How Dan Newman turned his photo and film hustle into a career
Nowadays in the age of Instagram, it may seem hard to not stumble across a dope creative. Truth be told, the grind for up and coming photographers and filmmakers ain’t easy — just ask Dan Newman.
“Generally with the creative field, you’re in it because you’re passionate about it. Very often, it is not a rewarding thing. Do free jobs because that will open doors for other things and take risks. I know I’ve taken a handful of risks early on where I would do jobs for free or nearly nothing, knowing that if I did this now, there’s potential that it will open the door for something bigger down the road.”
Kulture Hub had the chance to chop it up with him recently and while Newman is now the Head of Digital Content at Matchroom Boxing, the world’s leading boxing promoter, it wasn’t too long ago when he was getting ghosted for freelance jobs. Newman grew up in the suburbs of Allentown, PA where he first fell in love with film and video around the age of seven.
His pops and grandpops both had cameras around the house that Newman eventually got his hands on and started making his very first films using claymation characters to create 20-second home videos. He continued to pursue video production in college at Kutztown University where he studied electronic media and fine arts.
“I was at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania which is kind of like the middle of cornfields — it was OUT there. I was in the electronic media and fine arts program, so I was studying TV, broadcast, radio as well as fine arts, which was more focused on photography and filmmaking. It wasn’t a designated film school, but it got my hands on the technology.”
While most of his classmates were more focused on news channel-esque work, Newman stayed true to his love for the arts and made moves to expand his network and align himself with someone who had a voice online that he could help elevate with a collab.
He reached out to Dustin Tavella, a YouTube personality who had a strong following of 10-15K subscribers which is a lot now but was a HELL of a lot circa 2010.
Newman began filming all of Tavella’s content, which caught the eye of his manager, who was also a film director who made Newman an offer too sweet to pass up. He offered the senior in college to shoot a documentary for a feature film In Dallas, TX that promised him a $15,000 bag for a month on set.
“This documentary was slated for April 2011 and that’s exactly when finals were scheduled, so it was either stick through the semester for my finals or shoot this documentary for a feature film. I brought it to my professors and they were like ‘you’re stupid if you don’t go do this.’ So I got the offer from the director and took my professor’s word and to go on a leave of absence from school. To this day, I still have 12 credits left to graduate, and to be honest I still haven’t done it because I’m not really inspired to go pay a bajillion dollars to graduate for a piece of paper.”
Newman doesn’t knock getting a degree, but for him, it isn’t really necessary for what he has planned out. As a creator, Newman wanted to widen the scope of film and the documentary in Dallas would’ve been the perfect start… or so he thought.
“I took a leave of absence and the producer just full-on ghosted me. We had meetings weekly and then they started slowing down and he would duck my calls. The feature film and documentary never happened.”
While getting caspered was devastating, Newman wasn’t about to go back to school. He decided to take a risk and grind it out as a freelancer, by any means necessary.
Homie was heated and wanted to prove to anyone who ever doubted him that they were wrong. Coming from Allentown, Newman didn’t really have a creative circle to bounce ideas off of ever, so his time as a freelancer truly helped him discover himself and hone into his individuality as a creative.
“I didn’t really have a creative circle, definitely nowhere near what I have now. It was kind of me just stumbling around and trying to find my voice and how I wanted to shoot and do things. I had to navigate it solo but wish I had a community to start.”
Staying in Pennsylvania wasn’t an option either. With a lack of like-minded peeps, Newman knew he had to expand his horizons and be open to any and everything as long as it was in line with his passions.
“The area I grew up in — it’s not a very advantageous or creative community. It’s very much blue-collar. You get a job at a grocery store, factory or plant and you’re gonna do your work and come home your family. It was very uninspiring, which is also why I left.”
Newman spent the year after the botched gig hitting up Craigslist, sending cold emails on a daily, taking low budgets and doing a lot of work for free. It wasn’t glamorous, but it got his weight up with experience and taught him life lessons that would come in handy with or without a camera in his hand.
“A lot of wedding filmmaking, just whatever I could take. I would do photo and video, whether that was architectural, real estate, industrial or hospital settings, literally whatever would pay my bills and allow me to be creative. I was very much hemorrhaging and it was so, so stressful, but it taught me a lot of things about how to operate a business when times are tough.”
“The things you need to do, the things you shouldn’t do, how to handle clients, and how to handle your money. You gotta figure out how to spread it out and make sure that as soon as you get paid, it’s not gone. You never know when the next job is gonna pop up-it could not. There’s gonna be a dry couple weeks, it could be a dry month or two, it happens in the freelance world. I did everything I could to find work or make work. I hated the idea of failure or losing and I wanted to prove to my family that me leaving school was the right choice and that I could make it.”
All that hard work paid off, almost a year after he got dubbed from the documentary gig, a close relative connected him to the VP of an agency that pinned Newman as the perfect guy to shoot insane documentary content for MARS Chocolate (M&M’s, Snickers, Twix).
After chopping it up at a PF Chang’s in New Jersey, Newman was asked to shoot a documentary on MARS’s cocoa farmers in Indonesia, highlighting their stories to show the origins of the fire chocolate that we all know and love.
“They’ve already done all their research on me and I had no idea who these people are. They were like ‘how soon can you get your vaccinations and how soon can you get your passport? How would you like to go to Indonesia?’ That was the start of it all and the start of my professional career.”
Shooting in Indonesia was an unmatched experience for Newman, one that made all of the blood, sweat, and tears he shed as a freelancer worthwhile.
“The whole kick of it was that the documentary I was supposed to shoot for that feature film was gonna be a 30-day shoot, I was supposed to get paid $15,000 and that was ridiculous money to me as a college student. That didn’t happen, but a year later, MARS Chocolate happened. It was a three-day job, same amount of pay and far more valuable experience. I continued to work for MARS Chocolate for another year or two on a freelance basis in and outside of the U.S.”
Newman spent some time freelancing in St. Petersburg, FL, when he got a random email from Matchroom UK to shoot a promo video for Brooklyn boxer, Daniel Jacobs ahead of his matchup against Luis Arias in 2017.
“I’ve never done boxing before, so it was foreign territory, but it all started there on a freelance level and within a day and a half after shooting, I had the [promo] video done and made a couple of videos out of it.”
After bodying the Jacobs video, Newman got thrown more opportunities left and right, shooting promos for some of the highest ranked fighters in the game all across the country.
From filming with Katie Taylor in Connecticut to Amir Khan in San Fran and Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller back in Brooklyn, Newman captured them all while mastering the technique of shooting, editing and producing fight week videos with a quick turnaround.
Prior to getting thrown to the wolves of the fight world, Newman spent a lot of time working with bands on tour and used the similarities between music and boxing to master his craft in the new territory.
“There’s a rhythm to it. I felt like I had an edge or advantage with that and a lot of my camera movement, my style and technique comes from my music background and I bring that into boxing and the energy and the pacing. Whether that’s low camera angles, low rotation, shaky, high intensity, or fast shutter speed, it’s very much intentional and just flowed right in.”
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Shooting fighters was much more different than shooting musicians. Capturing their stories was a learning experience.
“The challenges were understanding what workouts looked like and the extent of what I could ask of a fighter during filming. Figuring out what their training looked like, what their day-to-day looked like; because on a strength and conditioning day, they’re not gonna put gloves on, they’re not gonna hit a bag, that’s not a thing. There was a pretty steep learning curve for me because I didn’t know a thing about boxing.”
While he had an advantage with shooting, Newman was a noob when it came to interviewing, a skill he needed to learn in order to capture the essential voiceover and cut-away soundbites to supplement the film he shot.
He recalls his first interview with Jacobs as being “cringeworthy” on his part, going through questions fed to him by Matchroom, Newman knew no context behind what he was asking and while he got what he needed, it came across as a disingenuous interview from his perspective.
During his time as a freelancer for Matchroom Boxing, he shot a studio documentary for one of his favorite bands, this is what helped him finetune his interview skills.
He shot 16 hours worth of interviews with the band members over the course of two months, which helped him understand interviews were just conversations. It set expectations for what interviews should be, rather than what they were to him previously.
“That really opened my eyes to that whole idea and gave me clarity when shooting my next set of promo videos for Matchroom. These guys are champions, they’re champions of the world, but right now, right here, we’re just having a conversation human-to-human. I respect them and I admire their talent, but I’m just here to share their story.”
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Matchroom Boxing soon moved their headquarters to New York and asked Newman to be their Head of Digital Content and run the ship of all of their digital media.
The road to being a leader in the digital space wasn’t an easy one, but Newman got there through years of hard work, finesse and staying true to himself as a creative, even when stepping into a world he wasn’t used to like boxing. Instead of trying to assimilate to the standards set by other shooters in the fight world, Newman stuck to his style and simply put it in a new setting.
“As a creative, you have to be extremely malleable, you have to be willing to do anything and everything to work and better your craft. With hard work, your time will come.”
Newman is flexin’ at Matchroom Boxing but still sees himself as a youngin in the industry with plenty of room for growth. His incredible combo of humility and hunger is effervescent and he urges young creatives to learn the art of taking a chance.
Dan Newman took a hell of a risk hustling as a freelancer and not going back to school but that shit paid off not only in his work but in his growth as a person. He’s a great example of keeping a future mindset and staying true to yourself and how to move in a room full of no’s.
“It’s the calculated risk mentality. You may take a loss up front, but at the end of the day, it’ll pay you back tenfold and that goes across the board with a lot of things in life.”