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As director of photography for “American Restoration,” Nathan Maulorico, right, gets on-set guidance from show director Michael Piscitelli.
As director of photography for “American Restoration,” Nathan Maulorico, right, gets on-set guidance from show director Michael Piscitelli.

Business Spotlight: Have Camera, Will Travel

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The History Channel rebooted its “American Restoration” show last season, and Springfield videographer Nathan Maulorico found himself holding the camera.

For seven months through mid-February, Maulorico directed photography on set, now following a handful of restoration shops nationwide.

“They wanted to create a new look, and they wanted me to create that look,” Maulorico says. “It was a blank slate.”

The “American Restoration” work on 13 shows is the peak of Maulorico’s filming career, which really started as a teenager when he began working one day a week at Blockbuster just for the free rental perk.

Movies have been in his blood. As a youngster, he made family videos, dubbing over some music. Family and friends kept asking for more films.

At 18 years old, he formed a business.

“I started making little projects on my own,” he says of the venture in 2001. “I realized there were people willing to pay for movies.”

Today, his portfolio includes camera work for “Dance Moms,” “Extreme Couponing” and Food Network shows with Bobby Flay, and he’s vice president of the Missouri Film Alliance. Maulorico and his wife Megan run Unknown Films with small offices in Springfield and New York City. Maulorico’s cellphone still has a 212 area code.

The couple learned the significance of industry connections, and the bigger the markets, the bigger the job potential. Moving in late 2011 to Battery Park on the tip of Manhattan, their roots remained in Springfield but they began building a brand and reputation.

“In the entertainment industry, a lot of that reputation is built by meeting people,” Maulorico says. “Once you meet people, they end up wanting you to be part of a project.”

The lead time on some jobs is two years, he says. Maulorico split time between his hometown and NYC, but editing and production work always is done at the South Campbell Avenue suite or his home office.

“American Restoration” producers called Maulorico after seeing his work on Discovery Channel’s “Clash of the Ozarks,” which documented a violent land feud by frontier families in Hardy, Ark.

Michael Piscitelli, director of “American Restoration,” says he noticed Maulorico’s ability to move from subject to item to reaction in a way that improved the storytelling.

“That’s the mark of a professional in this business – the ability to quickly follow a story with the dexterous use of a camera lens,” Piscitelli says via email.

Maulorico worked with a video crew of 60 people and the “American Restoration” budget for gear was $200,000.

“That doesn’t account for having to ship that gear to another city every week. That’s another $2,000 a week,” he says, adding when factoring salaries, food and office staff, “It was millions of dollars.”

Average project budgets are in the $25,000 range, say for a commercial spot created for Avis car rental. But others can be done inexpensively. A 2010 documentary called “This … is the Orange Line” about Chicago’s L train system was made for less than $5,000, and it earned Unknown Films four film festival awards.

“That’s one of the challenges we face, trying to price these projects,” Maulorico says, noting people often have vague ideas and want pricing off the bat.

Boosted by the “American Restoration” work, Unknown Films’ 2015 revenue came in at roughly $250,000. The past two years have been the company’s best yet.

About 60 percent of work is in TV, while filming and editing for ads represent 30 percent, including jobs for Marlin’s Alchemedia Project, and short films account for the remainder.

“They become a calling card,” he says of the shorts they shop around film festivals. “Maybe you don’t make their movie, but maybe you work on a commercial for them.”

Maulorico says he gained some short-film experience years ago through the SATO 48 weekend film challenge.

SATO 48 co-founder Jeff Clinkenbeard considers movie shorts an in-road to the highly competitive film industry.

“It’s really nice to sit across from a producer and say, ‘I can shoot film quickly.’ And if you’re an award winner, all the better,” says Clinkenbeard who started the 48-hour competition for filmmakers from Springfield and the Ozarks now in its 11th year.

Clinkenbeard, a Springfield native who works in New York as an independent creative director and writer, says producers vet their potential hires by asking, “What else are you working on?”

“They will have something, a feature or screenplay or trailer to show somebody,” he says of participants in next month’s SATO 48. “You would never get that interest if you hadn’t created a short film.”

Next in Maulorico’s queue are three TV series ideas.

One in process, about distilleries and breweries, is focused on the work of Scott Shots and his crew at Missouri Spirits. It’s an original idea – not commissioned – to showcase the quirkiness of the shop and its interesting characters, Maulorico says.

“We would like it to go to breweries, too. There is an option of doing all different sorts of alcohol,” he says. “People are interested in the process of how it’s made.”

He and Megan have pitched one to a company in New York and another one is close to making as a pilot.

“I can’t say more,” he says, letting it hang like a good season finale.

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