As the Georgia film industry continues to grow, Columbus native and Brookstone alumnus Gabe Pippas is grabbing his seat at the table. Gabe sat down with SVM to discuss his foray into the film industry and his burgeoning film equipment rental business out of Atlanta, Cinder Lighting & Grip.
In high school, Gabe Pippas and his buddies always carried a camera with them. They were ready to catch their antics on film at a moments notice. When it came time to choose a college and eventual career path, Pippas decided to go the more traditional route. He got into Georgia Tech and planned on majoring in applied physics and eventually become an engineer. He thought he left his film days behind him, until he ran into a film crew on Tech’s campus. He was immediately drawn back into the film world. Fast forward almost five years later, and Pippas is running a successful film equipment rental company and working on multiple film, television, music and commercial projects. He sat down with SVM to chat about the growing film industry in Georgia and what he hopes his role will be in its future.
Growing up, you and your friends were notorious for making hilarious videos about your antics. At what point did you decide to turn that passion into a career?
When I lived in Columbus the idea of working in film seemed like a total stretch. There’s a big difference between Netflix’s Stranger Things and whatever you want to call the videos my buddy, Will Kamensky, and I made. When I got to Tech, I was fully prepared to go through 4, probably 5, maybe 6 years of school to become an engineer, but during my first week on campus an Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn movie, The Internship, was being filmed in Klaus [a building on Georgia Tech’s campus]. I was lingering around the set for a few hours trying to see what was going on, while also trying not to be seen; a production assistant finally spotted me and told me I needed to leave. Just as he showed me out I asked how I could become an extra, coffee slave, or anything that would get me on set. He showed me few Facebook pages where casting agents posted for extras. After only two weeks of sending in photos that my laughing roommate, Yemi Olubowale, took for me on his phone, I was on a set in Macon, GA.
I spent 3 days on Witches of East End, a Jenna Tatum show that got canceled. Each day was no less than 15 hours and everyone was complaining, but I think that’s just because most extras just want to be movie stars and there is nothing glamorous about being an extra, absolutely nothing. I loved every minute of that job. There were more and more projects coming to Atlanta, and I wanted to be on them. My whole freshman year I did these extra gigs on the side. Watching the professionals turn ordinary spaces into distant worlds and past decades where stories could be told was awesome, still is! The long hours and bad pay didn’t bother me at all. I was getting paid 64 bucks for 8 hours. Now back at Tech, you couldn’t pay me enough money to study for 15 hours straight, but on set, no problem. Being around real people making real films made me realize that working in the film industry was an actual possibility. Once I had that thought I couldn’t shake it. I just had to give it a try.
Georgia Tech doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for a film student. How did it help you get your foot into industry?
Tech, along with my mother, gave me my work ethic. Getting into film is definitely hard work, and you do a lot of that at Georgia Tech. I did pretty well academically in high school, but at Tech I was failing tests and struggling with homework assignments that took days to finish. The work I did early on at Tech was mentally harder than anything else I had ever done. Now I am a business major, and I’m not going to pretend like that is anywhere near as difficult as applied physics, which is what I started as. I made the switch because film is a business. Many successful artists made it because they were able to couple their artistic ability with practical business, something that a lot of artist’s are not able to do. Vincent Van Gogh, though famous now, died broke. Whereas, Thomas Kinkade, became one of the wealthiest artist of all time. Why is this? Well it’s because a lot of things, but the big one being you have to know your market. Knowing a little business gave me a lot of confidence. The confidence I need to start my own business. Now, if I can just finish business school that would be great.
Even though Georgia has experienced a major boost in filming, major cities like New York and Los Angeles are still considered a hub for videographers. Why did you decide to stay in Georgia?
New York and LA are already too established for me to find work quickly and at a young age. The requirements to get into LA’s film unions are quite extensive, and every artistic person in the world wants to move to New York. So, to avoid the cut throat race for positions, I just looked in my backyard and got them. As a videographer, I need to see how the big dogs used their movie magic because you really can’t teach yourself this stuff. As it turned out, the best from New York and LA all traveled to Atlanta to make their movies! Working underneath them as a grip, electrician, or office PA is like watching a magician do a trick from behind the curtain. Not to mention Georgia is my home, I love the south, and I love my family. Nowadays, I’ll travel to New York or Los Angeles because of work I did in Atlanta. The world sees what is made in this city and it’s awesome. There were so many new projects coming into the city that they need crew for, and, as it turns out, working on a cattle farm for 4 years was great work experience for becoming a grip. Grip work is very labor intensive. Big rigging builds and longs hours in rain, ice, or 90 degree weather take a certain type of person, and the south is a great place to find those kind of people. Lots of farm hands turned to film work.
As a small business owner, have you seen a large impact on your business from the film and television boom Georgia is experiencing?
Absolutely! With the rise of major motion pictures arriving to Atlanta, so did the number of people like myself. I found it hard to replicate the setups that I saw on set. Renting equipment was just too expensive and it really didn’t need to be. That was when my business partner, Ben Lambeth, and I decided to start a small rental business to support the smaller community of younger filmmakers as they grew—and as they grew we grew.
Tell us about your most interesting video shoot.
Interesting in terms of dysfunction would be the time we had 8 people standing on ladders, waving branches outside of a window to make a scene for Meg Myer’s Sorry music video. The projects are always changing; one day it’s a bank commercial and the next it’s a rap music video. When you’re starting out you find your self doing things like chasing stray cows that wandered onto set, swimming in lakes because someone forgot to buy a paddle for the john boat and sometimes climbing on roofs because a light always needs to go in the most inconvenient place. One time I was working on an Adult Swim show and on one of the last days we shut down a highway and pummeled a Miata with a deuce and a half military truck. That was a fun day at work.
How has being involved on the business side of videography affected the way you approach the creative side?
There is no doubt that running Cinder made me practical. Knowing what looks good is important, but coupling that with knowledge of hidden costs will make your producers love you. I’ve also found new clients are always nervous about the end product on the first shoot, but having a business background clearly buys us a bit more trust.
What upcoming projects are you most excited about?
I’m involved in my first movie right now! The movie is called Mine 9. It’s a story about 8 miners and one rookie, and their fight to survive after a methane explosion in a West Virginia coal mine. I’m an associate producer on the project, and Cinder is separately providing the equipment for the film. With this movie I’ve been working towards connecting private equity with Georgia based filmmakers and movies. I believe that Georgia is ready to produce content independently, but we are definitely in our proving period right now. There are so many amazing filmmakers with ties to Georgia that are moving here from LA and New York, and a lot of them with some serious experience from places like Disney, Universal, And Sony. We are all very excited about to showing off Mine 9 on the festival circuit!