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Oregon Lens 2014 Filmmaker Profile: Zak Davis of Juliet Zulu

The Juliet Zulu production team

The Juliet Zulu production team

Courtesy of Juliet Zulu Creative Agency

Oregon Lens is celebrating its 16th year on OPB. The program takes the pulse of the Oregon independent film community, highlighting quality cinematic works from seasoned professionals to students. View broadcast schedule

The production team at Juliet Zulu, a Portland creative agency, has taken to unwinding from ad work by creating a series of pro bono films featuring members of the community. They’ve profiled beekeepers, tree workers and ex-military bike riders, among many others.

Each film is short — only two or three minutes — but carefully considers the work and philosophies of each person profiled. Together the films explore themes of perseverance and overcoming obstacles. “Wolf and the Bees,” “Caring for Giants” and “Ari’s Bike” are featured in this year’s Oregon Lens series.

Zak Davis, the creator of the agency’s pro bono series, tells us that these films are a way of reconnecting with the Portland-area community. The majority of Juliet Zulu’s income comes from ad work which often takes their business away from Portland and overseas. By creatively engaging with the community through these profile pieces, Juliet Zulu is able to return to its roots.

OPB spoke with Davis about the agency, the series of films, and the places and people that inspired them.

Q&A with Zak Davis

OPB: How did you become interested in filmmaking?

Zak Davis: This company was started because we had a group of people that had started making films a little bit more creatively, a little bit more narrative work. You know, just trying to have an outlet, I guess … And then filmmaking and the desire to do filmmaking sort of evolved into more commercial work, which on the one hand is really great because we get to pay our bills, and on the other side I think it’s really hard because of that art and commerce sort of rub. This company is 17 people, and of that 17, probably 14 had their start in film at various levels, from editors to producers to post people. So for us it was like filmmaking was kind of the heart of it.

OPB: What was your inspiration for this series of films?

ZD: Most of our work lately has been overseas. We do a lot of global campaigns and our main clients are on the East Coast and in Germany and some various other places, so we end up doing quite a bit of travel. And that was also part of this profile series. …We had felt a little detached from Portland, and we have a lot of native Oregonians here, myself included. … It’s not just your home, where you live, but this is my family, this is my heritage. … Anyway, those things, I think, are important to try to stay in touch with, and I think we were feeling like we were being pulled away from our roots in that way. And so it was like, how do we get back to that?

OPB: How did you find the people that you profiled in “Wolf and the Bees,” “Ari’s Bike” and “Caring for Giants”?

ZD: Pretty authentically. We had this motto, and it sounds kind of cheesy actually. It’s ‘stay brave,’ and we started saying it to ourselves because we’d walk into these meetings with clients and they’d be like boardrooms and everyone’s wearing a suit. It’s really terrifying, actually. And it was almost like us exploring this idea of ‘stay brave’ — what does that mean to us? So we were looking for people that were overcoming something.

We’re in the process of finishing the next one now, and it’s about this guy, Bim, who does rigsketball. It’s this basketball tournament with like, I think there’s 30 or 40 basketball teams, and they’re all bands in Portland, and they all play in this game. It’s really physical, but it’s actually this incredible community that he has formed. … But the thing that we’re going to try to focus on is the fact that, more than any of the big music things, this has developed so organically and so authentically and has created this huge community. … So that’s the kind of thing that we’re looking for.

So now it’s gotten to the point where people are starting to send in suggestions. So they’re saying, ‘Hey, you know, my friend does this,’ or, ‘My brother does this.’ These kinds of things are starting to happen, which is really helpful. And I think we’ll encourage that more.

OPB: What’s the story behind “Wolf and the Bees”?

ZD: So that was at Working Hands Farm in Scholls. … Working Hands Farm is a local CSA farm, and the owner of that is an old friend of mine. He said, ‘Man, we’ve got this wild guy.’ Now, funny story about Wolf is for a living he does two things: he keeps bees and produces honey, and then he is a scream vocal coach, so he’s a vocal teacher for screaming, like the scream bands. He teaches people how to do that without hurting their vocal chords — he has a degree in voice and music. So that was actually the thing that originally drew us to him. It was like, wow, you have to be so calm and organized to do this beekeeping, and then on the other side he’s just this wild man!

OPB: These films are documentary, and you do ads, but was there a genre of filmmaking that particularly appealed to you going into it?

ZD: The ultimate desire for a lot of people here would be to move into more narrative work, and I think, at the end of the day, it’s trying to participate in the larger conversation that has existed in film history. And I think a lot of people have that basis, whether it was film school or passion. In the end I think that we would love to see this group participate more in actual filmmaking.

Watch “Wolf and the Bees” on Thursday, August 28 at 10 p.m. and “Ari’s Bike” and “Caring for Giants” on Friday, August 29 at 10 pm. on OPB TV.

Juliet Zulu Oregon Lens