Gainesboro Student is Award-Winning Videographer
If you were to ask Jackson County High School student Zachary Pennington about his award-winning video, he would have to ask you, "Which one?"
The JCHS senior has been producing videos since he was 13, starting with a historical documentary of Gainesboro, which amassed more than 15,000 views. Two years later, a mini-documentary about the “Abandonment of Gainesboro” garnered the “Best Film on a Budget” award at the Johns Hopkins University Film Festival.
His video for the JCHS Drama Club won a $10,000 prize for the school through the NBC Rise Grant program.
Zachary produced a video in the eighth grade that caught the eye of JCHS Basketball Coach Jim Brown, who kick-started the teenager's interest in closed-circuit television.
“I found him his first week of high school and asked him to help with JCTV,” says Coach Brown. "I learned that he was not just talented. He was also dependable, trustworthy, and extremely well-mannered. He's been the backbone of JCTV, and we're blessed to have him at our school."
On February 7, in a virtual ceremony, Governor Lee honored Zachary with the Governor’s Volunteer Star Award for a video he produced for the Chamber of Commerce.
As the awards and video production requests began to pour in, the teen did what any good business person does; started his own successful company, Pennington Productions. Those who have seen Zach’s work know that he possesses something that sets his videos apart from the rest.
“Like many other things, there is a science and an art to videography,” says Coach Brown. "Anyone can create videos if you have the equipment. However, the outstanding ones are also artists. Zach is an artist. This is what separates him from many others in the profession.”
This busy young man was also honored by Upper Cumberland EMC as a candidate in the 2020 Youth Summit due to his leadership ability, talent, and excellent grades. We caught up with Zachary between video shoots to learn more about this intelligent entrepreneur.
What sparked the interest in shooting video?
I would have to start with my interest in photography. When I started taking photos, I quickly found out you could tell a better story with video, especially when I became better at video editing. I preferred the challenge of making videos over just photos and still do.
Did you take courses in production to get started?
I’ve never taken any courses in video production, so I'm entirely self-taught. Even if I wanted to in school, they have never oﬀered any classes like that. I’ve grown up in an age with information being accessible in the palm of my hand. I was always watching YouTube, simply learning about ways to make videos from creators online.
What kind of video and editing equipment do you have?
When I ﬁrst started, I actually ﬁlmed my ﬁrst wedding on an iPhone and edited it with an iPad. Over the years, I have picked up a lot of gear and have constantly been upgrading. I have everything I need to create a great video like cameras, lenses, drones, lights, microphones, stabilizers, stands, computers, etc. I've deﬁnitely invested a lot into my business. However, my gear's growth has been organic. Over time, I would buy what would make my videos better or more eﬃcient.
Tell us about the first video you made at age 13 and how that put you on this path:
The ﬁrst big video I made was a video showing my hometown Gainesboro, Tennessee. To this day, music is a crucial inﬂuence in some of my personal creations. I created the video because I came across the song "Dirty Old Town" by Craig Cardiﬀ. As I listened to the music, I would imagine the shots I wanted to get. Posting the video to Facebook and reaching over 15,000 views deﬁnitely inspired me to create more. Not to bring attention to me, but to bring attention to the beauty and incredible places I had around me. After that, I was asked to create a video for my football team — then my cousin's wedding, and on it went. Since then, I have been the "video" guy in my community and am completely glad to be. Now I'm blessed to do video production as my full-time job.
Is there a famous cinematographer that you admire?
There are so many cinematographers out there; it would be hard to pick one. Everyone has so many unique styles and ways to tell a story. The people in the industry I look up to most would probably be the video creators I watch online. We can share our work and get instant feedback from those in the same community, which is very helpful.
How did you get involved with the Jackson County Chamber? After I created my mini-doc on the abandonment of Gainesboro in 2018, Jordan Hunter, President of the Chamber of Commerce, reached out and wanted to talk. When we got together, he explained he moved back here and was serious about getting the county up and alive again. We shared the same enthusiasm and talked about ways we could achieve that. Since then, we have been in contact, and I have been trying to help in ways I can by recording events, creating commercials for tourism, videos for grants, etc.
You’ve won the Governor’s Volunteer Star Award for 2021. Were you surprised by the recognition?
Yes, I was surprised. I think it just goes to show how you can be a volunteer in many diﬀerent ways. Everyone brings something diﬀerent to the table, and I just so happen to get an award for it. I’m honored to receive it.
When did you start your production company, and how do you balance the shooting schedule with your studies?
I shot my ﬁrst wedding in October of 2016, but I would say professionally since June of 2019. Most of the time, shoots don't interfere with class. I do have to admit, though, before the pandemic last year, I had a lot on my plate. I was juggling school with a part-time job, my business, broadcasting football, and basketball games, multiple extracurricular activities, plus editing videos every chance I got.
Tell us about your work for the sound and video department for JCTV.
This is led by Coach Jim Brown, who wanted to broadcast the high school sports games live. In the beginning, there were three other students involved, but over the years, it has dwindled to only Coach Brown and me. Live production was deﬁnitely new to me, so the Coach showed me the ropes freshman year, and I learned fast. Over the years, we have upgraded our gear and tried to make our broadcasts better. Sometimes, I would contribute some of my equipment. We would run four cameras live with commentators, graphics, instant replays, commercials, and much more. It has been fun to run and direct a small-scale sports network!
Check out Zach’s Demo Reel here: