Not many university students get the opportunity to work with celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Derek Hough and Travis Scott, or brands like LoveSac, Behr Paint and the NBA. However, for recent BYU graduate Tanner Jackson, all he needed was a camera, a smile and a hard-working personality.
Jackson grew up in Las Vegas where he got his hands on his first camera, a Nikon D750. He saw the market growing for content and thought he should get in on it. He knew that if he took it seriously he would make money, but he had no idea it would lead him to where he is today.
He started filming for his school, local brands and businesses as he built up a portfolio for his future.
Just while his freelancing business started to kick off, Jackson decided to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was called to labor in the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo West Mission.
However, six months in, he returned home early due to health reasons, including PTSD and anxiety which were results of an experience where he and his companion were robbed at gunpoint.
“I think it all kind of worked in my favor, but I definitely feel like coming home early was something that I wasn’t planning for, and it taught me how to live more independently and start my own career,” Jackson said.
After the mission, Jackson took his camera and his portfolio and set up shop in Provo.
To save up money for passion projects, Jackson started to film weddings. He estimated that he has worked at least a few hundred weddings so far. Yet he still enjoys it as he feels each has a different story to tell. Jackson said that not only does this money go toward long-form projects he wants to do in the future, but that working these gigs inspires him to make videos.
It was no surprise Jackson got into the advertising program at BYU. It was there he transitioned out of the typical videographer and photographer role into a more production-heavy director of photography role.
This change led him to start doing work for the BYU AdLab, a student-led advertising agency.
“The AdLab is really cool because there are tons of talented creatives that kind of come together, on our own free will and choice, to work on projects,” Jackson said.
Jackson shared the breadth of knowledge found in the AdLab.
“Within that space, you have directors, cinematographers, directors of photography, editors, visual effects artists and motion graphics. All the talent that you need to create an awesome commercial” said Jackson.
Although he would describe himself as multifaceted, Jackson emphasizes being a director of photography.
A director of photography is the person in charge of the look and feel of the shoot. Jackson said that a director of photography also decides how the camera is used, how the lighting will work, and the different aspects related to the feel of the overall film or commercial.
With these skills and talented colleagues, Jackson has had the opportunity to do commercial and spec work.
One of their most recent projects was Champaign Stain, a short film that premiered at the NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City earlier this year.
Jackson has played a large role in this project as he organized a team of creatives from the AdLab to submit a pitch for a short film to NBA’s Films for Fans contest. After a week of preparation and hard work, the team was able to give their brief to the Utah Jazz and the Jazz submitted their idea to the NBA for final consideration.
After the NBA approved it, Jackson and his team had access to old game footage and NBA funding to create their short film.
“I was involved really heavily on set with the camera and the lighting, making sure that it fits exactly what we wanted. And I was really given a lot of creative freedom to make it look the way that I wanted to and how I envisioned it,” Jackson said.
The people working on the project with Jackson applauded his skills.
“I would highly, highly recommend Tanner for any projects at all involving a camera,” said Morgan Capener, the art director for Champaign Stain and a long-time colleague of Jackson’s from the AdLab.
Capener described Jackson as being extremely reliable and said that “he treats everything, including student projects, as if they’re like a professional project.”
He described Jackson as having two modes: He is either all business and completely professional, or he is like a goofy seventh-grader. Occasionally, you never knew which one would emerge, he said.
Taylor Ballard, the director of Champaign Stain and a friend of Jackson, said Jackson found the perfect balance between these two sides, which has helped them build a professional relationship and a friendship as well.
Jackson, Capener, Ballard and many other students took awards home from this year’s Addy’s Awards Night by AAF Utah on March 4.
Jackson walked away that night with five golds and five silvers, although he believes this is just the beginning.
As Jackson graduated in April, he said he felt relieved.
He said he spent the rest of his time at BYU focusing on being a director of photography and would love to do either commercial work or full feature films for franchises he grew up on, like Marvel or Star Wars. However, he said he would like to do this in a way that would allow him to bring something to the table that is unique and different.
And although Jackson is thankful for the colleagues and friends he has made in the AdLab he said he is looking forward to moving into the profession.
“I’m ready to get my feet wet. Like right now,” he said.