Jacob Hinmon is a filmmaker and entrepreneur. He is the director of Four + One Productions and founder of Collected Works. In this interview he discusses how he became a filmmaker, created a successful Kickstarter campaign, and created the Military Duffle Backpack.
Jacob, would you introduce yourself?
My name is Jacob Hinmon. I am both a video director and the co-founder of a bag company called Collected Works.
Let’s begin the interview talking about your filmmaking career. How did you get into film?
I studied film in college. I was always afraid to say that I wanted to study film. It seemed like such a grandiose thing to try and do.
My freshmen year I was trying to figure out what I wanted to major in, and what I wanted to do. I ran into an older brother of a friend from high school. He was in the film program and I started asking him questions. Eventually he asked if I was interested in going on a shoot. I was like, “Of course I do!”
That weekend I helped him push the dolly on a set of a student film. I was sold that day, and I haven’t looked back.
He is now a director of photography, and does a lot of television commercials. We keep in touch and have kept that relationship going. We actually worked on a project together last weekend.
Now you are making videos professionally. You are on a shoot right now. What is that like?
I’m in Denver this week, and have been traveling quite a bit lately.
It has been a nice, slow progression trying to figure out how to make a business around film. I started my own production company in 2009, although I’ve been directing since 2006.
A lot of the challenges are being able to adjust, think on your feet, and coax out the true story of these companies.
Four + One Productions specializes in documentary-style brand storytelling. This is a still from a video for Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Company, a company specializing in iconic lighting and decor.
My dad has a little ad agency outside Portland. He had a local hospital, credit union and small insurance companies as clients. I would do TV commercials for them.
You really couldn’t watch videos online before 2006. When YouTube came along, companies realized that they could start putting high quality videos on their website.
That transition has allowed me to have a career in video and story telling that includes brand storytelling for companies that wouldn’t have been able to afford the media buys 10 or 15 years ago. These businesses have interesting stories that can be told in two or three minutes—that is really my bread and butter.
What are some of the companies that you’ve done these short videos for?
Schoolhouse Electric Company is a Portland-based company that started out with light fixtures, that has expanded out into a lifestyle brand. They were the first large company that I did a video for. There is another company Gamblin Artist Colors, which makes oil paints. The project that I am currently shooting for is Ann Sacks, which is a tile company.
Do you have any favorite video projects?
I always feel like the one I’m currently working on is the most exciting.
At the end of last year, I finished up two videos for our backpack company, Collected Works, that were exciting to do, and turned out well.
This one that I’m doing for Ann Sacks is interesting as well. We’re expanding on some company storytelling and they are debuting some new tile in the next few weeks.
It is a real privilege to sit down with these people who, oftentimes, have built their business from scratch. For me, that is an amazing opportunity.
What are some of the challenges of these shoots?
Many of them are shot documentary style. That means that you aren’t going onto a set that has been designed for shooting. It isn’t necessarily art directed to the point that a TV commercial would be. You don’t have a 30 to 50 person crew.
A lot of the challenge is being able to adjust, think on your feet, and coax out the true story of these companies. It takes a while to get good at.
You could go to film school for four years and easily educate yourself into never enjoying another film for the rest of your life.
More shots from Jacob Hinmon’s video for School House Electric & Supply Company.
I’ll ask you to take a step deeper. What do you need to do in order to tell that story?
There are a few different styles. The approach that I take starts with an interview with a founder or leader in an organization. I try and get them to talk about how they started, why they do what they do, and where their passion is.
When you are making a video online, you no longer have the luxury of interrupting people while they are watching TV. You no longer have a captive audience. The video not only has to be interesting enough for someone to click play, but for someone to listen past the first 10 seconds. I take that part seriously.
Each video is an opportunity to show who each company is. It is rewarding when they have great building blocks and are making something cool, and challenging when they don’t.
I’ve watched several of your films and whether it is people making tiles or making paint—and I love that video of people making paint—when you are done watching that short film, you believe that they have dedicated everything to their craft. The focus is incredible and you do a great job telling the story.
Thank you, but you know that is something I cannot manufacture.
My personal belief is that people could tell if it wasn’t genuine. That is a big challenge doing these videos—plenty of clients want something in that style, and I just can’t deliver. It is a tough conversation to have.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Just watching movies, watching videos and watching TV shows. A lot of them are the same references everybody watches and loves.
I’m very connected to the design and independent film community in Portland. I spend a lot of time around people that make things.
When you are watching films, do you take special notice to particular strategies? Do you take notice of something in particular being used for a wipe, or things like that?
Yeah, there is always that technical side that is always looking for things like that.
You could go to film school for four years and easily educate yourself into never enjoying another film for the rest of your life. Looking for technical stuff is one thing, but also your taste becomes so informed that videos don’t fit that level of high art that you might want.
I’ve had to turn that switch off. I have to go in understanding that I am going to watch something to enjoy it. I have to give the people that made the film the benefit of the doubt.
What is your dream film project?
Down the road I’d love to do feature film or potentially a TV show. I have specific ideas, but nothing that has come close to fruition yet.
It is ambitious for me to say that still, but in the next five or seven years it could be a real possibility.
Stills from a video Jacob shot for Gamblin Artists Colors, an oil paint manufacturer.
You created a Kickstarter campaign that raised $25,000 to build a backpack. How did your background as a video director help that process?
I think it is pretty widely known that on Kickstarter the video makes a huge difference.
That isn’t to say that you need something super-polished, but you should understand that it is all sales.
There are a few successful elements of Kickstarter videos. Clear presentation of your product, why people should be interested in it, and how they can be involved. It is pretty straightforward.
Just like making other videos it is important to respect the viewer, and their intelligence, and their time. You have to make it as simple and genuine as possible.
Let’s talk about the product that you made a Kickstarter for—this Military Duffle-bag Backpack. Where did that concept come from?
I have a co-founder, Patrick, who lives in Seattle. He went to high school with my wife, who grew up in Seattle. After we got married, we’d travel up there a few times a year, and hang out.
We became friends, and would always run ideas past each other. We were both into men’s style, and would often talk about clothes, shoes and accessories.
In the summer of 2011 Patrick was looking for a backpack. We both liked the military duffle-bag, but it was impractical for daily use. We started talking about how we could improve it, and started sketching out a few things. By the end of the discussion we had put something together that was really cool.
That was 2011 and the Kickstarter campaign launched in the fall of 2012.
The Military Duffle Backpack is the flagship offering of Jacob’s Collected Works Company. The original project raised north of $25,000 on Kickstarter.
There were a handful of people that I am friends with who are makers. Sam Huff who is the creative director at Tanner Goods is a close friend of mine, and he was incredibly helpful. He helped us find resources and helped test the bag. Another guy, Pete Williams, helped us sow the prototypes. It was a process of constantly testing things.
When I have an idea, I’ll keep pulling at that thread and see how far I can go. That is what this project was. We decided we were going to keep going. It isn’t that we didn’t have challenges, but we never hit a major roadblock.
Kickstarter was our gauge. It was a way to see if people really wanted to buy our idea. We wanted to see if enough people would buy one batch of 40 bags. If we were successful, that would have been awesome. If not, we just spent a lot of money developing our ideal backpacks.
We launched the Kickstarter and saw that at least a handful of other people were excited about it as well.
You sought out $7,000 and ended up raising $25,000. What did you guys do for publicity? What do you think made the campaign so successful?
There are a couple things that worked for us.
We didn’t want to be too ambitious with our original goal. We wanted to blow past it so we could make plenty more bags.
We had a handful of friends and family that were excited about it. We reached out to the blogging community a good bit. There was some success, but it was such a compressed timeline that it was difficult. Also, a lot of them were hesitant to throw their support behind a Kickstarter campaign, which is understandable.
What do you wish you knew before you started the campaign?
A Kickstarter campaign is a strange experience. You get so caught up in it, and are living and breathing it every second. It is hard to do all the things that you want to do. We could have contacted the blogs two or three weeks earlier. There was more we could have done to build an audience.
Now that you have all the items branded under Collected Works, have you considered going back to those blogs?
We have been reaching out with a good bit of success. Email lists, blogs, sites—we’ve been featured on a number of places that have done well.
And how did you find these blogs?
Many of them are blogs that Patrick and I read.
Some of the ones that we’ve seen the most results from are geared more toward a female audience. Women are buying big ticket items for their husbands or boyfriends, who may not have spent that kind of money themselves.
There is also a group of blogs that focus more on design than men’s wear that have been successful. It has forced us to look a little wider at our market.
We wanted to marry the idea of the military duffle bag with the function, needs and the size of a daily use backpack.
How do you get wholesale accounts? How do you get into retail stores?
That is something I don’t have quite as much experience with.
We’ve had a lot of companies and stores overseas approach us about carrying Collected Works bags.
Initially the Japanese market, and now the European market, have shown a lot of interest. I think those markets are a little more forward focused—a little bit more interested in catching the next big thing. The American market wants to sit back and have us prove that we are going to be here in two or three years.
This last year we’ve concentrated on ironing out our operations. We’ve been building up inventory, and focused on pushing people to our website, because that is the simplest, most cost effective way to sell our backpacks.
This year one of our main goals is to find strong domestic retailers to partner with.
Let’s talk about Collected Works. Obviously the flagship product is this backpack. Actually, I don’t think I’ve given you a chance to plug the backpack. Why don’t you tell us about it?
The best way to plug it actually are the videos I was telling you about on our website, collectedworksco.com. They will do a much better job than I will right now, because I got to write it and then have an actor recite it.
We wanted to marry the idea of the military duffle bag with the function, needs and the size of a daily use backpack.
We wanted it to be really useful. You are always carrying around things—your wallet, phone, chargers, your pen and notepad, so you don’t forget an idea. A lot of bags and backpacks overlook the fact that that stuff gets disorganized when you are digging through your bag.
We wanted to dial in the function for the types of things we could use everyday. The pockets are the right size for my notebook and the right size for my wife’s makeup kit. We use the most durable materials. We have it produced domestically, just outside of Portland.
Jacob and Patrick focused on merging the duffle bag concept with the function , needs and size of a daily-use backpack. Photo by Kristine Weilert.
Now I have to ask—are there any other products that you are putting together?
We definitely have a handful of ideas for expansion.
I used to call Collective Works a side project, but really we have two full-time jobs. Things move a bit slower than if we were both able or willing to make it our only project.
The last question I have is if you have any advice for entrepreneurs, or filmmakers, or entrepreneurial filmmakers?
There is this quote from Ira Glass, where he talks about quitting too early on things. You got into this thing because you have good taste, and you want to create things that have that level of quality.
When you start doing this thing you are discouraged right away because you are not good. You make a video that is awful, and think, “I’m not good at this.”
The fact of the matter is that it takes a really long time to get good at things. The key is to keep doing the things that you are interested in.
Jacob, where can people find you?
A good place to start is jacobhinmon.com. That website has links to my video production site, and my backpack site.