When it comes to telling stories with video, filmmakers CJ Powell and Andrew Rankin know that emotive storytelling isn’t limited to fictional filmmaking. The co-founders of the Denver-based creative company Street Seven Creative House are passionate about producing cinematic branded content that makes a difference. Case in point? “Find A Way,” a powerful video that helped non-profit organization NeuAbility crush their fundraising expectations.
While Street Seven mainly focuses on commercial work, “Find A Way” gave CJ and Andrew the chance to combine their shared passion for lyrical films with deeper messages. The organization is a holistic, exercise-based therapy program for individuals living with spinal cord injuries, and “Find A Way” was produced for the organization’s annual 2021 fundraiser. In 2013, CJ himself joined the NeuAbility community after an injury. He’s now a member of the NeuAbility board.
CJ and Andrew were the only crew members (and co-directors) on the “Find A Way” set, which gave their subject, Lexi Monahan, the freedom to speak intimately about NeuAbility’s impact on her life. The video stands alone as a testament to Street Seven’s commitment to brand work that’s story-driven. “Our goal is to help our clients build a unique, consistent brand identity at a foundational level,” says CJ. “But we’re also excited to tell some really cool stories in a way no one else can.”
What is your connection with NeuAbility?
CJ: “My history with NeuAbility is about eight years old. I was actually paralyzed in 2013, while racing my dirt bike in Colorado Springs. And I found NeuAbility in the spring of 2014 through a friend. They were huge for me. When I graduated CU Denver, I started working there, as the Operations Director. Now I’m on the board there, so I’ve stayed very close. We were even office-ing out of NeuAbility when our company first got off the ground.”
How did Street Seven come to be?
CJ: “I really got into video after my accident, just documenting Motocross and doing creative pieces in that world, which was a really cool way for me to get back into the scene after my accident. That’s where I learned my way around a camera, and what really led me to Street Seven.”
Andrew: “I grew up in production, but it was mostly radio stuff, with my papa. And when he passed away, I took over his company and led it more into the video side of things. CJ and I are really good friends and had worked together in the past on a whole bunch of stuff. This year, we decided to go full force together with it and we rebranded from a production company into a full blown creative house.”
How did this video come together?
CJ: “I had done video for NeuAbility in the past – more just like producing and directing, not so much the whole picture – but when their annual fundraiser came up and I was working with Andrew at Street Seven, I knew we could do the best job at it. Strive is NeuAbility’s annual gala fundraiser, and their biggest money maker from a fundraising standpoint. There’s always video there because it is such an emotional medium, and it’s one of the key points of the night.”
Andrew: “We really believe that storytelling is the most important thing when it comes to producing anything. And connecting with people, through story, through emotion, is something we do best with video.”
How did you find the film’s subject, Lexi?
CJ: “I’ve had a personal relationship with Lexi for years now. We first met when I was working there in 2017. I’ve always known the content of her character and I think that probably helped, because when we were filming I was just talking to her.”
Andrew: “We didn’t want it to seem scripted at all. Our goal was for it to feel as genuine and real as possible and not scripted. The best way to do that is to just kind of have a normal conversation, just guided by prepared questions to get her where we wanted to go. It was also just the two of us on the crew, which I think helped it feel supportive and intimate. CJ was producing the whole thing, I handled the cinematography, and then he and I both kind of directed as we were on set.”
What impact have you seen from the film since its release?
CJ: “I really think the greatest impact was felt that evening at the fundraiser when it premiered. This is funny, but our metric for the video was how many people started crying, and so we were counting sniffles. In the fundraising world, when you’re leading up to those appeals, the biggest thing you’re trying to do is make them feel something powerful.
And we knew that the power of the story was going to be, there was going to be sadness, but also a lot of triumph. And I think we got that real, raw emotional response. And we ended up doing the best we’ve ever done on a paddle raise, at least since I’ve been there. So there was a legitimate financial impact with the video that we produced.”
How do you choose which partners to work with in the rest of your video production?
Andrew: “It’s really about if a client either has a product that we really align with or we believe in their company and them as people. I think for us, the biggest thing is collaboration. If we work well together, if they’re open to hearing some of our ideas and stuff like that, that’s typically what pushes us into working with somebody or not.”
CJ: “I think what we want to do is create a grand brand vision and then execute on that as opposed to people coming to us and telling us what to make. It’s more so from the brand strategy perspective and really being able to build something that feels true to the brand. When somebody trusts you to do what you’re good at, that’s where you get the best results. That was the case with NeuAbility, and it’s what we try to do with all of our clients.”
How did you choose Vimeo as the home for your work?
Andrew: “I picked Vimeo at first because I was just looking for a way to deliver final edits to clients. It’s just super easy to use and it maintains that quality. So that’s kind of what drove me to it in the beginning, and then we’ve just stuck with it because it just keeps working for our needs.”
CJ: “I also just love how simple the video embeds look, on our website or elsewhere. It’s so easy to customize them to make it look super clean, and helps us really make the branding rad.”
Andrew: “Our website wouldn’t look nearly as clean as we would want it to without Vimeo embeds.”