I met Ben Lemmen, owner of Holland-based Emblem Cinema, nearly 10 years ago and could tell he was a creative guy from day one.
Now he is taking that creativity to the next level.
As in national. As in a documentary. As in shattering Kickstarter goals.
I had to find out more about his upcoming collaborative project, The Beauty Synonymous Tour, before he, well, left.
So enjoy my Q&A with Ben Lemmen. You WILL be ready for an adventure after you finish reading it.
The Beauty Synonymous tour was really born both out of a long process of conversations and a sudden, impulsive moment of action. Travis, Alex and myself have been talking about doing a content-gathering road trip since we all met in 2014. At first it was just a trip out to Yosemite. I think at one point it was a documentary road-trip of Bobo (Alex) riding his motorcycle out to Los Angeles to find love. The realities of life (i.e. paying rent, student loans, running small businesses) became excuses for these conversations to end with nothing more than, “That’d be so cool to do.” Early this year, maybe March or April, we started to realize that we could pull off a trip like this, but it needed to happen in the next few years. Conversations began again, and didn’t fizzle out. Finally, one day, we just asked each other if we were in. We all went around and said yes, and have been working hard on planning and funding since.
Why now? Good question. Yes, we’re younger guys, all doing freelance, but this is definitely not the perfect timing to do it. We’re all saying no to a lot of projects that would be coming in this fall. I don’t think I’ve ever been more stressed trying to get ready for this thing. The timing, however, never seems to be perfect. As freelancers, we sell our services to others. What people don’t often realize is that it can be extremely draining, creatively. Even if the work is exciting and new. I think we feel a need to check ourselves; to make sure we’re still able to create work that we can own, and enjoy doing it. It’s less about finding the timing and more about creating the time.
Well, we knew we wanted to get all the way out to Yosemite and back, so I think the trip route really created itself around that. We’re starting by going all the way through the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan, because we all really love our home state, and want to show it some love on our trip. All three of us have different places that we really wanted on the route. Travis loves night photography, so he recommended Arches National Park in Utah, and we strategically timed that stay during a new moon. Bobes is the most excited about Los Angeles, so he can fall in love (just kidding. maybe). I’ve always wanted to explore northern California, and see the Redwoods, so I’m stoked for that leg of the trip. There are seriously no “filler” locations. We’re even looking forward to the tiny towns we’ll be crashing in for a night here-and-there. It’s all part of the adventure.
We are really trying to exercise what the three of us have learned these past three years doing freelance work. We’ll have a car full of cinema, DSLR and film cameras. Our primary objective is to actually document the adventure (and even the boring parts) of road-tripping. We want to put the environments, events and people we find along the way into a short film. If there’s a narrative in there (which we think there will be), we want to find that.
Another way we’ll let that narrative speak is through our still photography. We’re hoping to find a way to show and sell prints after the trip.
We’ll also be shooting stock footage along the way for a company that sells footage for film and commercial use, as well as shooting some product shots for sponsors along the way. We’re really happy to be teaming up with Braincell Camera, who is providing some of the equipment necessary to make the production end of this trip happen.
When we started planning for the trip, we really were not anticipating any sort of social media, or crowdsourcing. We thought we’d find a few projects along the way to cover the costs, and figure out what we’d do with the footage. “Beauty Synonymous” began developing after we started recognizing that people (other than our dear mothers) were interested in the trip. The thought was, “hey, maybe we could provide some inspiration for others to do that same type of thing by finding a way to share the trip with people.” In talking about how to do that, we came up with the idea of an Instagram account, and selling T-shirts. We started our Instagram account in mid-July, and were really surprised at the response to it.
The Kickstarter really just felt like the best way to sell shirts. We could set a modest goal, get exact quantity, sizes and colors and maybe make enough to cover gas. Right before the launch a friend of mine texted me and asked if he could buy a canvas print from the trip. That was something we hadn’t thought about selling, but we added it to the options. There’s a few more options that we added in, but the primary objective was to sell a few t-shirts. I was legitimately anxious hitting “launch” on the campaign a few weeks ago. I mean, we were all sort of expecting family and close friends to back it. An hour after launching we had $200. I just sat there hitting refresh until about 12:30 a.m., when we had over $700. I woke up to a text from Travis that was something like, “Holy s*** guys. Check the Kickstarter.” We were about to break $2,000. We met our goal in about 15 hours. That was truly an incredible feeling. As artists, to see that type of support– that’s the type of stuff that keeps you going. We’re blessed and thankful to have people who believe in our crazy ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing some Beauty Synonymous shirts worn by others on their own adventures.
I think all three of us have some of the same fears, but also unique fears to us. I can’t speak for Travis and Bobes, but for me, It was pretty scary committing to a month out of the regular routine. Because production is such a time-consuming process, projects are often weeks or months of work. I’ve had to say no to a lot of work this year in preparation of the trip, while still being able to have jobs lined up when we return. That’s really challenged me, because it can seem really stupid to walk away from consistent work in an effort to do work that, while meaningful, is not exactly profit-oriented. As the trip gets closer, and honestly with the success of the Kickstarter, that fear has been beginning to subside. I don’t have any fears about the trip, really. Our van breaks down? Sounds like a funny memory to capture. We get lost? Again, those are the best memories. I am a little worried about bears. I hear they don’t like to pose nicely for the camera.
Yes, I’m excited to film and photograph beautiful landscapes and wildlife on this trip. There’s no doubt about that. For me, though, I’m more excited for the change of pace and the idea of journey. There is so much pressure, no matter what you do for a living, to have laser vision on end products and achieving goals, especially as twenty-somethings. It sounds cliche, but the process and journey seems to be the thing we’re going to look back on in the end, not the product. You don’t have to physically go somewhere– to travel places– necessarily, but sometimes that’s the best way to be reminded that the journeys we’re on are important. I’m excited about that. I’m excited to share it with Travis and Bobes, and I’m excited to maybe convince others to make time to do the same.