Two friends-turned-filmmakers hit the red carpet Sunday, Aug. 25 at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Their story starts long before that, however.
Tim Pfeffer, 26, started using the pseudonym TS when making short films in high school. The 2005 Penfield graduate was a standout lacrosse player, and says he took on the new name to save him the embarrassment of being labeled an artist instead of an athlete. Pfeffer later went on to play Division 1 at Marist College.
"I had a great time but realized there was something missing," said Pfeffer.
That "something" turned out to be filmmaking. He gave up his lacrosse scholarship and transferred to Ithaca College to pursue a degree in cinema, photography, and media arts — playing lacrosse and making movies on the side.
"It was a difficult balance, and I was very much an academic," said Pfeffer. Hard work is only good as the effort you put into it. It's a good thing to be tested on all levels — and I think both have shaped my career now."
Senior year, Pfeffer crossed paths with fellow film student Robert McHugh, of Syracuse. The two became friends and worked in collaboration on "Mixtape," a film that told a coming-of-age story of a teenage boy. The film, co-directed by Peter Corina, was entered into a student competition but soon caught the attention of the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. The new acclaim was a turning point for Pfeffer, who left the lacrosse team with the support of his coach and teammates.
After graduating from Ithaca in 2009, Pfeffer and McHugh moved to Los Angeles and have been roommates and business partners ever since, producing numerous short films and music videos at their company, Pier Pictures. The friends' first large scale project was going on the road with the band Filligar in 2010.
"That was a very interesting way to be introduced to how the other works," said McHugh, 26. "We spent two months dedicated to this project. I think to this day we've never had to put more effort into something," he added.
Their partnership got its biggest break earlier this year when they got a call from friend Ryan Staake, who had been hired make a music video for artist A-Track's song "Tuna Melt."
The trio was joined by Jacob Ritley and Tim Fort, made famous as "The Kinetic King" on the the TV show "America's Got Talent," to produce a music video using many Rube Goldberg-style contraptions.
The sequence starts with the tip of a single domino that triggers a mechanical chain of different objects connected in different rooms of a house. Fort used thousands of dominoes and items like ping pong balls and wooden tongue depressors to create a mind boggling 3:47 minute sequence. The team spent two weeks shooting the video in an old Victorian mansion in Michigan, where the homeowners welcomed the crew to stay for the duration.
Page 2 of 3 - They shot each segment of the video in different rooms in the basement and first two floors of the house, with Fort constructing most of the mechanisms. The cameramen often had to move quickly up stairs to follow the chain of dominoes, McHugh said.
"The whole situation was a delicate, sensitive process because you're working with things that could be easily triggered or set off. We'd be walking around barefoot and speaking in soft tones. It's a really old house, we were always listening hoping not to hear the sounds of wood and plastic."
Aside from a few minor mishaps, they captured each second without missing a beat.
"Some of the gadgets took almost a full 24 hours to set up," McHugh added. "When something takes that long, you really have to get it right."
The team uploaded their footage at night and later left the home to finish editing in Rochester, MN. In case you were wondering, all of the stunts in the video are real, down to the last domino. Everything that is falling or moving is doing just that. The only visual trick is the Tommy Trash poster on the wall (a nod to the artist) and other wall displays.
After the record label released the music video in April, it quickly went viral on Youtube.
Then one day, McHugh and Pfeffer awoke to see that A-Track had Tweeted that the video had been nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography.
"Sometimes, the greatest surprises come when you least expect it," said Pfeffer. "We had our heads down and were so focused that when our heads came up, we were shocked."
They were joined by the creative team at the VMA's on Aug. 25, passing out dominoes bearing their company name to musicians and celebrities on the red carpet. They also befriended the makers of the music video "Can't Hold Us" featuring Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, which won the category.
"They killed it, and we knew that immediately," said Pfeffer, of the winning video. Meeting others trying to make their mark in the entertainment industry made the experience encouraging for the young artists.
"I slept in a closet when I first moved here and slept on an air mattress when we moved into our apartment in L.A. You commit and do it with the right attitude and eventually people notice that. We feel incredibly lucky and thank the teams we work with here."
The duo has plenty of work lined up, including another on-the-road shoot of the band Dirty Radio and a rap music video. They also have plans to hold acting auditions in the Rochester region for their upcoming high school drama in the future.
Page 3 of 3 - But one thing at a time, Pfeffer adds.
"It's a process that's ever growing," he said. "Sometimes you've got to dive in."