MEXICO — Chainsaw-carving artists John Antonuk and Adam Mulholland were brought in by the Friends of Mexico Point Park to carve a life-size likeness of William Casey, founder of the cottage that bears his name at the park. Austin DeMott, of Oswego, was brought in to film that creation.
“I started when I was about 14,” he recalled in a recent interview. “I just made little home videos of me fooling around in the backyard. I think at the time, my parents had a Mac, which had iMovie. So, I remember, I would bring the clips in, and I would find music, I think from iTunes, and I would just mess around. I did that for a while. I was really into it, and then I sort of forgot about it for a long time. And it wasn’t until about 2017 that I got back into it. About three years back, I started to get into traveling, and that’s when I bought my first camera. So, I took a trip to Costa Rica, and I was taking pictures and videos, and then, again, I went back to iMovie. It started to come back to me. So, I started to make little travel videos, and then from there it was videos for friends and family, literally anything, somebody’s car, weddings, music videos.
“A lot of it was free work at first. Someone was like, ‘Hey, I need a video of my wedding.’ So, I did that for free. Or, somebody needed a video of their car; they’d throw me 50 bucks. And then, I would slowly start to share the work on social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram. And then, over time, it just built traction. So, I started to have people hire me, really well-paying stuff, and I did that for maybe a year-and-a-half to two, and then I started to slowly upgrade equipment, and I would charge a little bit more, and I would say, after about a year-and-a-half, I started to do that pretty much full-time, mixed in with photography as well. Then, I just decided it was what I wanted to do for a living and basically just invested all my resources into it. And now, I’m doing it full-time, basically just commercial work.”
He didn’t study any of this in school. “I went to Clarkson, and I studied engineering and management, and I worked as an engineer in Rochester for two years, and I was doing the video thing on the side,” he said.
And then, he gave up engineering for videography. “Yeah,” DeMott said, “I just became obsessed with it. I absolutely loved it. It’s an art, it’s technical, it’s skillful, it’s many things. But, you’re telling a story, you know, and there’s so much power in that. If someone tells me it was an engaging story, they didn’t fall asleep, that’s a win.
“The person who hired me (for the chainsaw video) was Karen Ringwald. She reached out to me. She’s part of the Art Association in Oswego. So, I’m working on a short project with them, doing a short commercial. She knew that I did videos and that I was local, so, she just reached out and asked if I’d be interested to put something together. She told me about the project. Then, I’d just been starting to get back to work, so, I was, ‘Yeah, that sounds great.’ Then, I ended up calling John (Antonuk, chainsaw artist), and I asked what it would look like for him. You know, if I was going to get up close and get shots of everything, he was like, ‘No problem at all.’ So then, I told Karen, ‘Yeah, sounds like a good opportunity. I’m definitely down for it.’ And then we made it happen.
“I didn’t really know much about William Casey,” DeMott continued. “So, when I was speaking to Karen, speaking to the client, they didn’t really put much emphasis on the character himself, they really were more interested in the process itself of the actual woodcarving. So, I didn’t really see that there was a huge focus on who he was. It was more about these chainsaw artists. So, that’s what I kind of gathered from these conversations with the client, and I researched John Antonuk’s, website. I went through it and looked at some of the things he was carving. I watched some of his videos. That’s where I got the idea of the time-lapse. That was part of the research process. And then, I just called him up and asked him ‘What does the process look like? What tools are you going to be using?’ And then I had some ideas of getting the chainsaws kind of worked on, those shots I thought would be interesting, and then the rest I just finally got in the moment of being there.”
Those opening shots, very close up, make for a beautiful and rather peaceful opening that draw you into a film that’s anything but. We’re talking chainsaws here, loud chainsaws, sawdust flying, huge pieces of maple cut off in chunks. But that opening is beautiful all the same, telling a more intimate story of the care that goes into what most would think of as a rather rough sort of sculpture.
“The detail shots,” DeMott explained, “I think I learned a lot of that while shooting weddings. When I was shooting weddings, I would realize there was the main story, the bride and the groom, but there are all these sub-stories, someone putting together the bouquet of flowers, or the groom putting his tie on, the bride putting on the dress for the first time. So, I just learned from shooting longer events at the weddings that you have a main story, but within that there’s all these little sub-stories. And when you can tie it all together, it just really captures people, and it’s just something I’ve learned from a lot of experience. It’s definitely a lot of work, for sure.
“I would say 80% of what I do is video and 20% of the time I’m doing photography. Photography, I just love it, but it’s just so different, because video is a lot of work, and you’ve really just got to be a master of many different parts of the storytelling. And the visuals are important, but on top of that, the audio and the sound, that’s a whole thing, music choice, the lighting, and then the movement, the transitions between clips, so, it’s a lot sometimes.” The music can mean everything to a video. DeMott knows that and took great care and preparation in a music choice that would fit the story he was telling.
“When I heard the first rev (of the chainsaws),” he said, “I was like, it’s got to be rock. It had to be something hard. I experimented with some other tracks, and one of the questions I had asked both of them, ‘What kind of music do you listen to while you’re carving?’ I noticed they were always having the headphones in, and while on one end, it’s protecting their ears, I noticed they were listening to stuff. They both said, rock ‘n roll, classic rock, AC/DC, hard-core stuff, so, I’m like, I’ve got to use something that fits that. That’s what they’re actually listening to.”
The whole thing just works. It’s a story well-told in sound and visuals, that comes with years of intense study and experience. But DeMotts says it comes with one more influence: his father.
“I can’t take too much credit,” DeMott said. “My dad’s an artist. I grew up watching him. We used to watch movies together a lot. So, I do feel it does come naturally to me, but a lot of it was me looking up to my dad, and I think that was super-powerful for me.”
That influence may extend into Austin’s future, taking him further in his father’s direction.
Lately, Austin’s thought of going into teaching. “I have recently,” he said. “I’ve been sharing more of my work online, and I’ve noticed there are a lot of younger people getting into filmmaking that remind me of myself not too long ago, that have a million questions. So, I’ve been finding a lot of joy in responding to questions online where people ask me different techniques I’ve used, equipment I’m using, things like that. So, whether it’s teaching online through making music videos or creating online courses or actually in a classroom physically, I definitely can see that down the road, again, circling back to my dad being a big influence.” Austin’s father, Bill DeMott is a professor in SUNY Oswego’s art department.
“Seeing him as a teacher and an artist,” Austin said, “yeah, I can really see it. I wouldn’t be surprised that that’s what I’m going to do.”
Right now though, he has other work and is further refining what direction he wants to pursue.
“My main projects are with Oswego County Tourism,” he said. “I do a lot of projects for them. Obviously with the pandemic a lot of that has been shut down, so, I’ve been doing a lot of photography sessions lately and slowly getting back to doing the commercial video. I also do a lot of work with the nuclear plant, marketing videos, stuff like that. I want to be doing more short commercials for local businesses. We’ll see where that goes as things start to open up. No one’s trying to advertise too heavily at the moment. What’s been nice about this time off is I’ve been able to do these really fun projects like, for example, with William Casey. That was awesome. And then, just making fun stuff with friends and family. But, I want to be able to serve the local businesses with that storytelling skill, short videos to help people talk about their business, whether it’s a restaurant or a jewelry store, a gym, whatever it is. I’ve really kind of veered away from live events. With William Casey, it was an exception, because I thought it sounded like such an awesome thing to film, but I’m really starting to prefer filming in controlled environments. (With William Casey), I had a really strong feeling going into it that it was going to be just fascinating, the whole thing. And, I knew there’d be a lot of sounds, textures, things flying around, different colors, so, I already knew going in this was going to be really cool to look at. And what I’ve learned through filmmaking is, a lot of times, if you simply add a voice-over or a short interview, it’s the difference that makes the difference. Having the visuals is fantastic, but to have context in terms of who you’re shooting explaining something, it really goes a long way. So, that is something I always try to incorporate. Some people are camera shy; they don’t want any part of it. But I had asked them ahead of time. Before the shoot I said ‘Would you be OK with a short interview. I’d love to just ask you a few questions,’ and see if I could pull some good audio out of that, overlay it with everything else. So, if people don’t want to talk, then you just show all the cool slow-motion stuff, but actually sometimes that can get a little bit boring, so it’s nice to have a little balance.”
And that’s the thing, the thing that some say only comes after 10,000 hours of experience. The balance, the knowing when enough’s enough, and the technical mastery to create it. DeMott has achieved that. He’s there now. You can see some of his work on his Instagram site, @reel.inspired and more of his videos at his almost-finished, new website www.reel-inspired.com. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
The video of the chainsaw carving of William Casey, almost seven minutes long, is well-worth watching. You can find it on DeMott’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9G06auINA4.
DeMott had one last insight in this interview to which anyone who’s created anything in collaboration with others has felt and can attest to. It’s that something special about the creative process.
“I’ll just say this,” DeMott said in closing, “it is always a pleasure as an artist to work with other artists. Other work is different. I can do it, and I do, to the best of my ability. But, when I’m working with other artists like John and Adam, there’s just sort of this, I don’t know, this creative energy that everybody sort of feels between each other. It’s just sort of magical.”