Hammer Conversations: A Look Behind the Camera

By Gerick Engle, Video Producer at EideCom

I was first introduced to Hammer Residences in early 2014. At that time, I had been working part-time for EideCom assisting on video shoots and doing some filming. So, I was thrilled when I was offered me a full-time position as a Video Producer. The excitement of finally having a job in my field of study and being able to work on my craft full-time was amazing. Needless to say, when our Director of Accounts, Ben Peterson, told me about our project with Hammer, I was very excited and had a lot of questions.

10384211_10152304325216076_3550801433329631154_nAfter receiving an email outlining the Hammer Conversations project, I did some research on Hammer and the developmental disability services industry. My excitement was still strong, but I was also a bit worried, wondering if I was up to the task. I had limited experience with individuals living with disabilities. I distinctly remember an occasion at Buca di Beppo when I said hi to a young girl with a disability in the booth next to mine. She had been staring over at our table and I just wanted to be friendly. I inadvertently scared her and she ended up crying until she left with her family. It wasn’t the most positive of memories, and was really all I had to go on regarding what my project with Hammer might be like. However, it became obvious to me that I had been given a great opportunity. I would be able to help give individuals who are misunderstood and underrepresented a voice to tell their stories.

After some planning, Don, our Director of Photography and I packed up and left for Hammer Residences central office in Wayzata. We unloaded and met up with Tony Baisley, the Director of Communication who showed us where we would be conducting two of the interviews. The first man that we met was the ever-popular James McKune. He has lived with Hammer since 1948 and is their longest-served individual. He was very interested in the large film lights we had set up and, as expected, was a bit shy in front of Don and me. Tony had planned for this and had printed a large number of photos of James to help spark conversation and in turn tell the story. James’ guardian and longtime Hammer employee was also a part of the interview, sitting next to James to ask questions and spark conversation.

IMG954828Personally, the interview was one of a kind. The filming went on for over an hour, yet the main subject of the interview spoke less than a hundred words. As the conversation began, I remember thinking that this was going to be impossible to edit. Luckily, the power of old memories got the better of James, and I saw the story start to tell itself. An image of James and a red truck makes James chuckle as he recollects the scenario in which the picture was taken. Later, in editing, I would really start to get to know James as the same authentic smile appeared in almost all of the photos he looked at with Sue.

Hammer had become James’ family. Almost his entire life had been with Hammer and some staff knew him almost better than he knew himself. He told us about the friends he had made and he started to cry when he was shown the photograph of a recently deceased friend, Jim Finney. He cried again, only this time tears of joy, when he thumbed through several pictures of his friend and housemate, Gretchen, whispering, “she’s pretty.” My eyes certainly watered up a few times during the editing of these parts.

I love this part of my job. Working with companies like Hammer Residences, American Heart Association and The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation gives me an intimate look into the lives of people who have challenges most of us can barely understand but who live incredibly full lives. My time spent as a filmmaker has forced me to think from different perspectives and I am often humbled by the people I capture on video.

Clockwise: The Martinka family, Leslie Fish and James McKune were the featured individuals in Hammer Conversations 2014.

Clockwise: The Martinka family, Leslie Fish and James McKune – 2014’s featured individuals in Hammer Conversations.

We shot two other videos for this first installment of Hammer Conversations. One was of a mother and daughter who talked about life before moving to Hammer and how great it was that they were now part of the “Hammer Family.” The other was of a family of a Hammer Travel employee. The daughter, Joy, has Down syndrome, and it was a unique experience to see each family member’s perspective on Joy’s future and the endless possibilities all those living with a disability have through Hammer’s support.

As 2014 came to an end, I was deeply honored when I was asked, once again, to direct the Hammer Conversation videos for 2015. In fact, we are set to begin filming next week, and I cannot wait. With another year of experience and practice, I can do an even better job at telling the stories of these fellow Minnesotans. What I will continue to learn from this experience is that it is always worth the extra effort to tell someone’s story, especially the really good ones.

Hammer believes that all people deserve to be treated with love and given the same benefits and opportunities as everyone else. They encourage the people they support to live independently, find love, work, and follow their hopes and dreams. If you ever get the chance to connect with anyone from Hammer, I suggest you seize the opportunity!


  1. Julane

    Lovely! Thank you, Devin and Tony, for making these Hammer conversations happen so beautifully….

  2. Jenny Olson

    Gerick wrote a great blog and created an even greater piece for Hammer. I love his passion for telling stories and am thrilled he could tell Hammer’s. Great work!


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