Tevin Tavares Is a Filmmaker
On a Mission
MICHAEL O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Pursuing a creative career is rarely easy and often invites a ton of personal and practical uncertainty. A lot of the members of our community embraced their creative sides after a decade of doing something else. Others have leapfrogged to different creative mediums in search of the one that feels like home. And then there are those with stories like Working Not Working Member Tevin Tavares, who after graduating high school knew almost exactly what he wanted to be doing: making films for Nike.
It's a huge advantage to have a calling, but it's not without its hurdles. In fact, it can be equally frustrating knowing right where your goalpost is and trying to map out how you'll make it there. Below, Tevin shares when he realized what he wanted to do, how he set up markers each year to inch closer, and what it means for him to reach that goal just a year and a half after graduating from college. What it means is he's realizing his potential and thinking of the next move. But not in a calculated way. His latest projects, two shorts for Nike Films about high school football in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, taught him a lot about being thankful for what you have and persevering in the face of adversity.
Tevin also learned a lot about the power of community, something he's already implemented with the formation of a collective called "Combined Culture." They've put out several viral shorts, including a film inspired by Kendrick Lamar's "Lust". As Tevin tells us, "I strongly believe to this day that Kendrick saw the film and I know one day we'll work with him." Judging by Tevin's track record, I wouldn't bet against him.
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Tevin Tavares and what started his path toward becoming a visual storyteller?
Growing up in the Bay Area, I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many different cultures. Through embracing diversity throughout my upbringing, I feel that culture will always remain at the forefront of my life: it is always my main source of inspiration.
After graduating from high school, I remember seeing this Nike Commercial called “The Ringmaker”, where LeBron James struggles with the adversity that comes with losing back-to-back NBA Championships but ultimately perseveres. This film touched me after some tough losses of my own: breaking my arm playing high school football and losing the dream of college football, attending a junior college due to my financial circumstance while most of my peers went on to four-year universities, and above all losing my grandfather on Christmas night. Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” plays throughout the commercial, a song my pops always played everywhere we went. I pictured LeBron as myself battling adversity and finally reaching that point of success in the end. Seeing that commercial and realizing how it made me feel emotionally, and how it drove me to obtain success, made it clear what I wanted to do with my life: inspire and motivate others through the art of storytelling. This ultimately guided my path to working on Nike commercials.
What was the next step toward achieving this goal?
I knew if I wanted to make Nike commercials, I had to go to where it all started to the University of Oregon. I ended up getting a scholarship there, one of the happiest days of my life. I was the first person in my immediate family to attend a four-year university. My next step was landing a Nike internship so I made an effort to network and build relationships, and even worked at a Nike retail store in Portland. I got an internship with the Jordan Brand in my junior year which was a dream come true. That summer I soaked up knowledge from some of the most creative and innovative people in the industry at the Jordan Brand.
How did you come to start your own collective collective?
My good friend Carlyle Garrick and I had both known people in the Bay Area who were robbed for their Air Jordans. There were even people across the country killed over them. Carlyle wrote a poem about it and wanted to turn it into a visual piece, filmed like a commercial. It was on this project I met two of my creative partners and close friends, Sutton Raphael and Jose Contreras. We filmed a story about a kid who puts in countless hours of work just to buy a pair of Jordans, but when he finally purchases them he gets shot and killed for them. A couple days later, I got a text from Carlyle with this The Shoes Complex feature. Here I was in Complex, a blog I read religiously every day, my face dead center. The film went viral extremely fast, and was even featured on WorldstarHipHop.
One day while at my desk at the Jordan Brand, I watched this breakfast club interview with Dame Dash about becoming your own boss and owning your own company. I realized I wanted to create my own agency. The founders of both 72andSunny and Wieden+Kennedy both attended Oregon's School of Journalism, same as me. I started brainstorming ideas with my girlfriend and she came up with the name Combined Culture, which is something that I had been doing my whole life. I always believed that culture was the most important thing in our daily lives and it is what always brings individuals together; and when cultures are combined you get amazing work. From there I saved those words as the background of my laptop and swore everyday to make CC happen.
On October 1st 2015, The Umpqua Community College shooting occurred, 45 minutes from where I went to school. Realizing that this could have been any of us at UO, Combined Culture created a short film called Numb in America; it told the story of an individual who barely makes it out of a classroom shooting and has to deal with the trauma after. It was nominated for a College Emmy Award. We next did our own commercial for Kanye West and Adidas to celebrate the impact that he has had on our generation to truly embody being a creative. Seeing this article after Dream. Create. Conquer came out gave me goosebumps because I realized we had something special. The film was seen by members of Kanye’s team and high up executives at Adidas including Jon Wexler, who had brought Kanye to Adidas. I ended up getting a job with Adidas Originals as a marketing coordinator, where I stayed for about a year.
I worked with Combined Culture next on a video inspired by the Kendrick Lamar song "LUST", which we released on his 30th birthday. Our work again landed on Complex. That day everybody knew who Combined Culture was. I strongly believe to this day that Kendrick saw the film and I know one day we'll work with him. Shortly after the Complex article came out I started having conversations with Empire Green, which eventually hired Sutton and myself to partner on Nike Films set in Houston.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
I would describe my creative style as culturally authentic lol, whatever that means. Like I mentioned, growing up in the Bay Area has had a big influence on my life and the films that I create. I want individuals to FEEL the work that I create. I want you to be able to relate to the film and remember how you felt emotionally after you watch it. I want to always stay authentic and real to the culture. I want it to inspire individuals to go out and get the best out of their life and maybe even change the world in a way.
How did you land your film project for Nike Football? And what’s it all about?
So after the LUST film came out I was talking to different agencies around Portland and I was in talks with several to come on as a freelancer. Fortunately, Ben Pigao and Kent St. John of Empire Green Creative gave me and my creative partner Sutton the opportunity to come on board and help them with these films for Nike football. They saw the chemistry that we had working together and wanted to bring us on as a team.
During the summer, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and surrounding towns got severely affected. We went down to Houston, TX to document two historically black high schools, Jack Yates from the 3rd Ward and Phillis Wheatley from the 5th Ward. They have been playing against each other for more than 100 years. We also captured stories of how these two schools were affected by Hurricane Harvey. The second story that we captured was the Port Arthur Memorial high school football team in Port Arthur, TX. This city was hit the hardest by Harvey. We spoke with players, coaches, and the entire community about how they were affected. We wanted to showcase how a community could be hit by such tragedy but still find a way to come together and raise up against adversity even stronger. A community that grows together stays together.
What was your creative process for documenting these high school football programs and their respective neighborhoods?
A lot of research and interviews. We had to really dive deep into learning about these communities and about the individuals who had been a part of these communities for years. Our main creative idea was to “peel the layers” and get behind each and every single story of this community and learn about what really makes its heart beat every day; the answer was football. Before I came down to Texas I had only heard myths and stories of Texas high school football and how important it was to these communities; I can tell you now that it is very real. You can feel the energy in the air on those Friday nights. It's legit. We wanted the people outside of these communities to feel what was actually going on and tell those stories that may go overlooked. We wanted to experience what it felt like visually to be there in that moment.
How was Empire Green Creative Agency as a partner?
Empire Green as a creative partner was the dopest experience. Dom, Kent, Ben, and Gabby are all super down to earth and are inspired to push the industry forward with their work. I am thankful for them for allowing myself and Sutton to help them document and tell these amazing stories. Sutton and I always wanted to do a film for Nike. We just didn't know it would come a year and a half after we graduated and we have EG to thank for that.
Can you share some of the creative challenges and breakthroughs that came with this undertaking?
School Districts and Time! It was often hard even getting access to school grounds and to practices, games, and players, due to restrictions set by the school district. But in the end, we got everything taken care of. Also due to players having practice until about 6pm and being in school most of the day, we had to work around everybody’s schedule. So either we had to get up super early to capture footage of the players waking up or wait until after practice to get that personal footage of them with their friends or family at home. We wanted to capture those personal experiences so people watching the films could know these players and their families personally.
Did you have certain expectations of what the atmosphere would be like down there? What surprised you most?
I low-key expected Houston to be similar to Katrina but when we got to Houston and spoke with the coaches and parents we learned that only certain areas were hit really bad by Harvey. However, Port Arthur which is an hour and a half away from Houston got it extremely bad as they are closest to the water. After seeing what I saw in PA and hearing stories from players and members of the community, I would definitely compare PA to Katrina. What I heard and saw broke my heart because you can only imagine what it was like to actually deal with that during the storm. Houses were completely destroyed, debris and garbage were everywhere. My heart goes out to that community because after seeing that, I know God has a big plan for them in the future. I respect the PA community; every single individual is stronger than ever because of Harvey. Harvey brought that community together.
The whole experience must have been incredibly humbling, and left you with a renewed sense of purpose and creative drive. What were your biggest takeaways from this project?
The biggest takeaways that I got from working on these films was to be thankful every day for waking up alive, with a roof over my head, food to eat, and clean water to drink. There was a moment when one of the players asked me what exactly I did and I told him that I told stories. It was then that I realized that I really get paid to do something that comes so naturally to me and I feel is a gift that God has given me. As long as I can tell these impactful stories and inspire individuals through my creativity, I’m whole. That’s what makes me happy. That's how I was able to wake up at 4am to get B-roll; I was destined to do this and share my craft with the world.
Have you kept in touch with some of the people you documented and interviewed? Are a lot of them still in the process of rebuilding their lives post-hurricane?
I talked to the kids and their families a lot during post-production. They were constantly checking in on how the film was looking and when we were going to be done editing. The happiest day for me was actually being able to send them the links to the films and seeing their reactions. That to me made everything worthwhile to see how happy they were and how much it meant for 3rd and 5th ward communities, along with the Port Arthur community, to see their stories being told across the country. The comments on social media made me realize this is what I do it for. There’s a reason behind these films. A lot of people are still rebuilding in PA but you can tell from being down there that they are getting stronger by the day. There's a family aura down there as the whole community has come together to help rebuild the city from the ground up.
It's such a powerful undertaking. Does it feel like the next turning point in your creative development and career?
Definitely, it was a constant reminder to myself of what I was placed on this earth to do and that is to use my creativity to inspire individuals through the films that I create. However, it made me realize the importance of capturing real stories that others may overlook. These Nike Films were my first major films for a client and even partnering with an agency. For these to be my first films and to see the impact that they had across the country was truly humbling. I know I’ll be making a lot more. Next time they will be touching individuals across the globe on a larger scale.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
Donald Glover, Hiro Murai, Beyonce, Kanye West, Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar, Ryan Coogler, Dave Meyers, NABIL, Frank Ocean, Steve Jobs
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
Nothing. I feel like God gave me this gift of being creative to help inspire the world. So there’s nothing to fear.
What would be your dream job?
Sitting back on a beach and like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs did for Disney and Apple, watching Combined Culture innovate the world through storytelling and creativity.
What do you do when Not Working?
You can catch me brainstorming on the next film, watching Vince Staples interviews, on Vimeo, at the Gym, posted with my girlfriend, posted with the homies, MC’ing CC Radio, or watching ESPN, MTV music videos, Atlanta, or Insecure.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
The next move is partnering with an agency and creating another inspirational film or commercial. In the meantime, I’m working on building Combined Culture one day at a time.