Zach is a survivor of childhood cancer. He was diagnosed with a form of rhabdomyosarcoma at the age of nine. Treatment of the smooth muscle cancer at the base of his brain (which lasted two years) left him with a child-like physique – stunting his growth, but not his creativity. Since this incident, he has dedicated his life to being the best he can be at his passion and profession – Art.
Zach’s talent as a visual artist was recognized in elementary school. He would constantly be doodling on his homework even though he had an art class every day. He couldn’t stop – he was obsessed with drawing! In those days, Zach liked drawing beautiful, vast, unique-looking landscapes, monsters, demons, and epic scenes of action, horror, and mayhem, because, of course, all of that goes so well together. His main inspiration for his creative concoctions were Spielberg movies (“Jaws”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Hook”, “Jurassic Park”), action flicks (Jackie Chan movies, “Last Action Hero”, “True Lies”, “GoldenEye”, “Mission: Impossible”), horror shows (the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies), science fiction (“Star Wars”, “The Matrix”), and eccentric dark dramas (Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns”), including books like R. L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series (and the Goosebumps TV show).
After the cancer, something changed in Zach. He decided to explore movie-making! It is not exactly known what had transpired in his head to lead him on this path (I gravely guard this information of life-changing proportions).
In the summer of god-knows-when, he attended a TV and multimedia production class at the Arlington Career Center, where he enhanced his filmmaking prowess. And then the summer ended, and there was no more class. But, his interest continued to grow over the years.
In middle school, even though there was an art class, in which he learned to sew and make linoleum prints, there was no filmmaking, multimedia, or television program. So, what did he do? Why, he followed in his father’s and sister’s footsteps, of course! and decided to join BAND! where he somewhat thrived as a percussionist for three years. He wasn’t too interested in learning musical notes though, so he confined himself to the snare, the base, and, occasionally, the timpani (there were only four notes there, haha!), but he was insulted when he was reduced to playing the tambourine or the triangle. And, he hated practicing. Everyone was banging there heads against the wall trying to figure out why he seemed to be so disinterested in performing music. “Well…”, some smart people came to realize, “He doesn’t read notes, he doesn’t practice, and he burns holes through his sheets of music with his ridiculously sinister glare!” For so long, Zach had been brainwashed into thinking that he liked playing instrumental music when he, in fact, hated playing instrumental music – well…hate is a strong word. Zach believes he just didn’t enjoy the kinds of music he was playing in band class, because he sure enjoyed doodling on the piano. Not “drawing” on the piano – improvising! Making his own music and playing themes from his favorite movies at the time (“Jaws”, “Jurassic Park”, “Mission: Impossible”, the James Bond theme, “Forrest Gump”, “Halloween”). He improvised more often on the piano than he did on his drum set, which his parents later sold when he told them that wasn’t a bad idea. He may not have liked learning and reading notes, but he certainly liked playing them, and that interest/something of a talent endured to this day (See “Portfolios/Videos/Professional/2014 Lexus IS Series Commercial 1.1” and “Portfolios/Videos/Personal/And The Boy Was Happy“). Zach still, sometimes, not very often (well, barely) reminisces about playing his snare drum. He can still play “Wipeout” on a snare…or a table.
So, middle school was coming to an end, and Zach knew he didn’t want to continue with band. So, one day, mandatorily, he went to go speak with his counselor to discuss what his future in high school would have in store. For some silly reason, filmmaking never came up in their discussion…or it did and he forgot. But, his counselor did pose a possible interest that had never occurred to Zach before: Theatre. Immediately, Zach was repulsed by the idea of “acting” on a “stage”. He thought he would be mocked and ridiculed – Why? Zach, growing up, was socially inept. He had very few friends, if any, and less knowledge of how to make them. He only lived in his head. So, he was a victim of constant bullying and harassment (this began before cancer and persisted after cancer). Throughout junior high and high school, he would come to fear what other people thought of him, while, unfortunately, having very little concept as to how his behavior was affecting and alienating those around him. He felt that by making himself the center of attention, by being thrown onto a stage, would only make things worse for his sensibilities. But, Zach took a chance and discovered how incredibly wrong he was. Theatre had changed everything – it was the cure to his shell. In theatre, Zach came to recognize the potential – the spectrum – of his behavior, through the practice and replication of behavior of fictitious characters. He was able to learn and more easily discern what kinds of behavior were pleasing/displeasing, acceptable/unacceptable, humorous, etc. He began molding himself into a new person – the person he is today. Along with assisting him in shaping his personality, Zach just grew to absolutely adore acting. He loves being able to leave his familiar life and enter the attractively strange, silly, intense, or obscure world of the characters on the page. It was, and still is, immensely freeing.
Zach was involved in theatre for the first three years of high school. Feeling that he could combine both his illustrative and theatrical talents, he transitioned back to filmmaking in his senior year when the same TV and multimedia course at the Arlington Career Center became available. In this class, Zach honed his video editing craft. He also took a film study course his second semester of his senior year in which he directed and edited the first feature-length film ever made at Washington-Lee High School, “A.L.I.C.E. (Artificial Lethal Intelligence for Complete Eradication)”, a film about a high school computer geek who accidentally comes into possession of a thumb drive that contains a virus capable of wiping out the memories of every computer in the United States…or something like that. However silly the film may seem to him in retrospect, the film’s completion is still a proud achievement for Zach and it made him more confident in his filmmaking abilities.
When high school ended, Zach had a choice to study illustration, acting, or filmmaking in college. It remains a mystery to this day as to why Zach didn’t just pursue all three – he very well could have. The best explanation he has is that he felt he could educate himself on acting and illustration. Filmmaking, on the other hand, was different. There were still many details Zach needed to learn about filmmaking. So, he capped his formal education with two degrees in filmmaking: BFA Film and Photography, which emphasized experimental and documentary filmmaking, and BA Cinema, emphasizing narrative filmmaking. BFA Film was a major that allowed Zach’s creativity and imagination to run wild, and explore the possibilities of filmmaking. He also learned a lot about the technological aspects of filmmaking, particularly lighting and cinematography. These series of classes helped Zach discover his filmmaking style. The second degree, BA Cinema, was a program that taught Zach the value of teamwork and professionalism when faced with the “real world” of filmmaking. This was extremely important as BFA Film was more about expanding the voice of the artist – finding the auteur in the filmmaker – rather than developing strategies to work with a crew and work responsibly. But, BA Cinema made up for that in spades.
Zach was born in 1989 on the 25th of October. So, his birthday usually coincided with Halloween. This eventually lead Zach to appreciate and grow fond of dark subject matter. He was a big fan of horror movies at an early age. His first favorite horror icon was Freddy Krueger from the “Nightmare” movies. He even liked Freddy when he was becoming more silly – if not more so than when he was more serious. That experience was Zach’s first exposure to dark comedy. Zach also saw “Jaws” at some point during the end of elementary school and became obsessed with sharks for the next two years, particularly with drawing them.
During this time, Zach also became acquainted with James Bond through “GoldenEye” and “Never Say Never Again”. He later began watching some of the older Bonds, mostly Roger Moore’s, for some reason. Of course, he was incredibly ecstatic to see “The Spy Who Loved Me”, where he was introduced to the towering, metal-toothed thug, Jaws! After that, he became fascinated with the different deformities and character traits of Bond villains. He was so delighted by these action films, and a year or so after “The World Is Not Enough” came out, he began drawing his own James Bond comic strip. The comic contained pre-existing villains (e.g. Alec Trevelyan, Jaws, Renard, Oddjob, Baron Samedi) and a couple hundred thugs, ripe for the slaughter at the hands of Bond. There was no plot. It was just James Bond fighting bad guys, and doing it in the most ridiculous and theatrical way possible. In Chapter 2, Bond fights the villains the entire time from his car, to the point where the car is torn into four parts, and squealing around the one remaining driver’s side wheel, so that Bond could “supposedly” still drive it (I didn’t know a lot about cars back then). There were two and half chapters, each one getting crazier and more action packed than the last. This project would continue through the beginning of middle school.
Near the beginning of middle school, his love of intense graphic horror slowly changed, drifting towards a thirst for subtle but suspenseful psychological horror, like “Silence of The Lambs” and “Hannibal (2001)”. Dr. Hannibal Lecter became, and still is, his favorite fictional villain (particularly Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal). Like the Bond comic, Zach’s fascination with Hannibal’s character led him to begin writing a novel about a detective that is tracking down Hannibal’s unknown brother, Compton Bartholomew Lecter. Zach’s Boy Scout troop got wind of this writing project as he was working on it during camping trips. Eventually, he earned the nickname “Compton”. Everyone in his troop had nicknames. His moniker could have been a lot worse. There was one scout named “Juice Box” just because he accidentally sprayed juice on his shirt. Anyway, the story was becoming a cross between the Hannibal movies and the Resident Evil video game that he was playing so often at the time. Cannibalistic zombies and criminally insane cannibals – it made sense to him. And, like Resident Evil, he prepared maps – primarily of the most interesting locations (buildings/houses/underground crypts) in which the story took place and would, hopefully, continue to take place. But, he stopped writing after a while because he realized how cheap and awful the story would become, mainly because he was trying to replicate Hannibal through Compton. Hannibal was already the perfect villain, and Compton would just never be as perfect as Hannibal without actually being him. So, he shelved the project.
In 2005, Zach saw “Frank Miller’s Sin City”. It was heavily influential, and Zach immediately fell in love with the concept, look, and feel of this film. It was groundbreaking, not for what was done in the film, but how the material was handled. The film took typical action scenarios and elevated them by ignoring many crippling realities (that would make a film like this fall flat). The film flaunted these bizarre spins on physics and human strength – establishing the surreal nature of the world of Basin City (Sin City) and the characters within. The scenes were very carefully and artistically crafted after the graphic novels, with epic camera angles and incredible cinematography using vivid light and shadow. It was this movie that made Zach excited about the potential of Film Noir. The seed for Zach’s subconscious love of Noir was the world of Batman as portrayed in “Mask of the Phantasm” and Tim Burton’s films.
In 2009, Zach was introduced to Guy Ritchie’s work through “Rock’N’Rolla”. This led him to see “Snatch.” and “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. All three films ignited his interest in crime comedy. Guy Ritchie’s crime comedies were later the primary inspiration for Zach’s sophomore film, “Paper Running”. The film was about a college dropout turned “paper dealer”, Crazy-Case Casey, and the ensuing comedic difficulties that take place in his line of work. Casey acts as a middle man between lazy, rich college kids and poor, desperate smart students to create fabricated essays for the lazy rich kids to turn in as their own work.
For a year and a half of college, Noir was at the forefront of Zach’s inspiration. But with the seeming lack of resources and time, his work began becoming less story based and more experimental, surreal and dependent on the meaning he could possibly pull from virtually nothing. During that time, he was also acquainted with works of Stanley Kubrick, Darren Aronofsky, and, most notably, Charlie Kaufman. After seeing Charlie Kaufman’s “Synechdoche, New York”, Zach quickly developed a newfound passion for hyperrealism and surrealism, particularly hyperrealism. The word “hyperrealism” is interesting. When it relates to the mundane reality of the real world, it means the exaggeration of reality. But when relating to artistic expression, it pertains to a dualistic form of realism that is even more “real” than that of the real world. Real world reality is warped and shaped to complement the recesses of one’s imagination of the world in front of him/her to create a metaphorical truth that only exists for the individual experiencing it. Basically, you’re going crazy with clarity…and it is magical.
While Zach quite enjoys the films, “Adaptation.”, “Being John Malcovich”, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, Kaufman’s masterpiece, “Synecdoche, New York”, is Zach’s favorite film.
Zach’s thesis film, “And The Boy Was Happy”, which was screened at the Summer 2014 James River Filmmakers’ Forum and received high accolades for cinematography, is built on hyperrealism. It conveys the vicious cycle of a son inheriting his father’s obsession with a lost loved one.
His personal work’s inspiration is mainly from his own life experience, but also from the stylings of Stanley Kubrick, Charlie Kaufman, Joel and Ethan Coen, Darren Aronofsky’s work before “Noah”, Guy Ritchie’s crime comedies, and Alfred Hitchcock.
So…he likes creating dark, comedic, existential, hyperreal mysteries. And, when he’s in a slightly less serious mood, and not trying to become Aro-KaufBrick-HitchCoenofsky, he simply works on quirky dark comedies.
CURRENT ENDEAVORS & INTERESTS
Zach continues to advance himself professionally and independently, with a broad focus in video editing, cinematography & lighting, illustration, graphic art, and acting. He also screenwrites, but that’s more of a hobby at this point.
He lives in Arlington, VA, where he currently works as the associate video editor for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Zach also does weekend freelance work as a photographer, videographer, actor, and video/photo editor.
In his spare time, when he has it, Zach writes, illustrates, listens to music while he does both, and contemplates the future.