Catching Up With Devin Olson & Tawaan Brown of Devin Olson Media
Back in late 2014, one of my earliest interviews for Coaster101 was with Theme Park Documentarian Devin Olson about his then-newest project, From Dreams to Screams, Fury 325, which was released in August 2015. Fast forward almost exactly three years from that interview, and Devin’s company, Devin Olson Media, was on the show floor at the IAAPA Expo in Orlando, exhibiting for the first time.
While at IAAPA, I had the opportunity to catch up with Devin and also Tawaan Brown, Creative Director & Director of Photography for Devin Olson Media, to learn a little bit more their partnership and see what they have been working on since we last talked.
C101: You guys have been working together since 2013. How did the two of you get your start working together?
Devin Olson: I used to have a web hosting business and Tawaan used to primarily be a music producer. This guy comes along, wanting me to host his website. The whole website was just him, with all his bling on, and gold chains, and I thought “This guy is so full of himself! We could never be friends.” And then meanwhile he’s thinking…
Tawaan Brown: Hold on. And so I’m thinking “Look at this nerdy Liberty graduate, privileged white boy, little web hosting, give me your web fees, no game..” I just didn’t like this dude. I didn’t like him.
(Laughter from both)
TB: So I guess from Devin’s perspective, as he started getting bigger into video, I started transitioning out of music, and really felt called into video work. The only person I knew who was any good at video work was Devin Olson, and even though I didn’t like this kid, I had to swallow my pride. I’ll never forget when he actually friended me on Facebook.
DO: I don’t remember that.
TB: I know you don’t remember that, but you did!
DO: Probably to track down my web hosting fees! (More Laughter)
TB: Yes, it was likely because I owed him money. However, I will say that he didn’t have the testicular fortitude to actually ask for his money. But, I had done a video, and sent it to him for him to critique.
For those of you who know Devin, Devin’s never going to tell you you’re stupid. He’s going to say that your vision is slightly challenged by the limitations of your understanding of the subject matter. You’re stupid. He will never say you’re stupid, he’ll say the last thing I said.
When I sent him the video, that’s what he did. He told me “this sucks,” but he did it in a super nice way. He told me all the things I needed to do differently. And so I thought, “Alright nerd, you don’t think I can do this?”
So I went back, I did a wedding like a month later, and sent it to him, and he said “Wow. This looks pretty good! I mean, it still not my quality, but it looks okay for what you’re doing.”
TB: So he invited me on my first gig with him, at Little Fish Swimming in Fredericksburg, VA, and the first thing he told me to do was “Go over there, get on that slider, and get me some slider shots.” I had never seen a slider in my life. He wouldn’t coach me, he wouldn’t teach me, he just let fail and get it on my own. And I got the shot, and he was impressed. And he just took me under his wing from there and we became best friends.
DO: A lot of people will ask for advice and not follow it, but Tawaan was one of the first people I’d ever met who’d not just take my advice, but exceeded what I knew in certain areas in maybe a tenth of the time it took me to learn that skill. I just knew that he had this God-given ability to soak up information and make decisions on the fly that were the right call in that circumstance. Just the fact that I put him on a piece of equipment he had never seen before and he mastered it almost on the first try just blew me away.
Ever since then, it was always collaborating on vision, and I think that God has given us a similar vision on projects, so when a Carowinds or a Busch Gardens or Cedar Point comes to us with a project, and they want to tell a story. We don’t really butt heads on it a lot. We both have the vision, we both have the same passion, and it just clicks.
C101: For awhile you were doing wedding videos, and you’ve since gotten out of those, correct?
DO: Back when I started doing video work, it wasn’t just that, it was anything that required a camera, I would say yes to. Soon, I was able to cut photography out of that, and then I was able to cut wedding videos, and now it’s really fine-tuned and laser focused on telling stories that matter. Especially at fun and meaningful experiences. I don’t want to limit that to theme parks, because it includes other parallel markets like zoos, museums and golf courses. That’s really our passion. Wherever there’s a captivating story about doing something big in the world, we like to tell it.
C101: When we last chatted, you were wrapping up “From Dreams to Screams: Fury 325.” It’s been a few years. What have you been up to since?
Devin Olson: Every year it seems like that business is doubling in terms of number of projects. In 2017, we’ve done up near a record 200 projects for theme parks and related businesses around the country. It’s been insane.
C101: Who are some of the parks you work with?
DO: Some of our favorite parks to work with are Busch Gardens and SeaWorld Parks, Dollywood, and here at IAAPA, you have companies like Skyline Attractions, Oak Island Creative, who we’ve worked with a lot in the past few years, and done a lot of projects for them. Some smaller properties, like in our hometown, Savannah, Georgia, we have a little Water Park called Surf Lagoon, and we’ve done some work for them. Really, anything from a small local park to the big players in the industry.
C101: And Tawaan, are you still doing the music for these projects?
TB: It takes a special project to commission music and Devin and I really try to use that wisely. A lot of times, stock music will work, but it all depends on the project and the budget. It’s all about the budget. If Busch Gardens comes in and says “we want a video,” they know my music capabilities.
TB: We put out a little series called “Friday Funday” that they commissioned for me to do a 10-second jingle. They’ll usually budget for music and if the budget’s there, then Devin and I will get together and say “Okay, with the story we’re trying to tell, the music also has to complement and lift that up.” Just like with From Dreams to Screams: Fury 325 – which people are still commenting on – the soundtrack on that night came from so many sleepless nights and long days and looking at this guy like a zombie, trying to figure out that perfect guitar riff, or that perfect turn. It’s always good when the budget works out.
C101: What are some of the projects you have in the works right now, that you’re allowed to talk about, anyway?
DO: Without naming names, we have a few 2019 projects lined up which is incredibly exciting to be able to get in this early on in the creative process and have a little more influence in telling the story, because we’re there when it’s happening, we aren’t just using footage that was shot a year before we came on. That really excites us a lot. I’d say that most it is working for the parks themselves, but a good bit of it is working for vendors that do work for the parks. That’s about as much as we can say at this point.
C101: Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
TB: A lot of people advised us not to get a booth at IAAPA this year, and its of course where you’re currently interviewing us. We want to just let everyone know to not let other people dictate what your dream is, and what it is that you’re really passionate about. Had we listened to people who told us not to get a booth, the connections that we’ve made on our first year on the IAAPA show floor, would you agree Devin, have been monumental?
DO: Right. I think a lot of people will provide caution out of the best motives out of whatever you’re trying to attempt, just in case you didn’t the downside of it. But, Tawaan and I are both overanalytical, and so we’ve probably thought of all the downsides before we make the “yes decision.”
TB: And sometimes we just don’t care! (Laughs)