Tony Shane is a working videographer and editor based in Chicago, IL. He is the man responsible for the videos at RubyHornet and he packs an extensive and impressive resume. Through his work with RubyHornet, he has shot the likes of Bun B, Yelawolf, Rhymefest, GLC, CyHi Da Prynce and the list goes on and on. He is a personal friend, an inspiration, and an amazing editor with a ridiculously fast turnaround time. You cannot tell this guy no. He figures things out and gets it done.
This interview is really special to me because I’ve been able to watch Tony grow as an artist. Back in 2009, Virgil and Alex of Rubyhornet asked me if I could recommend a video editor to intern with them. Tony immediately popped into my head. He went in and the rest is history. His work has grown so much and I’m glad I got a front row seat watching every new video look better and better. When he’s not doing his video thing, you can catch him with JD and The Robot Army spitting fire.
Check out our interview with Tony below:
Angel Alzona: Growing up were you always drawn to the arts?
Tony Shane: When I was a kid, I was always a storyteller and had a wild imagination. I had crazy dreams and made up characters and superheroes. I was really into superheros and used to have a whole book of them that I created and drew. I even had a list of their powers. My Dad convinced me to write all my stories down and so around 9 years old I started to do that.
AA: Did your school institutions help you grow as an artist?
TS: Definitely. My fourth grade teacher is my favorite teacher of all time. Her name was Mrs. Mack and I think she made all the difference in the person I became because she took special attention to me. She knew I was from the city and was different from all the kids there because of my demeanor. She saw that I was really into writing and so she used to put my stories on the overhead. I’m not sure if you remember those, the ones with the transparent things. She would make copies of my stories and we would read them in class. My stories were series and the whole class was really into it. It was a very cool thing that she supported. Then when I went to fifth grade, that class was across the hall and she made a deal with my fifth grade teacher to have me come over during her writing section of the day and just come over and help teach the class. I would give pointers to the fourth graders. It was really cool when I saw that she had that faith in me and thought I was that talented. Then my fifth grade teacher bought my this journal to write stories in too and I still have it. I still have all the stories that I wrote. It’s kinda funny. So that was the initial facilitation that school had for me. Then in junior high I decided I didn’t want to be a writer anymore because they didn’t make money and I wanted to go into film because I knew there was a lot of money in film so I decided to be a screenwriter. Then when I got into high school (Downer’s Grove South but traveled to Downer’s Grove North for class) I started taking TV classes. I got really into that. So I learned about broadcasting and multiple cameras and that’s when I first started doing digital editing and took a liking to it. The program I worked on was Adobe Premiere, a really early version of that. I was really amazed by being able to manipulate footage like that. And the only experience prior to that was really stupid funny videos where you use two VCRs and go back and forth to put the piece together. So for me to see Adobe Premiere and see the footage on the computer was crazy to me because I only saw the analog way of doing stuff. I really thought that was awesome. And then also how super easy it was to just type some words on top of the screen was amazing to me. The fact that I could see myself on the screen and write my name next to it was so awesome to me. I really liked to be able to move stuff around and out of order and that was really just mind-boggling.
AA: So junior high is when you knew you wanted to work in film and high school is where you began to explore that more. Was it an easy decision then for you to attend film school?
TS: Yes. High school took me more into the technical aspects of it. Then when I was selecting my college my Aunt really wanted me to go to Columbia College Chicago. After telling her that I wanted to make movies she told me that Columbia is right here in Chicago and they are one of the best film schools in the country and that I should go there. She also told me that they do a semester in LA where I can do an internship and when I get out there I can get a job and be a filmmaker. So hearing that I was like “oh sounds awesome” and said “cool I’ll do that.” I applied to Columbia, a community college, and Lewis University. Those were the only ones I applied to because the application process was really annoying to me and I just didn’t like it. In high school I was just really anti-everything so I just hated paperwork and homework and didn’t want to do it. I got accepted to all three colleges I applied to. Lewis was going to give me money to go there but I was sold on Columbia because it was in the city and I felt like I would have more opportunity there. Also, Lewis didn’t have the semester in LA thing and I was really set on doing that and realizing my dream so I went to Columbia.
AA: During your time at Columbia College Chicago, do you remember any classes that were really useful to you or would you say that just going to film school in general was an all around good thing for you to do?
TS: You know a lot of people ask me if going to Columbia was beneficial to me and I tell them yeah because I learned a lot by doing it. There was a lot of hands-on stuff that you had to do and I guess I would probably say that the equipment we used was dated but it was like if I could use that I could use anything. If I could shoot a film on a Bolex and actually have it look good, then shooting on an HD camera would be a walk in the park. For me, I think I learned a lot especially technical things. Also, all the teachers at the school worked in the industry at one point or another and they could tell you the book stuff and real world stuff as well. That is why I chose the path of the editor because they told me if I wrote a screenplay, it would be changed. They said that by the time I sell it, it’s going to change by the production company’s writers. It’s going to be reinterpreted by whoever they cast. It’s going to be rewritten for those actors. Then the director is going to change it and then someone is going to edit it and it’s going to be a completely different story by the end of the day. So then at first I decided I wanted to direct my own movies where I wanted to be like Quentin Tarantino and have total control with it. But then I realized that it was a lot of work and I didn’t really think I was cut out for 16 hour days on set and no sleep and all that. I got into editing because I felt like I was doing the same thing. I felt like I was still telling the story but rather than writing it I was just doing it by putting together video. I was the last person to touch it and I was going to be able to tell the story how I wanted. That was definitely why I got really settled into that. It was something that I could do that didn’t feel like work and I wasn’t watching the clock . I could go into a windowless room and sit with a computer and be in there from sun up to sun down and not even realize it. Sometimes I forget to eat. That’s how I knew this is what I’m supposed to do because I could do it for so long that I forget to even go to the bathroom you know.
AA: In school, how important is it to network?
TS: Well unfortunately for me, I feel like I learned it way to late in the game. But it is very important to network because it is an art form that requires a lot of people. Nobody can really make a movie by yourself. You can’t even make a good viral video by yourself. I mean I guess you can sit in front of a camera and say some funny stuff but so what. You can’t make anything epic and long lasting and life changing by yourself. So networking is huge. For me, I was so busy trying to pay for school that I wasn’t really around because everytime I wasn’t in class I was working or doing homework. I didn’t really get to network and work on other people’s films as much as I should have. And at the time I didn’t realize how important it was either. I definitely would have networked sooner.
AA: How important is it to have dedication in this field?
TS: If you don’t love this, don’t do it. If you’re not willing to sacrifice everything for whatever it is that you’re doing as far as the art, then it’s not the profession for you because it cuts into your love, family, and social life. It cuts into your health. And it definitely cuts into your sleep. So if you’re not willing to sacrifice that then don’t do it. Go be an accountant or a store manager or a garbage man. You have to be ready to sacrifice everything. I mean it’s cool if you want this as a hobby. Say you want this as a hobby and there’s a band that plays at your local bar on the weekends that you shoot. That’s awesome and great and totally fine. But don’t think that you’re going to make it a full time thing by only doing it on the weekends because it’s not going to happen. Full time dedication is important and I’ll say it again but willing to sacrifice is vital. It’s not about you. I want to be able to do something and when I’m not here, people still have that. I want to leave something here so I don’t mind sacrificing my maybe 80 years that I get to be here and just do a lot of awesome stuff. Then for the next 200-300,000 years, you’ll know I was here because you’ll still have my work to show for it.
AA: So you want to leave your mark.
TS: Exactly. For me, if you’re not trying to leave your mark, then why are you here? That’s the point. I don’t see the point of having a regular job that you go to everyday just so you can pay the bills. You go back just to pay your bills. It’s like the cycle of nothing. What are you here for?
AA: That is such an artist mentality and I love it! I feel the same way. Leaving your mark and doing something bigger than myself has always been what I aimed for.
TS: Yeah for sure. You honestly had a lot to do with me being who I am and I give you that credit all the time. You are totally one of my idols as far as being an independent artist and everything else because you don’t sleep. I always ask you when the hell do you sleep? That just blows my mind. And everything I’ve gotten has been opportunities and doors that you kind of opened for me. So you get all the comp in the world from me.
AA: Thank you so much Tony! I appreciate that. I really have no more to say to that then thank you. It’s all about connecting people and if I could do that, then I’m doing my job. Going back to college, where did you go from there? How did you attack graduation?
TS: After I graduated, I just started filling out resumes and sending them out to companies. Kind of endlessly and with no particular direction. I wasn’t really getting anywhere. I couldn’t really get a job in LA while I was in Chicago especially with no experience at all and nothing to show for it outside of some student films. So backing up a little, I think that I just got to this point like in my last semester where I realized that it’s almost over. I had no idea what to do next so I just started saying “yes” to stuff. Any opportunity that presented itself that I could do I would just say “yes” to it. So that was what happened that one day when me and you were in class and you were doing a film and said that you were working on this film and needed someone to script supervise. I said that I could do it. It was the one weekend I wasn’t working for some reason so I came through and did it. You must have thought I did a good job because then you asked me to come do another one. So I came back and did another one. I think that built the rapport that me and you have. I think it was the matter that I was a reliable person and showed up and did what I said I was going to do. I think that in itself will take you a long way. Just be dependable and make a good impression on people. Then a month after we graduated, you told me about this site that some friends of yours are doing and they needed someone to edit video. That I wasn’t going to get paid for it but it would be something cool that I could do. I wasn’t doing anything and didn’t know what to do so again I just said yes to it to see where it goes. And that led me to this crazy journey with RubyHornet and I got to meet a lot of artists I grew up listening to. I was able to work with them and do interviews and music videos with them. I built this relationship with all these people who were on the same kind of independent grind that I was on.
AA: For those that do not know what RubyHornet is, can you give us a rundown?
TS: Rubyhornet is an online magazine that covers music, fashion and the arts. It’s a lot of underground and indie music but some major music too. They cover the artists that are on the verge of becoming the next big thing. And they usually always do become the next big thing. We get to meet them first.
AA: Any surreal moments? Or favorite artists you were able to work with?
TS: One of my favorite stories was meeting Rhymefest. I was really into a lot of mainstream music before I started all of this. So a lot of the times when I first started I didn’t really know who I was talking to or meeting sometimes. I remember Rhymefest was an artist that I really liked and I knew about him because he did a song with Kanye West called “Brand New.” So then I ended up buying his album and me and my friend used to listen to it all the time. One day I was just sitting and editing a video and Rhymefest came into the office with his family and I was starstruck. I couldn’t believe it. He’s sitting there talking to Virgil because he had just done the album pictures for his album artwork. He was sitting at Virgil’s desk right in front of me and I was just baffled. I texted my friend “dude Rhymefest is just sitting here in front of me with his family like it’s nothing.” It was crazy. That was definitely a moment for me.
Then when I met Bun B during the Closed Session that we did. I was standing in the booth with him and I remember just looking at his chain. It was the chain that I had known from seeing on TV so many times and now I’m standing in a recording booth with him. Like just me and him in the booth and I just thought to myself “man look where I am right now.” Just because I said yes to some random thing that I didn’t even know what it was. I never heard of the site or seen it and was just like yeah I’ll do it. I didn’t even realize what I was getting into and it just bigger and bigger. It seemed like every week there would be some moment where I would say “look where I am at right now.” Or “look what I’m doing right now.”
AA: What is your advice as a starter kit for someone that wants to do what you do? What should they go get?
TS: As far as how things are now, it’s kind of an easy start. I don’t think it’s cheap but I think if you can get an Apple laptop and get Final Cut Pro on there or Premiere and an external harddrive like a terabyte if you can. Then get a DSLR camera. Those things will take you a long way. Let’s say you live in a city like Chicago. There are so many things going on. You can shoot anything and just start putting things up to start. I think that was my problem with starting is that I didn’t know what to shoot. I mean I didn’t have a camera let alone anything to point it at. But now that I’m out in the field, I’ve realized that all you need to do is just go to places. There is always something going on. If you have a camera you’ll be surprised the amount of people that come to you. You can start off doing stuff for people as a favor to mutually benefit both of you. Then afterwards, you’ll be surprised, they’ll come to you and will pay you. You won’t even have to bring it up. You just have to start small and work your way up.
AA: Dope. And what are you working with nowadays?
TS: My DSLR camera and Final Cut Pro. I can pretty much do anything with those two.
AA: Now how do you get clients?
TS: Networking. You just have to be out here. You can’t sit in the house and just record stuff and expect it to be heard. They have to see you. You have to be around. Networking is the main thing. I’m out at parties and events. They see me with the camera. They know I’m with RubyHornet. They go to RubyHornet. They see my shit on there and so they know I know what I’m doing. Then they might contact Alex, they might not contact me directly but they’ll hit up Alex and say how much will it cost to get a RubyHornet video. Then Alex would come and tell me and we’d go from there. Again, it goes back to me saying “yes” a long long time ago. So now all these people that I helped out and made their videos look better, now they’re helping me get gigs. This all goes back to networking. Being around, saying yes, and letting people know that you do this because no one is just going to come up to you. You have to be out there showing that this is what you can do. And surround yourself with like-minded people, that’s the best advice I can give. If you want to do this, stop hanging out with your friends from junior high and high school. Those people are my family and I love them to death but none of them are doing what I’m doing. So I don’t hang out with them like that because they are not on the same path I’m on which is fine. In order to do this, you gotta be around people that are doing it. And be humble. Don’t go in all cocky. I worked for RubyHornet for over a year for free. I just had to bite the bullet and be like this is what I’m gaining from it. I was taking the train back and forth to get there. And my parents and everything were telling me that I was stupid because I was doing this and not getting paid. But I understood the value in what I was doing. I was investing in myself. I was investing in my future. It wasn’t for the money, it was for the time. That is something people need to understand. You need to invest in yourself. Don’t think that you’re going to step outside the door and things are going to fall into your lap because it’s not.
AA: What is your creative process?
I prefer, as far as music videos go, to have someone bring an idea to me and then I will work around it and make it fit with my resources. So for example, the last video that I did, he wanted to basically be in an AA program for rap. He wanted to basically create this world where rap is illegal and I’m in this AA for rappers. I want this video of me to be escaping from this place and my friends are driving this getaway car. This all sounded pretty grandiose. And I was like, okay I like the idea but how about we do this. So I cut down the number of people involved and all we had to do is get 4 people rather than what he wanted to do originally. I figured out a place that we could use because he worked at South Suburban College and I asked if he could get us in there to shoot as the prison place. It happened to be around Halloween so I went to a costume store and bought an orange jumpsuit for it.
I prefer someone to have the idea and then for me to cut it down. I don’t mind coming up with concepts either. Listening to the song and then coming back with what I’m feeling. That’s how I did the Esso video that I shot in Austin. I just kind of made that up that day actually because I didn’t think I was going to shoot it, but it ended up happening. That goes back to day one and my stupid imagination. Just always out there and now I can use it.
AA: Who or what has influenced you?
TS: Quentin Tarantino has been a very influential person to me because I like him as a storyteller. The types of stories he tells are so different. I was sick of seeing the same movies made over and over again and I feel like he does not do that. Pulp Fiction is my favorite movie of all time and I think it will always will be. It represents a lot of what I want to do. It’s just a story told out of order with awesome characters and forms this dope story. I even love the colors in the movie. The movie was just super engaging to me. He just comes up with these awesome characters and I love that. From a music standpoint, Eminem has always been an inspiration to me because he’s in that same lane of off the wall, totally different approach to something that a lot of people are doing. It’s just so unique and different that you cannot design him. He’s a bit of a genius. So everything that I do musically, I try to shoot and attain that level.
AA: So you do music as well?
TS: Yeah I rap and used to make beats a lot. My dad used to have this keyboard with all these 80s sounds on it and I would make beats on it. It was a keyboard that recorded straight to a hard drive that was built into it. I figured out how to structure music by just messing around and was looking to get my own. However, my dad wasn’t going to buy me one unless I knew how to play it so I enrolled in piano for like a year or two and learned how to play. That kept me into the whole music thing. My friend had all this music equipment like guitars, and all that stuff, he was this rich kid and he convinced me to rap. I had been writing raps for a long time but I was always shy about it. So I did something for him and he told me it was really good. We recorded it and made this whole album that was terrible quality because we barely knew how to use the equipment we were recording on but we really liked it. I’ve always kind of did that just for fun. Now I’m working with my friend JD who’s really serious about it and he really likes me and so him and I are pursuing that. That’s another thing that I’m doing. I’m just really inspired by people like that. Also, just people I know. Like you and Alex Fruchter because you guys represent that hustle that I can’t even fathom. I hope that I’m getting there. And people like Omar too, seeing people just grow their business and do things on their own. I have mad respect for that.
AA: That’s funny because I feel the same way about you. Which definitely hits on this cycle of inspiration that I’m trying to get across. People can get inspired by each other. So wrapping up, what’s going on with you now? What do you have in your pipeline?
TS: Right now, I’m working on figuring out how to brand myself. I feel like I’m becoming this rogue agent where I have a lot of people that want me to work for them but at the same time I want to work for me. So I’m just trying to figure out how that works. I think it’s cool that I’m becoming more recognized for my work and what I’m capable of doing and people are reaching out to help me and share their resources. I’m also seeing people that I considered my competition reaching out to me for me to help them. I think that’s really cool. It’s just now starting to sync in the amount of people that have seen what I’ve done because when you’re in it, especially in this internet world, stuff moves so fast. When you’re in it, you just try to stay seen and you don’t really realize how many people are seeing what you do and for instance our video page will have a minimum of 1000 hits a week and that’s 1000 people a week that are being exposed to stuff that I do. I never really think about it. I don’t really sit back and take that in. It’s crazy to have my name in a bunch of places. You can google me you know? And I don’t think about that stuff because I’m just putting things out. Now I’m just trying to figure out who I want to be and what I want to represent me in the public eye. Also, figuring out what I’m worth and just the business side of things. I feel like I’ve gotten down the artist and creative side of things and I’m always growing in that but now I gotta figure out the business side of things on how to get paid. And contracts and stuff like that.
AA: Ok so now you’re starting to build the Tony Shane brand.
TS: Yes because I’m becoming a business. That’s the first time I’ve said that out loud but that’s pretty much the truth.
AA: Any last words of wisdom for the future generation? Something you maybe figured out later in life you wish you knew earlier?
TS: I think that young people should be comfortable with being who they are and I know a lot of people say that and it’s like being super corny. However, I just remember being in high school and making fun of the kids that were weird, dorky, or super lame because they were doing whatever they did. And how I look back at them now and they’re still doing that. They still look like that and they are still that person. Versus myself who is totally different now because I’ve finally gotten comfortable with who I am and I respect them a lot more because I feel that they knew it before me. What really will get you far is being a genuine person. Be a real and dependable person. Even if you’re not necessarily that good or that talented yet and you’re still fresh doing whatever it is, being dedicated to it and being genuine will get you far. Stop worrying about being cool. Be yourself because that is cool. Everybody you look up to or think is cool are people who are being themselves and not afraid of doing that. Trendsetters are people that don’t do what everybody else is doing. They are people that do what they want to do. If there are more young people doing that, then things would be a lot better. There would be a lot less followers. If you keep doing something, you can’t get worse at it. People just need to understand that you’re not going to be dope out the gate. Just keep doing it. You’re already as bad as you’re going to be. You can always get better if you keep trying.
Check out some of Tony’s work below or just hop over to RubyHornet to find more.
Follow Tony on Twitter here.