Advice from Cannes Festival Award-Winning Filmmaker to Radio/TV/Film Majors

Ryan types on a laptop at a work table in the office.

Today we speak with Ryan Geiger, who attended Rowan from 2004 to 2008. He was a Radio/TV/Film major and Advertising minor. He now owns his own media studio called Pinch located in North Jersey. Ryan also is an independent filmmaker and has won awards in several film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival 

What advice would you give to students about starting their own business? 

Pinch is going really well, but starting a business was so much harder than I thought it would be. When you start small, you wear all of the hats. It can make for a very stressful work environment. You have to juggle all of the balls all at once. If I had $1,000,000 in seed money, I would hire 100 people. You have to think about every single step because there is little room for mistakes.

I was a Creative Director for nine years, and after Bingley was bought out, I finally decided that I did not want to put my career in the hands of somebody else. I know this [field], and I know what I want to do. It just made sense at that moment, with the handful of clients I was trusted with, to start my own marketing studio. Earning those clients was the ultimate push to start building Pinch. Now, I’m making an animated logo for the Yankees and filming commercials for Roadwarez Backpacks, Natural Delights Medjool Dates and Vinglace Wine Chillers. I get to be a director every single day!

Ryan wears a tuxedo to the Cannes Film Festival.

I think like a storyteller, not a marketer that’s focused on the numbers and packing in as much information as possible. I want people to connect with the story we show the people they’re watching and the name of the brand. Part of this has to do with the fact that I am a perfectionist and my love for the craft of making compelling stories gets me up every morning.

Every single day I’m learning something new, whether it’s how to better interact with a client or finding the right conditions to film with a drone. In my last commercial, it happened to be raining that day and the street we wanted to film on had too many wires for flying a drone. I’m problem-solving every day. I really look forward to seeing Pinch continue to grow. I hope one day to make more industry connections and possibly pivot into producing a television show or an animation.

Ryan Geiger directing his independent film, Death By Scrabble.

How did you learn to be your own boss?

All of my bosses over the years have played a role in shaping the professional I am today. Also, knowing what I want to accomplish gives me drive. I want to feel proud at the end of the day, knowing that my clients are happy is what motivates me every day.

What was the most important lesson you learned after you graduated? 

When I was the Creative Director at an animation studio in Brooklyn, we were always recruiting local talent or talent that came from college. It was really important to me to onboard them correctly and prepare them for the real world. This means you’re making creative [meaning creative projects or materials] for clients. You’re not making your own personal little project. In any kind of art, you go from being told by professors to look deep within yourself and create wonderful art. When you start working in the real world, you’re making art for other people. You have to start thinking about that. It’s a hard thing to accept when you step right out of college. It’s really critical that we prepare our oncoming workforce to be ready for the challenges.

When Ryan graduated and became an art director for a magazine called Hometown Quarterly in Cranford, N.J., he made ads for local businesses. He remembers the creative director slashed through his designs because they were not geared for the client’s taste. He quickly learned how to adapt to this expectation in the creative industry. 

What advice would you give to a student today, especially a RTF major?

I could write a book about advice for RTF majors. I was a huge part of the RTF program. I was part of RTN and Rowan Radio. I really tried to take full advantage of everything while I was there. 

If you feel embarrassed to join RTN late, it doesn’t matter. Get in there and make friends. These people are going to be your peers in the future. These people are going to eventually find work. Make friends with everybody in the RTF network. Before you graduate get their email and contact information. Don’t just rely on Facebook. People get off Facebook or become married and change their names. Go around all to all the people that you admire and have done really great stuff. Say, ‘Hey, I want to stay in contact.’

Get behind a camera. Mess with a camera. Go shoot some birds. It doesn’t matter. Write a really short little movie. This is the time to take advantage of the fact that you have all of this free work at your disposal to make movies. Always be creating because you need to walk away with something to show for yourself. All I had was my resume. I thought it was a good one because it had NBC on it. I still had done nothing to show for it. I had no real website. It’s so crucial to showcase some of your work. Post your videos. 

Ryan attends the Cannes Film Festival photo op.

I wish I made more movies in college. I wish I’d kept in contact with a lot of my friends and not just watched what they did on Facebook. I wish I actively kept calling them and picking their brain about how they got out to L.A. Once you go five to 10 years without talking to them, it’s hard to build a relationship back up again. 

You have to think of yourself as your own little business. Even in college, you need to start building a repertoire of work. Nobody goes to art school, just takes a class and says, ‘I’ll start painting when I get my degree.’ You gotta have a gallery of work by the time you graduate.

There are so many options and roles for RTF majors. I was so pigeonholed and determined on directing films. There should be constant filmmaking on campus and pushing students to utilize the bubble that they’re in. You have talent all around you, friends who can help, and scriptwriters [from any background]. Once I graduated, no one could help me anymore with filmmaking.

At the same time, the film wasn’t like it is now with DSLRs and 4K cameras. You can grab your iPhone 12 and you can make a movie. It’s come such a long way since I graduated. You have to get on set and realize that it’s not just about directing. There are 1,000 roles on set.

Who do you hope to work with one day? 

I really hope to work with Apple, Pixar and Nickelodeon one day. I created a script for Nickelodeon in the past, but I’m holding onto it because I hope to line up the right stars and the right budget for this idea. From the film festival circuit, I learned festival judges have to be very selective because almost anybody can make a movie. When recognizable names are attached to a project, they often get more attention than projects without those names. Being a perfectionist, I want to have all of my ducks lined up, and it would be really great for Pinch to be able to financially host those big names one day.

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Story by:
Marian Suganob, senior public relations and advertising double major

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