Torres del Paine – Chile – CJ Mata

“I didn’t sit down during this crisis and quit. Although I had a horrible case of anxiety during this time and had to learn how to live life with it, I continued learning and doing video. “

CJ Mata

As I start my journey with this blog, I’d like to talk about what I do, and how I got to this point. Basically, I turned what many consider a hobby into a career and full time job; and this is how I started.

It all started in the Spring of 2017, I studied abroad in Chile. With a basic, cheap, and naive camera setup – and a dream in mind. Not in a million years did I imagine that would be the start of my career in digital marketing and content creation. 

I had big plans, so I took out student loans and applied to scholarships to make this happen. I went to a community college before transferring to Towson University, so I didn’t have that much student loan debt to begin with. I rolled the dice and went for it. I planned out the whole thing and went with what I could afford and what I thought was a good camera set up. 

Torres del Paine – Doing the ‘W’ Trek

I purchased a Canon M3, Rode VideoMic Go, a Joby GorillaPod Tripod, and a couple of lenses that I thought would do the trick. I used my MacBook Pro and free iMovie video editing software to edit the videos. My goal was to start a YouTube travel vlog and to travel around South America. I planned to visit several parts of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Perú, and Easter Island. 

I did just that. 

I found out what worked and what didn’t work tech-wise. I sought out new resources and watched online tutorials on YouTube to enhance my Vlog and craft. 

After having the time of my life and creating content in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, it was time to go home. I returned to the United States in a sad emotional state. I was not able to obtain ‘easy’ content anymore, as beautiful mountains, glaciers, and oceans turned flat and covered in trees and my life became ‘unadventurous’. This would turn into my quarter-life crisis. 

View from my apartment in Santiago, Chile 2017 – CJ Mata

I didn’t sit down during this crisis and quit. Although I had a horrible case of anxiety during this time and had to learn how to live life with it, I continued learning and doing video. 

Long story short, I did everything I could do with video in my new environment. After graduating from college that year in 2017, I kept investing into gear and took every opportunity that came my way. I took aim at my greatest influencers. I looked up to Casey Neistat, Brandon Li, Peter McKinnon, and a few others. Looking up to them in my dark times helped me persevere. I upgraded my gear, similar to what Brandon Li was shooting with. I took on a more cinematic style and approach to my filmmaking.

I landed an opportunity that would come to be my ‘big break’ in video production. I met a friend while helping another friend with a school project named Danny AKA ‘D-Lord’, a graffiti artist in Baltimore, MD. The school project was a project I had been helping a friend of mine with at the time. A project completely unrelated to me (that I honestly didn’t even want to do at the time). After finishing this project, Danny offered me to go with him to Las Vegas, NV to film ‘Graffiti Mansion 3’. This was a project for a YouTuber called Izadi. 

The project entailed numerous graffiti artists from around the world to come meet at this mansion in Las Vegas to cover the mansion in graffiti art of the then popular video game ‘Fortnite’. 

Graffiti Mansion Fortnite

I was nervous to do the project. I had never filmed with a production team before and I was not yet confident in my abilities to be in charge of filming something that would go on to receive millions of views across multiple platforms on the web. I once again said fuck it. I rolled the dice, bought a ticket to Vegas and filmed many parts that made the final video of Graffiti Mansion 3 Fortnite Edition. 

Graffiti Mansion Crew (I’m on far right)

The video was successful and became an amazing experience for me. It gave me a huge resume boost for my video portfolio. I didn’t make a cent off of this shoot and most days were non-stop in the Vegas heat. I worked as hard as I could and asked as many questions as possible. I even used my own gear. 

After Graffiti Mansion, I filmed a ‘Cinematic Vlog’ where Danny and I went out to California and did more graffiti related stuff. I just wanted to do more. Even though I was tired after Graffiti Mansion I was still hungry. And this time, I called the shots. This was my production where I shot, edited, and directed every aspect. It is still to this day of the best videos I have ever made for myself. 

Cinematic Vlog I made in California.

After my experiences on the West Coast I returned back to Maryland. Timing was ironic. The second I got back, I was informed by the same friend that got me the connection with Danny; that one of my favorite bands Ballyhoo! were looking for videographers to film tour recaps for some of their shows. With even more luck, they are based out of Maryland where I live.

I immediately sent them a message with the two videos I had just done. Graffiti Mansion and the Cinematic Vlog. They agreed to have me and let me film some of their shows later that month. I met up with them and was able to ride in their van to film those shows. It was a blast being able to film and let loose with one of my favorite bands. Fast forward to now, I have made over 10 videos for them that include several music videos and lyric videos. It is still a great relationship that has played a part in getting me work with other bands like ‘Edjacated Phools’ from Maryland and ‘Green Knuckle Material’ from New Jersey.

Ballyhoo! Music Video I filmed.

From South America to Ballyhoo!, I remained hungry and made slow progressions. I never expected a dime for my work. At least in those pivotal moments. Any money I made I invested right back into the craft. I kept studying video and learning more as I went along. Each video I made (especially for clients) I learned pivotal lessons and sharpened my skills. 

After the Ballyhoo! videos, is when I was able to start making small income off of my skills. I had built a decent enough portfolio to start building a brand and to start charging for my time and skills. 

‘Volcán Lascar’ – Atacama Desert – Chile -CJ Mata

I called my brand ‘Lascar Productions’. Lascar was the name of a volcano I climbed (and failed) in the Atacama Desert of Chile. The failure on ‘Volcán Lascar’ shaped me in many ways and was something that I will never forget. I dedicated that name to my brand in honor of the lessons learned and what went in to me even making it to that volcano. 

I went in and started branding my company with the money I made from my videos. I contacted a graphic designer to produce my logo with my concept of Lascar and got my best friend Hunter (ironically that I met in Chile) to design and develop my portfolio website. I wanted to stand out as a professional and a brand instead of just being a guy with a camera that does video. 

At this moment I realized my true potential. I started studying marketing and social media management. I helped a few brands out along the way, and learned a lot about marketing. I kept producing videos for bands, non-profits, businesses, and for Danny in the graffiti niche. I helped people make content for their websites, and other social media. I also influenced people to get out there and do the same. 

During this time, I found myself struggling. While doing all of this in 2018, I struggled in my career and finding where I could work full time. I was successful in finding freelance video opportunities but an actual career was not in sight. I applied on LinkedIn to hundreds of jobs in many categories and not a single bite. Meanwhile, I was substitute teaching to support myself and digging myself a hole of personal debt. 

Once I had enough with teaching and not doing what I was passionate about with my time, I started making changes. I updated my resume to be a ‘specialist’, my resume was filled with too much random stuff that did not equate to being a specialist in anything. I put myself out there as a generalist and had a lot of experience in many things. Recruiters don’t want to see that as they are looking for an expert for the position they are trying to fill. I decided to optimize my resume into content creation/marketing and I started getting calls back almost immediately. 

After one interview (that I was late to) I got a call back not even two hours later saying that I got the position. A real career and opportunity as a marketing coordinator for a large company in Washington, DC. I started the job recently, and it’s everything I could have ever hoped for in a career. Going to college and my almost 2 year struggle finding a ‘real’ job was over. I can now pay off my debt and invest more time into my brand, gear, and traveling abroad while doing and learning more about how to do marketing for my own self and brand.

‘Donohoe’ – My New Job

So, up until this moment, I want to start working for myself more than working for other people and to start building up my own brand and content. I missed traveling throughout all of this and still do. I want to start this blog in the travel/photo/video niche and keep powering my social media and YouTube account. I want to post what I never got the chance to from my South America trip and talk about it. I want to talk about personal development, photography, videography, and marketing. 

After creating I knew creating a blog would be a piece of cake and would take me to the next level of my career goals and the next step of pursuing my dreams of traveling the world and creating content. 

My new career allows me to pursue my passions in the office and to help develop a brand. It will also allow me to sharpen my skills in marketing and to apply them to my own brand. 

What I hope that people get out of this is that you have to struggle before you can be successful. Don’t do things just for money, do it for the passion and love that you have for that passion. If you would do it just because and money was not an issue, that’s when you are passionate about whatever it is. I would go out and film with anybody for free just because I enjoy the relationships, company, and getting out there and creating content. 

The Atacama Desert – Chile – CJ Mata

Had I not gone and spent the little money I had to go to Graffiti Mansion, or done those videos for Ballyhoo! for free, I would not have made it this far. And to be honest, I didn’t think one time about monetizing off of those projects. I was just enjoying my time spent so much that to me it was worth it. You have to make sacrifices to make it in this industry.

Video and photography are clearly not something that will happen overnight. And like many creative fields, if you are in it for the money; you will be disappointed. Do it for the love and passion of creation and building relationships. I made tons of mistakes along the way and have learned from all of those mistakes. 

This is my first blog post, and this was my first week at my new job as a marketing coordinator. I still have many dreams to accomplish and countries to go to. I turn 25 in a few days and I still feel like I’m so young. I want to help other people who are thinking about taking a similar journey that I went on, if this blog does anything and if anybody even sees this – Moral of the story… never give up. Whether it’s with your job, creative passions, school, learning a language, or anything. Persevere. This is just the beginning of my story.

Thanks for reading.