Aspiring filmmaker Todd Eastman, who grew up in Hermon, is earning distinction in moviemaking circles – and Hollywood is starting to take notice.
Recently, the 36-year-old was director of photography for a music video that won first place in Toyota’s Scion xPress Fest, a national competition that matched student filmmakers with up-and-coming indie bands.
He is working on a short film with actor Harry Van Gorkum, who starred in “Gone in Sixty Seconds” and appeared in television shows such as “Friends” and “JAG,” and he owns festival rights to make a movie of Stephen King’s short story “Uncle Otto’s Truck.”
Being behind the camera isn’t as glamorous as it sounds, Eastman said. The hours are long and the conditions can be extreme, but the work is very rewarding.
“What I like to do on set is be the Steadicam operator,” he said during a recent trip through Maine to visit family. He and his wife, Sara, live in Georgia, where he is working toward his master’s degree in film and television at Savannah College of Art and Design.
A Steadicam is just what it sounds like: a stabilization device that a cameraman wears to get quick-motion shots without the jerkiness that comes with a handheld camera. The job requires expert training and stamina and is considered one of the most difficult jobs on a movie set.
“It’s challenging,” Eastman said. “You have to sometimes run after an actor. You’re always moving.”
The budding cameraman took a roundabout way to the movie industry. He graduated from Hermon High School in 1988 and went to the University of Maine in Orono, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He went on to work at Acadia Hospital, a psychiatric center, in Bangor.
Making the move from psychology to film might sound strange to some.
“Film is a medium where you’ve got something visual, you’ve got something auditory and you can get an emotional response from it. And that’s psychology,” he said. “Film is powerful. It can change behavior.”
For his master’s thesis, he served as director of photography for a 20-minute action movie called “Vengeance.” The short is about a sniper who is trying to set his life toward a more honorable path but is derailed by the husband of one of his victims. Van Gorkum plays the husband and the producer is Peter Onsmark, who was a set production intern on “Mission: Impossible III.”
When filming for the third movie in the “Mission: Impossible” series began, Eastman got an offer to work on the camera crew but had to decline because he had already committed to another, albeit smaller, production.
Eastman also plans to make a movie of “Uncle Otto’s Truck,” a short story that King first published in 1983. He owns festival rights, meaning he can enter his production into film festivals.
The three-minute video for Toyota, for which he received a share of the $20,000 cash prize, can be seen at http://scionxpressfest.com/splash.html. Directed by Eastman’s classmate, Michael Goubeaux, the video was shot over three days in an abandoned bank building in Savannah for the song “Trains” by Florida band Summerbirds in the Cellar. The piece included slow-motion shooting and precise animation, all on a modest budget provided by Toyota.
“I’m proud of it,” Eastman said. “It was a lot of work and like most things that are a lot of work, it was rewarding to see the final product.”
Eastman hopes to someday return to his home state and continue working in the film industry. But for now, he’ll go wherever movies are being made.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to match up what I would like to do and where it is I would like to live,” he said. “I’d love to see more filmmaking in Maine. I know there would be an interest.”