In 2011, YouTube had more than 1 trillion views (around 140 views for every person on Earth). In the same year, two-thirds of the U.S./Canada population, roughly 221.2 million people, saw at least one movie at a theater.
Videos, whether in the form of a movie or music video or even a commercial, touch the lives of every person with any connection to the world around them. They make us laugh, they inform us and, in the case of a Lifetime movie, they make us sob and reach for the tissues. They also tend to alienate us from their creators, leaving the artist a mystery – until the mystery is solved and the artist is uncovered.
One of Ouachita’s most unrecognized artists is senior mass communications major, Ben Thomas. A native of Keller, Texas, Thomas has worked in OBU’s video department since his freshman year, which was a selling point for the school in his book.
“It was the stereotypical, ‘I heard about [Ouachita] at church’ story. I came here and they guaranteed I would have a job doing video and that’s what I really wanted to do. So I came.” Thomas said. “I liked the atmosphere and the people and professors a lot more than I had seen elsewhere.”
Though he did not have much experience prior to college, Thomas knew he had an eye for video.
“People will watch something and won’t like it, but they don’t know why they don’t like it,” Thomas said. “And I know exactly why I don’t like it.”
His critical eye for videography is coupled with his love of movies from an early age.
“I was never the kid who wanted to be a firefighter or an astronaut. I saw people like Spielberg and saw movies and said, ‘I want to make movies and I want to be good at it and I want people to see my work,’” Thomas said. “I saw it and I was inspired by it and wanted to do that someday.”
While movies and the instinctive critique of movies are still much enjoyed by Thomas, his future goals have shifted from the connection-based movie industry to the tense, high-stress live broadcast field.
“I would love to direct the Grammy’s or the American Music Awards and be the guy that pushes all the buttons and tells the camera people exactly what shot to get,” Thomas said. “As of now, I just want to direct things.”
Currently, he directs the Arkadelphia High School football show that appears on local television.
While talking about everything that goes into the show, he sits down at his chair in the room full of screens and buttons and his fingers automatically fly to the correct buttons and levers, falling into an automatic rhythm without missing a beat. His hands float across the control board and his eyes seem to watch every screen at once. He is in his element. He is in control.
“Most people don’t understand what happens in this room,” he said. “But the atmosphere is really intense because everything is live and can’t be edited afterwards. It’s all in the moment.”
It is in this atmosphere of stress and buttons and real-time action that Thomas feels completely comfortable.
“This studio is my secret lair. I’m in here all the time,” he said.
For the past seven semesters, the studio has been his home. Between working on various broadcasts and stories and assisting video students with projects big and small, Thomas has worked on upwards of 20 projects per month since arriving on campus. After three and a half years, that adds up to as many as 480 to date. The experience that has come from those countless hours has been invaluable to his future career aspirations.
“The hands-on work I did at Ouachita allowed me to get a strong basic foundation of what I was doing,” he said. “I know the terms, I know the camera calls, I know how to direct and all that stuff. That’s one of the reasons I picked Ouachita.”
The skills he learned and has honed over the years proved invaluable last summer when he had an internship that included working with Glenn Beck and Family Force 5.
“The craziest thing I’ve worked on was while helping with Glenn Beck’s show. He had a big rally at Babe’s Chicken and we shot his show live on location that day with over a million people watching. We had about 750 people outside that were watching us do the shoot,” he said. “That was the coolest thing ever. It was very overwhelming.”
owever, the most fun thing Thomas has ever been a part of was the music video shoot for Family Force 5’s song, “Cray Button” in Dallas this past summer.
“I was one of the guys that got picked for the crew and I love the song, so I was pumped about it,” Thomas said.
On the first day of the shoot, they worked at a huge ATV park in a giant pit of mud.
“It was a mad house. We had this $45,000 camera shooting six inches above a giant pool of mud and water,” he said. “It was great, but it was horrifying because of how close the incredibly expensive equipment was to the mud.”
Day three of the shoot took place in an abandoned warehouse in Arlington filled to the brim with the band’s fans as extras for the video.
“The extras just wanted to be on camera. It was funny and it was great because they were all fans so they were just having a great time. And they were all starstruck by the band. By this point, the crew and band had started to mesh and became this mini-family for three days. One kid asked me for my autograph when they found out I was kind of friends with the band,” Thomas said.
In addition to buddying-up with famous people, Thomas got to see his name at the end of the video in the credits, knowing that he helped produce something greater than himself.
“I like impacting people. Whether that’s making them laugh or showing them something or impressing them, I just like doing cool things and knowing people are enjoying them,” Thomas said. “If people don’t see your work, what’s the point?”
In all of his work, Thomas’ driving force is not for recognition, made obvious by the fact his name but not face is well-known across campus. His goal is to affect people for the better.
“Anytime someone comes up to me and says they watched a video of mine on YouTube, that means more to me than anybody could ever know,” he said. “Because someone took the time out of their day to find something that I’ve done and I have the opportunity to make them laugh or inform them.”
Two of his most-viewed videos on YouTube are the Eta Alpha Omega “Muggin’” music videos from the past two years, with 866 and 1,217 views. He has 5,170 total channel views.
“When someone says, “Hey, I loved that video!” that means the world,” Thomas said. “Not that I need compliments, but it’s cool to see that something you do, no matter how small it is, affects people. Even if just one person besides myself watches it and loves it, those 50 hours of blood, sweat and tears are all worth it.”
Most people don’t realize how much time is put into a single video. For every minute of edited video, there is at least four minutes of editing.
“People ask me to make them videos minimum once or twice a week, thinking it takes about 10 minutes. But it usually isn’t,” he said. “It takes up a lot of time, so I really appreciate it when people understand that and pay me for my work.”
He believes people do not really understand how much work goes into the publications put out by the mass communications department.
“People think of mass comm and think you just type some stories in the Signal, and they have no idea that the staff stays up until 4 in the morning working on it. People just don’t know that. If anybody else tried to put together the paper, they wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s so much harder than they think,” he said.
This challenge is what draws Thomas into the world of video.
“Every time, no matter how similar two videos are, there’s always something that always can and will go wrong that you’ve never experienced before,” he said. “That’s what I love so much about doing video is that you have to overcome those problems every time you edit. It’s always challenging and it’s never the same.”
Another challenge faced this year by Thomas was directing the Eta Alpha Omega Tiger Tunes show.
“It was crazy, but I loved it,” he said. “I started working on the show in April and when it was all over, I was proud of everything we accomplished. Just one person saying they loved the show means so much.”
This appreciation is what keeps him going while pursuing his art.
“We’re on earth not for ourselves, but for other people and to glorify God. If I can make people see things they like, I’m doing what I’m called to do,” he said. “I was given that ability in order to glorify God and I believe God is glorified in laughter. That’s just me.”