In researching the whole Spearia situation I was able to interview Justin Vander Velde a senior at Grand Valley State University, who created Switching Gears, the Spearia film.
First off let me talk about the film for a little. Justin is majoring in Cinema Video with an emphasis on documentaries. In a documentary class Justin and his four other classmates: Matt Dayton, Jake Dawson, and Andrea Wallace (yes only four, it was a small class I was told) had a whole semester to create a documentary. The classmates batted around some ideas before settling on the interesting story of Danny Beckett, and Spearia. The former motocross rider turned entrepreneur and founder of a web development company. Justin was familiar with Beckett because they had worked on some projects together in the past. Justin approached Beckett about the documentary idea and Beckett was all on board with the idea, and agreed to help the classmates with their project.
Justin had a pretty good idea of how the documentary would turn out … a cool company, with a cool ex-motocross guy doing things their own way, with cool events, sponsorships, and activities.. They started filming in September, with Justin asking the questions, and the other students were helping out with filming and editing. By Mid-November the students thought they had their film basically wrapped up after they completed filming the Halloween themed Free Lunch Friday. But also during this time the students sensed for the first time that something was amiss with Spearia. This happened when they were interviewing Jason Dodge outside of Spearia office when he mentioned he was no longer the Marketing Director, but rather he was now a Project Manager. A week after that interaction Jason left the company. Then as mentioned in the video the team could not get a hold of Beckett anymore. As you could image with students who have a grade on the line, panic quickly set in.
Eventually the students received a tip about the For Lease Signs on the Spearia building. After they drove to Comstock Park and filmed the empty building, the students were left at a crossroads on how to proceed. They needed to complete their film, and turn it in for a grade. On one hand they had the story they initially were trying to do – Fun company being successful doing their own thing, but obviously there was now more to the story. Or they could keep on asking questions and hopefully get a answer about the For Lease Signs.
The students decided to try to get the full story, and were still trying to make contact with Beckett. Finally they got a hold of Beckett, since Justin had a personal relationship with Beckett, he had a hard time asking the hard questions. Luckily, Jake picked up the slack and was able to ask Beckett the difficult questions that needed to be answered.
The classmates were happy with the way the project turned out but they would have liked to have more time filming and being able to wrap up the story properly. They ended up working on editing the video just hours before the final film was due to their professor.
As you could imagine Justin and his classmates received a lot of feedback on the video after they posted it to Vimeo. Though about a day after it was posted, the video was taking down. Justin wanted to change some privacy settings to the video, and it was not in fact taken down because of Beckett or his actions (Justin just wanted this to be clear). Justin had a difficult time with this project because as mentioned earlier he did have a personal relationship with Beckett, and as you could imagine it would be quite difficult to be in the middle of everything filming this company as it is unraveling. He did not want to tarnish Beckett’s image since he did help them out with the film. But he did hear back from Beckett after the final video, and Beckett relayed his congratulations to the filmmakers and was very proud of the way the video turned out, and was happy to help them out in their class. Through various Facebook postings the students also got feedback from former Spearia employees who were happy to see the whole story out there and thought for the most part that everything was accurately depicted.
Justin said he will have to make another film for next semester. He is leaving the door open to perhaps follow Danny Beckett more closely in what happens to him after Spearia. Per Justin, Danny is looking at becoming a public speaker or writing books. So it will be quite interesting to see what comes out of this.
What Justin and his classmates were able to capture is amazing in my opinion, and I thought they did a great job on the video. I have never met Danny, so I am not sure how open he is in general, but I would have to think that as the filmmaker, he had to have some role in either asking the right questions, making Danny feel at ease to discuss the company so candidly, or both.
On top of that I thought that the students did a great job handling the curveball they were throw. As mentioned the students thought that they had the video wrapped up after that Halloween themed Free Lunch Friday. Then you find out that something is up, i.e. finding investors, people leaving or getting new titles, the For Lease sign on the building. So all of a sudden you have to go in a new direction with the story, because all that fun, cool, crazy stuff Spearia was doing just doesn’t quite fit in the story anymore.
So then going back through the footage and being able to piece together the rise, the pinnacle, some surface cracks of trouble, and finally the demise of the company was great. I watched the movie numerous times, and at first I did not zero in on the whole interesting exchanges with Jason Dodge, and Kristen (the woman employee) who talked about the challenges of working with an ideas person, and then catching the awkward exchange regarding Jeff’s new position at Spearia. I had to re-watch that portion a couple of times to really get the magnitude of those exchanges and how they fit in the story. Getting that shot of Danny alone on the deck was a very demonstrative shot, and just getting Danny to tell you in his own words about the end of the company, and them showing the shots of the for lease sign to reinforce to the viewer what Danny is saying. So nice job Justin, Matt, Jake, and Andrea.
In case you were wondering Justin did receive an A in the class.
This is Part 2 of the Spearia Tale.
Part 1 can be found here.
I will have one more follow-up post with some insights from a former employee of Spearia.
For more reading and discussion on Spearia check out Urban Planet message board and the mlive – GR Press article on Danny Beckett.