WILMINGTON – A lot of local film talent passes through the barn-shaped building on Carolina Beach Road, but Lighthouse Films doesn’t shoot narrative films.
The Lighthouse Film Company was founded in 2004 by Director and Cinematographer Brad Walker and his wife, Producer Andrea Walker. For the last ten years, they’ve been joined by Creative Director Ben Coffman. Together, the production company has quietly become a powerhouse for national brand commercial filming and high-end stock photography for Getty.
“We don’t really advertise ourselves,” said Walker. “It’s all been word of mouth, someone sees our work, and – you know – word travels.”
The ‘anti-stock footage’ company
Based out of a modest office in Wilmington, Lighthouse Films has traveled around the world, from a commercial for Chrysler in Mexico City to an upcoming shoot for J.P. Morgan in Mumbai and Shanghai.
Walker said his film school background – and the talent he has surrounded himself with – have helped distinguish Lighthouse from other companies.
“Even though we produce high end stock footage for Getty Images, we’re kind of an anti-stock footage company,” Walker said. “We find real authentic moments that doesn’t feel stocky. I think about how to compose a shot, how to capture a moment, how to tell that story. I’ve been lucky to surround myself with people who are talented that way, at treating every shot like an artistic, emotional project. If we hadn’t surrounded ourselves with a great team of people like Ben Coffman and our producer Michelle Roca we wouldn’t be where we are today. They really helped elevate who we are to another level.”
Though Walker talks about “telling a story,” he has never had much interest in directing feature films.
“Even in film school, I never wanted to be a feature film director,” Walker said. “my passion is emotional storytelling in high end commercial content.”
Walker got his start working with stock photographer Jack Hollingsworth in the late 1990s.
According to Walker, Hollingsworth’s style elevated what could have been an uninspiring job, taking stock photos. These are the generic photos used by everyone from journalists to advertisers; working as a gaffer for Hollingsworth, Walker saw a different side of the industry.
Walker said, “Hollingsworth really had an artistic approach for these projects that might otherwise have been pretty boring. I traveled all over with him, it opened my eyes in a lot of ways.”
After a few years, Walker struck out on his own, producing films for summer camps. The rapid pace was good training, Walker said, forcing him to compose and film shots quickly and effectively. Eventually, Walker took a leap of faith by purchasing his own high-end camera.
“It was a little bit crazy,” Walker said. “We landed a big account right after that, but, believe me, I’m very aware, you know, that it might not have played out the way it did. Still, I really felt that, once we had the Alexa [an expensive camera brand], I pretty much either had to make it – or not.”
Not long afterwards, Walker started shooting national commercial content for brands like Michelin, Chrysler and Red Bull.
Wilmington’s ‘other film industry’
Over the years, Lighthouse Films has attracted Wilmington’s local film talent. It’s true that Lighthouse Films doesn’t make narrative films, but it is an important part of the local film community. Locals like Alan Swanson, a camera operator, or Kendall Stetson, a production and director’s assistant, who have worked on productions like “One Tree Hill” or “Good Behavior,” have found a home at Lighthouse.
“We’re kind of Wilmington’s other film industry,” Walker said.
Lighthouse Films has been able pick from Wilmington’s film talent pool, but it also gives back. According to Walker, about a quarter of Lighthouse’s business comes from providing rental equipment to local productions. In some cases, these are passion projects with tight budgets; but Lighthouse Films is willing to work with even the smallest production.
As Producer and Business Manager Michelle Roca told Port City Daily, “In addition to supplying equipment to the feature and commercial industry, we like to help independent filmmakers by supplying our gear to their passion projects. We love working with people, no matter the budget.”
Lighthouse also gets involved with local businesses. When Port City Daily met up with Walker, he was editing footage for a recently filmed commercial for Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods in downtown Wilmington. Walker said he enjoyed being part of the downtown business scene.
“Our home is Wilmington, and the downtown is important to us. In fact, we are moving to the Brooklyn Arts District in October and we will to continue to help our local film industry, however we can.”