Elliot Gray Van Orman is a Rochester, Michigan native who studied film at Columbia College in Chicago. He currently resides in Detroit, and in addition to some commercial work, he shoots and edits videos featuring the city of Detroit. You may have seen this story on our sister site, CBSDetroit.com, about Elliot!
You went to college in Chicago, yet you’re back here in Detroit making films…about Detroit. What made you make the move back?I went to Film school at Columbia College in Chicago, IL from 2004 to 2008. I moved back to Detroit for some personal reasons. I keep coming back to make films in the city of Detroit because I believe its potential is infinite with possibilities. There’s a lot of character to the city of Detroit and I only hope to keep showcasing that in the pieces I make about it from here on out.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project? My latest project is entitled, “A Timeless Hope” is based around a set of words I wrote recently accompanied by a voice over and 2 classic licensed music tracks. It is a short experimental film based around the current images of the city of Detroit and with an emphasis on “The Brush Park BMX” project happening now in the city. I’m finishing up its editing as we speak and hope to release it online later in May. Really looking forward to it. It’s been a lot of fun to create this Spring.
Tell us more about this “Brush Park BMX” project…
Brush Park BMX is a project that was started by the well-known Detroit Photographer/BMXer Joe Gall in Spring 2013 in an abandoned field on Brush Street (which, I believe, used to be a park). There are many local riders and diggers that work out building the place up and it has been a real positive project recently located in the city. It is getting well-known and its word is spreading. I hope to document it more this year! Good times.
Where did you first envision your project taking place when you were developing the idea? I first envisioned my latest project happening in the city of Detroit. It fit the theme/feel & words/narration and music I picked out for it perfectly. No better place in my mind.
Why did you decide to film in Detroit? I decided to film in Detroit because I think it’s a very unique city and there’s a lot of possibilities and potential with it. Character is the best word to describe it.
How does the city compare to other places you’ve filmed in the past? Detroit is different than other places I have filmed before. Like all places, they always stand out in their own unique way. You can’t really say one place is better than the other. Some stand taller in different ways. Not one is ever the same.
What are your favorite places in the city to film? My favorite places to film lately in the city are near Hart Plaza towards the heart of the city. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle with it and it’s really great to capture. I like pretty much most parts of the city for filming. They all stand out in different ways and I think they’re all mostly great.
What has your experience been with interacting with the people of Detroit? I’ve had some interesting interactions with people in the city of Detroit. I’m a pretty out-going guy with a good personality, so I always try to be friendly enough to accomplish the goals and possibilities I see with different situations and people. My people experiences have worked out mostly in a positive direction in the city.
As far as those interesting interactions go, do you have any specific one you want to talk about? Maybe something funny or that made you smile? One interaction with a street performer I had was meeting and talking to him for an hour about his life and music and I ended up filming him (and paying him a bit because it was the right thing to do). The footage turned out great and I ended up using it in my 2012 “An Anthem of Time” Detroit film. That memory makes me smile.
What about the city makes it such a great backdrop for filming? The backdrop of the city is great I think. The feel of it. Time written all over the buildings and structures. Lots of character.
What do you like to do in the city when you’re not working? I like to get coffee and hangout with friends in my free time. I’m mostly always working on a video project- even when it’s not for pay. I’m pretty dedicated to the craft and I really enjoy creating things. Staying busy is always a good thing for me.
What are your favorite places to hang out in Detroit? Most recently my favorite place to hangout in the city is at “Brush Park BMX” located near the Ford Field and Tigers Stadium. Filming there with the local BMX riders for my most recent Detroit project has been a lot of fun! Really cool location.
Is there a Detroit legend or feature of the city that has been an inspiration for you in your work? I like Eminem a lot. He is a legend of Detroit and I’m a fan of his music. He would stand out in my mind as something that is inspiring. Where he came from and where he is now. Really cool.
What makes you proud being a filmmaker in Detroit? I’m proud to be a filmmaker in Detroit because I was born and raised here and I take a lot of pride in that.
If you had to sum up the city of Detroit in one word, what would it be? “Hustles”
What do you think sets Detroit apart from other cities like Chicago or New York, as far as being a filmmaker is concerned? I think Detroit sets itself apart from other cities because it is unique and has a lot of history to it. For filmmaking- it tells a better story.
Though you’re from the area, has your perception of Detroit changed at all since you started filming here? My perception of Detroit has changed a bit. Like everything in life, there is darkness and light. I’ve seen some darkness in the city over the years filming and I’ve seen a lot of light as well. I do my best to try and stay positive with the direction of my work. But sometimes you need the bad to make the good. I’ve seen both often enough and always do my best to put my best foot forward in this life.
Have you discovered any new favorite spots in the city since you’ve started filming? My most recent favorite spot for filming like I stated before is the New “Brush Park BMX” project. Really cool thing going on there :)
A lot of your films, aside from just being shot in Detroit…are actually about Detroit. Why? I’m just a fan of Detroit city- making films and videos about it comes naturally. There’s a lot to explore with its creativity. :)
Closing thoughts? I think Detroit is a great city. There’s some darkness, but there’s also a lot of light and I only hope to keep capturing it with the best of my efforts and continue to create things using the city as my inspiration.