The members of the Cinematic Syndicate get it all on film
Their equipment arsenal is small but expanding, their team works in constant collaboration, and their plan of attack is specially crafted for each job. They are the Cinematic Syndicate, a local video and production collective, fresh out of college, working to capture and expose unique characters, business ventures, artists and miscellaneous niches of the Santa Cruz area.
The ultimate mission of the Cinematic Syndicate is to evoke the spread of transformative ideas through video, audio, and web media. “When someone sees an idea online in an easily accessible format, they want to tell someone about it,” says co-founder Jesse Clark. “They share it with someone, and that someone gets an idea about what they can do in their own community—whether it’s the Bike Church, solar power, acting programs for kids, federal subsidy for filmmaking, anything.”
Although the team is constantly shifting members, the current core of the Cinematic Syndicate consists of Davis Banta, Juan Bayardo, James Tipton and Clark. Banta, Bayardo and Clark graduated with degrees in film and digital media from UC Santa Cruz, while Tipton graduated from the theater arts program. While their areas of expertise flow into one another, each member brings a specific area of focus to the group. Banta brings a special flair for directing, handling the camera and working with actors; Bayardo for animation and the post-production process; Tipton for editing, directing and acting; and Clark for cinematography and audio work.
“Film production cannot happen without collaboration, it is inherently a collaborative medium,” says Clark.
The collective came to be when founding members of the Syndicate, Clark and Adam Linkenhelt, decided, unlike many of their peers, to stick around town for a while post-graduation. They pooled their abilities and resources, and out of the many niches and artists of this town they blossomed many project possibilities. The two called out to others who had graduated with film or related backgrounds around the same time as they had, and the result was the Cinematic Syndicate. Though Linkenlhelt is currently overseas working for Big Foot Studios in the Philippines, Clark continues to develop the Syndicate alongside his multifaceted team members.
“We all speak the same language but some of us are way more naturally fluent in certain respects than others,” says Banta, who works outside of the Cinematic Syndicate as the multimedia director for the Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre. “People [in Santa Cruz] are much more likely to say, ‘Let’s tell this with puppets,’ than, ‘Let’s tell this with 3D or some huge budget,’ which is ideal for someone with an art film background. If you get to be too big of a business, you kind of have to offer standardized things. We have the opportunity to really focus on individuals and their stories, and we try to find ways of telling those stories in a way that will fit the particular client.”
The team agrees that there are benefits that come along with the networked, small-town feel of Santa Cruz. Often, work that members of the Syndicate are doing outside of the collective turns around and manifests itself into a Syndicate project. For example, Banta’s work filming and producing media content for the the Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre led him to introduce the Cinematic Syndicate to a current project capturing behind the scenes footage of the esteemed Shakespeare Santa Cruz program.
“Step one for [the Cinematic Syndicate] is to convey the personalities behind what will be produced,” says Banta. “For example, we all know plays like ‘Othello,’ we all know these stories, but we’re looking to show what’s different about how Shakespeare Santa Cruz is telling these stories.”
The Cinematic Syndicate’s approach to filmmaking is story-based. While working on a project with a program like Shakespeare Santa Cruz is highly organized, the collective’s approach varies drastically depending upon what is being shot. For example, the group recently completed a short docunarrative about the Bike Church downtown. For this particular project, they took an impromptu, face to face approach, and headed down to the Bike Church unannounced. They brought nothing with them but cameras and the question “Why are you here?”
“I was really surprised by the diversity of the people that show up at the Bike Church,” says Clark. “It’s not just like, ‘Here’s the biker punks and they’re all working on their bikes and they don’t want to talk to you.’ It’s, ‘There’s the old guy whose been in a bike accident, who has really positive things to say … There’s the guy from North Carolina who read about the Bike Church, came all the way across the country, and is actually here taking pictures and looking at the process and going, ‘Here’s something we can use back home.’” He adds, “That is ultimately the big goal of all of all this: the spread of these innovative or inspiring things to different communities.”
Bayardo, whose particular area of focus is in animation and the post-production process, says the communal feeling in Santa Cruz mixes with the team’s thirst for new ideas, ultimately making the Syndicate a successful and creative endeavor.
“I always used to love to draw as a kid, and I always wished everything I drew could just start moving on its own,” Bayardo remembers. “I’m kind of still that little kid, trying to draw and make everything play out in that sort of cartoon show kind of way. I think all of us has that little kid inside, and wants to keep doing this. For any creative thing, you have to approach it with that passion of a kid, the wondrous, youth sort of thinking. I feel like this town is a communal feel. It lacks the shakiness or competitive nature that we might find in cities like LA or elsewhere. People here are looking to work with and help one another.”
For use of their expertise, the Syndicate will generally charge upwards of $25 per hour, but rates are highly flexible and issued case by case. Although making money for their shared passion is a marvelous perk, the Cinematic Syndicate members agree that they are primarily interested in highlighting the human experience through their work—and the ripple effect that it can cause.
Clark maintains that “with film, you capture someone’s attention and put them into a head space. You capture a moment or a series of moments, or a moment that lasts forever, and you can capture it with just your camera. The audience is not as external to the film experience as much as they would think.” He concludes, “What are we filming? We’re filming people—people in the community and their stories.”
For more information about Cinematic Syndicate, go to cinematicsyndicate.com, or e-mail [email protected]
Photo 1 credit: James Tipton
Photo 2 credit: Davis Banta (Juan Bayardo, James Tipton, Jesse Clark, Davis Banta l-r)