the market as a whole that continues to drive me. I ask myself, and co-workers to approach every relationship as a trade. It is the only way for rational beings such as we to deal with each other. It is the trader principle of value for value. I ask myself, and my co-workers to look for ways to add value to each relationship, each transaction, and every interaction. If we can do that for our co-workers and customers, then there is no limit to what we can achieve.
- The Future
We are keeping our foot on the accelerator. I won’t give away all of our top secret plans, or the recipe for our secret sauce, but I can say we are going to endeavor to find ways to improve our services, to find new solutions to every day production problems, and continue to create a more perfect rental system. From gear, to studio space, to new helpful services and beyond, we will continue to add value and embrace the challenge.
Co-Founder and President