Smile Politely

An interview with Luke Boyce: Local Creative Pro

When did Champaign-Urbana morph into the movie capital of central Illinois? At last count, we’ve got Ebertfest, the CU Film Society, Champaign Movie Makers, CU Confidential (and Micro-Film), and of course, Shatterglass Studios all right here in our little town. We’re even mentioned in more than a few major motion pictures. Have we caught some filmmaking bug and is it contagious?  

Filmmaking, whether for art or for commerce, is definitely a creative endeavor. So when it came time to invite our first guest in 2013 to speak at Parkland College’s “Meet the Pros” lecture series, I immediately thought of Luke Boyce, the co-owner and creative director of Shatterglass Studios. As a graphic design professor at Parkland College, I want my students to meet the creative pros that lift the local marketing communications industry to new heights. And Shatterglass Studios has risen to the top as a go-to creative studio for award-winning TV commercials and corporate videos.

Since the founding of Shatterglass Studios in 2006, Luke has directed and produced many short and feature-length films, commercials, and promotional pieces that have won numerous awards. In October 2012, Shatterglass was awarded the Small Business of the Year award from the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce.

In his spare time, Luke is a hopelessly addicted cinephile, developing organized movie-watching projects to fill every night of his week with multiple viewings. His current project involves watching 100 films from each decade in the history of film in chronological order, which sees him currently working through 1944.

In preparation for Luke’s upcoming presentation at Parkland’s “Meet the Pros” lecture series, I asked him to talk about his life and his work.

Smile Politely: What is Shatterglass Studios?

Luke Boyce: Shatterglass Studios is a full-featured production house, right here in Champaign. In the simplest of terms, we make movies. That includes both narrative movies and commercial movies. We’ve produced feature films, short films, commercials, corporate promotional videos, documentaries, training videos, government videos, etc. etc. In all cases, our main roles are to produce, direct, and edit the pieces. In some cases, we develop as well, but often we work with a company’s marketing team or an ad agency and simply produce a creative concept that already exists. In the narrative film world, we most often produce, meaning we help budget, hire crew, and manage the day-to-day production during principal photography.

Our competitive edge is that we approach everything with a high production-value, “cinematic” edge. We use the newest digital equipment like the RED camera (the same that was used to shoot The Hobbit or Prometheus) and try to make sure, no matter what we produce, whether it be narrative, commercial or corporate, that STORYTELLING is at the center of the concept and product. We are located in our own facility in downtown Champaign, where we have our offices, a full sound-stage, and even a small fifteen-seat private screening room.

SP: How many people work at Shatterglass?

Boyce: Shatterglass consists of both myself and my partner, Brett Hays. We are both owners in the business. We then employ various freelance creatives. Currently, Myles Beeson of Beeson Photography works with us almost full-time in both a shooting and editing capacity. And we often work with a brilliant editor from Chicago, Cam Yergler, who has been with us for years and edited some of our best work. We also currently have three interns that work with us as well.

SP: What projects are you most proud of?

Boyce: We’ve really been lucky in that almost every job we do has some new technique we try to employ, so thus far, we’ve had the great fortune to be able to produce so many pieces that I’m really proud of. Our docs for both the 2011 and 2012 Ebertfest have been some of my favorites, by far, but we’ve also produced really great stuff for various departments at the U of I, and quite a lot for the College of Business. I’m really very proud of the various stuff we’ve produced for them, especially a documentary called A Day In the Life, in which we follow around some MBA students and try to get a feel for what life is like in that program. Also, recently a video we did for their Global Consulting Program, where we went and filmed them in Brazil. And bringing out the heart and story of a project is really prevalent in a documentary we produced for the Champaign West Rotary. We went to Honduras with them for a week to document a project they are involved with down there, and that film really came out wonderfully. Of course, all of our films have been labors of love. I’m very excited about one we helped produce and film last year called The Drunk, starring Tom Sizemore and Jesse Ventura. It’s currently rounding out its post-production phase right now, and we hope to see it premiere later this year.

SP: What projects challenged you the most?

Boyce: The easy answer is every project. We really try to approach every project with a little twist on what we’ve done before. It’s so important for me to constantly challenge myself to try something new, as I’ve seen that when I do, we make huge strides forward creatively. The more specific examples would be, for instance, a video we did for a stained glass company in Jacksonville, IL called Jacksonville Art Glass. They wanted a corporate video to try to show potential clients their facilities and attention to detail, etc. We had scouted some of the locations where their glass was installed and was really inspired to produce something very heartfelt that could put more emphasis on the artistry of what they do. So we approached the video not as much as a corporate video, but more like we were making a documentary on stained glass with Jacksonville Art Glass at the center. We hadn’t done anything like that before and the results were so fantastic, that it opened up a whole new world of work for us. Everybody wanted their promos to be like ‘Jacksonville Art Glass.’

SP: Does Shatterglass have a studio style?

Boyce: Absolutely. The whole ‘documentary’ feel that we produced in the Jacksonville Art Glass film kind of became our signature style. Since we are first and foremost filmmakers and storytellers, advertising does not necessarily come as easy to us. We’re really in the business of filmmaking. Our interest is telling stories and trying to achieve a human interest level in whatever we do. That has served us well, and when we meet with clients we find that that’s really what they want. So we approach every promotional video or commercial with that same edge of ‘what is the story here?’

For example, after Jacksonville was produced, it got in the hands of the U of I Alumni Association and we met with them to produce a promotional video for their Illinois Connection program. Their goal was to have a video that would be impactful for students to get them to participate, but also for alumni to let them know that they can continue to participate and how rewarding it is. So we were left with this incredibly large demographic we had to appeal to. We started trying to figure out what the hidden story was in what could have just as easily been a simple informative piece. We ended up following them on a trip to Springfield to talk with Illinois lawmakers and met an older lady named Mary. She had been passionately involved with the program for years and we started following her and getting her story. And then we found a young female student with the same kind of passion and ended up juxtaposing their stories in the video to show the range of involvement and its lasting impact. It’s one of my favorite things we’ve produced.

SP: A few months ago, you won the Small Business of the Year award from the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce. How does it feel?

Boyce: It feels incredible. Honestly. I’m a creative person. Which means, to be honest, I don’t have a lot of good business sense. I leave a lot of that up to Brett and I think he’s probably the main reason we got the award. He came on about six or seven months after the business started up and I realize that if he hadn’t, it probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer. He really made a difference in how we worked with clients and the relationships we built. He’s got an amazing personability to him. People really trust him when he says something and he’s honest and reliable. I’m an artist, so, yes I’m trustworthy too, but I tend to live in my own head and can be a bit more introverted and sporadic.

What really made the award so meaningful, though, was just the history I’ve had with artistry and business. My dad was a graphic designer and had his own business, but he worked by himself and struggled a lot. We lived in a small town and he had to take all kinds of jobs to make it work, which was always a bit of a struggle. He died in 2006 from cancer and I had literally just started Shatterglass earlier that year. I was married and broke and I think he was worried about me, seeing me starting a business and going down the same path he had done and struggled with so often. So the award was quite a bit of a touchstone in my life, thinking about my dad. It meant so much more than even, I think, the people at the Chamber realized it could have.

SP: What other awards has Shatterglass Studios won?

Boyce: To date, we’ve won three Telly Awards. Tow for our Jacksonville Art Glass video and one for our Ebertfest 2011 Documentary.

SP: What do you do outside of work?

Boyce: Outside of work, I’m a completely hopeless cinephile. I watch movies. Literally, hundreds of movies. I have a theater with a 150-inch screen in my basement, and I spend almost every single night of the week down there watching movies from every era, country, and genre. It matters not, I adore them all. I also watch an insane amount of television with my wife. An unhealthy amount, but we don’t have kids yet, so we’re taking advantage while we can. We’re diehard Whovians.

SP: What exactly is a cinephile?

Boyce: A cinephile, at least in my opinion, is essentially a religious zealot, but whose religion is cinema. In many cases, a cinephile is a snob. I try really really hard not to be a snob. Truthfully, I like just as much crap films as art films, so I guess that disqualifies me from being too snobby. But, I will still judge someone completely based on their taste in film. Haha! As Frank Capra said, ‘Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream, it takes over as the number one hormone; it bosses the enzymes; directs the pineal gland; plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to film is more film.’

SP: What movies have changed your life?

Boyce: This is probably the most dangerous question you could ever ask a cinephile. I’ll try to be as brief as I can. I first saw Citizen Kane when I was about thirteen or fourteen. I didn’t know anything about it, really, but it completely blew my world apart as far as what was possible in film. It changed my life in that it was kind of that seminal moment when watching movies became a more transcendent experience. I suddenly became aware of mise-en-scène, structure, cinematography, dialogue, acting, etc.

I won’t go into why, but a few others that impacted me would be Vigo’s L’Atalante, Bergman’s Winter Light, Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Malick’s Days of Heaven, Godard’s Contempt, Back to the Future, Mulholland Drive, Apocalypse Now, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Toy Story, Kieślowski’s Trois Couleurs Trilogy, and Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy. Honestly, I could list about 500 more, at least.

SP: What movies have made you cry?

Boyce: Interesting question. I wept like a baby at The Passion of Joan of Arc. Probably one of the most moving experiences in cinema I’ve ever had. One of my favorites, actually, that makes me cry almost every single time I watch it is Forrest Gump. That’s not a favorite amongst cinephile’s, but I love it dearly.

SP: What movies do you wish you had made?

Boyce: Well, every movie I love, I wish I had made. In fact, I generally preach that it is the desire to reproduce the works we love so much that often makes a great artist. So, in my pursuit of creating art, I devour art. I think it’s all the hundreds of movies swimming around in my head that gives me better timing when I’m editing, or better instincts on where to put the camera when I’m on set. More or less, when I make a film, I’m just trying to make every great film I’ve ever seen, or at least the ones that are inspiring the most at that particular moment.

Not sure if that’s an adequate enough answer to your question. But I’ll take it and reframe it as what is essentially my mantra: To be a good artist, you have to study great art. Doesn’t matter if it’s film, design, music, theater, painting, etc. Jim Jarmusch put it like this:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it.

In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.’

SP: Any movie projects in the works for you in the future?

Boyce: Always. It’s not always a guarantee that any of them will see the light of day, but we’re always hard at work on potential projects. We’re in the process of shepherding a really fantastic comedy from a duo of brilliant writers in Chicago. You can see a lot of their stuff at We’re hoping to get that film underway by the fall this year. And I’ve personally got a film that I’m scripting with my wife at the moment with the hopes of starting to raise funds later this year, as well as four other treatments I’m working on completing as well. And we’re excited to premiere The Drunk, as I mentioned before, as soon as it is completed in post-production.

Luke Boyce will be speaking at Parkland College on Wednesday, January 30 at 12 noon in room C118. Luke’s presentation is the tenth event of “Meet the Pros,” a creative lecture series presented by Graphic Design at Parkland College and sponsored by CUDO and 40 North 88 West. This free lecture series is open to the public and features designers, photographers, illustrators, and other commercial artists in our local creative community.

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