Jason Bergh | Serial Entrepreneur
From producing music festivals for a startup magazine in his twenties to becoming the Emmy Award winning, critically acclaimed director, photographer, and producer we know him as today, Jason Bergh has blazed a trail that shines almost as bright as his passion for the arts. He’s a “Serial Entrepreneur” who’s found himself in a sweet spot: where following his passion and intuition provide all that he and his family might need. We got to chat with the mastermind as he awaits the announcement of his fragrance campaign with J-Lo to discuss how that’s just one of three live campaigns he has at the moment, throwbacks with Ludacris, and how cooking dinner for his friends is his idea of a night in.
There's been a lot of buzz surrounding your new Management and Production Company Early Morning Riot, can you tell me how it all started?
We’re a production management company called Early Morning Riot, and you know, this business is constantly shifting and changing, there's new platforms and new ways of doing business. My partners and I all came together about August of last year and we sat in a room and we all just asked, “What do you want?” We were just talking about what we wanted out of a company and it all kind of spawned into Early Morning Riot. We wanted an “Artists for Artists” company, a company where our partners are also artists, having a full 360 understanding of what it means to be an artist today with a seasoned, and top level agent to protect us. So, we worked together quietly for the last year just understanding our own work in terms of how we work together and our relationships so we could really formulate the vibe for this company.
It’s very much a creative collective that is Artists for Artists, and it’s very much about being a business that has an emotional component to the photo/motion world. Understanding how that flow works is important to us, and being able to empower photographers that want to be directors so they have the resources to do that, and vice versa. The artists come, feel safe, and know that we’re protecting them and listening to their vision of where they want to be five years from now. Where do you want to be, where do you want to take it, how do we connect those dots?
Wow! I definitely got a good gauge of your passion for this project from that response..
Thanks man! You know, we’ve been in the business for so long and we’ve dealt with so much shit. It's weird, I actually had someone come up to me the other day and say “You're an O.G.” I had to sit back and think about that for a second, I've been in the game for a minute. It's like, damn, I have something to offer from all the experience I've had. That's the most rewarding thing: to be able to share information and knowledge, because coming up, I was alone. I didn't really have a crew, so for me to be able to give back just feels right, it’s what we’re supposed to do. To build a company with two amazing people, Rhea Rachevsky and Jennifer Rovero, going to work is fun. What are we going to accomplish today? What's getting done this week? What are our goals? Let's get to work!
Its funny you mention your younger self as I was exploring your site, I noticed a mention of how street culture in New York influenced your younger self and found that super interesting. What were some of those defining moments?
Growing up, my dad was a news documentary cinematographer, and he was always traveling all over the world: covering wars in Iran, working on documentaries, traveling to Yugoslavia, he spent time in Sudan. So a lot of the time while he was away, I would always wonder what was happening out there. I was curious and drawn to his passion for storytelling, and so I would always just roam the streets, and see interesting faces and people -- I wanted to tell their stories. I guess in the grand scheme of things I wanted to be just like my dad, but my own version of it.
I ended up hooking up with a crew and company in NYC called Fridge Magazine, and I became the Head of Video Production, directing content for them in New York. We created an event called Brooklyn Vermont with artists like Eminem, Mos Def, GZA, Fat Joe, and Big Pun. We were into action sports, like skateboarding and snowboarding, and we were into hip hop, which was different than most music in action sports at the time, which was Punk. We identified with the music of hip hop and the attitude, and so we created these festivals which led us to covering a lot of what was going on in music, sports, and culture. That was really my first job. We were a small startup magazine, and we were scrapping every week to get stuff done. We were kind of strapped financially, but we loved telling these stories that we were so passionate about that making money didn't even matter. I got to work with such an amazing amount of artists, that was the best payment for us at that time.
There’s so many high moments, I’m lucky. You work so hard for so many years, I kept my head down and just kept working, working, working. When I lift my head up and see everything I’ve done, I think how lucky am I that I’ve been able to do what I do for so long. Now extending that knowledge and experience to others is really cool. There was so many defining moments in that era. Hooking up with The Fridge was one of the greatest things to ever happen. It gave me the ability to do what I do. I know I’m lucky to somehow fall into that group of people at that time.
It’s funny you said that you’re in the mindset of what’s next instead of relishing in the moment because it seems like an opinion a lot of people share with you. On your site you’re listed as a “serial entrepreneur” and I feel like this phrasing sums it all up. What do you mean by this?
For me, it means “nothing can stop me.” I don’t believe in the word “no,” and I believe I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. It really takes hard work, dedication, and focus. I think being a serial entrepreneur means I’m going to get it done, and if I have an idea I'm going to do everything I can, and use every resource I can to see something come to fruition. I know that if I have this mindset that I’m unstoppable. Sure, there will be bumps along the way, but that’s the path to success. If it doesn't work out, that's just another opportunity for learning. Many of the successes’ I've had have come from my failures. I had a company when I was shoveling snow at twelve years old. I had 20 accounts, and when the summer came around I was mowing lawns and picking up leaves. I had another company when I was 22.
It sounds like you’ve had this sort of drive since you were super young, from raking leaves to mowing lawns to entire businesses. It reminds me of the cutest posts of your kids from your Instagram; do you ever see them picking up on these high-drive, entrepreneurial sides of you?
It’s funny, my oldest son is going to turn 18 in two weeks and I remember his kindergarten graduation like it was yesterday. He got up on stage and when they asked him what he wanted to be when he was older, he said a director. I really almost cried. Fast forward to now, he is this incredible gamer and he’s found his passion. That was his drive, he knew where he wanted to go and went after it and studied it. When I was growing up, people would always say “where’s Jason?” and the answer would always be “in his room.” I was writing plans. He has that similar drive, and his brother, who’s 13, he takes after his mom, who’s an amazing photographer. He is very into being a photographer. I think he might move into directing, but he's really a visual artist. Whether he is painting pictures, editing pictures, or skateboarding — he’s definitely a creative soul at heart.
I saw a really interesting throwback you posted on your Instagram of you and Ludacris. It looked like you guys might have been on a boat, or snowboarding?
That was during one of our festivals that we created at The Fridge, it was called “Snowed Out” in Breckenridge, Colorado. I forget exactly what year that was... a long time ago, but we took the spirit of Brooklyn Vermont and brought it from that festival to Snowed Out. My job was to take the conert and scenes from the trip and turn them into a film. We were re-enacting a bunch of scenes from “Dumb and Dumber.” So that throwback was from a scene of him hitch-hiking on the highway outside of Breckenridge, Colorado. I was holding an Arri-S Camera which is a 16mm film camera where each spool gave you two-and-a-half minutes, so you had to be really careful in the amount you shot. But yeah, we were hitch hiking in Colorado [laughs]. It was a pretty cool day, I met my kids’ mom on that trip actually.
I can’t help but think, on top of being so entrepreneurial you are also a father of two kids: Do you have free time? Do you make time for yourself?
I’ve basically been a single dad for the last 12 years. When I first became a single dad it was really difficult for me, because I moved from New York to Los Angeles and was surrounded by all their mother’s friends. So after we broke up, I moved to the other side of town and found myself alone. I had both of my kids and I was in this house, and that's when I started to really think about cooking, it became this huge passion. Cooking for my kids, to be able to sit down and eat something that I had cooked. I cook to unwind - for myself, my family, or for 10 or 15 people. Having people over, playing music, going to the farmer’s market and picking vegetables. My mind is always thinking about ways to create new things without going to a recipe. What ingredients can I put together? I’ll go and listen to a recipe, and listen to the method of how that recipe is done, and create it on my own. One of my favorite chefs is Frank Prisinzano (@frankprisinzano), on his instagram stories he teaches us all how to cook. He shows us his methods and it's up to us “cooks” to make them our own. I like to take my kids to the mountains too; it was a place for me to snowboard when I was younger and to escape the noise. You know getting out of New York and going to the mountains, finding that place of quietness. I like to get to the mountains. Wind-down times get interesting you know. I mean I don’t know how much time today that I truly have nothing to do, cause I’m like, “what’s next” [laughs].
To keep with the theme of you, what’s next, what’s going on! What are upcoming projects you are working on that you are excited about, or that you can tell us about?
Right now, I have Jennifer Lopez’s new fragrance commercial PROMISE running, the Buscemi FW apparel campaign, and Liza Koshy for her first campaign with C’est Moi Beauty. I’ve known Liza for a while and we work well together. She’s just one of the most brilliant, in-tune human beings I’ve ever met. Buscemi wanted to take his apparel campaign back to the streets of New York. That meant something to me: take it back to a specific time and era. He was telling me everywhere he wanted to shoot, up in Harlem at all these dope, iconic spots, which is everywhere I shot coming up. I know the way the sun is going to hit this building; I know where people are going to be at this time of day. I don’t even need to scout, I’m good! Our talent at Early Morning Riot have projects coming out all the time, it’s a beautiful thing. There's a lot going on with Early Morning Riot; it’s the fastest growing company I have ever been a part of, and we are ready for it. We are all here; it’s moving at a pace that is perfect for all of us and where we are at right now. Additionally I have three film and television projects coming up that I’m really excited about for UX Entertainment.
That’s great, it sounds like you are in a great spot. That’s such an amazing opportunity to create a project and work on something that happens so genuinely with friends and family. I don’t know if there is anything like it...
It’s awesome, I am feeling good about the future. I’m feeling good about all the opportunities that we have right now for us as a company, for our artists, and for me as a director. This last year and a half for me has been absolutely incredible. I get inspired from everyone that I work with, it’s truly been amazing. I am the happiest I have been in so long, because I am following my passion and I am following what my instinct is telling me to do. A lot of times coming up you are doing things for various reasons, and when you hit that stride of doing what you love and what makes your heart pump, it all really makes sense. I’m hitting my stride right now.
I figured we could close off with a game of sorts. It’s pretty simple, I’ll start the sentence and you can fill it in with the first word that comes to mind, first word or phrase, it really doesn’t require too much thought into it, alright.
I’m Jason and I like to…..
Sleep with my socks on.
When I’m not working, I am…..
Sunday’s are made for…..
Jazz, every Sunday.
I’m happiest when…..
Other people are happy.
The camera I use the most is my…..
Canon C-300 Mark II and the ARRI Alexa - with my Zeiss primes.
Last one, If I could give my younger self any advice, it would be…..
It’s going to be okay... Everything’s going to be alright.