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VetsRoll, another local fixture, is an annual program that buses veterans to Washington, D.C., on a pilgrimage to see the many war memorials and interact with one another on the way. Mark Finnegan of Finnegans’ RV runs VetsRoll every year, and he feels that no one deserves the award more than the Pickerings.
"They’re incredible people, they are still so young and have three kids, but they are organized and really talented," Finnegan said. "We were really impressed by their abilities. They stepped in for us almost at the last minute for our 2013 trip and just proceeded to make this incredible, quality, emotional documentary."
Finnegan met Stephen and Cameron back in 2012 while Drywater Productions was doing a shoot for the Red Cross, and from there both parties knew they had to work together in the future.
"When we went over and interviewed Mark, there were some vets that stopped into the store, so we had the opportunity to hear more of the story than we had originally planned to," Stephen said. "We ended up putting together a much more in-depth video for the Red Cross.
Ever since then, we kept in touch with the Finnegans and last year, we started talking actually just a few weeks before their trip and they invited us and we made it happen. We got baby sitters for two of our children and took our third with us and just worked it out."
On top of now being an award-winning film that catalogs the 2013 VetsRoll journey, both Finnegan and the Pickerings are excited to see just how much use they are able to get out of the film in terms of spreading the word about the VetsRoll cause.
"The film is already working great for us," said Finnegan. "I go out and do hundreds of presentations all over the place. When people see the video, it captures the emotion and the culture of VetsRoll so well, that by the end there isn’t a dry eye in the house."
Drywater Productions is by no means a huge production studio doing multimillion dollar films, but rather a small independent business run by a husband and wife with their three small children.
"I graduated from film school in 2005," Stephen said. "My background is in film production, directing and cinematography. My wife doesn’t have any formal training, but she has a lot of real world, hands-on experience with editing, so she edits a lot of what I shoot."
After school, Stephen and Cameron started Drywater Productions with nothing more than a dream and started to climb. They started out doing wedding videography, but as their skills and experience mounted they were able to take their business to the next level.
"It was really nice to transition out of wedding videos and start doing more corporate video production, commercials and those things," Stephen said. "We got into doing commercial competitions, and after winning a couple of them we finally had the funds for me to quit my day job. We haven’t looked back since."
In addition to the BIFFY, Drywater won a Janesville Area Creativity Award last month for best original film.
Partners in life, business and film
Stephen says he hears it all the time, "ugh, I could never work with my spouse," but if you ask the duo it sounds like they couldn’t work without one another.
"We have people telling us all the time that they don’t know how we can do this," Cameron said. "We are together almost 24/7, and that can be a challenge and a blessing at the same time. I love that while we can drive each other crazy sometimes arguing over whether a shot should be cool or warm in color, or whether or not a frame should be moved over slightly to the right or left, I have gotten to know my husband so much more these past three years since he has been home full time."
Stephen says that much of their aesthetic sense is similar, which is helpful to the collaboration, but it’s their unique complementary skills that really make their partnership dynamic.
"It’s funny because I don’t think that either one of us, especially me, would be good at what we do without the other," Stephen said. "I think we work really well together in that she can challenge me and I can challenge her and at the same time we have a lot of similarities in style."
Even with their hard work and success, the Pickerings feel it’s important to make time for their three children, ages 4, 2 and 1. But they also consider themselves lucky that having a tight family affords them the opportunity to make last-minute schedule adjustments.
"I often think about how cool it is that our kids will grow up thinking it is completely normal to have both parents home every day," Cameron said. "I have to say though, we would not be able to do this if not for our loving family and friends that take our kids last minute when we have a meeting or job that both of us have to be at. That is a great help."
Part of what makes Drywater Productions such a success story is that the couple always seems to be looking ahead and planning for the future. As it often does with ambitious entrepreneurs, making their business dreams come true has resulted in more, even bigger dreams.
"We are hoping to do more documentary type work that is actually funded," Stephen said. "Our work for VetsRoll was entirely something we wanted to do for them pro bono to help get the word out, but we’d like to be able to focus in on documentaries and work on them full time rather than just doing them in our spare time. The ultimate goal though is to make feature films."
Drywater Productions’ recent success has encouraged the Pickerings, and they see their efforts as a step to the next rung on the ladder. But they plan to use the momentum, and you may want to stay tuned, because before long the Pickerings may be coming to a theater near you.
"I want to prove to people that we can run a large production company right here in southern Wisconsin," Cameron said. "I want to prove that you don’t have to move to L.A. or New York to make awesome films. Our goal is to make full feature films. We have so many stories that we have developed and want to share with others, and we will work hard to accomplish this."
See Drywater Production's award winning VetsRoll film here.