Guest Blog: Travel Photographer and Filmmaker Serge Ramelli
From Paris to Hollywood
Ever since I was a teenager I dreamed of being an artist, an actor, a director or just being involved in making movies.
As a teenager I remember seeing Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and this totally changed my life. Not so much by the quality of movie, which I loved (I went to see it three times in the theater the first week of its release), but by the impact it created around me. Everyone at school was only talking about the movie, and I realized that a movie could have a huge impact on culture and society at large.
This dream kind of faded away as I grew up. I became a father early in life, and I got a job coding. But sitting at a desk was not a life for me, although I loved computers. I then got into sales for the travel industry, first selling sightseeing tours in Paris and later on working for my brother’s company selling websites to hotels.
In 2004 at the age 34 years old, I had four kids to take care of and lots of financial responsibilities. I was doing ok, but I started being obsessed again about working in movies. I decided to go back to acting class and to create some short movies to tackle the world of entertainment. Back then there was no DSLR that could shoot movies. To get anything decent you had to rent very expensive cameras that did not even have nice bokeh or depth of field and did not look like cinema at all.
All my efforts came out to nothing; my shorts were horrible and not finished, and the acting classes were not doing well. I felt like I would never make it.
As I was about to give up, I went on vacation with a whole bunch of friends in Guadeloupe. I had a small Sony point and shoot camera and started for the first time in my life to shoot digital photos. They were just snapshots of our holiday.
One night we were a little bored, nothing good on tv. One of my friends present, Kelvin Pimont asked me if I wanted to see what Photoshop could do. I had heard about the software but never saw it in action. Kelvin was a young designer who was a master Jedi at the software.
He starts showing how to select the sky and make it super dramatic, how to erase all the tourist around a portrait we had taken together and I couldn’t believe how powerful and how ‘easy’ the software seemed to be.
That day I had a major epiphany that would change my life forever.
Until I could figure out how to make movies, I could at least create art with photography and make my photo sublime with the help of this magical Photoshop software!
When we came back home, I went into the biggest technical library in Paris (Eyrolles) and looked for all the books I could find on Photography and Photoshop. After buying a large number of really hard to understand books, I found a Photoshop book by Scott Kelby. Finally something I could understand.
I then started a project that went on for 5 years, taking dramatic photos of Paris after work in the most dramatic light possible. I would then watch tutorials on post processing and using Photoshop, and then later on Lightroom, I was able to make the photos even more dramatic!
This was a blast and my life made sense again. When I became 38 in 2008, I started doing interior design photography as I did a photo shoot in a hotel in Paris (in HDR) with the Seven Hotel. The hotel belonged to a hotel celebrity by the name of Philippe Vaurs.
Philippe was blown away by the photos. At the time there was very little retouching in interior design photography and most photographer were shooting on film. I added some subtle light effects in Lightroom that seemed to hit home ☺
He started promoting my work to many hotel managers/owners and I started getting lots of job inquiries. So much that a few months later, I resigned from my VP of Sales duty to being a full time photographer.
This was a very scary decision for me, especially with four young kids to take care of. I made a lot less money but I was finally doing something that I loved.
My desire to make movies started coming back. When the Canon 5D Mark II came out, I decided to make a short action movie with it. Like everybody, I had seen Reverie from Vincent Laforet and was amazed by the cinema look we could get with it.
This movie is called Arthur, and it came out in 2010. A parkour action movie with a young friend named Arthur. He goes to school and sees a girl in trouble and will use some of his parkour power to save the day. The short was nominated in 4 festivals and won the public prize at Arles.
I had no idea how much luck this movie was going to change my life, but more on this later.
This became an immediate success. I became the second best author on Tuto and my YouTube channel became the most viewed on Lightroom.
After doing the parkour short, I started working for one the largest galleries in Paris called Yellow Korner and got an amazing deal with a German publisher named teNeues. Six years of taking over 100,000 photos of Paris starting paying off
They wanted me to take photos and make books on some of cities around the world. This happened at a perfect time. To be honest, at that time I started to get desperate financially, and my first couple of years as a photographer were very thin. I almost couldn’t pay my mortgage.
Over the next four years I did four coffee table books; Paris & New York in Black and White and Venice & Los Angeles in color
But the teaching on Tuto and the fine art deal saved the day! I was back at making enough money to have a comfortable life with my family.
In 2014, Kelvin, who had taught me Photoshop, relocated to Los Angeles and proposed me to move there with my family to pursue my goals of movie making. I could still do all my teaching from LA and travel the world for my galleries and publisher.
It took me a good year to move there and get an artist visa, but the 14th of October 2014, I moved to Los Angeles. Something I will never regret.
A few months after moving to LA, I became friend with a screenwriter by the name of Darius Stevens Wilhere. Darius had over 15 years of experience working on advertising, PSAs and documentaries.
I wrote a short movie called If Only. The story of a man desperately in love with a girl that he sees often and can never get the courage to talk to her, so he daydreams of being someone else to be able to meet her.
Darius helped me shoot this short. While doing this movie, which included a fight scene, he met Arthur, the young stunt man that I had worked with earlier, and he liked him a lot. His kids had seen my short movie with him several times. One day Darius tells me that he would like to write a full feature film. A noble action martial arts movie called, ‘Once Upon A Time In Paris.’ A few months later, he showed me the script and I loved it. I love movies where the hero is powerful and very noble like IP Man or some Bruce Lee movies. I also love martial arts.
The movie is very positive and full of cool action.
The next year Darius wrote another script and asked me to play the lead as an actor. The movie is called The Hollywouldn’ts. The story of a French men trying to make it in Hollywood with no visa and a lot of attitude.
I produced the movie with some friends and the help of Canon France who gave us all the equipment for free. They liked ‘If Only’ and wanted to help us.
The movie came out this year on Amazon and had some cool reviews, you can see the trailer here:
And the full movie is available on Amazon Prime.
After dreaming about making movies my entire life, I finally started something. A long wait.
Just for fun and for the photography community, we also did a short called Size Matters. A story of two photographers trying to seduce a girl by the size of their lens…
About 8 months ago something happened on YouTube that I didn’t expect. The short movie Arthur, that has been doing okay on youtube for seven years, blew up completely, getting 500,000 to 700,000 views per month. It has just passed 6M views in very little time.
At the same time, my good friend Darius told me that he was moving to Mexico for an offer he couldn’t refuse. This was very sad news for me as I really enjoyed working with him and was hoping we would find a way to make more movies together.
As he left, I asked him if he would be okay with me directing the movie he wrote, Once Upon A Time In Paris (the full feature action inspired by my short movie).
Darius was very happy and accepted and wished me the best of luck. A few weeks later in a complete random fashion, I met an amazing well-established Hollywood producer.
A young man of age 28 that already had produced 41 movies. He just helped produce Rob Cohen’s (Fast & Furious, Triple XXX) and Rob Reiner’s (A Few Good Men) latest movies.
I approached him first with the ‘Once Upon A Time In Paris’ script. He loved the project and decided to produce it and we are now in the process of casting the movie. I’m so exited to shoot an action movie in Paris.
I have also been working on another crazy project, a sci-fi movie. I have had the idea of the script for a long time. After years thinking about it, I decided to write the script with the encouragement of my wife.
I also had another crazy idea, which was to shoot a mock-up of the opening scene of the movie. Something that had to be spectacular enough to get a studio executive intrigued and wanting to know more.
I went to the border of Mexico in the Imperial Dunes to shoot this mock up, you can see the final result here:
To do all the special effects, I found an amazing 3D artist from Russia, Alex. You can see his Art Station page here and see how talented he is.
I showed this to the new producer and he was indeed intrigued. He asked to read the script and loved it. We are now working on some modification, but he wants to make it quickly.
Nothing done yet, but I find it amazing that by holding onto these crazy dreams, even at a later age that they could come through. I hope this encourages any artist out there to pursue their dreams. I cannot tell you how many times I though about giving up, or thinking I was not talented enough or not this or that. But there is something magical about pursuing one’s passion.
Thanks so much Scott for allowing me to express myself on your blog, you know how much you have been key in my life as a mentor.