If you talk to Andre Banks, he’ll tell you that he’s a strategist as much as he is a camera guy. He has a love for telling stories. He and I talked and he told me “My next step was planned three steps ago”. While most appreciate his visuals, he appreciates vision. The idea of seeing how it all plays out is most important to him. He is the founder of ABB Video and an online project known as District Fresh.
This vision began in high school. A young Andre Banks just looking to find an excuse to get out of class wandered into the audio/video production studio at Hylton SHS. He ended up being in “TV 1” (an actual class) and found himself working on productions within the school. Dre ended up being responsible for the music that would be played as an outro for the morning announcements. He called all of his friends the night before and morning of and told them to be at school on time…for a change. He promised a special treat. Being a go-go fanatic, he cued up a conga instrumental from The Northeast Groovers, which happened to be his favorite band. His friends were surprised and happy. And at that moment he found out the power of media.
Dre is outside of the U.S. at the moment. But he was gracious enough to tell us more about his love for telling stories through his camera, business of media and his plans for when he gets back to the States.
As a student at Hylton SHS, your school had a full production studio. How important is it for school systems to invest in the dreams of children at an early age?
I think it is very vital for students to be given options early on. TV Production was not just a class, it was a lifestyle. I had to report to school early, stay late and even leave mid-day for assignments. I had real world deadlines. If my assignment was not done on time, it would have not only impacted my grade, but everyone involved and ultimately the clients/viewers (whole school body). This distilled values in me that I will need later on in life to succeed. Everyone is not athletic or can be the Captain of the Debate Team. The opportunity that I was given, was a blessing that I took for granted. Years later I recognized the gift that I was given and was able to give back later.
You graduated from Hylton and went to a community college. But you ended up failing out of school. What motivated you to get things back in order and start your company?
Failing out sounds so harsh, I got my grades up to where I could transfer out. I treated school and my company separate. My degree from Marymount in Information Systems has nothing do with my company. I chose IS as a field to explore, because at the end of the day, it has the potential to bring in a good source of income. ABB just so happens to be a company that I created as a hobby and eventually people offered me money to do what I like. It just so happened that I took business classes that helped me understand the foundations of how to run my company.
True story – one of my folks was part of a boutique label where the lead artist had a major record deal and I provided video services for the team. We were out west running errands and plotting the next situation. I chimed in and said that I couldn’t make it and had to get back east for school. My friend made a smart joke about being in school. My reply was something along the lines of, “what if we’re on the road and the studio computer fails – who would fix it?” So I got my point across – we laughed and that was the end of it.
Back to the question at hand. As weird as it sounds, I kept them both separate. I was able to do my school work and when I would feel like I am starting to burn myself out, I would then switch over to ABB video work or vice versa. They provided me balance.
What’s the difference between “District Fresh” and “ABB Video? But also talk about how they worked together hand in hand.
You’ve got me out here dropping my GEMS!!! ABB VIDEO is the company. District Fresh was a marketing tool, but outsiders saw it as a project. We all know this area (VA/MD/DC) is cliquish. It is practically impossible to break into a circle if you are an outsider. I created DF to build relationships w/local talent, managers and promoters – with many whom I still have a relationship with today. I treated DF as a fictitious client. If you look at the end of the DF videos it says something along the lines of “District Fresh produced by ABB VIDEO PRODUCTIONS.” The client was this fictitious person who birthed DF who sought out the services of ABB VIDEO to produce it. To the naked eye people saw a new video series featuring local household names. The series generated several emails requesting to be interviewed and that they were the next to blow – blah blah blah. I would simply reply and thank them for their support and interest, but let them know that DF was not soliciting for subjects, but they could contact Andre at ABB VIDEO for video services. I would reply from firstname.lastname@example.org so I kept “ABB VIDEO Andre” the person, separate from this “email@example.com” person. Once the “clients” started to roll in, DF got put on the back burner. I used DF to build relationships and the type of product that I was putting out at the time was rare and people greeted me w/open arms.
You prefer shooting documentaries over music videos. Why is that?
I think that a lot more planning must go into a documentary. You have to submerge yourself into the work of a documentary. You have to do tons of research and know the story/subject very well. You have to get personal with it to create a project that will captivate people. It is not an overnight process. It details a lot more than shooting footage and placing it on the timeline. You have to know when and where to insert this edit or be comfortable enough to take this cut out. What background music goes with this scene. You just have to know!
The entertainment industry in DC is saturated now. Talk about the progression of documenting entertainers in the DC area.
Over 3 years ago, with assistance from Judah and my homegirl Sophia, I shot/edited this video “DMV: Bridging the Gap” . It is a 20 min short documentary with past and current local talent. The video is decent, but if I was to re-shoot it today, I would straight crush it. Sadly enough, no one has yet to put out anything remotely close to this. The area’s publicity is at an all time high. WALE is up for a Grammy – you best believe those offices are snooping around the area for the next person to blow. No one is out there documenting the area. Folks could seize this opportunity and craft one hell of a documentary. Best believe if its right, someone from one of those corporate offices will be calling soliciting for their services. The other day I read somewhere that commercials are turning into short documentaries, which is true. You just have to be ahead of the curve. To answer your question, I feel the area is at a stand still.
The documentation of folks in the DC entertainment scene has been stagnant and will be until folks invest (this can be time, not always monetary) in themselves. Folks are to quick to rush a project just for hits. Also, everyone wants something for the “low,” so they will always reach out to their “homie” to do it for free – regardless of the quality. This is dangerous. The project is free – so nor the client/artist or “homie” will be critical about it. This could portray the wrong image for the artist and now establishing a quality level of the “director”. If the client paid, they will critique every cut, ultimately a good product should emerge and be a win/win for everyone. On the other side, the person doing the project 9/10 is not emotionally invested into the project because they are not receiving a tangible form of payment and they just want to hurry up and get it off their hard drive to make space for the next project. I treat every project the same, regardless if I am getting paid or not. At the end of the day, my brand is at risk and I cannot risk that for a product thats below satisfactory. You’ll never know who is watching on the other end. Sometimes the audio is very muffled, the white balance is off and all of the other things that stand out for the wrong reasons. I am not knocking their hustle, but “Blue Magic ABB VIDEO, that’s a brand name Like Pepsi, that’s a brand name I stand behind it, I guarantee it, they know that even if they don’t know me any more than they know the Chairman of General Mills.”
Entrepreneurs need to understand proper branding. They need to understand that whatever they put out will either further their brand or diminish it.
What inspires you? What makes the light bulb in your head cut on?
I get inspired by seeing my clients inspired. I want more for others than I want for myself. If they can succeed, then I’ve done my job.
You’ve been out of the country for quite some time. You’ll be back later in the year. What will those experiences do for your production style when you get back?
Yes, I have been out of the country for sometime now due to a personal choice. It somewhat was a selfish choice. I told my clients about my choice to step away. I think that it was time for me to step away and be on the outside looking in for once. The scene was blossoming and “directors” were coming out of nowhere. I needed time away to re-evaluate the/my situation, refresh and go back in. I was burning out doing projects that did not matter to me and it just happened to be around the time that I was offered an opportunity to get away for a little bit. It felt easier to turn down projects because I was leaving rather than just saying no, I have no interest in your project nor your money.
Being away for an extended amount of time has allowed me to increase respect and honor through absence (LAW 16). I still get emails and calls for work. I have not put out anything in over 18 months – I should not be getting calls or emails. This shows me that the projects that I have put out in the past carry some weight. That alone humbles me. I am most definitely looking forward to getting back into the game.
On the flip side of things, me stepping away was good for me personally. I have been able to see places that you only read about or see on the Nat Geo channel. I have had two separate trips to see the Taj Mahal and I’ve been to the Grand Palace in Thailand. I even have Hong Kong, Spain and other countries on my schedule. I have never been to Miami, but I have been to the Phuket, I think that’s funny. These past 18 months, I have traveled to more countries than I have traveled to states in the U. S. When I was young, my parents did the timeshare situation so we always went on vacation, but no real vacation. As a youth, I traveled to the typical tourist spots (FL, NC, SC, NY, NV, ETC). Where I am from, these opportunities are not the norm, so I jumped at it.
If you could mesh three documentaries into the perfect documentary, what would they be?
Sadly, I am not good w/names. I have seen quite a few – but cannot recall their names. However, not too long ago I was on vacation in Malaysia and Justin Bieber’s documentary was on. I was actually intrigued by it. it was well put together all around. Good stuff!
What’s one quote that you live by?
Work hard enough – your 5 – 9 will be your 9 – 5. Think about it!