Choosing film

Karen Abad '07


Summer 2010

For her user name on Vimeo, the video-sharing Web site, Karen Abad ’07 chose Karen Abad ♥ Dinosaurs. She knows she may be making her professional self into one. But for now, her work is anything but extinct.

In January, USA Today pointed to Abad as an example of the “camera and video enthusiasts (who) show, discuss and debate the latest tech tools” on Vimeo, a “go-to site for displaying serious work in higher resolution.” Her posts on Vimeo caught the eye of Michigan-based director Mike Ambs, who asked her to collaborate with him on a feature-length film.

So in May, less than a month after finishing her master’s in cinematography at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, Abad was behind a camera, helping Ambs shoot For Thousands of Miles. Then she moved from California to Grand Rapids for the summer to work with freelance filmmaker and fellow Vimeo member Chad Vickery ’06 on a series of short films.

All the attention to her work is a little surprising to Abad, who didn’t do much with a camera until after her Calvin graduation, three years ago. Considering graduate school, she decided she didn’t want to read and write more about psychology or film studies, her two majors. She remembered an interim class she took with Daniel Garcia in 16mm film production.

“With film, you have to trust and rely on the people you work with so much,” Abad said. “Because film stock is so expensive, you can’t afford a lot of mistakes, whereas with video you can shoot and shoot and shoot. The entire process of learning how to communicate and collaborate and trust people is what I like most about filmmaking.”

Abad chose the Academy of Art University for graduate work because, she said, “I figured film was going to go away in the next 15 to 20 years, and I wanted to take advantage of a program that worked in that medium.”

On Vimeo she’s posted class assignments (“Adventure Glue”), products of her freelance work (“Photojojo: You Vision-Video Glasses”) and segments of her master’s thesis (“I’ve Got You and You’ve Got Me”). The latter is the music video for a New Buffalo song remixed by Broken Social Scene that, without Abad’s promotion, was featured on MTV-2’s show Subterranean and in film festivals.

After her summer projects with Ambs and Vickery, Abad doesn’t know what or where her work will be.

“Ultimately I want to travel around and film things,” she said, “but as digital and computer-generated imagery (CGI) technology progresses, I’m not sure what place there will be for a cinematographer. With film going away, it’s going to become more difficult for me to find my place in the industry.”

Even facing an uncertain future, Abad feels like she’s doing what God wants her to do, “sharing the beauty of the world. I try to show people that there are a lot of really beautiful things in the everyday world. I like to shoot in the town where I live, a town a lot of my friends have moved out of, because it seems boring. They see the film and they say, ‘How did you make it look so cool?’ I tell them, ‘It’s really there. You don’t see it because you’re so busy.’”

To see Karen Abad’s work on Vimeo, visit: www.vimeo.com/karenabad.