The Right Direction

Zach Voss is riding the wave — going from student to business owner to international filmmaker.

While most of his classmates were frantically applying for jobs before graduation, polishing resumes and editing cover letters, Zach Voss was starting his own business.

“I formed the [limited liability corporation] with the state of Idaho the last semester of school,” Zach says, “I transitioned from being a student to a small business owner.”

His business is Retroscope Media, a one-man shop for writing, producing, shooting and editing whatever he could get his hands on. Starting with videos for various departments at Boise State University and the Army Corps of Engineers — connections he’d made as a student.

Zach was fearless… in an ignorant sort of way. Outside of delving into video production and journalism at Boise State student media, he lacked the professional experience many people his age would want before starting their own business. “Looking back on it, it seems more ambitious than it did at the time,” Zach admits.

Since then, he’s been “riding the wave.”

Treefort Music Festival

Treefort stop motion figurines
Stop motion figurines from the Treefort announcement video series.

“I was a patron, like most of the people at Treefort the first year,” Zach said. After seeing the work friends and colleagues put into it, he decided he needed to be part of it.

He had an idea.

Up until then, Treefort had been promoting their musical lineup through social media and print. “I pitched [Treefort leadership] on doing a video counterpart to their artist announcement,” Zach says. They accepted.

Since 2012, he’s been producing the artist announcements for the festival. And each year, the announcements get more elaborate.

“I try to mix it up every year to keep those videos fresh,” Zach says. Recalling the 2014 announcement video, “I knew I wanted to do stop motion, I just didn’t know how I would get there.”

Where does anyone start anymore? Zach went to the internet.

“I did my research and sure enough, I found a talented YouTube stop motion hobbyist — Hutt Wigley — that had a spare bedroom in his house in Boise dedicated to doing stop motion,” Zach smirked.

Zach and Hutt teamed up with a production designer, nursery, and florist to build the sets, and added voice talent as well. The team set out to produce a three-part announcement series for the 2014 festival.

Zach played the wrangler of all things — or in industry terms, the director. “When you have all these different elements, it’s very important communication is very clear.” For something as complex as stop motion, storyboards, scripts and the sets needed to be concrete before the “filming” could start.

Each of the three episodes are roughly two minutes long.

In stop motion time: An eternity.

Stop motion is a series of photographs, each slightly different from the next. With enough photographs sequenced together, it creates movement.“[Hutt] was knocking out five seconds [of video] per day, so it would take [him] weeks and weeks to produce minutes of video.”

The videos were a hit for Treefort, as they embodied the indie quirky qualities for which the festival and its attendees are known. “Yes, technically it is marketing Treefort Music Festival, that’s what its function is, but beyond that it is a rally cry for all these people that feel something for Treefort,” Zach says.

And for Zach and Retroscope Media, it was a turning point.

“The relationship [with Treefort] has yielded great videos that have won me advertising awards and have been portfolio pieces that allowed me to go on to work with other organizations.”

Rutgers University

One of those organizations was Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he directed and edited two orientation videos. One featured R.O.N., the Rutgers Orientation Knight, a vending machine suit of armor attending events and visiting popular spots on the Rutgers campus.

Zach hired a team of people to fabricate R.O.N. and a puppeteer to control him during filming.

“I’ll be in an airport and I’ll see a kid in a Rutgers hoodie and I wonder if they’ve seen my video. Every time I’ve gone up and asked, they know what I’m talking about. Every incoming freshman [at Rutgers] watches my videos,” Zach smiles, “It’s good to know that it left an impact on them.”

Full-length feature film

Fast forward to 2016, and Zach’s been on the move. Early this year he traveled with a journalist to document volcanologists studying an active volcano in Guatemala. While also filming a documentary on the homeless in Idaho with a grant from the Idaho Media Initiative. And working on a short film based on a story he heard at Story Story Night, a storytelling event held during the summer in Boise.

And then there’s the film. A feature film, he assistant directed and co-produced with fellow Boise writer and director Will von Tagen, which wrapped principal photography at the end of May.

“[Will] was running story and the creative side of the film and I was running the logistics and day-to-day production,” Zach explains.

Zach, Will, the actors and a small production crew traveled across Germany and Bulgaria, filming in remote, hard-to-access areas. “I don’t think you could have shot the film we had with a large crew,” Zach says, explaining how logistically, it would be too expensive to transport hundreds of people into some of these areas for a few minutes of screen time.

The film, After Walpurgisnacht, is in post-production and is set to be released in the fall.

Retroscope Media founder Zach Voss editing

Zach is the first admit the work isn’t for everyone. It’s a balancing act, but he appreciates the nature of it. “Month to month I can be working on a documentary piece in Guatemala, two months later I’m working on a feature film in Germany. I like being able to say ‘Yes’ to opportunities.”

He attributes that to where he’s at today.

“There’s an infinite amount of reasons to not do something … it’s often harder to say yes, but when you do, that’s where the richness of your process lies.”

Zach’s plan is to keep doing what works. He’s got a web series lined up and is considering a feature film of his own. When asked if he’d ever thought about moving to a more film-centric city, like New York or Los Angeles, Zach responded, “I don’t know if I’d be happy in Los Angeles. Undoubtedly opportunities would open up for me, but others would close.

“… Boise is this wonderful platform for me to grow and learn, get life experiences while also learning my skills. If I wasn’t growing, I wouldn’t be so attached to staying in Boise.”

Retroscope Media founder Zach Voss at desk

Note: See all of Zach’s work on Retroscope Media’s website.