Monday, December 3, 2018

'Vic Video' is Student's Alter Ego

That was the headline of the Michigan State University newspaper (The State News) article on me printed April 25, 1985. I recently found a copy of the paper stuck inside a box of Christmas decorations. It must have been kept by my mother, who passed away in 2008. Also in the box: a giant-size print of my high school graduation photo. Just look at that red hair (picture below).

A lot of red and a lot of hair. Circa 1981.
This was the first article written about me specifically, and it made me a bit leery of journalists and accuracy in reporting. They had gotten wind of my interest in producing music videos. This was in the heyday of MTV, when students watched Madonna, Prince, and Sting videos 'round-the-clock.

I was about to graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering when the year before I got hit with the videomaking bug. I asked my dorm mates to be in a music video to Alan Parson's "Games People Play" in 1984, and in 1985 we followed up with Earth, Wind & Fire's "Fantasy." In between all that was a lot of on-camera lip-syncing fun.

I remember being asked if I regretted not studying filmmaking and telecommunications, and I told the reporter that I did not. I knew Mechanical Engineering was a wise choice if I wanted to get a job. But in the article she wrote the exact opposite: "With just a few weeks left until graduation, Rook said he regrets that he didn't major in telecommunication, but said that it wouldn't stop him from making videos." When I called the editor after the article came out to kindly point out the mistake, he responded, "Look, we are not your PR firm." Imagine that? From a student editor. Such a bad way to start off a journalism career.

Since that moment I always get both excited and apprehensive when an article is written about my work. I'm thankful that they care enough, yet wondering what way they will twist my words to fit their view of how my story should be. And it's happened again and again. Which is why I mostly only answer questions by email, so at least I'll have written proof of what I said.

You hear about this all the time: how words are often taken out of context. Sometimes downright untruths are printed. I'm not talking about Fake News, just news that isn't completely accurate. As a documentary filmmaker, I take that to heart. Whenever I trim an on-camera interview, I make sure I'm careful with the subject's words. Outside of knocking out ums and stammers (cut to B-roll), you always keep whole sentences or statements intact. My goal is to allow the person to project their best responses.

What I would tell anyone reading any article today is, realize that you are not getting the full picture. That there are probably inaccuracies. In this Washington Post article on my Beyond the Garden Gate film, the reporter wrote: "'Birds were extremely difficult,' forcing him to crouch still for long periods of time, then sending him dashing through shrubs with camera held high."

Not once did I ever dash through shrubs to chase birds for the video. More like stood still for a long time, and focused. Just as I've done for countless hours for this film. But I guess that doesn't sound quite as exciting.

If I can find them, I will post some of the video clips we shot in college over 30 years ago. We had a blast.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Blogger Tips: How to Write and Edit Posts

Here are some tips on writing blog posts with the Blogger interface. Contact me if you'd like your own personalized blog designed. Once your blog is set up, you only need to know a few things to start creating some awesome posts. So let's get started!
Make sure you are signed into Google (go to and click on Sign In on the top right), and then go to your Blogger Dashboard.

1. Ignore everything in the left-hand column. Messing with anything there could mess up your blog. In the middle you will see a list of all your blog posts, which includes how many comments and views each post has received. Above that you will see an orange button labeled New Post. Click that.

2.  This will take you to a screen where you should write your blog. Important: Do not write your blogs in Word and paste into here. It will bring background characters that will screw up the blog post. This is REALLY important.

3. You will see that you can enter a Post title and the big empty area is where you will type your blog text. Your post title should include important keywords every time as this is the title that will appear in search engines.

4. Type your first paragraph. Like any article, this should get to the point of what this blog post is about. Three or four sentences is best. These are also the first few sentences that will appear when you share your blog post on Facebook.

5. You will see a tool bar above the area where you type to allow you to make text bold, italic, etc. There are also buttons to insert pictures and add links.  Use the default font to have a consistent look.

6. Continue typing until you are done with the text portion of the blog. At any time you can click on the Save button on the top right to save what you are typing. DO NOT CLICK ON PUBLISH. That is only when you are done and you want to make it live.

7. After all text is typed, then go back and play with adding pictures and links. Note: Only add pictures AFTER the first paragraph, not before. To add a picture, put your cursor between two paragraph where you want it to be. Click the Insert image icon up top (to the right of Link) and then choose a picture from your hard drive. After the picture is inserted, you can click on it to add a caption, resize, and make it left, center, or right justified with your text.

8. To make a hyperlink, highlight the text you want to hyperlink. Click Link up top in the toolbar and type in the URL that text should take you to when someone clicks on it.

9. At any time you can click Preview up top right to see what your blog post will look like when live. Make sure you click Save before doing that. Once you are ready to make your blog post live, click Publish. This will take you back to your Blogger Dashboard and you will see it listed. If you need to edit a blog post, published or unpublished, hover your mouse over the blog title in your Blogger Dashboard and you will see Edit appear. Click that. If you published a blog post by mistake, you can check the square box to the left of the post title, then click on Revert to draft up top.

10. Have fun! Remember, always type your blog posts with this interface. Do not use Word or any other program.

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Guest Post: Katherine Gotthardt on Time Management

Why slow down? Enjoy this enlightening post on time management by guest blogger, Katherine Gotthardt.


I Will Not Manage Time
By Katherine M. Gotthardt

It’s past midnight, and I’m writing this. So that should tell you something. I’m more awake than I ought to be, but yesterday, every time I sat still, I fell asleep, feeling guilty for having fatigue. I pretended to be awake. My eldest child, twenty years old and mature enough to know I tend towards workaholism, asked me questions, receiving answers that made sense in my head but had nothing to do with the questions. That’s how she knew I was talking in my sleep. She doesn’t understand. I need to manage my time, but I have no time. So I won’t manage it.

Dusty on my desk are three books on time management. All of them say to take time for self, and while I’m getting better at it, I admit I’ve had to become extremely unhealthy to make it happen. This is not something I’m particularly proud of, nor something I would recommend. It’s expensive, for one thing. And then there’s that thing of, “You’re getting too old for this, and you’re literally killing yourself.” That’s a problem.

But the reality is, I need to get things done. You see, everyone on my mother’s side of the family, with the exception of one brother, died in their 60’s. This doesn’t scare me in the sense that you’d think it would. It scares me because there’s so much to be done, and I really don’t want to leave my family so soon. I don’t want to waste time trying to manage time. I want to use the time I have. I want every moment to count.

Now the holistic healers out there will say I am talking myself into an early grave, and the western medicine men will tell me I’m working my way into one. And the cynics will say, “She’s being dramatic,” and the empaths will say, “That poor woman.” And I say in return, hold up. I’m getting better at this self-care thing, but it’s taking me time. But there’s so little time, at least in this life. And that, too, is problematic.

In my next life, I might have more time. I’m coming back as a lilac (I’ve already decided). They might live longer than humans. I’m not really sure. They smell better, though. And bees. They feed bees. They are delectable things, lilacs, and I’ve always wanted to be beautiful in a simple, fragrant way. I’ll get my way in my next life. But right now, I’ve got no time.

On my right arm, I have a tattoo of a plume, tiny birds flying from it. The nib scrolls “Carpe Diem” down towards my elbow. The tat needs recoloring, and I’ve got scabs on my arms where I’ve been scratching hives. I don’t know where the hives come from. The allergy tests all came back negative. My husband says it’s stress. Some days, he’s probably correct. But other days, they just appear. I watch them rise on my forearms, amazed that little lumps can grow on their own. What’s feeding them?

Author Katherine Gotthardt
Maybe they are eating time. That would account for the lack of it, yes? That would explain a good many things, like why the months speed by more quickly as you get older, why the road ragers fly by on the highway like mad men (and women) and why I’m enamored with Buddhism but so damn bad at it. I’m watching these hives eat time. Even a Buddhist would have difficulty with that.

So next week I’m off to the doctor’s to look at my neck, post-op, and another to look at my blood pressure. We’ll talk about my swollen feet and numb toes, and they both will wonder how it is I don’t have diabetes, why I’m driven to create a legacy and what the heck that has to do with anything when the world continues to spin on its axis, each day becoming night, each night becoming day, the passing of time something absurd. We kid ourselves, thinking we can manage it. The most we can manage is ourselves. And even that we’re not evolved enough to do.

No, I will not manage time. I won’t even bother to try. I’ll just manage to barter for more. Somehow.

Katherine Gotthardt is a poetry and prose writer with five books under her belt and many more to write. She is a founding member and Vice President of Write by the Rails and CEO of ATW - All Things Writing. Learn more about her at

#WbtR #BackOnTrackNow

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Guest Post: Jan Rayl on Time Management

Please welcome another guest post on Time Management by our lovable President of Write By the Rails, Jan Rayl:

Victor many thanks for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. I also want to take a moment to thank you for all the budding authors you have helped in our writing group, Write by the Rails. As I have recommended your services to many of our authors, I hear the feedback. I am pleased to say that every author I have given your information to contact has been 100% pleased with your work! I have seen countless book covers you have designed and they are beautiful!

Professionally I am a nurse. In nursing time management is critical and lives can depend on it in a fast-paced emergency setting. As a nurse educator I teach my student that the first thing you do is take a deep breath when faced with an emergency. I tell them we must take care of ourselves in a crisis to be able to carry on effectively.

The same is true no matter the profession: you must take care of yourself first. So how does this relate to time management? We each are in control of our calendars and schedules. I used to jot down the appointments on my calendar as they came up. I had work appointments, volunteer meetings, things folks would ask me to do, helping friends, doctors’ appointments, oops another meeting and then next thing I knew I was scheduled and at times overbooked. I stuck to my schedule!

I learned the valuable lesson of taking care of yourself first the hard way; I got sick. I got really sick and was off work for three months. I ended up with pneumonia, a sinus infection and both ears infected. Every meeting, appointment and commitment this double-booked, driven, helpful woman had crammed into my calendar came to a screeching halt.

Once I was on the road to recovery and no longer too sick to do anything, I began to ponder my calendar. As I looked back I saw week after week where I was completely booked every night of the week and most of every weekend. I was doing important things, I was helping others, getting things done. However, in the frenzy of my “helping” I had forgotten to take care of the most important person in life: myself.

Now when I look at my calendar I schedule “Jan Days” first. These are my days, days where I, Jan, get to do something for me. Sometimes it is half a day, or an evening. But I also am sure to book whole weekends! I may not have a big plan—I may stay home and read, go to a park, or a movie. The what does not matter. What matters is I go on my calendar first! I am also sure to have blank days every week. I have made a point to have evening meetings only twice a week. I need the down time in the evening.

I have found that I weeded through the things I was doing and have cut back to the things that give me joy. In the process the things I let go of got picked up by others and some were not. The things that were not may not have been that important to begin with. Perhaps I was doing them because I always had.

I work full-time teaching nursing and see a few patients part-time as a nurse. I volunteer as President of Write by the Rails, my local writing group. I live in Northern Virginia, well known for its fast-paced, driven lifestyle. But I am no longer fast-paced. I have learned to let some organizations and clubs go. I have learned to say, “no.” I have learned to manage my time by making “my” time first, then giving to others. I hope you will consider looking at your calendar and making sure you are taking care of yourself first!

Jan Rayl is in her third term as President of Write by the Rails. Write by the Rails is the Prince William County, Virginia area Chapter of Virginia Writer’s Club which celebrated 100 years in 2018. Jan has been published in numerous nursing journals and the Write by The Rails anthologies New Departures and No Additional Postage Necessary. Jan blogs on travel, book reviews and other musings at

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

How to Work with a Professional

I'm sitting here right now trying to decide if I should continue the title of this post. How to Work with a Professional...Editor, Book Publisher, Web Designer, Graphic Artist, Plumber. Could be anything, really, because what I'm about to tell you should apply to any type of professional service you are requesting. And it should be common sense. But with a few recent potential clients who've come upon me for assistance, I'm seeing that that is not always the case.

You reach out to a professional because you want good, quality work done at a fair price. And many times you are a little unsure of where to begin, which is completely understandable. A doctor needing a website, a writer needing a book cover designed, a truck driver needing an editor for his first work of fiction are all perfect examples. It's not your forte. So you need help. But you need to have at least some basic understanding of the end result.  Here are my tips in working with a professional that will greatly improve your experience.

1. Have money to spend
No matter how much you want something for free, professionals are there to make a living. Just like you. So the worst thing you could do is bog them down with a ton of questions when you have no means to pay for the work you are requesting. Picking someone's brain is like picking their pocket. In the end you are taking them away from other clients who are willing to make a commitment.

Maybe you will have money in the future to pay for a service, but you need some idea now of the cost. That's fine. So when you first contact a professional, be clear on what you are looking for and ask for a range. Ask what is covered in the work. Even ask for a work quote. But leave it at that.

2. Commit to your appointments
Don't tell a professional that you'll call them at 6 p.m. and never do so. Don't tell a professional that you'll meet or stop by after work and not do so. Professionals are shifting their days around to accommodate you. And if you haven't paid them a cent yet, this is a HUGE NO-NO. But paid or not paid, professionals are not your servants. Do it once, it strains the relationship. Do it twice, and the professional will have no faith in you. Do it three times, and you deserve a baseball bat upside your head.

The only legitimate excuses for not meeting an appointment are death, birth, or some sort of physical incapacitation. Forgetfulness is not an excuse. Treat every appointment as it were a plane departure. Be on time. Because you know that if you aren't at the gate at 5:45, that plane is leaving without you.

3. Don't be a Big Ole Mess
I can spot it a mile away: someone who has overloaded or overextended him or herself in every possible way that they are like a big ball of chaos rolling toward me. They've joined a million groups, have a dozen projects going on at once (none of them actually finished) and are social media butterflies. I just know once we start talking they're going to drop their life load on me like an anvil. Professionals are not there to hear your life story (unless you're writing a memoir, of course).

A nice meet and greet, whether in person or on the phone, always helps break the ice so you can get a feel for each other. But leave it at that. Get to the point. Know in finite detail what you are looking for. Write it down. Email it. Only spend time talking about what you are hiring the professional for. Save the other stuff for later, if you should develop a deeper relationship in the future.

4. Listen to the Professional

I can't tell you how many times I've told an author one thing, and they do the exact opposite. I designed a truly wonderful book cover for an artist, only to have that artist have a non-designer friend produce a very bland cover. So I asked if I could post both covers on Facebook, without revealing which one was mine, so we could get other opinions. Hands down my cover design was the most liked, some reviewers even offering comments like "Oh, hell no" to the other. But he didn't listen.

It's not always true that the customer is always right. I give them what they want, of course, but you came to a professional for a reason. Put some amount of faith in them. You're paying for it. Look at their past work. Look at their credentials. Look at recommendations from other clients.

5. Don't drag out a project
A project's completion date is often dependent on how quickly you respond to questions from the professional. If something is requested of you, like text for a back book cover, or photos, get to it. This is an equal partnership, the goal being a wonderful finished product that you can both be proud of.  By dragging it out because of laziness or excuses, you risk straining the relationship and the quality of the work. And it also takes away from other work a professional needs to acquire. Get 'er done.

6. Good working relationships reap rewards
Whenever a client and I work well together, meaning they pay up front, give me what I need, and are quick to respond with answers to my questions, I return the favor in many ways. I will promote their new book or new website through my own social media. I will refer others to their businesses. I will talk them up in social gatherings.

When you treat a professional professionally, and with common courtesy, you will most always have a wealth of rewards come back to you. It pays to be nice. It pays to be on time. Don't ever forget that.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Guest Post: Morgan Hazelwood on Time Management

Enjoy this guest post from author and vlogger, Morgan Hazelwood. I completely understand her methods and the "guilt" aspect of not moving forward on a project. That's what also provokes me to get stuff done.

The "Just 15 Minutes" Approach to Achieving Your Goals
by Morgan Hazelwood

How to make yourself work when you just don't want to work.

When I first start a project, I'm all fired up and ready to go. But writing takes longer than I can sustain my enthusiasm. As the weeks, months, (years) slip by, progress periodically stagnates.

There are many people who only write when they feel their muse talking to them, then the words flow out of them. Full chapters, books come out in states not-so-far from a finished product.

I am not one of those people.

I've spoken before about my marathon-style writing. In a world of hares and turtles, I am a turtle. A turtle who's been known to take breaks and binge on tv, as though the race itself were on pause.

But, eventually, shame and guilt kick in. I've been slacking off and disappointing the one person I can't avoid: myself.

That's when I tell myself: JUST FIFTEEN MINUTES

If I just sit down at my desk, pull out my manuscript and do something, it'll count myself as having made some progress, as having not skipped yet-another-day of working on my novel. I could do a great variety of things:
  • write
  • edit
  • read
  • take notes
as long as I do it for at least 15 minutes.

Sometimes, that's all I do. I inch forward with the tiniest bit of progress, just enough to claim credit.

But you know what?

Most of the time? I get a lot more than just 15 minutes of work done once I actually get my butt into that chair.*


What tricks do you have for getting work out of yourself?

*Note: This technique also works on laundry, dishes, office work, learning to play guitar, playing with small children**, and a variety of other tasks!

**Note 2: That's a lie, after 15 minutes with small children, I'm ready for a nice, long nap.

Morgan Hazelwood is a fantasy novelist who blogs about writing tips and writerly musings.

She likes taking pictures of the sky, reading a good book, and ambiverting from her living room. She's also a voice for the fairy-tale audio drama: Anansi Storytime and its sister podcast: Legendsmith.

She's been known to procrati-clean her whole house and alphabetize other people's bookshelves.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Stress Management for the Self-Employed

I know stress management.

This year marks my 20th anniversary as a self-employed entrepreneur. It was all fun and games back in 1998, when I was making the same on my own as I was in the last year of my salaried job. Then the recession hit in 2008. And ever since then many of the avenues that used to bring me income have dried up.

No matter what the news tells you, the economy has not recovered. Fewer people are buying luxury items. I’ve pretty much halted all non-essential purchases just to stay afloat. A $30 home decoration used to be a no-brainer. Buy it if I wanted it. Now I’m selling those same items on Craigslist so I can pay for groceries and the electric bill.

I have so many skills to offer people: website design, book design, graphic design, photography, videography, and more. And I’ve had a lot of happy clients. But people are stingier with their purchases and, frankly, too many people don’t have their shit together before they contact me. So I’m constantly producing reasonable quotes and dishing out my knowledge for potential clients that are ill-prepared to make any sort of decision to move forward…which leaves us both at a loss. I like people that know what they want and take action to get it done. Action is the key word.

So how do I manage my stress level when this, plus what’s going on in the news, leaves me feeling a little heavyhearted?

I go outside.

Nature is free. It’s my daily staycation. It’s just a few steps away from my computer and beyond the big red door. It offers sunshine (good for Vitamin D), fresh air, and a glimpse at what’s going on in our natural world. I can watch the squirrels playing, their little heads bobbing up and down while tenants pull in and out of the parking lot. Or the birds fluttering between the berry trees below my balcony. And if I have time, I like to extract myself from my living space to go on photography hikes.

There isn’t a trail in Northern Virginia that I am not familiar with. I’ve traversed nearly every path with my Panasonic Lumix in hand. But that doesn’t mean I won’t discover something new each time I go out. On the contrary, indeed. It could be a species of butterflies that I’ve never seen before mating on a stump, a wild turkey strutting in the deep underbrush a dozen yards away, or a group of deer grazing in an open field. All bring a little calm to the chaos around me. And as I snap away, I am also compiling tangible product that people can purchase. One is my Calmness of Woods DVD, which I call a Photographic Journey into Nature. Set to music are some of my best nature photos, along with tips on how to take better outdoor pictures.

Walking alone and away from the crowd also allows me to think in a different way. I can more easily recognize the “big picture”—the overall tasks at hand. Being out in the wide open almost forces you to do that.

But I’ve also learned to reduce stress just by sitting in my car. Three of my books were written in the shade of a tree at a McDonald’s parking lot. Ever notice how truly quiet the world can become just by rolling up your windows?

On that note, I’d like to end this blog post with a poem I wrote for my Poetry Pizza book. Everyone should try it:

Sitting in Silence
by Victor Rook

Television off
Radio down
Everyone gone
An empty town

Windows all up
Fans not spinning
Phone disabled
No constant dinning

Alone in my room
Minus all sound
In the center I sit
And look around

Slight hum remains
Like sound debris
But that will pass
Then I'll be free

From all that noise
That invades my mind
An inner peace
I soon shall find

It's really a treat
To remove that crap
Unleash your head
From the clamor trap

Like a different world
When you close it out
Not a peep to be had
A chaos drought

The places you go
When silence arises
Your quiet thoughts
Are full of surprises

Feel your heart beat
As time seems to stop
Like a pause on life
Then you're back on top

Try it once a day
Or twice a week
Discover a calm
And you shall seek

This better way
I give as guidance
To reset yourself
By sitting in silence

#BackOnTrackNow, #WbtR

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Friday, January 12, 2018

I Wanted to be a Music Video Producer

It was 1981 when MTV launched, and it would soon become a household name. We couldn't wait to view the latest music videos from our favorite artists. Do you remember those days? I was mesmerized. Below is one of the videos that I would later produce to Madonna's "Rescue Me" for fun. Read on to find out how it all began, and to watch another teaser video I created for the same song.


I was already in college pursuing my degree in Mechanical Engineering when I happened upon the campus RHA (Resident Halls Association), which allowed you to check out a camera/VHS recorder combo. The VHS deck strapped over your shoulder, and then you'd attach the camera to it. Very cumbersome. But, hey, it was free! Through the use of this equipment, I made my first music video to the song "Games People Play" by the Alan Parsons Project. With the help of the cable TV public access studio down the street, I taught myself how to edit on 3/4" Sony tape-to-tape decks. I was hooked.

In the summer of 1984, I interned at IBM in Endicott, New York. With my summer savings I purchased my own RCA camera and recorder. That following year, dozens of my college dorm mates would usher themselves into my room and we'd shoot one-take videos while they lip-synced to the music track input from my Technics cassette deck. I also produced another music video to the song "Fantasy" by Earth, Wind, and Fire. The State newspaper wrote an article on my endeavors titled, "Vic Video is Student's Alter Ego." After graduation I put snippets of those videos together in one long montage for a keepsake. It also got me to practice my editing skills.

Cut to 1991 and I was able to purchase my own Sony Hi-Band Beta (remember Beta?) editing decks. Though I worked in the technical field, I still had a passion to create. Luckily, a couple of my jobs required someone with a technical background who could also produce video training and marketing materials. I produced some demo videos for a CAD/CAM company for large trade shows, and I was the scriptwriter for a video magazine on manufacturing technologies.

In 1992 I gathered together a few of my old college mates and produced a video to Madonna's "Vogue" for the MTV "Make My Video" contest. I didn't win, but somehow the video got entered into a Detroit radio contest and I won a trip for two to Disney. To this day I don't know how it was picked. I think someone told me they played it at a bar or something.

Jim and Gayle performing in my video to Madonna's "Rescue Me"
The last music video I completed was in 1992 to Madonna's song "Rescue Me." As you can tell, Madonna was big at the time. I asked a Michigan State University dance instructor if she could put out a word that I wanted two dancers. The only two that showed up, Jim and Gayle, are the two you see in the video. Christine, the lip-syncher, did an excellent job. I shot her portion under an overpass in Troy, Michigan, and also way up on the cliffs of Tobermory, Ontario. I almost fell off one of those cliffs while filming.  A friend of ours, Pam, came along to help. I owe her my life for warning me.

What I remembered most was directing the two dancers. We filmed under an overpass in East Lansing, Michigan, next to some train tracks. They only practiced a few moves, but in between the chorus sections they'd start this slow, seductive dance with each other. I guess it was some form of modern dance, and I instantly realized it worked great for the lyrics. It wasn't until a reshoot a few months later that I decided I wanted to end the video with a long kiss. Gayle had cut her hair a bit shorter by then, and her boyfriend wasn't all too keen on her kissing another guy, though she convinced him it was just acting. Jim and Gayle grew up together and they were great sports.

The video below I produced to get Jim and Gayle excited about going back for the finishing shots. They hadn't seen anything until that point. I also wanted to make a long-form video to the extended version of the song, but that never happened. I moved back to Western New York for a bit, and the last thing I remember is trying to get a group of women from a church choir to perform in it.

Music is such an important part of any video production. I'll even venture to say that it's the most important part. To this day I spend hours looking for the right pieces for film trailers and short edited pieces. I consider documentary and film trailers to be mini music videos; so, in a way, I have achieved my dream of becoming a music video producer.


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