In December of 2012, a University-backed video went viral among the alumni community, student body and Michigan admirers. The short video, a little over one minute and 30 seconds long, was made to celebrate the incoming class of 2016, using a single letter to symbolize the excitement, pride and joy of the Michigan experience: “The Letter M.” I saw it, you saw it, and your uncle who didn’t even go here saw it. The first time I watched the video, I was torn between two universities and was leaning a little more toward the other, but I remember the emotional power of the video was so strong that it helped tip me the other way.
“The Letter M,” along with other iconic University films, like the Billy Magic transportation musical shown at freshman orientation, is the product of Filmic productions, an elite student-run film club with strong ties to the administration. Flash forward a few years, and the three founders of Filmic — Josh Buoy, Roddy Hyduk and Chris Duncan — are still working together in Ann Arbor, making films for their burgeoning production company, Snowday Productions.
The three met as underclassmen in SAC 290: Introduction to Media Production, but enjoyed working together so much they decided to keep collaborating in classes, and eventually created Filmic.
The student organization didn’t start with the intention to make commercial work, but rather provide a platform for personal projects the group wanted to make. However, the professional quality of the work eventually caught the attention of the University, which hired Filmic to make around a couple dozen short films for them over the course of their remaining time as students. This period of time was crucial to Snowday’s current success.
“If we were just starting this business now and hadn’t had the experience on Filmic, this path would be so much harder,” Duncan said. “But since we’ve done Filmic, we were able to develop this chemistry, able to learn how to interact with clients and learn what kind of processes work best with different clients.”
“The University was a three-year incubator for us,” Buoy added. “We were able to be a startup without officially being a start-up, which allowed us to feel really confident about doing this right after graduation.”
After graduation, the trio actually split ways for some time — Duncan took a copywriting job in Philadelphia, Hyduk was in New York City working for NYU, and Buoy stayed in Ann Arbor to work on a feature film. It didn’t take too long for them to realize something was off about their post-college endeavors.
“We realized that we weren’t doing as good of work individually as we do together,” Buoy said. This led to conversations about founding a start-up, which became Snowday.
Transitioning from making films as part of a club within the college experience to making them as a full-time job hasn’t been much of a change for the group.
“In some ways, I’d say there’s a lot less stress, because my mind isn’t being pulled between school, other extracurriculars and also filmmaking, so it’s nice to be able to say, ‘This is what I do full time,’ and you’re not stressed to get a film done and a paper done,” Duncan said. “But there’s also more stress in that if something didn’t work in Filmic, our livelihoods didn’t depend on it.”
Doing the best work possible is a mentality that carried through from Filmic to Snowday. Since the company is so small, with the men being the only full time employees amid a handful of contractors, all three founders are involved in nearly every aspect of production. Snowday believes their small size is a major strength to the quality of their work. Instead of having an idea for a commercial run through many levels of an agency and go through many hands, the trio works with the company in every step of the process, creating a very hands-on experience for all involved and making each project personal.
“It allows you to form a really strong relationship with the clients, it’s more than ‘We just want to shoot a video for you,’ ” Buoy said. “We want to know why you do this, and why your customers act this way, and what causes you to wake up in the morning. We want to know these things, because it allows us to make a really cool project, and form really solid relationships that last beyond a small shoot.”
Since its creation, Snowday has made advertisements for Sisu Mouthguards, University of Michigan Health System and Trerice (an auto-part company), just to name a few. While the objects they’re selling seem innocuous, each clip feels personal, aesthetically driven and emotive.
Even if Snowday leaves Ann Arbor some day, they hope to always maintain the special relationship they have with the University.
“I feel confident that there’s no other university or institution that could have prepared us in such a unique way as the University of Michigan,” Buoy said. “It led us to have this incredible hands-on experience that’s kind of insane with what we were trusted to do as students. We knew when we started Snowday that we needed to come back to Ann Arbor, because there’s already a relationship there and opportunities for work, and we want to retain this relationship for the rest of our lives.”