30 Aug 2015

Great Risk, Great Reward

I’m sitting here on a plane headed to Fairbanks, AK and the sound of the music in my headphones has me evaluating my life and the amazing, almost wild journey God has laid in front of me. It wasn’t too long ago that I was sitting in a seat inside a classroom at Stephen F. Austin State University, barely paying attention to the lecture given because my mind was a million miles away. It’s not that I was a poor student or that I didn’t care for class. It was just that I wanted something so much more at the time than a degree with a standard job.

I bleed purple through and through and I will still graduate from SFA with a business degree, but I have definitely taken my sweet time. If it wasn’t for their outstanding online program for business students, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The ability to travel and work across the globe while still maintaining a seat in a virtual lecture is a luxury some might take for granted in our century.

For those of you who don’t know what I do, I own a business called Rustic River Media (formerly known as Broken Pine Outdoors) and I specialize in producing commercials for companies, promotional videos for various programs and television shows for outdoor TV channels. Currently, my business is producing Deer & Wildlife Stories with Keith Warren, which is going into its 7th season on the nationally televised Pursuit Channel. The show is about deer farming and we travel across the country documenting different deer farms, sharing with the world the stories of these hard working Americans.

The beauty of my business is that it’s limitless. I can take on anything from an outdoor TV show to an online Chevy commercial. I work with wineries, breweries, universities and fishing companies, and I particularly like to produce short films in the hunting world. The variety of projects my business takes on prevents my life from ever being dull. The creativity and experimental environment that comes with my field is an adrenaline rush that I can’t entirely explain. It’s lead me to 20 states and 3 different countries, including places like Africa and Alaska.

Almost every city, state or country I travel to, I get asked the same question: “How did you get into filmmaking?” That’s an interesting story. To answer that question, the simple explanation is that I followed the road that God gave me and I trusted Him whenever everyone doubted me. I learned to take risks at the expense of great reward and I knew that if I could just keep pushing then somehow I could make this dream a reality. The long answer to that question is a little less simplistic.

When I was growing up, I cared about three things: girls, baseball and hunting. I thought that if I could play baseball well enough, then I could make enough money to hunt anywhere I wanted, and if I could hunt anywhere I wanted, then I could harvest big animals, and if I could harvest big animals, then the girls would come running my way. Boy was I wrong! It turns out that baseball ends at some point for everybody, and for me I decided that time was after high school. Rather than pursue a scholarship playing ball, I elected to go to SFA and study Wildlife Management. That was probably the best decision I ever made in my 20 something years of living.

After my freshman year of college, I managed to land an internship with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department helping to manage public hunting lands in east Texas. I spent my summer days on a tractor mowing grass, in a backhoe building roads, on a john boat spotlighting for alligators and in the woods hunting and trapping wild hogs. It was one of the most fun times in my life and I learned a lot from living by myself on over 2,000 acres in the middle of nowhere. I somehow talked the guys at Alazan Bayou Wildlife Management Area into offering me a second internship the following summer. It was a great experience for me.

While I was working there, I decided to buy my first video camera and I documented the adventures I had on a daily basis. It wasn’t much compared to what I have now, but it had a record button and that’s all that mattered to me. It’s this inexpensive investment that sparked my interest in making outdoor films. My first projects should be on Americas Funniest Videos, because trust me, they are about as redneck as it gets. Despite my lack of knowledge in anything remotely close to filming, I for whatever reason decided it would be a good idea to open a business filming hunts for other people. I called it Broken Pine Outfitters and I was Facebook official.

In my third year of college (I was already a senior at this point), I met a great group of guys through a college ministry and they too became interested in my business idea. In a very unfortunate event, one of my best friends lost his dad to cancer. I still can’t fathom what it must’ve been like for him to lose his father and best friend. I still have my dad and we talk everyday. To lose this part of my life would be devastating to me. My buddy is a great example of how God’s strength can bring you through anything. I cannot possibly be prouder of how he’s doing now and I know his dad is looking down smiling at him every single day that passes.

Not long after his father’s passing he called me up out of the blue and said that his uncle was interested in partnering with me in my business and after about a week of talking, we formed a partnership in which he funded the purchase of our first professional filming equipment. This was the start of a new career and ultimately is why I am on this plane ride to Alaska today. The partnership didn’t even make it a year as I had trouble figuring out how to run a business that actually made money. It wasn’t that I had a bad business idea; it was just that I didn’t quite know what I was doing yet.

We ended our partnership, but I didn’t give up. For some reason I knew that this was what I needed to do with my life. My mom often tells me that God gives you passion for things for a reason, and I was passionate about this. Her, my father and my grandmother all encouraged me to keep trying to make my venture succeed. I heeded their advice and changed my major to Business Management so that I could learn the ins and outs of the business world. To those reading this, I don’t recommend that everyone change their major in college during their senior year. I myself will admit that it becomes really difficult and demotivating having to essentially start over after spending years studying one subject. Fortunately, I had already taken almost every wildlife class SFA offers, which allowed me to sustain a background in the field I wanted to film in. I also caught a break in the Business Department because I had a handful of great professors who singlehandedly took the time to help me work on my business model. It’s with their help that I was able to reopen my business under the name Broken Pine Outdoors. This became my identity for the next several years and is what put me on the map in the outdoor film world.

During my remaining time at SFA, I traveled to Missouri to spend a few days learning from one of the best outdoor TV shows in the country, Heartland Bowhunters. It wasn’t just the instruction they gave me that helped guide me in the right direction, as the journey there opened my eyes to the world outside of Texas. I drove to Missouri by myself and decided to hit six other states while I was gone just to see what else was out there. I made sure to visit the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the gator infested swamps of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the winds of Iowa, the flatlands of Kansas and the corn fields of Nebraska. This is to date one of my most memorable adventures and I still think about it often. I have been to many places since that road trip, but it was those miles I put on my truck that instilled a larger sense of adventure in me that has carried over to today.

When I returned home, I took the knowledge Heartland gave me and I combined that with new equipment I had invested in. I convinced some friends of mine to let me film them and I produced my first ever short film called Texas Hunting. This was at the time the first quality video I had produced. It wasn’t long after I had released it online when I got a call from a deer breeder in Texas who wanted me to produce a video for him to use to market his deer at an auction in San Antonio. This became the first dollar I ever made with my business and I still have the check framed in my office. I’ll never forget how that felt.

I came to the realization that year that my market wasn’t filming hunters, but was actually in marketing outdoor related companies. I spent every free day I had filming outside and then editing in my house. I stayed up until nearly 2 AM every morning researching and reading how to become better at filming and editing. It was this dedication and determination that almost made me fail out of college, but gave me the experience needed to grow my business. After several years of outdoor marketing, I got picked up by Keith Warren to produce his deer farming show and to help field produce his other show, The High Road, which is a hunting show also on Pursuit. Working with Keith has been a great experience as it has taken me to places I’ve never been and allowed me to see things I would likely never have seen otherwise.

Looking back, these were the experiences that gave me the insight on how to run a business. It was the failures combined with a never quit attitude that eventually gave me exactly what I wanted: a successful business. Now that I’m finishing my last classes at SFA online, I decided to change my business model one more time. After having Broken Pine as a part of my life for the last five years, I realized that it was time to close the doors and open a new venture that is better suited for my future. I have gained much experience in making films of all kinds, not just in the outdoor market. Knowing that the name Broken Pine Outdoors was limiting my exposure in other industries, I felt it was best to open a venture that was fitting for where I live and that allowed me to be limitless in the types of project I can take on. Thus, Rustic River Media was born. I recently filed for an LLC and am now proud to open this new business and this new chapter of my life.

For anyone who is reading this who has considered a career in filmmaking, or for anyone who has tossed around the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, I would encourage you to pursue it. You can’t make your dreams a reality if you don’t take risk. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of people who have doubted me over the years and who have said that I would regret changing my major and pouring money into this business. I almost feel sorry for those individuals because maybe they haven’t had the courage to take risks in life. As cliche’ as this sounds, you only live once. I’d rather die knowing I gave it my all than live knowing I was safe. From what I learned in my baseball years, you don’t score if you don’t first step up to the plate. You have to be man enough to swing the bat and not strike out looking.

God is great and I absolutely owe everything to Him. It’s by his grace that I’m headed to Alaska today to film for a nationally televised hunting show. When we are in the snow chasing after moose, grizzly and doll sheep, I know that I am there in the cold because of the chance He gave me and the risk I allowed myself to take. I can only hope that others will see opportunity in front of them in life, no matter what it is, and just go for it.

I’m excited to bring you Rustic River Media and I’m stoked to see where this business venture will be 20 years from now. I want to personally invite you to follow us on Facebook and check our website often as I update it with completed projects. Let me know if we can do anything for you, even if it’s business advice or encouragement for those who are chasing their dreams. Thanks for reading!

– Joshua Milligan, Owner / Executive Producer at Rustic River Media