Joel Edwards and his brother Jesse run Evolve Digital Cinema, a Nashville-based boutique creative production company founded in 2005. The brothers started their career with a Sony FX1 and editing in a one-bedroom apartment on Pelican cases. To date the team of creatives at Evolve have been nominated for 24 National Emmy Awards with 4 wins. In 2014, they decided to continue the growth of their production company by investing in the Leica Summicron-C lenses.
We interviewed Joel to ask him about his company, his unusual path into production, and his business and creative reasons for going with Leica cine lenses.
Seth Emmons: Evolve is a fairly young production company in Nashville. What was behind your decision to invest in lenses at this point, and particularly the Leica Summicron-C prime lenses?
Joel Edwards: The camera world is just out of control now. I think things have gotten so crazy that we might be tipping the other end of the scale of that revolution from a few years ago. If we are going to invest in tools we want to use them for at least a few years. This is one of the many reasons we got really serious about investing in quality optics. The thought was that we were shooting steadily enough to consider a purchase and owning quality lenses would bring a consistent high-end value to our clients and projects. I feel like at the end of the day glass is the most important tool in the kit.
There are a lot of lens options out there. How did you narrow it down?
We debated heavily over which way to go, because no matter what it’s still a lot of cash for two young fathers trying to make a living in America, ya know? So do we go primes, zooms, specialties? Should we get a few high-end lenses, or get a bunch of mid- to lower-end lenses? We wanted a premium quality, but we also knew that we needed to be able to put them to work on anything and or everything that we do.
We played with the Leica Summicron-C lenses and found they have amazing image quality for their size. They produce gorgeous images and they’re small. It’s been said many times before, but they’re like a cross breed of Cooke S4’s & ARRI Master Primes in a smaller, more versatile body.
For us versatility is a huge deal, from both the business and creative side, and that makes these lenses an incredible tool; any style, any setup, anywhere – they deliver elite images. The more places we can use them, the more they work.
Also, these new Leica’s have greater sensor coverage than most lenses. Even though we’re not shooting 6K Dragon everyday right now, the industry is going that route. So a big part of the investment for us was knowing that we’d be covered, pun intended, for years to come.
Evolve produces many different kinds of projects. What are some of the jobs you’ve used the Summicron-C lenses on?
Everything. Inside, outside, faces, places, commercials, documentaries, etc. That’s what is so amazing about them. They give you the goods on a techno dolly or in a backpack in Nepal. They’ve very much become our go-to lenses for both high-end and mid-range budget production, unless the creative or shooting situations dictate something else. They’re just flat out gorgeous. In our experience and opinion, there are only a few other prime lens sets out there that look better. Of course, as Summicron-C owners we’re also incredibly biased.
Haha, good point! So the look is one thing, but you mentioned the size as well. When people talk about lenses they often ignore the more mechanical design elements that determine how you work with a lens day-to-day. You travel extensively with these lenses. What are your thoughts on the mechanics?
Aside from the form factor, being able to bring them anywhere and use them on any setup, rig, stabilizer, etc., which makes them immediately worth the cost of admission, they’ve got a fantastic build. This really positively effects our shooting. Being size matched across the set is huge and saves crucial swapping time. The focus ring is rock solid yet smooth and you can easily operate it by hand in a pinch. I do wish the front caps were a little more beefy, but no lens can be 101% perfect right?
Earlier you mentioned the digital cinema revolution. As someone who has built up a production company and owned your own gear, how has that progression been for you?
The progression has been INSANE! I think anyone that’s been is the industry for like three months is just continually shell shocked. The gear continually revolutionizes, reinvents and reboots…it’s been really exciting. I think in the early stages of our career it was much more of an advantage. The SD-to-HD transition was when we were really coming into the industry and as the new kids with new tech it was a huge advantage that made us by default very competitive.
Our first camera was the Sony FX1, then the Panasonic DVX100, then HVX200 and so on… We were all over the Letus35 adapters (for Varicam’s / HD Cams) and of course the Canon 5D. We were in that digital revolution wave. That being said, we never owned the $100K camera systems or heavy-duty stuff. We always rented that equipment. We did purchase a lot of the supportive cinematography tools: matteboxes, filters, monitors, focus devices. Those things are absolute, constant necessities. We only started making serious camera investments recently.
We didn’t come from the old school film world, and sometimes I’m bummed that we didn’t. I think we would have learned so much and really learned to appreciate certain aesthetics and working with crews better. But, that wasn’t our path. We came the route of digital videographers.
What was your path into this business, into the capture of moving pictures?
I went to a really small high school and honestly didn’t even know that media, TV or film production was even a vocation. It’s kinda silly, but I had never thought about it, or processed it. As kids, my brothers and I were musicians and artsy types for sure. We certainly did the home movie thing, played around with video cameras and even had the first copy of Sony Vegas; but again, I never thought to pursue this as a career, or any arts-related career for that matter. I specifically remember having this Ah-Ha moment when I first discovered how big the media production industry was… I was hooked.
It started when I was 18. Because of my family situation I had to grow up real fast. I was living on my own and supporting myself, working construction and on a sod farm, which has got to rank as a top dirty job. I was exposed to media production when the farm I worked for was looking into commercials for advertising.
I loved images. Photos, drawings, paintings, murals, graffiti, 3D renderings…I really am attracted to it all. In particular I love photography, subjects and scenic shots. Honestly, I’m not usually that inspired by the “visual story,” although I guess all filmmakers are to some degree. I’m more attracted by what I feel then what I’m told or what I learn. Images that move and evoke emotions and feelings, and the merging of moving images with music – it’s just so captivating.
I love the challenge and pursuit of trying to create such images. And the key word is TRYING! I don’t think we’ve ever nailed the perfect shot… I hope we never do. I want to chase it forever.
How did your current production company Evolve come about?
Over the years I’ve led up several different production companies. For me it’s the perfect mix of arts and business. Both are things that I have passion for. There’s also a massive technical challenge behind it… and I love that too.
Evolve is a 3.0 business venture, and a newer hybrid based off of the experiences and things learned from past ventures. Evolve is technically 5 years old, but the ideas and dreams behind it are much older.
My brother Jesse and I own and operate it, along with several other fantastic team members. Jesse is one of my younger brothers, but has been working with me since he was 16 and has been a major part of everything we, Evolve, have accomplished. We’ve grown from a couple of kids editing on Pelican cases in a 1 bedroom apartment to now renovating a new 6300 sq. ft. office space with a 40×40 studio. It’s been a wild ride so far and we feel incredibly humbled and blessed to be where we are, and not just from the accomplishments standpoint.
The recognition is great, but working and creating with my brother has been one of the most gratifying and amazing experiences. Long story short – by working hard, taking chances, networking and just putting myself out there, I’ve been greatly blessed to be able to do something that I love, for a living. I am young but I’d say I’m a lifer, at least so far.
What’s next for the Edwards Brothers and Evolve?
We’ve been working on a host of commissioned projects. There are several commercial, promo and ad sales spots for our TV network clients. Also, an initial EP for a new 1-hour series for ESPN, a 1-hour special for Animal Planet, and a few new locally-based projects in Nashville.
Currently we’re in development on a few personal passion projects that Jesse and I are really excited about. We haven’t really taken time to put together our own little films in the past – and it’s long over due!
Wicked Tuna Promo for National Geographic shot on Leica Summicron-C lenses
Find out more about Evolve Digital Cinema