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Lives & landscapes: Local filmmaker captures the moments

By on March 23, 2020 in Arts with 0 Comments
Filmmaker Jeremiah Higgins, here at the pre-production board at Voortex, segued from savvy student to valued employee seven years ago, and he still loves his job.  Photo by Mike Irwin

By Susan Lagsdin

In the office or out in the field, Jeremiah Higgins wears whichever figurative hat any day’s filming needs him to wear, as do most of the small crew of film makers at Voortex Productions in Cashmere. 

He calls himself simply a storyteller; that’s the essence of his work. His title on the website is “technical director,” and he’s often occupied on shoots as the sound engineer, capturing sound and later enhancing it. But he’s also skilled with film editing that shapes the final viewing experience. 

Jeremiah has been involved in this wraparound production process for seven years, since he was 18, and Voortex is his first employer in the industry. He didn’t bring in a stack of certificates, a film school degree or a showy portfolio to his initial job interview because he didn’t have any of them — stack, degree, portfolio or interview.

What he had was even better: his teacher and mentor Charlie Voorhis, owner of Voortex Productions, invited him to work at his company. 

Charlie was just transitioning out of teaching film and video at the Digital Media Arts Program at Wenatchee School District’s Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center in Olds Station (aka the Tech Center). He was assembling a team for his growing production business and admired what he’d seen of Jeremiah’s work, and his work ethic, during the younger man’s senior year. 

Jeremiah was offered a full-time position at Voortex starting right after his high school graduation.

He agrees it’s a great way to begin a career: an interest turned into a hobby and became a profession. “I said I’d give it a year, to see if I liked it…” Jeremiah remembers. 

Now he’s involved every day in an art form he’s passionate about, and he lives in the town and terrain he’s loved from childhood. An unbeatable bonus is that often the filming happens out in the local landscape he frequently hikes, skis, kayaks or bikes in.

By age 6, Jeremiah was fascinated by the possibilities of the family’s VHS camcorder and made, he said, “a lot of really short films.” As he grew, the gear did too. His parents, a counselor and a teacher, encouraged his interest and by 16 he was using a Sony Handicam. 

Now at his job he has access to a Canon IDc and a RED Scarlet camera, Tamron lenses, microphones and mixers, drones, an exotic array of riggings and an Apple computer system, “With terabytes and terabytes of footage,” he said.

About five projects a month — but sometimes up to 20 — are in various stages of pre-production (planning), production (filming) and post-production (editing). Jeremiah thrives on the variety. “One day,” he said,” I might be capturing aerial footage from a helicopter and the next day, dreaming up concepts on a whiteboard… I’m out lots of early mornings before the sun comes up.” 

Jeremiah described one particularly grueling five days in Hawaii making a promotional video for mega-contractor Goodfellow Bros. “Yeah, Hawaii sounds good,” he said, “but we were working 16-hour days, with usually two hours of work back in our rooms.” (Sadly, after a bad cut on his foot, even his one hour at the beach didn’t go well.) 

Voortex, Jeremiah said, has grown enough that they can now produce self-funded films of personal interest alongside those commissioned by clients, and they are able to choose the most satisfying among even those. 

Non-corporate entities like school districts, cities and nonprofit agencies all benefit from the team’s storytelling talents. Jeremiah’s proud to have worked on a three-part paean to the beauty and industry of the city for the Chamber of Commerce, We Are Wenatchee

He cites, too, the interview in Miss Veedol with the last surviving witness to the 1931 Pangborn and Herndon nonstop flight from Japan to Fancher Heights, as well as the film’s probing of our long relationship with Masawa. 

The business-oriented videos, called cinematic branding, are a pleasure to watch also, whether they’re showcasing camera lenses, coffee, banking or leather goods. Jeremiah worked on a promotional piece showing a farm family waiting all day for its new tractor to arrive. A tiny pig-tailed girl is the star, and the finale is heartwarming.

Jeremiah at first couldn’t pinpoint one moment that stands out as his proudest professional accomplishment, but he picked this from his mental video files. 

“When we had the premier showing of Part I of We Are Wenatchee, everybody seemed to be enjoying it, and then toward the end we zoomed in on that statue… you know the one… of the little boy holding the plane? We could hear people crying.”

(That’s Wings, in the plaza at the base of Fifth Street. And if reading a magazine interview with a filmmaker describing a sculpture makes you a little weepy, y’gotta see the movie at voortexproductions.com.)

“What I really value is when we give people who have no voice a chance to be heard. I really want to continuing doing that with film,” he said. 

Jeremiah wants to tell more stories in an artful way. He doesn’t need Hollywood, he doesn’t need an Oscar. He’s happy that he can use his skills to do well and to do good, right here, right now.

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