Embracing the Brazen Image
College Dropout's Career as Video Artist Takes Off

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In hindsight, Cutter Hodierne views his decision to drop out of college after one year to become a filmmaker as a no-brainer. By his freshman year in college in 2006, Hodierne had already directed a music video for a Caribbean reggae artist that became a hit on MTV. Once he quit Emerson College in Boston, his trajectory zoomed, and he was hired by U2 to shoot and edit footage of the band's recent Massachusetts concert.

Last month, when he would have been collecting his college diploma, Hodierne was in a Silver Spring parking lot. Peering through a Panasonic high-definition camera, he was filming a music video of local rap duo Raina & Pharroah and their song "Cold Blooded." The shoot featured Raina Rashad, 21, clad in combat boots, a denim dress and a peach bra, writhing, vamping and rapping in the back of a burnt orange 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

He was getting paid to do this.

"Keep moving your legs! Move your hips!" he ordered Rashad.

Hodierne, 22, a graduate of H-B Woodlawn high school, said that leaving college was hard but that all he needs to do is scan his friends to see why the career head start was the savvier play. Many of the new graduates are struggling to find work.

"It felt like jumping out of an airplane and being struck right outside the plane. I knew I was out, was no longer safe, but I didn't feel like I was falling, either," he said. "Most of my friends just graduated in the last week. I hope that it doesn't end up being tough for them, but I know that the reality is probably going to be tough. If no one is going to give you a job, you better just create a job. I feel much safer doing that because I am in control."

New Media Frontier

Like so many in his generation, Hodierne -- whose works are compiled at http://mynameiscutter.com -- is staking his claim in the wild west of new media (and self-branding), making films and online videos. And he occupies an enviable space in an economy that, for the class of 2009, is especially uncharitable. About 20 percent of 2009 graduates who have applied for jobs have been hired, according to a May survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. By comparison, more than half of 2007 graduates and 26 percent of those in the class of 2008 had a job by graduation.

Work in the creative industries is not easy to get, no matter how much education a person has, especially in this economy. But the divergent paths of Hodierne and his college-credentialed friends show that for some fields, the years required for a degree can be a liability.

Raphael Swann, a fellow H-B Woodlawn alum and a "creative consultant" on the "Cold Blooded" video, has one semester left at the University of Southern California -- with a job lined up as a lowly talent agency assistant. Jeremy Albucher, 21, a friend of Hodierne's who graduated from Emerson College to become a filmmaker, is starting a job soon as a production assistant for a movie starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. "Every day, I wish I would have gotten out of school two years early and started what I like doing. I didn't have the most lenient parents," Albucher said. "It seems like everyone who has some fame or reputation who went to Emerson didn't go the full four years."

One morning last week, Hodierne arrived at the Duron paint shop in Silver Spring and prepared to film the Raina & Pharroah video in the parking lot. "I don't know what we were thinking," he said, looking at the packed lot and seeing nowhere to put a vintage car with a scantily clad woman in the back. He turned to Rashad's father, Bryan Rashad, and asked: "What would you say is the closest elementary school?" The father looked stumped.

About a half-hour later, the crew of guys in their 20s relocated the tripods, 1,200-kilowatt lights, cables and two large generators to a tucked-away parking lot in a neighborhood behind Takoma Park Middle School. It felt like the makings of a high school keg party.

Then a new problem surfaced. The vintage car -- the main prop for the shoot -- was supposed to be brought by a friend of the rap duo. But it hadn't arrived. Hodierne was annoyed. "This is why you don't leave a thing up to the artist," he said to no one in particular.

With clients on both coasts, Hodierne has begun splitting his time between his mom's home in Arlington County and an apartment in Los Angeles. He is uncomfortable discussing how much money he makes -- his mother says she still pays his car insurance -- but says it's enough for a modest living, including his $900-a-month L.A. apartment. Of course, it helps that he doesn't have any college loans to repay and is years away from considering marriage or children.

Hodierne emerged as a precocious moviemaker while at Woodlawn, according to David Burkman, one of his teachers. After his parents gave him a computer, Hodierne got hooked on digital film editing. He made videos for health class parodying the book "What's Happening to My Body?" He set up an office in an old book closet at the school and helped lobby officials to launch a full-year screenwriting and filmmaking course, Burkman said. His senior year project was a documentary on another school's basketball team that sold 1,000 DVDs at $15 apiece.

Shortly after graduation, Hodierne saw an ad seeking production assistants on the Baltimore set of an Under Armour commercial and met cinematographer Tom Krueger. The two hit it off, especially after Hodierne showed Krueger an ad he had produced for Converse. "It was really impressive," Krueger said. "I was shocked that he had done it. He would see cool things on MTV and learn how to do it on his own."

At the end of 2005, Krueger hired Hodierne to help edit a music video for reggae artist David Kirton in Barbados. "He was 18. I needed someone to come [and help edit]," he said. "That's where his advantage is: People will exploit him because he's young and can afford to do it. But he's going to benefit and build up his reel."

'The Final Straw'

Hodierne, meanwhile, had deferred his first semester of college. He began his freshman year in January 2006. Later that summer, he was whisked out to direct another Kirton video in Los Angeles. "It was the final straw in my patience. The video even featured Gary Dourdan of CSI!" Hodierne recalled. "I felt like I was wasting my parents' money. I was hugely impatient. I had to get ahead of the game."

He dropped out at the end of 2006.

"I got a lot of pressure from friends and family who feel college is critical to success," said his mother, Alicia Shepard, the ombudsman at NPR. "We don't see it that way. We just felt if he's not going to suck the marrow out of a $40,000-a-year college, then he shouldn't be there."

This March, Hodierne's connection with Krueger paid a stratospheric dividend. Krueger, as it happens, is also U2's tour video director and hired Hodierne to help shoot a "secret" U2 concert near Boston. Hodierne filmed the crowd using a camera and a dirty piece of glass to provide a distorted effect -- and then edited footage of five of the concert's six songs. Any day now, Hodierne expects word from U2 on whether the group will hire him to provide multimedia content for its Web site and a mobile phone application from an upcoming tour. "They were over the moon about the [Massachusetts] material," Krueger said. "I would be surprised if he didn't get the job, but I don't know who his competition is."

Meantime, Hodierne is focused on his Washington area clients, such as Rashad and Delonte Singleton, a.k.a., Pharroah. His first music video for the duo just got the green light from BET. Now, they were hoping to match it with "Cold Blooded."

Finally, after five hours of waiting, a vintage car arrived at the shoot. Rashad's mother had ponied up $160 to rent a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. The generators were gassed up, Rashad slid into the back seat and the shooting began.

"Try to get as far back as you can. Get two hands on the back!" Hodierne directed.

Singleton peered over and offered a suggestion. "Have her pull up her boots by the laces," he told Hodierne, as Rashad slathered her body over the creased, red leather back seat, flipping her hair and pointing her finger at the camera.

They took a break. Hodierne joined Rashad in the back seat, and they reviewed the footage. Hodierne looked anxious. "Yo. We're ready to go back on?" he asked everyone. A crew member mumbled something about the generator, and Hodierne reacted with disappointment. "Oh. We're out of gas?"

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