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Vermont Filmmaker Captures Candidates - and Maybe Criminals

State of the Arts


Published October 3, 2007 at 4:26 p.m.

Nathan Beaman is a guy with a camera who gets around. He's edited raw footage of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Anna Nicole Smith. He just got back from "sweating [his] butt off" at the Oakland A's spring training camp in Arizona, where he worked on a "Dominican baseball movie" from the creators of acclaimed indie Half Nelson. And he's currently in negotiations with a serial killer.

It's hard to believe the 26-year-old Burlington resident is only a few years out of Burlington College. Since earning his BA, Beaman's taken film and commercial work where he could find it. Things really took off last March, though, when he posted his reel - a montage of footage he shot on various projects - on the Internet. "Within a week I had 30,000 to 40,000 downloads," Beaman says. Some people asked him for shooting tips; others offered jobs, most of them out of state. And his one-man company, Urban Rhino Visual, got very busy. "I've had about four days off in the past two years," Beaman says.

It's not hard to see why: Beaman's reel is full of sumptuous colors and tricky lighting effects. But he doesn't just shoot film; he cuts it. One of his big editing jobs was David Giancola's Illegal Aliens. Another is a series of web videos called "Walk a Day in My Shoes," sponsored by the Service Employees National Union (SEIU). Each short film features a Democratic presidential candidate shadowing an SEIU member. Clinton visits patients with a nurse; Obama mops floors with a home-care aide; Joe Biden finds out if he could hack it as a janitor.

Beaman has seen the candidates in candid moments - "a lot of really great stuff that I'm sure 'The Daily Show' would kill for," he says, chuckling. But he doesn't have much time to reflect on it, because the videos, shot by Montpelier filmmaker Peter Kent of Cyclops Pictures, have to be ready to submit to the candidates' lawyers in just five hours. Using state-of-the-art equipment, "I'm pulling the footage from the camera as [Kent] shoots," Beaman explains.

The short films, available on YouTube, have had a "really great response," Beaman says. There's talk of doing a second series with the Republican candidates; meanwhile, the Clinton campaign has contacted Beaman "about doing some stuff for them directly."

But Beaman has plans to expand beyond his work as a hired gun. In September, the Vermont Arts Council gave him a $3000 Creation Grant to help fund his planned documentary about Arthur Shawcross, also known as the Genesee River Killer.

Shawcross murdered 10 prostitutes in Rochester, New York, between 1988 and 1990 - after he served 15 years for killing two children in Watertown, Beaman's hometown. Beaman says he plans to focus on "the pattern in Shawcross' life - how the judicial system failed so many times and, in essence, created this monster." Growing up, he heard stories from friends' older siblings about the killer, "small-town folklore kind of stuff." Currently, Beaman has the New York prison system's permission to interview Shawcross, but not yet that of the killer himself, who wants remuneration - something the state's "Son of Sam" law forbids. That won't stop Beaman. He hopes to get more producers for the film and start shooting in November in Watertown, he says. "I'm trying to track down surviving victims, get police and archival news footage."

Yet another project in Beaman's hopper is a narrative film he's scripted, a "World War II Anne Frank-ish type piece" about a German boy and Jewish girl who fall in love. For the moment, though, he's focused on trying to work closer to home, so he can spend time with his 10-month-old daughter. Does he have any advice for others trying to break into the film industry? "Nothing's ever below you," Beaman says. "Do anything anyone asks you to do and learn something from it."