Enjoy Your Slice of Life
Located in the heart of Amish Country, this film shares the story of how Rocky Shanower has grown his pizzeria by sourcing locally grown produce and building a genuine connection with the local community. With the help of this film and the creative collaboration from Agape Photography, Rocky was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by Pizza Today in 2020.
When I think of Amish Country, I think of pizza. When I think of Sugarcreek, OH, I think of modern small business. When I think of genuine personalities, I think think of Rocky Shanower. You may not share the first two schools of thought, but no one can deny the bona fide characteristics of the man himself.
Rocky Shanower owns and operates both Park Street Pizza and Bahler Street Pizza in Sugarcreek with his wife, Courtney. Luke and Mikayla of Agape Photography personally reached out to me in hopes to properly tell his story.
After a bit of research and personal talks with Rocky, we quickly narrowed down keywords that represented his business as a whole: Community, Locally-Sourced, Authentic, Fresh, and (of course) Pizza. Every aspect of their business is rooted in their local community.
One of the biggest values of having a local partner is having an ally in the community. . .
It's more than just a transaction. It's a meaningful relationship.
Back in 2019, Rocky and Courtney caught the attention of Pizza Today, the leading magazine for pizza professionals. Denise Greer of Pizza Today wrote an incredible article featuring the Shanower's business, their ties to the community, the origins behind their pie•losphy. Up to this point, Rocky had been very familiar with Pizza Today and was looking forward to their yearly search for their Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
After days of preparation, filming, and story-finding, we delivered Rocky's submission for the 2020 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. No matter the outcome (spoiler: it went VERY WELL!), we knew we had captured a genuine story that could not be overlooked.
Every year, Pizza Today and Pizza Expo conducts a nationwide search for "the best and brightest pizzeria owner-operators who are under 40 years of age." At the ripe age of 39 and only a year left to apply, Rocky knew that our time was ticking! With the 2020 Pizza Expo planned to take place in Las Vegas the following year, it was time to get to work.
I tell every new employee, "Pizza is not the focus of what we do." It all boils down to how we make people feel when they come into our restaurant.
Rocky knew we had to tackle our approach in a unique way. From what we could tell, hundreds of entries were submitted each year for this award. We needed to find a way to stand out. In the words of Muse Storytelling, “Noise is up, trust is down, and attention is dwindling.” How can we cut through the noise and tell a story worth hearing?
A creative exercise that I absolutely adore stems from the idea of mind-dumping a bunch of words into a page that relate your character or business. Doing research, scouting their social media, and ripping verbiage from their website... these are all incredible ways of pulling descriptive words about an individual. The sparks begin to fly only when we start making connections between these words. These are what we call Keywords. Here, ideas are unveiled. Connections are made. Locations come to mind. A shot list begins to form. Everything stems from this discovery of Keywords.
When we source ingredients, we look for the best quality. . . and just because it's local doesn't mean it's the best. But, when the best ingredients are local, everybody wins.
With Rocky, we narrowed our creative down to 5 distinctive Keywords: Pizza (of course), Community, Locally-Sourced, Authentic, and Fresh. To some, this may seem like we didn’t gain any traction with the creative. But remarkably enough, these 5 words now give us a “lens” that we can look through and make intentional decisions. From a cinematographer’s perspective, when I think of “Authentic”, my mind jumps to ideas of naturally-lit scenarios, handheld camera movement, sun flares, and light-streaking atmosphere. From a color perspective, I think of oranges, yellows, greens and cyan blues. And, think, this is only the thought process behind one Keyword! With the simple incorporation of Keywords for Rocky’s story, we remained intentional throughout the course of production and made creative decisions that impacted our story as a whole.
Without question, Rocky is an incredibly likable and relatable guy. I noticed this with my first interaction with him. Originally, it took a bit of convincing to record a proper sit-down interview together. I understand the uneasiness and awkward nature of being on camera. You’re doing your best to think of interesting things to say, all-the-while critiquing yourself about what you previously said. As with every interview that I have a chance to conduct, we agreed that a 1–2 hour recorded conversation would allow us to put our guard down. We could relax our shoulders and just....talk. No time restraints. No expectations. No pressure. We humans love to talk about ourselves but only when the person listening has a genuine interest in what we do. I always find it important to walk into an interview with a sense of wonder and intrigue. It makes for a more authentic experience for the both of us, all the while avoiding any “canned” responses in the process.
Agape Photography collab
Most artists, including myself, whether it be musicians, designers, or filmmakers, are guilty of one major thing: Doing everything yourself. You have a creative vision for a project and you know what needs done. Problem is, it’s hard to trust your creative in the hands of anyone else. It's easy to cut out any chance of creative differences and pushback. I’ll do it myself!
Unfortunately, this mindset not only leaves you doing a lot of the production work, but you miss out on one of the greatest fundamental opportunities of your career: Creative collaboration. Like Questlove eloquently puts it, “The only mofos in my circle are people that I can learn from.”
I'm of the thought that anytime good people cross your path that you believe in, you should try to get them on your team. . . because the stronger your team is, the better life is going to be.
Upon college graduation, I left with two things: an ungodly amount of student debt and incredible lifelong friendships (who just happen to be talented graphic designers). Luke & Mikayla, a power-couple specializing in wedding and commercial photography, have given me countless opportunities to work alongside them. Their deep sense of design bleeds into their work as photographers. Color, composition, set design....they leave nothing on the table.
Luke & Mikayla (of Agape Photography) introduced me to Rocky. Their direct involvement in this project helped shape the visual tone of his story. Rustic color tones, naturally lit environments, young/hip talent, and pretty much any excuse to include a Harley-Davidson. They knew what they wanted. I couldn’t agree more.
Luke can amp up a crowd. Mikayla can design a set. While Luke got the smiles, Mikayla set the tables. With these basic necessities covered, they made my job easy. Point and shoot!. Mikayla sourced incredible exterior decor, from outdoor string lights to World-Market-esque dining utensils. Everything beautifully complimented the rustic tones and storybook-vibes of Bahler Street. Of the talent that were present, they promised their friends free pizza and free hangs. No one could resist. Pair this with a farm backdrop, a backlit sun, and frames at 60 FPS, we had all of the visual ingredients for a serene backyard experience.
During our location scout, we knew that we had to feature two different scenarios. The first was featuring the Bahler Street food truck with Rocky and his team. The second was the exterior dinner party featuring a group of friends enjoying each other’s company.
As with all location scouts, my iPhone is certainly one of the most valuable tools in my arsenal. Many people dismiss it as an amateur piece of technology. Personally, I embrace it as an all-in-one goldmine of useful applications. Apps like Artemis Pro allow me to frame up any shot with a plethora of cameras and lens combinations. Sunseeker pinpoints the exact position of the sun’s path on any given day. With these two tools alone, I can visualize and narrow down exactly what our location will offer us on the day.
Several things immediately jumped out at us with this location. The red barn structure paired with a tall classic windmill practically screamed Midwest-farm-town Ohio. We knew that these elements had to be featured in our backdrop at some point in the day. But more importantly, none of this would have mattered if our beautiful light source was front-lighting it all.. By allowing the 7pm sunlight to backlight our scene, I knew that all of our background elements would be in perfect alignment with our desired compositions.
Filming took place on several days throughout the following months. On our Bahler Street day, we followed through with everything that we planned on the location scout. Although be planned on direct sunlight on the day, the cloud cover ended up softening our shadows significantly. We embraced this change as it allowed us to hold more detail in the sky when shooting directly into the sun. Backlighting our subjects and shooting into shadow was the key to building organic depth in our image. Shooting in 60 FPS did two things for us. It not only slowed down time in the moment, but in the edit, it gave us a sense of serenity as people enjoyed each other’s company. We kept the action loose and the camera movement handheld. We could remain lightweight with our setups and were able to quickly pivot in a moment's notice.
Winner, Winner, Pizza Dinner
Rocky won. In fact, he won reportedly by a landslide. The story Rocky and his team brought to the table certainly could not be ignored. This story isn’t to downplay any of the submissions sent in. In fact, the beautiful thing is, I can almost guarantee that the majority of the submissions received featured individuals that shared equally compelling stories. These hardworking individuals all deserve for their story to be told in a way that is memorable and intentionally crafted.
But for this year, Rocky's moment was well deserved and we were thankful to share his story with such a prestigious audience.