Updated: May 9, 2019
All Tristen Stafford wanted to do as a college student at SUNY Purchase was to turn his ideas into films. But as a student with no money, all he started out with was a talented group of friends just as passionate about forging a path in the film industry as he was.
Together one night in an on-campus apartment an idea formulated. It’d be funny, they thought, to make a commercial for Stafford’s drink of choice at the time: Four Loko. Within a few days the production was complete and the collective had published the impromptu commercial on Instagram, urging friends and family to tag the beverage company. Their plan worked and Four Loko reposted the ad on their official account. An official connection had been established – a small victory – they were on their way.
Now, the team is an established production company: Journey Home Pictures. And with their feature film Importance (of us) available on Amazon, along with other commercial clients including Adidas, they’ve matured considerably since Stafford founded the company from his dorm.
The passion and tenacity that resulted in a meeting with Four Loko (and also had helped them produce a feature film for 900 dollars) is still ingrained in every scene they shoot.
“I’d say we’ve grown massively in those two or three years,” Stafford said. “From shooting a feature film on a very low budget to now, where we’re prepping for the new feature with 20 times the budget, it’s kind of ballooned in a positive way and, I think, in a way we can grasp onto because it's still very DIY and to the roots of everything that we’ve grown up with and matured around.”
With partners and clients throughout New York City and Massachusetts, the tight knit group of friends that started making movies on a college campus has blossomed into a strong team that includes Business Manager/Assistant Director Adam Gale, Technical Director Christian Schlicht, and Producers Joseph Mastrolembo and Sean Church. Each member brings a specialty to the team, allowing them to produce a variety of high-quality content. That’s an advantage, but it’s their willingness to do whatever it takes to finish the project no matter the circumstances that Stafford is most grateful for.
“Everybody is willing to pull everybody else's weight and that’s a big thing when we were making stuff for no money,” Stafford said of his team. “I think sharing that DIY mentality is something that not a lot of people have, and to find people that do have that mindset has been great.”
The team is currently in pre-production on a short film, a horror comedy based on a pizza cult (From Crust Til Dawn), and a feature film (Pretenders). Both are expected to be hitting the festival circuit later this year while their comedy web series, Truly Excellent, is set to be released online.
“I think [Truly Excellent] is a great thing to be one of the first things that we release because it’ll really show our personality,” Gale said. “I love creating comedic content and I think the absurdity of it is the most fun part. We get to play ourselves, we all play like an extenuated version of ourselves. It’s really interesting and fun for me to make.”
Based in central Massachusetts, Gale has recently turned his focus to growing Journey Home’s commercial clients while Stafford focuses on the narrative side of the company. And, true to the company's indie persona, Gale is looking at his location outside of the typical Hollywood production circuit as an advantage.
“What I’m looking forward to right now is the fact that [Worcester] is a smaller market,” Gale said. “Which is great because if we can get our foot in the door in these areas that are smaller and more niche and build up a clientele base to develop our portfolio then it will look better for us in the long run.”
For the time being the team is focused on the productions already scheduled for this year and also growing hype for their online content and web series. But while growing a bigger audience is a goal, you can’t overstate the importance of the team’s creative control, which is a rarity in an overbearing entertainment industry.
“We as a collective can create the things that we want and I feel confident and happy knowing that what we’ve put out has been authentic and uncompromised,” Gale said. “We can put out anything we want as long as we have that ‘if you believe it you can do it’ type of attitude and we’ve had that mentality since we started this company.”