A Digital Revelation

Nelson Carvajal ’07 is making waves in the sea of digital content

There is a common show business scenario wherein the small-town kid goes to the big city and soon finds fame and fortune. Nelson Carvajal ’07 has managed to turn that cliché on its ear. He found that the path to success in his chosen field has run from the big city through a small town–namely, Stevens Point.

A Chicago native, Carvajal grew up entrenched in city life. “It was all I knew,” he says. He had planned to keep the urban vibe going by accepting early admission enrollment to New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. The opportunity was especially poignant because Carvajal would be the first person of his immediate family to go to college. Unfortunately, financial considerations swept his NYU plans clean off the table.

The Tisch School’s loss turned out to be the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s gain. “When word got out that I was no longer on the NYU route, I was invited by Scott West to come to Point,” he recalls.

At first, Carvajal admits, he thought of using UWSP merely as a way station on his college journey. “Honestly, my original plan was to go to Point for a semester, or maybe a whole year, and then try to transfer back to NYU,” he says. “But then something happened. I began to fall in love with Point.”

Carvajal says he warmed quickly to the friendly students and helpful professors on campus. In particular, he credits UWSP faculty members Bill Deering, Helen Vanhala, Rhonda Sprague and David Arnold with honing his critical thinking skills, as well as helping him focus his voice as a writer and filmmaker.

Upon graduating in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies, Carvajal continued to hone his craft, all the while taking jobs with production units filming in his hometown to keep body and soul together. Then, in 2012, he experienced an epiphany of sorts.

“I basically became frustrated with the prehistoric notion that you had to fall into a predestined line working in the entertainment industry, by being an intern here or a production assistant for a prolonged future, without ever really knowing your place, calling or voice,” he says. “So, instead of being rejected by film festivals for my appropriated video art pieces, I thought why not just exhibit them myself?”

The result was a month-long video art show titled “Film Is Dead: Edges of the Digital Frame,” sponsored by the Chicago nonprofit I Am Logan Square and featuring short digital films by Carvajal and fellow digital filmmaker Amir George. The installation caught the attention of film and television critics, which lead to further opportunities for Carvajal to present his work via respected outlets such as Indiewire’s Press Play and RogerEbert.com. 

“It reached a point where I didn’t need to push my videos too hard online because, fortunately, people were just kind of expecting to see videos from me on a regular basis,” he says.

Carvajal considers himself, first and foremost, a video essayist. As such, he creates short digital films that he hopes cause viewers to think and start meaningful conversations. In other words, the objective is not so much to get online hits as it is to hit a nerve—albeit a pleasant or productive one.

“When a video essay of mine goes viral, I’d like to think it’s because it strikes a chord with the movie-loving public,” he says,  “so much so that they feel compelled to share it or write about it. It’s much more intimate than, say, a viral YouTube fail video of someone falling down the stairs.”

Arguably, one of Carvajal’s most noteworthy viral moments occurred in February 2013, when his video compilation of every single Oscars Best Picture winner took off like wildfire on Facebook. The four-minute Vimeo clip, which he pulled together in one day pretty much on a whim, also drew the attention of numerous news outlets—both traditional and digital.

DIY digital content creators such as Carvajal relish the freedom of being in control of every aspect of the creative process, from writing and scoring a piece through distribution online. Creator and creation become, necessarily, intimately intertwined.

“The brand is king,” says Carvajal. “So as an artist, you have to build a following online, through social media, to establish a transparency with your followers. That way they know your tastes, your true voice and convictions. They’ll feel more compelled to watch and share your work.”

His strategy appears to be working. Carvajal has developed a loyal following, and both he and his work have received their fair share of recognition. For instance, there was his 2015 Webby Award nomination, and Newcity magazine named him one of its Top 50 Figures in Film. Ever the loyal Pointer, he is quick to add his 2013 Trailblazer Award to his list of favorite accolades.

In 2017, Carvajal has been working bicoastally, acting as a social media segment producer on a talk show pilot at NBCUniversal in Connecticut and doing casting work for Endemol Shine North America, the producers of Steve Harvey, for a show in production in Los Angeles. Through it all, he has continued to produce quality video essays and online film criticism. How does he manage it?

“The key is to hardly sleep,” he says. “Create, create, create!”



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