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Meet Shawn Harris of Lazy Park Entertainment in Southeast

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shawn Harris.

Shawn, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
A few roads led me to where I am today. I didn’t really know this at the time, but in looking back, I can see how I was cluelessly manifesting my future. Growing up, I would watch Siskel and Ebert’s “At the Movies” TV show like it was the ratings equivalent of “Game of Thrones” or a viral sensation like “Love is Blind”. I diligently noted the films that received two thumbs up and added a few to the list that were thumbs down just because I liked something shown in the clip they reviewed. There was a small part of me that also wanted to see if the film was really as bad as Siskel and Ebert’s reviews. I would go to theaters for the films I saw reviewed on their show. Of course, the blockbusters would be everywhere, but for independent films I sometimes had to search for them. I would take my allowance and ask my mom to drop me off at the theatre, usually on Sundays around matinee time, and I’d sit back and enjoy the shows for several hours. Many times, those indie theaters would be as empty as the balcony from which Siskel and Ebert reported. Yet, independent films captured me with their powerful and thought-provoking storytelling.

When I wasn’t going to the theatre, I spent many Friday evenings at Blockbuster Video. With my Siskel and Ebert approved list in hand, I was ready to load up on VHS tapes. Those were the days!

Because I had no real exposure to filmmaking, I never had thoughts about actually making films. I only knew that I did not want to be an actress. I recall a school project where we formed groups and each created a video around the topic of teen pregnancy. My group’s video made it into a district-wide competition but didn’t win. I was one of the actresses, and I was getting no award for that performance. Other small things came along sporadically over the years, and I always considered them to be fun, but never a career option.

In high school, I became a photography hobbyist. I’ve always loved learning, so with photography I was determined to learn all that I could. I would take my camera with me everywhere and ask everyone to pose for pictures. From in-person courses to books, to practice practice and more practice, I eventually learned the art of composition and many other photography techniques as I graduated to better cameras and lenses. I was again cluelessly preparing myself for where I am today.

Around the time I was becoming a photography hobbyist with my first 110 drug store camera, my grandfather purchased a gigantic video camera. I believe it was a Panasonic. If he could make the event, he would record anything and everything. Sometimes, he enlisted us to help him record. I was recruited one morning to videotape the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday parade. He gave me an uber-quick tutorial on the camera, some direction on how to shoot, and off I went. Did I mention the camera was gigantic? I would soon discover how heavy it was. But I was undeterred. I had a mission from my Papa, and I was going to complete my mission. So, I hopped on concrete walls for height advantage and captured marching bands playing and city officials waving to the crowd. It was exhilarating! I felt like I was part of the media and my footage would spectacularly show my grandfather the story of what happened. Suddenly, I understood why my grandfather loved that video camera. I didn’t realize it, but a seed had been planted.

Upon graduating from undergrad, I took the traditional route of corporate jobs. It wasn’t until 2014 that I consciously sought to transition into filmmaking. Leading up to this decision, I had joined Women in Film and Television-Houston in 2005. I still don’t know why I joined, but I had grown increasingly interested in documentary filmmaking and wanted to know more about the industry. Two years later, in 2007, I enrolled in a Rice University continuing ed course on documentary filmmaking. I was a distraction from writing my graduate thesis. A positive side effect was enjoying the filmmaking process. Moving on down the road, I created several short entertainment videos for corporate events and groups around town, many of which I proudly shot using my FlipVideo—my first official video camera. Like the FlipVideo, my husband also gifted me with my first prosumer camera and the message that “if I was going to go all in, then I should go all in.” With his unwavering support, I did just that.

After a family documentary in 2015 and a narrative short film in 2017, I embraced my eventual move into filmmaking. Today, I am a sum of these experiences. In 2018, I formed Lazy Park Entertainment, LLC to fulfill my creative vision, which is to fill your “lazy day” with entertaining stories birthed from personal truths. With several projects in development, I aim to tell stories of cultures and humanity that shape our societies and our communities. I also endeavor to help small to mid-sized businesses and nonprofits promote their brands and fundraise through clever video projects. In performing Lazy Park’s services, I hold as few as one or as many as six titles—producer, director, production manager, writer, director of photography, and editor. Such is the nature of independent film and video production.

In 2019, I launched the Zeal Reel Micro Short Film Competition and gave independent filmmakers an opportunity to not only submit their work for festival laurels but to earn a cash prize that would support them in their work. The competition is designed to test the limits of creativity by defining micro-short as a one minute or under film. We received some fantastic submissions worthy to be screened. We’re currently planning for our second competition and open submission period; however, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to rethink and postpone some plans.

However, I am not resting during this time of social distancing and self-isolation. I am continuing to develop new business verticals and services for existing and future clients. Several of them will be rolled out by fall.

I now serve on the board of directors for Women in Film and Television-Houston, where I use my brand of leadership to propel the Houston film community and, in particular, women’s advancement in the local moving image industry. Outside of films, I love to spend time with my husband, travel, and flip houses.

Has it been a smooth road?
While obstacles and challenges are always present, here are two I had to deal with in the beginning.

Delegation and Client Education

In the beginning, I was trying to do everything by myself. I call it being on my island. I always wanted to have more people on my island, but I had also conditioned myself into being my own silo. In my previous career, analyzing and problem-solving was a solo act until it was time to present findings and have open discussion. When I moved into entrepreneurship, I didn’t form a professional team. I was buying and learning how to use software and equipment. I was reading books and attending workshops. I was doing all of these things because I thought I had to know everything to do the work. And to really know everything, I had to put what I’d learned into practice. This practice became a significant bottleneck in my process. I had to be faster and more agile to grow. So, I had to invite others to my island and delegate certain tasks.

After a few video productions, I discovered I needed to take a step back in the pre-production phase to educate my clients and set expectations. My clients knew they wanted a video, but they had no appreciation for the process and resources that go into making a video. I would often hear how they had no idea how long an interview setup would take or how much story and script development needed to be done during pre-production. Editing and other post-production tasks were met with disbelief at the costs and amount of time required to deliver to them the best product. In taking the time to educate my clients, especially first-timers, and prepare them for what is to come, I am able to avoid unnecessary issues.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Lazy Park Entertainment story. Tell us more about the business.
Lazy Park Entertainment is a film and video production company in Houston, Texas. We provide both products and services within the moving image industry, serving clients locally and nationally. For our video production services, we operate under the motto, “Our video services promote brand YOU!” When it comes to filmmaking, we believe everyone has a personal story that connects universally. Producing both narrative and documentary films, we aim to offer thought-provoking, entertaining art with a sprinkle of activism and social examination.

I want our films and videos to tell stories that help, inspire, and educate people on cultures and practices different from their own. And, we’re named Lazy Park because in your hectic, over-worked, vacation-deprived professional and social lives, we want you to release the guilt, relax and embrace a lazy day enjoying films and videos.

In addition to producing our own projects, we offer production services to our film clients in the form of production management, production coordination, mood boards, and script breakdowns.

Our video services include B2B short-form promotional videos for small and mid-sized businesses and non-profits, talent reels for actors, real estate video tours, and creative samples for high-school students applying to creative programs at colleges and universities.

I’ll soon be adding aerial drone services. And again, I launched the Zeal Reel Micro Short Film Competition in 2019 to support independent filmmakers.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The film and video industry have gone through a lot of change over the past few years. We’ve seen a rapid rise in streaming, resulting in multiple revenue streams available to independent filmmakers. These streaming and on-demand platforms provide independent filmmakers with opportunities to share their projects with the world. We all know the power of social media to transform someone’s trajectory from unknown to viral sensation to influencer. Or, we’ve seen a company and its product go from mom-and-pop to celebrity favorite with a well-crafted and well-liked brand video. Many creatives dream of following the paths of Issa Rae or Lilly Singh, and that’s achievable. But, the work effort is the same if not more. Because of these advances in technology that allow filmmakers to have more exposure, they also allow for overcrowding in the space. We will have more quality content available with an increased chance of it being lost in the fray of lower quality content.

So, creatives must become innovators because content is everywhere. The quality of content can be debated based on where it is found. If we want our work, as an independent producer, to be found among the noise — we must first produce great work, then we must either become skilled at branding and marketing ourselves or have a marketing rock star on our team.

The digital revolution will continue as more TikToks emerge. With video surpassing 80 percent of consumer traffic online, many businesses will adopt the medium to convert passersby into customers. Whereas websites were once a must-have for businesses, a video is now the must-have.

I hope the shift to having more women lead and crew film projects is sustained. Ava DuVernay is a great champion of this practice with hiring all female directors on the production of “Queen Sugar”. Regina King has pledged, as best she can, to hire a 50% female crew. Women, in solidarity, will have and will create more opportunities to demonstrate our skills as filmmakers, and hopefully represent each facet of the industry. I’m always proud to work with strong female filmmakers at Lazy Park, and I’m always wanting to work with more.

Theories are already floating about regarding the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the industry. How the coronavirus will impact theaters, film releases, viewing films, film and TV sets, and a host of other activities is yet to be determined. In a post-coronavirus world, and with the increase in digital consumption, if people choose to spread out and spend more time isolated, video content will be consumed in greater quantities than we’re experiencing right now. Creatives may have to find their perfect niches and become recognized experts.

At Lazy Park Entertainment, we closely monitor trends and industry changes to position ourselves for growth. We’re also developing strategic partnerships with emerging streaming services that will allow us to expand our reach.

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