Pathfinder Films: Leading Creatively
Aug. 4, 2021
Media production is on the rise in Chattanooga. In recent years, a number of young creatives have established production companies in town, including Pathfinder Films. Led by husband and wife duo Leif and Lucky Ramsey, the company has served clients ranging from the Navy to our very own Chamber.
Some may be suprised to learn that filmmaking is more than just storytelling. Director and producer Danny Boyle said, “To be a filmmaker, you have to lead." Here's what Leif and Lucky said that leadership role looks like for Pathfinder Films.
How did Pathfinder Films start? And why did you choose that name?
Lucky: Originally, our company was called Leif Ramsey Pictures LLC, but we wanted a name with leadership quality and also something outdoorsy. We both went to Southern Adventist University (SAU), so we were familiar with Pathfinders, the SDA version of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Pathfinder Films meets our previously mentioned criteria and is a cheeky nod to our roots. Our business started about six years ago. Leif had been a creative director for about 10 years and had been slowly building his craft and portfolio while working with another company. But he was finally ready to go out on his own. It came at a good time for me as well, so we took that leap of faith. We also took on a partner, Chris Stiles, as a cinematographer and director of photography. I handle operations and production along with Derek Peters, and Leif of course is our director.
Leif, what is your vision for the company?
Leif: One of the things about being in a creative career is that you always want to have progress, whether it’s the format, technology, or creativity. For example, traditional TV ads are now popping up on the Internet and you have different genres like narrative and documentary. One of the visions for Pathfinder Films was never to be stuck doing one kind of thing. For me as a director, I certainly didn’t want to do just documentary style or just musical style.
Lucky: Having Chattanooga talent be able to stay here and work is a dream that we are working towards. We’re talking set, crew, hair and makeup, wardrobe buying, actors, location scouts, and producers. While we love to travel for our clients, we also want people to be able to stay in the area. It’s important to understand that in our industry, Leif is our director in terms of crew. In terms of our company, we all lead it. When thinking of the creative vision it’s important for Leif and Chris. But company wise it’s also important for us to be able to build the film scene in town.
Left to right: Head of Production Derek Peters, Director of Photography Chris Stiles, Executive Producer Lucky Ramsey, and Director Leif Ramsey
Tell us your most extreme filming story.
Lucky: One of the strangest situations we’ve found ourselves in happened when we were working for the Navy. One of the first trips they sent us out on was an aircraft carrier. We got to go back on another one later and film. The work environment on the flight deck itself is probably one of the most unusual experiences you can have in life. There’s 300 people on a flight deck at any given time. You’ve got F-18s taking off and landing in quick succession while you’re standing on the runway. There’s painted safety lines but even then, when a jet is trying to take off, there’s a jet blast that comes at you like the breath of a dragon--even from 200 feet away. That’s probably the craziest environment we’ve had to film in. Also, we shot a broadcast commercial a few weeks ago for Chattanooga Tourism Company at the Discovery Museum and there were dozens of children running around.
What does the creative brainstorming process look like when you guys take on a new project?
Lucky: Often an ad agency will bring us a concept and it will be a bidding process against other companies. Leif will do the director’s treatment, which is a written out version of what the finished ad should look like. Start to finish, including post production, it’s usually about six to eight weeks. Sometimes four weeks if necessary.
Leif: The director’s treatment is a key tool. But often we will get a script or an idea that is fairly developed. For example, when we worked for the Chattanooga Chamber, we talked to Jeremy Henderson (Creative Director). He had this idea of a character that could pitch Chattanooga. He wanted it to be irreverent comedy that was pretty clean. From that, we actually engaged a writer to start working on this character called Mr. Perfect. We asked, What if in a cheeky way this guy gets things wrong in all the right ways? But then what if it turns out Chattanooga is actually literally perfect? And then once we have the script, how do we imagine bringing it to life on set? Once those questions are answered, we’re ready to actually begin the filming process.
Pathfinder Films is committed to their projects, even in more extreme filming environments.
So how were you able to bring the "Literally Perfect" concept to life on set?
Lucky: It was the amazing writing by Nick Livanos. He’s also directed some feature films and teaches filmmaking at SAU. For this one, I think we were just in a really good place to do it. I used to work for the Chattanooga Chamber in recruiting, so we're very familiar with the goals of this project. The musical element came from realizing the actor playing Mr. Perfect was a great singer.
Leif: Even though he never sang once in the finished product!
Lucky: Once the script was done, it was delightful to bring it to life. No one expected this genre to come from the Chamber of Commerce.
So is Chattanooga “Literally Perfect” for you? What's your take?
Lucky: It’s perfect for us as people and as a company. It’s a great place to raise kids. Our coworkers feel the same because it’s not too big and has a great outdoors scene.
Leif: If you want to live your life and leave work to be doing something outdoors in 15 minutes, you can. You’re not spending a huge chunk of life sitting in traffic. Plus, it has great access to other cities. In an hour and 45 minutes you can be in Atlanta, and it’s only two hours to Nashville. So it feels like the right size and place for us.