Exploring the Filmmaking Process:
Interview with Emmy Award-Winning Evolve IMG's Joel Edwards

Evolve Digital Cinema | IMG is a full service boutique creative production agency based in Chicago, that produces digital film, TV, HD Video, Photography and Graphic Design. Their mission : "...to create the best visual media within our power & to always learn, grow and continue to evolve ourselves and our work."

Upon hearing the news of Evolve's Emmy Award-winning campaign for National Geographic's New Explorers, I was not only drawn into this exceptional promo work, but compelled to view more of their past work through their Vimeo page. As visual storytellers, the team at Evolve Digital Cinema | IMG incorporates powerful imagery and exceptional camera work in every film project. From high-energy TV spots, to emotionally-charged documentaries, Evolve's work is simply stunning.

As I am continuously in awe of the work of modern filmmakers, I wanted to find out more about what goes into the process from a veteran in the field. I recently had that chance, speaking with Joel Edwards, co-founder and Director of Production for Evolve Digital Cinema | IMG.


Congratulations on your Emmy win for the Nat Geo Explorers campaign! It's one of the most visually stunning promotional pieces I've ever seen. I understand you had a tight five-week schedule for this project. How did you approach this particular project? Did you have a good idea of what you wanted to convey from the start? 

Thank you very much! Yes - it was a shoot straight to edit. The main concepts were decided upon in pre-pro... but there were several turns that happened in the field. But yes, at the end of the day the plan was always: "these guys are young, cool and are modern day explorers." Showing that in a cool way was the challenge... and I think we met it.

What is Evolve's workflow like? What goes into planning the shots? What tools are used and how much time is spent in post production?

We do endless amounts of discussing, and then it goes into treatments & boards, draft scripts etc. Once things are decided upon from there it can really defer per project for us. We always let the creative and budget dictate the equipment to be used. In post we were originally FCP7 based, but have been rapidly moving to Premiere Pro CS6. We're big on AE, mocha Pro, Davinci, 3ds Max and Red Giant & Sapphire suites are great too! 

As you are Director of Production for Evolve, what does your position entail specifically?

I'm kinda the general enthusiast at large. I'm really involved at every level and take lead on most of our big jobs as Director / DP / Editor. 

How many people make up Evolve? How are jobs distributed among the team? Is there alot of crossover (sharing of duties)?

I founded Evolve with my brother Jesse and long time friend & mentor Bill Roach. We've a small group of full timers and then a host of close trusted freelancers that we hire on as needed.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get interested in filmmaking? Also, what kind of films inspire you? 

I got into TV production very early, doing a bunch of live sports production. It was def a great trial by fire and I learned a lot - but more importantly, met a lot of people that helped me out. I've always had a passion for cinematic experiences and imaging. I love music, photography and graphic design as well - so it's really cool to work in a field that mixes all of these together. I'm really inspired by everything. I see beauty and emotional connections everywhere I look and in everything I see. 

As Evolve has been shooting at locations all over the globe, and in some really difficult areas, like the Valley of the Moon, for the NatGeo campaign. What other locations has Evolve met with difficulties? What's been the most grueling project?

That's a loaded question. We've been all over and shot in more difficult situations than I can remember. Scariest all time was doing undercover shooting at a Nigerian brothel in Cape Town. We shot in a desert in Chile that took 3 hours to get in and out of... it was pitch black and if you made one wrong turn at night you'd be gone forever. We did an hour long interview in India in a room that had all kinds of human waste all over the place. One time we had to hike 1.5 hours across the Dolomites in Italy to hang off a small ledge to shoot (I have no idea how high we were up, but it was nuts). On one of our Alaska trips we put the car in the ditch 20+ times.

The list goes on... you just gotta roll with the punches and smile in these situations.

How and when did Evolve start? How has Evolve 'evolved' over the years?

We formed the name in 2007, but I consider our start date 2003. That's when I first fell in love with filmmaking. We've changed in every way: scope of work, profile of job... and our skill set has dramatically improved. 

What would you say have been some of the best highlights of Evolve's work? 

The NatGeo Explorer campaign is on the top. We also did some cool short feature docs for ESPN that I'm proud of: Mumbai Golf, The Promise, & Corrective Rape.

What do you do generally in preparation for a project? Where does the creative process really begin for Evolve? 

A one page treatment of what the story / product / message is. From there, we go to visual refferences and then really start digging in. Boards, etc...

Is there anything in the works that you might be able to share with us? Anything we should be on the lookout for? 

Yes! We're currently in post for a new campaign for Wicked Tuna (a show on NatGeo) those promos will be hitting the air on Jan 7th.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started?  What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers? 

1st) I'm as much of a camera junkie, nerd bombing, technology loving dude as the next guy, but I think people get WAY too wrapped up in cameras & equipment. My advice: never let your camera or tech workflow be the first thing on your mind when filmmaking.

2nd) Collaboration. Don't try to be a one man band. Don't think that only your ideas are the only good ideas. Find and trust in other talented people to collaborate and work with.

Thank you, Joel, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions. I really love your work and look forward to seeing your future projects!

Thanks also to Kevin Bourke of Bourke PR for making the interview possible.

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Nick C. Sorbin is a digital artist, sculptor, writer, and Managing Editor for Renderosity's CG Industry News. With a keen interest in motion graphics, Nick's weekly Motion Corner column highlights the tools and techniques in this vast area, as well as spotlighting current motion designers and software developers.
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