It is not every day that a Bowdoin alum is approached by the producer of Ellen, is tweeted about by Wyclef Jean, and has a music video he filmed and directed featured on both MTV and Upworthy, a viral content website. Alex Colby ’10, however, has achieved all of these feats.
Colby, who was an anthropology major at Bowdoin, discovered his passion for film during a semester abroad while communicating with his family back home.
“I was helping in labs in Sweden, and I started a little video journal with my camera,” Colby said.
Upon returning to Bowdoin for the second half of his sophomore year, he continued to pursue his interest in film. Even making a documentary for his Anthropological Research Methods Course in lieu of writing a 30-page ethnography.
With the help of Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, Colby received a grant to get a camera for his work and created weekly two-minute videos about campus life for the Bowdoin Daily Sun.
Supported by Foster and professors like Tricia Welsch in the film studies department, Colby graduated and moved to New York, taking a job for a year and a half at Luke’s Lobster, a restaurant in the city run by a Bowdoin graduate.
Colby found work as an unpaid intern at places like the Discovery Channel and continued making videos in a freelance capacity, including a music video for a Puerto Rican pop singer and some yoga instructing videos.
He left Luke’s Lobster to publicize a company called WeWork, a co-working space in New York and other cities.
Emerging from a three-year relationship with his girlfriend, Colby was feeling down when Great Caesar’s “Don’t Ask Me Why” played on his iPod while he was taking the subway home. Channeling his recent heartbreak, Colby came up with an idea for a music video based on his story.
Already friends with the Madison, Conn-based band, Colby approached them with his idea. Lead singer John-Michael Parker told him that he could dream bigger.
“I came up with this idea about the equality of love,” Colby said. “It became something where I could intertwine the civil rights movement and gay rights movement that fit really well with the song.”
With the band, Colby found a man who was willing to sponsor their project for $100,000, and they began planning with that budget in mind. When the benefactor changed his mind, the group turned to Kickstarter, a fundraising website for creative projects, to raise $50,000 in 20 days, which Colby said is virtually unheard of.
Colby took the initiative and found funding through individual sponsors as well, flying to a conference in Florida to pitch his idea to Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Without an invitation, Colby approached Ayanbadejo at the conference—after four hours of conversation—the football player agreed to help.
With the support of many other big names—like the casting director of Showtime’s Homeland—Colby continued raising funds.
“It became something that was really special because the song and the video really spoke to people,” Colby said.
Colby filmed the music video in June with a crew of 36 and a cast of 18 in Madison, Conn. and Queens, New York.
After the video was completed, Colby and members of the band continued to network. Parker met Russell Simmons, the president of MTV and formed a relationship.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the band’s music video was featured on Upworthy, a fitting outlet for a video about creating change.
Since then, the video received 85,000 views within two days.
“It’s crazy to see an idea you think of on the subway become so real in a short amount of time,” Colby said.
Looking forward, Colby hopes to continue using his filmmaking to impact change.
“I want to make projects that I’m passionate about and that move me, and I’m hoping that in 10 years I’m making feature films and pursuing that route,” Colby said.
For students interested in film, Colby recommends constantly creating. As he did with his anthropology class, Colby found ways to incorporate film into other disciplines.
“A liberal arts education at Bowdoin makes so much more sense because we’re not attached to the technical things, but we’re able to tell a story from different experiences and different fields,” he said.