July 20, 2014

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Ben Derico’s Documentaries

What are you working on—on the side?

One of my side projects is Bikes 4 Books, a fundraising model I developed in 2012, in looking for a way to fund a documentary trip to Uganda. Bikes 4 Books partners with education-based non-profits to host long-distance bike rides where riders collect pledges for the participating organizations. By way of Bikes 4 Books’ model, participants, who join at no cost to themselves, ride to raise both money and awareness for their organization by fundraising through their personal networks. Then they pedal hard to earn the cash and donate it to our partners. For the past three years, we worked with Pangea Educational Development (or casually PED), a group based in Chicago dedicated to empowering communities throughout Uganda by realizing sustainable development projects centered around schools. We’ve raised over $20,000, hosted over 50 riders, and covered over 1,000 miles across two continents.

It’s been amazing to watch the project develop over the years and see so many of my friends and family join in. This year, we rode from Detroit to Chicago over Labor Day weekend with a group of twenty-five riders ranging in ages from 22 to 55. For a lot of people, it was the first time they had ever been on their bikes for more than a few hours, let alone an entire day. We were pleased to have everyone on the team make the trip and complete their first-century rides (100 miles in one ride).

Another amazing thing of Bikes 4 Books has been the outpouring of creative energy. The majority of my friends, who have participated, are photographers, musicians, writers, art directors, or simply artistic, creative people. We had people create one-of-a-kind prints to give away to their donors, a song written for the project, and thousands of photos taken, many of which shared via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

We are currently working on a mini-documentary about this year’s ride that we hope to be sharing with the “world” soon. If people are interested in riding in future rides, donating, or simply learning more, check us out at bikes4books.com

Another side project I’m currently working on is called CreativeMornings “Close Ups.” As the resident videographer for the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, a once-monthly morning lecture series dedicated to discussing creative topics worldwide, I’m lucky to get to hear a lot of interesting artists, creatives, and generally amazing people, speak about what makes them tick. I think it’s an amazing way to help contextualize yourself and your work as a creative, or as any professional really, to hear someone, who is a bit further down the road, talk about past experiences, processes, and opinions on how to make good work.

After filming and editing the talks for almost a year, it began to become clear to me that while I was watching the videos later, I always felt a little more disconnected with the content and the speaker from my hearing the talk live. Maybe it’s the presence of being in the same room and getting the opportunity to ask follow-up questions, or maybe it’s just me, but I wanted to find some way to get a closer look at each speaker, so that viewers and aspiring makers could get a better idea of where the speaker works, what her/his process is like, and how she/he operates. There is only so much the speaker can divulge in twenty minutes, and only so many questions they can answer. With that, “Close Ups” was born. Since January of this year, I’ve worked on creating several mini-documentaries/profiles to turn the microscope on our subjects and see exactly how they do everything. Currently, I’ve released three full videos with CreativeMorning/Chicago speakers: INDO Projects, Eric Siegel of Treehopper Toys, and Matthew Hoffman of You Are Beautiful. I’m excited to announce that we have another three slated to come out this summer.

This project has been incredibly exciting to work on for me, for a few reasons: Mainly, as a documentarian at heart, getting to have access to how these creative people—whom I respect and admire—approach their work and get it done, is exactly the type of material I strive to document. With these videos, I’ve been given the privilege to meet and befriend incredibly talented people who, only a month or two before, had no idea about who I was. I’m hoping to expand the series during the coming months to include artists from all over Chicago and maybe, eventually, all over the country

Besides these two side projects, I’m currently editing a documentary I recently shot in Morocco about traditional Moroccan rug making, creating a few music videos, and looking for more projects to take up my nights and weekends.

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

I currently work full-time on commercial projects. Thanks to a flexible work schedule plus the willingness of partners, collaborators, and roommates, I tend to spend most evenings and weekends cranking out new edits, filming early morning shoots, and finishing last-minute final film exports. For me, having the flexibility to work on what I want, when I want, is a huge incentive to keep my side projects going, especially during the winter months when you really have no other option than sitting inside.

Finding a balance between full-time work, side-projects, and spending time for friends, is tough, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like being busy, and I like watching my portfolio grow—hopefully, everyone else does too.

Why have side projects?

I define myself by my side projects. I’ve always identified with being someone without a specific place to be. I’ve always dipped my pen in lots of different inks, and I think that’s why I love working on lots of side projects at once—this is so appealing to me. Being able to take on a side project here or there that allows me to engage with or learn about a new person, place, or thing, is really special, and it’s something that I think the film medium allows me to do. Whether it’s a photo essay for a blog about travel or an interview series about designers and their practices, everything I do on the side is to indulge that sense of curiosity and wonder I’ve always had. I hope that, in the years to come, my wanderlust and desire to learn only increase—and maybe, my side projects become my full-time projects.

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Diptych courtesy of Ben Derico.

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