By Jesse Drake
Kenny Larson's interest in filmmaking began with a low-resolution black-and-white toy camcorder by Tyco. He was 8.
Fast-forward to 12, he and his buddies were making short skater movies that Larson joked were "mostly incoherent." The Hi8 camcorder experiments were primarily to practice editing. This was pre-smartphone, pre-YouTube and "probably for the best, honestly," he said.
But Larson, video production specialist in UIT's Teaching & Learning Technologies, kept at it, buckling down in high school. It dawned on him that filmmaking might be more than a whim - it actually might materialize into a career.
It all came into focus at Spy Hop, a non-profit program that helps Salt Lake City youths find their voices through digital media arts. Larson enrolled in PitchNic, a year-long film class all about the art of pitching compelling stories. Students were divvied up into small groups and tasked with pitching either a 20-minute narrative film or documentary. Concepts were fleshed out and investments secured, then brought before a panel of professional filmmakers. Once green-lighted, shooting required the fledgling filmmakers to fall into roles, such as producer, actor, and cinematographer. Larson was always director.
"PitchNic was my first experience in a really structured film environment where everybody has a role," Larson said. "I made a lot of connections there, and it was really hands on."
Around this time, Larson got his hands on a RED camera. The digital camera captured 4K resolution images in a format that was smaller, more portable, and more affordable than its film counterparts. It was a game-changer.
"It was the first camera that really transitioned into digital cinema as a professional kind of thing. Up to then it had been just film," he said. "In 2007, it was a great way to make really good-looking movies for cheap, and we were one of the first groups who got to use it."
Larson enrolled at the University of Utah, graduating in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in Film and Media Arts. As a student, he worked part time as a camera operator, transitioning into a full-time job upon graduation. When UOnline course development videos started to boom around 2015, TLT's Video Services Team looked to Larson to film and edit instructional modules as part of online course development.
"I'm kind of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to films," he said.
One of Larson's side film projects was "Balius," the heart-wrenching story of a father and son grappling with the decision to put down a sick horse, loosely tied to the Greek myth "Balius and Xanthus" about two immortal horses. Originally conceived as a scene in a feature-length film, Larson pared it down to make it a more contained story.
The film has appeared in several film festivals – the Utah Arts Festival, the LDS Film Festival, and the Dam Short Film Festival in Las Vegas – where Larson was rewarded by the emotional reaction it evoked in the audience.
Shooting a film can be more grueling than glamorous. It's expensive and often frustrating: "committing to 12- or 13-hour days, one from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the next, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and a lot of travel," he said. It's a life in which the filmmaker is expected to be "business man, technician, artist and even lawyer."
His last major project was trying to capitalize on the scenery in southern Utah, working off an idea he had two-thirds written, yet he couldn't pinpoint the final act.
While technically on hiatus, film-related work for Larson has been constant, whether helping out as a grip or setting up lights for filmmaker friends. Also, ideas for a new piece have started to percolate, something outside his comfort zone – a comic-horror film, a bit of a parody of the cliché-riddled genre.
"After taking a little time to recalibrate, I’ve started to get the itch to get back into it," he said.
Filmmaking is no longer something Larson intends to make a career of, but he doesn't want to let it go.
It goes back to that toy camera and a fascination with puzzles.
"I've always loved putting things together," he said. "It's a satisfying thing for me when something that's jumbled and not totally locked down comes together at the end."
In addition, Larson enjoys film photography. Check out his Flickr site.