After our big announcement last week, we thought it’d be nice to take it back and reflect on Cinema Jubilee’s journey, especially how it all began…
(This post was written by Abraham.)
Getting two weeks notice that I’d no longer have my first and last full-time job may have been one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.
After a four month stint as the Digital Production Assistant at WGBH for a show called Sing That Thing, the executive producer came up to me right before my lunch break. She sat down in the chair next to me, where the intern usually sits.
That’s weird, I thought…
She put her hand on my leg and said: “As you know, your contract was temporary.” She pulled her hand back and continued, “So over the next two weeks, we’re going to have to ask you to only come in for 20 hours a week. And during the summer time, maybe you can help us out on a pro bono basis.”
Speechless, my eyes scanned her face trying to understand what she really meant. By her stern lips and raised eyebrows, I suddenly understood what was actually being said to me.
“Ok…” I mumbled. With that she stood up and returned to her office.
Left alone with my thoughts, I STILL had to finish up this next batch of social media posts that no one was really engaging with anyway…
My next thought was, “Wait, what am I going to do to make money now? How will we pay our rent for the apartment they all know I just moved into the city last month in order to be closer to work, to do this specific job? Do I really have no future here? Did I ever sign a contract? And what does pro bono even mean?”
Related Read: Why Your Creative Business Needs a Solid Contract
I decided to go home for my lunch break and tell Daniella sooner rather than later. After hopping in my car and drove two miles up the street and parked in front of our apartment building. I don’t think I even turned the radio on. Silence.
When I got home, I felt the need to shower. Maybe because the water would wash away my shame, my hurt, my uncertainty.
Daniella immediately knew something was off: “How come you were able to come home for lunch? Do you have time to be here?”
I didn’t sugarcoat it, since my employer hadn’t sugarcoated it with me. “They’re letting me go. And the next two weeks will be my last. Oh, and they won’t be full-time weeks either.”
She was quiet. I’m sure all the same thoughts I had, were know raging in her mind too. I looked at the clock, saw that I’d already been gone 30 minutes. So I got ready for my shower.
After the shower, I ate some rice and spicy shrimp leftovers we had from the night before. “It’s good the next day, wow!”
When in doubt, resort to small talk…
Once I wolfed down the food, I didn’t want to just leave on a sour note. So I switched gears and said, “Maybe now is the time we can do something for ourselves. We always talked about filming weddings, right? Well, what if we really tried to do that like we’ve seen some of those films online?”
That seemed to cheer us up immediately. Even though it was so uncertain, even though we had zero wedding filmmaking experience, the thought alone brought positive energy back into the equation.
“So do you think we could actually do that?” Daniella asked me.
I hugged and kissed her before heading out the door. “Without a doubt, Dany. We’ll figure it out. We have each other.”
While we both felt liberated by this decision to make something of ourselves and start filming weddings, the reality of no full-time income was already starting to knock on our door.
I remember sitting in silence when we’d eat meals together. And then whenever we’d hop in the car, I’d suddenly start venting about how frustrating it was that they couldn’t keep me anymore.
“Abraham, we’re gonna do this together. It’s our opportunity to build our future on our own terms.” Daniella got good at talking me off the ledge, but deep down I was freaking out. And I wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
How would we break out in the wedding industry? How would we convince couples to book us if we had zero experience filming weddings? Could we even succeed at all?
Our saving grace was, of all things, a mad decision out of the blue to start a pet-sitting business through Rover.
One day, a couple weeks after my Boston University graduation ceremony, we were sitting in our apartment, both on our phones. Daniella asked me how I’d feel about making some extra money watching dogs.
I didn’t say anything right away…
It was only ten months prior, when I first visited Daniella’s family in Georgia, that I’d just begun getting over my fear of dogs. Meeting Daniella’s childhood dog, Niki Isabella, really changed my perception of furry friends. So I was still pretty new to this man’s best friend thing.
Then I remembered how soft Niki’s fur was, her deep brown eyes, her chocolate chunk nose, and how loyal she seemed during that one week period I got to know her the summer before.
I stood up and started pacing our cramped apartment. “Do you think the dogs will need blankets?” I asked her.
She held her chest in amusement, “Will they need blankets? Why would they need blankets?” She wasn’t asking why to make me feel silly, she wanted to hear my reasoning behind the question…
“Well, in case they get cold.” So I had effectively said yes!
There was just one problem, and it wasn’t whether or not the dogs would need blankets. It was that our lease specifically did not allow dogs.
Plus, we lived on the third floor of the building. It seemed like a long shot. In a weird way, though, the impossibility of it all made it more attractive.
A few hours later, we had made our profile on Rover. The more we read our bio and looked at our goofy profile photo of our sunburned faces from my graduation, the more we fell in love with the idea.
The next thing we knew, within a couple months, we were getting repeat clients, especially for this one older dog who suffered from seizures and had an abnormally large cat for a brother. Remi and Capone were their names.
By that Christmas, we started watching a dachshund named Benny who literally changed our lives. Soon, our pet-sitting service became an every day doggie day care for Benny specifically.
He was super needy!
The first day we brought him to our apartment, we wanted to go to the gym together. So we got ready, walked out the door, and had not even walked ten steps into the hallway before we heard LOUD barking coming quite obviously from our apartment.
We looked at each other dumbfounded… “Is he barking for us?”
We thought if we kept quiet for a minute, he’d stop. But he didn’t. He actually seemed to be getting louder and louder.
So we rushed back into the apartment and as soon as we stepped inside, he quit barking like a madman. We were stumped. This had never happened before with any other dog we had watched.
We tried to leave him again, figuring he must have freaked out because it was a new environment, but now he’d at least know we’d come back for him. Well, the same thing happened!
Turning to me in the hallway, Daniella told me, “You go to the gym, I’ll stay here with him.”
I could go on and on about that reddish-brown dachshund who loved rotisserie chicken and Pupperoni treats. Needless to say, our bond to him became very strong, very fast.
Benny felt like one of our own.
By the summer of 2016, another interesting thing happened. Between all the pet sitting, a few months of driving for Uber and Lyft, and even a short period of being a licensed real estate agent, I had somehow became a Craigslist fiend.
Why did I go down the Craigslist rabbit hole? Because I knew that we needed to make more money and that our dream, having a wedding filmmaking business, would not just happen on its own.
Day after day I scoured the postings for Boston AND Providence. I sent out emails with my resume and reel/samples for video gig after video gig. I must have applied to a couple hundred different postings over the course of the next few months.
The hardest part was never hearing back from most of the people I emailed.
To be honest, maybe this was a good thing. After all, as I would soon find out, drumming up business on Craigslist is not the way to build a sustainable brand.
However, none of the things Daniella and I were attempting to do on our own had been taught to us in college — it was all new territory.
We had zero mentors, zero capital, and most of our peers from college had moved out of Boston. They headed either to LA or NYC, usually for a full-time job at a production company, editing company, or creative agency. We felt isolated.
Besides being shy people to begin with, the lack of “answers” for what moves to make next or how to proceed felt overwhelming and unending. We couldn’t just pound the pavement to drum up business like the movies portray it.
Around this time, we started to discover a couple fast-growing Facebook forums filled with other seasoned wedding filmmakers. In addition to that, we consumed some pretty good tutorials on wedding filmmaking via YouTube.
We decided during this period that we would learn more, study what other successful people were doing, and implement the best we could. Fake it till you make it, right?!
To our family and friends, we knew we appeared to be unmotivated and lacking direction. Indeed, any time I saw my dad and I’d tell him what we had been working on, he’d say, “I don’t know anything about that industry. You sure you want to do that?”
On other occasions, he would directly tell me to apply for corporate jobs. “I don’t think you have to struggle so much, I’m worried about you.” Three years later, he’s still singing the same tune!
Anyway, the more we studied established wedding filmmakers, the more we realized not only did we lack the hands-on experience… we lacked the right equipment to produce a high-quality product.
But our bank accounts wouldn’t support buying all the equipment we needed overnight.
So for the next eight months or so, we stacked as much extra cash as we could, and even got an Amazon credit card, to start building up our equipment inventory.
The biggest purchase to make would be a new camera. Not because we wanted a shiny new object, but because we started noticing the better films we were watching as inspiration always had multiple angles. It enhanced the story so much!
Plus, Daniella wasn’t just going to be my assistant. We would both be filmmakers, and for that to become a possibility, we needed at least two cameras.
She was the one who had showed me a PenWeddings film that inspired us so much anyway!
On my birthday, we got gift cards and extra cash from people, and used that to invest in faster lenses.
The only equipment left to get at this point, which we used the Amazon credit card for, was tripods, audio recorders and microphones. After all, good films are only as good as the sound quality! If you can’t hear anything, you won’t be sucked into the story, PERIOD.
Once it felt like we had enough bare bones equipment to actually start filming weddings, we turned back to Craigslist to find some decent gigs.
In the past, we’d reached out to couples on there who said they wanted to hire a college student or someone new to the industry. Typically, none of those gigs ever panned out. Worst of all was never hearing back after writing a lengthy email to no avail.
One night toward the end of August 2016, we waited for the owner of a Back Bay dog to come down from her apartment to greet us.
During this waiting period for the owner and dog to show up, I got on my phone and pulled up Craigslist. Didn’t matter where we were or what we were currently doing, my thoughts always came back to: How can I make this dream come alive?
There was a posting for a wedding videographer that I’d never seen before. It really stuck out because the post lead with: “No experience? No problem!” I showed Daniella and she raised her eyebrows in surprise. I kept reading.
After skimming through the description, I said, “It must be for us! They pay $50 PER HOUR, WOAH! And they say to just email them a resume and they need to pick someone fast because they have weddings THIS WEEKEND that need to be filmed!!”
We pounded the roof of the car in excitement. This was it, I thought. Our big break… once we got back to our apartment, I emailed them.
THE NEXT DAY, I was on the phone with a young woman calling from New Hampshire. She asked me if I had any experience filming weddings. I had to tell her I didn’t have any experience filming weddings, but I followed it up with: “I’ve won awards for my work before and I went to film school.”
“Not a problem!” she said.
Of course, I had her on speaker phone. When she said that, Daniella and I exchanged glances of hopeful surprise.
“Would you be available this weekend for a wedding on the North Shore? We’ll compensate for your mileage.”
WHAT??!!! “Absolutely,” I told her.
“Great, we’ll touch base again through email so you can get the details of the timeline and stuff for tomorrow. Talk soon!” Click.
We hugged each other so tight and thanked God for the opportunity.
When we came back to earth, we were reminded that we couldn’t leave a dog alone in our apartment. Daniella graciously said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll stay here. You just sleep good tonight so you can be rested for tomorrow.”
I’m not afraid to admit that on the drive to Gloucester, I was crying tears of joy. I couldn’t believe things were starting to line up in our favor after what had felt like forever.
I imagined myself filming something so beautiful and meaningful that we’d soon have so much business we’d have to turn people away. But I was also a little sad that I was beginning this journey alone. This was supposed to be our dream to live out together.
It never crossed my mind that the next challenge to figure out would be how to use what we were filming for another company to promote our own brand.
Plus, while I was confident in my skillset, I still knew that I’d have to do things I’ve never done before such as mic’ing up the groom and officiant, working with a photographer, and figuring out where to setup two cameras completely on my own. Trial by fire sort of thing!
Somehow, I didn’t completely choke. And the six contracted hours flew by. I found myself packing up my equipment and getting ready to leave before I knew it.
Being so eager to return home to tell Dany all about it, I actually left one of my audio recorders at the venue plugged into the DJ’s system. I had already driven for 20 minutes, so thank God I remembered it at all. Otherwise I’d have been screwed and probably wouldn’t have ever gotten it back!
Dany of course loved hearing every detail once I got back home. But I was crushed to find out the dog we were watching had been difficult and misbehaving the whole time I was gone.
I told her, “Maybe we’ll just watch Benny since we’re making good money now. How cool would it be to take on fewer pet sitting clients?”
She agreed it would be super cool, and also a necessity to start watching fewer dogs so she could film weddings too. Besides, we already had a couple more weddings scheduled in September for the volume company.
The volume company hadn’t even reviewed our footage, and they wanted us to film more weddings for them. Their lack of quality control seemed strange yet we didn’t object because it worked to our advantage.
A week after my first wedding, the bride texted me out of the blue. “Hey, did you leave after the ceremony?”
I was terrified. “What should I tell her?”
Daniella told me to not worry because the truth was that I’d been there and hadn’t left early. So I told her exactly that. And it was fine, for now.
As I began uploading all the footage from that first wedding to Google Drive, we started to wonder what would happen if this footage got lost or damaged before someone edited it. That bothered us a lot, but it wasn’t our place to figure it out. We were just supposed to shoot the wedding and upload the footage for someone else to edit it, period.
However, it did get us eager to film a wedding completely on our own so we could edit it too. Full creative control from start to finish. So back to Craigslist we went.
We saw a post for a $300 opportunity for an October wedding. I emailed. It took two agonizing weeks to hear anything back, but finally we did. And they wanted to work with us!
Our endorphins surged, and we responded as soon as we could. We couldn’t stop thinking about how much we wanted to impress our first real couple.
So we offered them a “Love Story Film,” where we’d ask them questions about how they fell in love. They were receptive to this idea, and we scheduled it for two weeks before the wedding. Finally we could say we had booked OUR OWN CLIENT!
Just when it felt like we were gathering serious momentum, and had filmed almost ten weddings in a two month span for the volume brand, I got an unexpected call from New Hampshire.
I answered the phone.
“May I speak with Abraham?” the young woman said. But it didn’t sound like a familiar voice. It was someone new.
“Yes, this is Abraham.” I responded. “How can I help you?”
She informed me that their editor was missing all the footage from the first wedding I ever filmed back in August. And that she’d need me to upload it ASAP.
“I’m sorry, what?” This rubbed me the wrong way. “You’re telling me you lost a bride’s footage? And you’re saying it never got uploaded?”
“That’s the thing,” she said, “It seems like you never uploaded it.”
From there we went back and forth. She insisted they didn’t have any footage, and I insisted I had uploaded everything months ago to their Google Drive. So my job was done at this point…
When it became clear that I really couldn’t help her, she asked me if it’d be okay to have her boss call me to try to figure something out. I told her sure.
I turned to Daniella, “Can you believe these people? Trying to blame us for their mistake months after the fact?”
Shortly thereafter my phone rang again and it was the owner of the company. Immediately he was accusing me of not doing my job to upload the footage.
I would not tolerate being accused of any such thing, so I told him they made a mistake on their end and it wasn’t my fault. He didn’t like that and even started swearing at me.
“I’m sorry but I think you should take a lunch break,” I said. “Call me back when you’re not so angry.” I hung up the phone. He never called back.
We eventually decided to begin editing a short little teaser video for the bride so she would at least have something to remember her wedding by.
We sent it to her and she LOVED it. She was so pleased she said she’d refer us to her family and friends. Our wins were starting to add up.
By this time, we had filmed our first official independent wedding for the couple we found on Craigslist. Plus, their “Love Story Film” was a huge hit online, and they ended up being beyond grateful we offered it to them.
During the filming of the “Love Story” we got to meet their dogs and brought them some donuts from Union Square Donuts since we knew they were going to be having donuts instead of a wedding cake.
Although their actual wedding day presented its own challenges, like poor venue lighting (this was waaay before we started using our own video lights), we nonetheless produced a great and memorable film for our first ever cinematic highlight film.
The editing was admittedly tricky, but the first time you do anything, it takes a while to figure out, right?
We were able to release it on Facebook just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. The organic response by the couple and their family and friends was impressive. People really enjoyed it, and that pure enjoyment and positive reaction became massively addicting.
All we could think about was the next time we’d be able to film a wedding for our own company… The only problem was: how much do we charge and how do we build a website to show our work so we can actually book another wedding?
Up till then, we’d been using Squarespace to host a completely haggard, poorly executed website under a company name I’d rather not repeat. Let’s just say our first ever “company name” sounded like a joke.
And the website for this jokey-sounding “company” ironically was mostly comprised of my personal photography from our pet sitting adventures, and cityscape photos of Boston. There was barely any video on there to speak of — yet we were attempting to sell wedding videos.
Looking back, it’s equal parts embarrassing and amusing!
Frankly, if it weren’t for the GREAT review our first official couple submitted, which was unexpectedly lengthy and loving, we probably wouldn’t have felt the need to make some hard decisions.
That amazing review pushed us to realize that we now needed to stop treating all this as a hobby. We needed to go all in on it. We had brought value to the industry, so a new professional website would need to reflect that.
But two whole months elapsed. Two months of not knowing what to call the new company. And letting that slow our progress.
Finally, one night we were laughing at some silly name choices, a word jumped into my mind: Jubilation. We were jubilant and enjoying each other in the moment, so why wouldn’t the couples we wanted to work with be the same way?
I spoke up: “Wait, Dany, what do you think of Cinema Jubilee?”
Her eyes grew wide, “I LOVE that, it sounds so good!”
And from that night on, the next two weeks were all about finishing up our website. While we still wanted to use Squarespace, we promised each other that we wouldn’t alter the template too much for the new site.
“It’s made that way for a reason, the template is effectively designed,” Daniella said. “We better not mess with it like we did with our old site unless we want the same problems.”
Two weeks later, a website was built out that didn’t seem like it belonged to us. In fact, it looked so sleek and clean and improved that when we announced to our social media channels what we’d been up to, our family finally started to recognize our progress and take us seriously.
Daniella’s dad told her on the phone that it was impressive and professional. Her sister and mom also complimented our work. My mom was proud of us too. My dad even acknowledged it seemed better than our last attempt…
But the hardest part of the journey was yet to occur.
By this time, we’d been living in our apartment for two years. Our lease would end in February 2017, and we decided six months ago to not stay in Boston.
Why? Because we were tired of city living, and I personally was ready to move away from home. I needed to experience something different than what I’d grown up with.
It didn’t go over my head how risky it seemed to my family. That is, the risk of moving to an unknown state, with no friends or family there, especially after we’d just started making a name for our wedding company in New England.
But I had faith in God and His ability to give us discernment. He always has.
So we packed up all our stuff, a few weeks after launching our new website, and we hit the road. No matter what, we were fully committed to our vision. And we felt confident that we would make it all come alive down in Georgia.
Besides, it wasn’t like we hadn’t leveraged social media to already begin making connections in Georgia. We sent out emails to vendors like crazy to announce we were new to the industry and moving there soon.
It allowed us to connect with a venue in West Georgia, which had recently just launched too. They were hosting a wedding expo in April, so we decided to signup. How else would we get leads anyway, especially if we were starting from nothing?
Sure enough, we made good connections with the venue owners and others in attendance. A couple weeks after the expo, a bride wanted to book us. WOOT WOOT!!
Related Read: Our First Month in Georgia
Our first real business through Cinema Jubilee brought us $2000. So within six months, we’d gone from $300 Craigslist weddings to $2000 weddings under our own brand.
“This is awesome! I wonder who will be our next client.” I remember telling Daniella in the parking lot of Anytime Fitness, our gym at the time.
Over two years later, we’re happy to say we’ve served many more happy couples AND we’ve even relaunched our best website yet using Showit. We’ve got numerous wedding vendor friends now who have graciously referred us more than we can count.
We are constantly told when we meet new photographers or planners, “I think I’ve seen you guys before.” We typically look at each other and wonder how they would have seen us before if we’ve never seen them!
And it’s probably because of how often someone mentions us for referrals in the local Facebook groups. We’re so blessed to have gotten to this point, not just because of what Cinema Jubilee has become known for online, but because of the lives we get to impact in real life through our work and creativity.
We truly believe every couple deserves to have their memories celebrated forever. Flowers will wilt, the cake will be eaten, you will grow old together.
In the end, all that’s left are the sights and sounds of a wedding film for generations to enjoy and relive too. Shouldn’t everyone get to have that?
In fact, we are so dedicated to couples, we are proud to say we will help you find someone to film your wedding if we can’t be the ones to do it!
Having said all that, our time in Georgia wasn’t always smooth sailing.
We ran into several issues when it came to doing free video work for other vendors, or discounting our pricing in order to secure deals just to be able to generate short-term cash flow. And yes, we’re still paying off that Amazon credit card we used to get the equipment I mentioned earlier…
But perhaps the biggest obstacle of all was around Daniella’s 25 birthday, when she was diagnosed with disc degenerative disease after she could barely get out of bed for weeks. This physically limits the number of weddings we can reasonably take on in a year. But it does not limit the impact we still have on the people we serve with our filmmaking gifts.
Again, we know God’s goodness and believe in His perfect will over our lives.
As part of that, the harder we have fought to build up Cinema Jubilee, the more we see how so much of our accomplishments simply bring us closer to Him and His ultimate vision for the future. A future that goes beyond ourselves and our desires and our needs alone.
God wants to use us for things and on behalf of people we cannot yet comprehend or foresee.
For example, we used to think we had to make the story or the films wouldn’t be good enough. Truthfully? The story is already waiting to unfold. And it unfolds in its own glorious and special way, at its own pace. And the story is always different for each couple.
And we’re different each time we film a wedding.
Our constantly changing worldview, the lens through which we perceive reality, not just the lens on our camera, allows us to capture the story uniquely each time. We’re unobtrusive because we don’t have to be.
This leads to pure magic and an always contemporary final product.
And as time has gone on, we see the importance of flexibility too.
Openness to the unpredictable and uncontrollable things, which are inevitable on a wedding day. After all, you cannot have a real story when you try to control every element, right?
The same goes for the vision of our business. Throughout 2018, we filmed various promotional films for other wedding industry business owners.
We also ventured outside the wedding industry to serve other kinds of businesses with our commercial filmmaking too. But as time went on, we felt that we couldn’t keep serving both types of clients sufficiently, if it was all under the same brand, or the same house, so to speak…
So at the end of August of this year, we split up — and launched a second brand called Kalaoun Media. (Did I get you there?)
The approach we take with Kalaoun Media is to help scale businesses by leveraging powerful video assets. For maximum impact and authentic connection, strategic video is the key in an increasingly online reality.
The more business owners we help, the more we can help change the world. Because ultimately, it’s the world’s business owners who are innovating day in and day out. We serve them, so they can serve more people too.
As I wrap up this lengthy blog, I will add this: from the get-go, our focus was always to treat couples as we would want to be treated.
Before we ever had a single wedding under our belt, we wanted to film weddings because we believed in the power of love. We saw how no other medium comes as close as film does to encapsulating that raw power. We still feel this way.
And now that we’re an engaged couple, our duty to the power of love and film as the purest expression of it, is stronger than ever.
With everything going on, running two distinct brands and serving two distinct types of clientele, it can be tricky for us to just sit back and enjoy each other. We honestly sometimes have to set time aside in our calendars to be able to “have fun” without feeling guilty, like we’re not stealing time from our businesses…
With that said, can I be real with you? We ALL live such hectic lives!
So our ultimate goal when serving Cinema Jubilee couples is to knock their socks off immediately so they can book confidently, and so they can get back to enjoying each other during this precious season of their engagement.
It’s what I would want at least!
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