When three college buddies made a spoof video for a Southern Comfort contest, they never dreamed it would lead to promising careers and their own Fort Wayne production company.
The contest called for a new "bar call," or short, catchy phrase or abbreviation used as the name of a beverage. If a customer orders "Jack," a Jack Daniels is requested, for example. "MGD" is the bar call for Miller Genuine Draft.
Patrons use them for convenience – as well as assuring they get a specific brand. Companies encourage them for promotion.
"We just thought we would have fun and make some pocket cash," said Matt McCrory, who directed the video. "We didn’t really plan on a sustained business."
The 2012 video – one of more than 70 submitted – won the contest.
"Then things took off," McCrory said. "And they haven’t slowed down since."
Buoyed by their victory, and the $10,000 prize money, McCrory and his two buddies from IPFW – Troy Koch and Kiowa Ackley – became business partners.
In March 2012, they incorporated RezFx Productions, a video company whose client list now includes Southern Comfort, Auto ;Trader, UPS, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Speed Stick, Jamba Juice and Volkswagen.
The company’s work has been broadcast nationally on outlets including ABC, NBC, ESPN, FX, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and Comedy Central. The company has been mentioned in articles about video production in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.
"We really didn’t put much thought into naming the company," Koch said. "But we wanted something different and catchy."
The principals of the company are as diverse as its client list. McCrory grew up in Boston and central Illinois before moving to Fort Wayne with his parents. Koch attended and graduated from Woodlan High School in 1999, and Ackley grew up on a Chippewa Indian reservation in Wisconsin.
But their talents meshed.
"We’re a small company," McCrory said, "and we often have such tight deadlines that everybody has to fill-in as needed.
McCrory said he does the cinematography and directing; Koch is the "idea man" and the "music man" who comes up with initial concepts, writes jingles and does voice-overs; and Ackley is an editor and camera operator.
One example of how their talents mesh is a video RezFx made for Umphrey’s McGee, a popular Chicago jam band. The video features a pre-teen in a stressful classroom scene where the boy is in detention and subsequently meanders aimlessly down the street picking up life lessons from song lyrics before ending up at an Umphrey’s McGee concert. The boy in the video is Trenton, Koch’s 11-year-old son who attends Carroll Middle School.
Featuring friends and relatives is something of a hallmark for RezFx. Other videos have included Troy Koch’s mother, Mary Koch, Matt McCrory’s mother, Patty O’Neal, and other acquaintances.
While some of the Umphrey’s McGee video was shot in Chicago, most was done on RezFx’s home turf in Fort Wayne at St. Henry’s Community Center.
The company likes to film in Fort Wayne because it’s easier and less expensive. Local restaurants have been helpful, Koch said, seeming to enjoy the spotlight. Most restaurants and businesses allow them to shoot without having to pay, he said, while similar locations in Los Angeles or another large metro area would be expensive.
The studio and nerve center for RezFx is in the Koch family home on Reed Road, just north of Lake Avenue. While the structure doesn’t look much different than others in the neighborhood, the studio is equipped well enough that Koch is contemplating renting it out to other fledgling filmmakers.
As much as he enjoys shooting and working in Fort Wayne, McCrory said there’s considerable travel involved for some videos. He’s traveled to Thailand, Nicaragua and Africa, twice. He could be moving to Los Angeles in the near future to network with clients and to capitalize on new production work, while RezFx remains here.
"But most of the time I have to stay home," Koch chuckled.
While RezFx has been in business for less than four years, there has been a change in strategy. Initially, the company took just about any work that came its way, McCrory said. But now things are going well, he said.
"We are at a place where we can say no to some projects and focus on campaigns that are fun," McCrory said. "We are choosing to keep things simple for now, that helps us really focus on making the best possible work."
An example of their creativity is "East of Nowhere," a 25-minute short they are working on for the South By Southwest Film Festival next year in Austin, Texas.
And work, right now, is bountiful.
"Going into the holidays and just before summer are our busiest times," McCrory said. "We plan on slowing down in the sense that we won’t be pitching on every project that comes our way. We want to focus on campaigns that are comedic, high in energy and style or music driven.
"For our first two years, we were in multiple productions nonstop. Now we want to take every video we produce to the next level, focusing on projects we can bring our unique creative edge to."
This is an exciting time for RezFx, the partners agreed, and a good time to be in Fort Wayne.
"There’s a lot of creativity in this city," McCrory said, "and we’re happy to be part of it."