Ask The Alumnus | Nick Weiss

We recently caught up with Nick Weiss to find out what is was like reporting on young people affected by the opioid crisis for NewsHour’s series, America Addicted. Soon after, SRL followed up with Nick to learn how SRL has shaped his decision to pursue filmmaking.

What have you been up to since SRL?

Since my participation in the SRL program at , I started my career at Penn State University, pursuing a Bachelors of Arts in Film and Video with a minor in Spanish.

As a freshman, I worked for, producing short-form documentaries on other students, and writing stories on the art-scene at Penn State. Since leaving OnwardState, I worked as the Production Chair of Happy Valley Music Label, producing creative work for signed artists, a creative at Happy Valley Communications (a student-run PR firm), and a videographer for Penn State Residential Dining. I’m currently, as a junior, the Production Executive at the Comm Video Agency, a brand-new advertising agency at Penn State.

I continue to tell character stories curricularly, while diversifying my portfolio through ad and narrative video work, and I will be interning in Los Angeles this Spring as a member of Penn State’s Hollywood Program! I try to keep busy! There’s never a moment when I’m not making something!

What experiences or lessons do you value most from your time with SRL?

It’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. I often think about the time I spent in D.C. at the All-Star academy– that was perfect practice! Being presented with a character, a variety of mentors, and a diversity of equally ambitious peers made that an incredible learning experience, especially as a young-person on the cusp of college.

I then think of my participation on the collaborative documentary I produced through the SRL program on school safety, which premiered at the Student Television Network Convention in San Diego that Spring. More perfect practice! Receiving poignant critique and effective coaching through that process helped shift my perspective in a more professional sense, and boosted my confidence as a filmmaker.

My participation in this program really reframed my thinking as a filmmaker in high school, and certainly prepared me for the competitive and intense future ahead in a field I had previously known very little about.

What advice do you have for current SRL participants?

Experiment in as many ways as possible! Try telling stories in new and different ways each time you make a video, this will help develop individual style. Be making something, all the time. Take a photo and learn how to edit it, make a video on your phone, do anything! But always be working on something. Take advantage of the professional opinions around you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’ve learned the most when I’ve utilized my humility and admitted when I wasn’t sure how to do something.

Think about what kinds of stories you want to tell, and what style of storytelling compels you the most. Gather as many skills as possible! Wear many hats, practice directing, editing, producing, interviewing, and technical skills with camera and audio equipment. Those that can wear many hats, and do many jobs, are the most employable in the industry— period. I’ve even started doing some acting recently. I’ve heard this advice before: In the film industry, fake it until you don’t have to. Sometimes confidence and trial and error results in noticing and picking up on comprehensive skills.

A lot can be learned in these areas from the mentors around you at PBS, and from the internet. I watch editing tutorials and films on Vimeo almost daily. This field is expanding in incredible ways, very quickly, and there’s great value in self-educating yourself on new camera equipment, editing techniques, what people are watching, and what other filmmakers are doing and how you can emanate styles you like. All of this is at your fingertips because of the internet and the helpful professionals at PBS.

How has being a journalist helped you grow as a young adult?

I chose to pursue filmmaking as a fifteen-year-old kid in high school, so storytelling has been a massive part of my transition into young-adulthood. I literally wouldn’t be the same person, or think the way I do if I haven’t been making documentary films in the last five years. These experiences really are that integral as you grow as a storyteller. You keep your subjects with you, their ideas and their interviews stick in your mind, and taking their story and packaging it for an audience is an incredibly eye-opening investigation into humanity.

Documentary storytelling is so rich, it makes narrative film look boring, honestly. Yes, I love movies, and screenwriting, but the real world is so full of drama and conflict, and I’m very grateful to be in the field I am, and to be able to witness this first-hand. From recovering heroin addicts, politicians, artists, engineers, musicians, doctors, skaters, gamers, service-dog owners, dumpster-divers, business owners, and ordinary people, telling the stories of and talking to these people has changed me as a young-person, and I’m unbelievably excited to continue mastering this craft into my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond.