Father, son see relationship through creative lens

2014-06-15T00:00:00Z 2014-07-01T14:23:24Z Father, son see relationship through creative lensBy Johanna Willett Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Never in a million years. That’s what Scott Griessel, a creative director and commercial photographer, would have said five years ago had someone told him his son, Christian, would be working with him in his media production business Creatista.

“He would have scoffed,” Christian, 21, clarifies.

Scott and his wife, Anna Harrison Griessel — Creatista’s bookkeeper and sometimes producer — laugh.

“I still scoff at him all the time,” Scott, 52, says. “It wouldn’t have occurred in any of our minds that we would be doing this, but it actually works out amazingly well and just adds one component to the family.”

Today, the family celebrates Father’s Day in three cities: Scott working in Omaha, Nebraska; Anna in Flagstaff and Christian here in Tucson.

This is the norm for a family that blends artistic expression and community values with its own funky lifestyle.

Creating a career

Scott and Anna started a version of Creatista more than 10 years ago. Their creative company does all things visual, including stock photography, car commercials, religious Web videos and films, media work for nonprofits, creative consulting and anything else that comes along.

Based in their Tucson studio, Creatista also works with international and national clients, such as Mercedes-Benz, the University of Arizona and a progressive Christian group out of Omaha, among others.

With all three Griessels involved, a morning brunch can turn to a business meeting. A vacation in Turkey doubled as a chance for Scott to shoot photos for the company’s collection of images for general sale.

“It’s not compartmentalized at all,” Anna, 49, says of the family’s life and business. “It’s just one big thing. It’s what we do. It’s like, ‘The Partridge Family.’ With one kid.”

Creating a family

In some form or another, Scott has done this for a long time.

He remembers making scenes in shoe boxes as a kid, cutting a hole in the box to let the light stream through, already thinking compositionally. He held his first camera as an 11- or 12-year-old and made short films through high school. His mom and dad, a retired schoolteacher and cop, respectively, did not raise him in an artistic world.

“Even now, I think they’re not exactly sure what I do for a living,” Scott jokes. “I just tell my mom I’m unemployed.”

Anna has worked with him from the start, coming from a childhood filled with symphonies and plays. Her parents acted, with her father also working in graphic design.

The couple met in San Diego and spent about 11 years in the Midwest as Scott worked for marketing and production agencies. They wanted to move back West, and Scott found himself exhausted by corporate work.

They decided to look in Phoenix, where Scott had professional ties, but also set aside a day for Anna to check out houses in Tucson.

She came back with a list on why they should move to Southern Arizona. They have been here for 17 years, working in Tucson and living in Green Valley.

“I like the university being here, and the culture and the casualness of Tucson,” Anna says. “I’m a jeans-and-tennis-shoes kind of person, and I like that culture, even in the dress, filters into everything. People are really laid-back. People are very accepting of people that are different.”

In her time not spent on media projects, Anna mothered Christian and worked for the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and then Primavera Foundation.

“I was a very hands-on parent with Christian when he was little, and Scott traveled,” Anna says. “I joke that I got Christian for his first 20 years, and now Scott gets him for his next 20 years. I think I had the harder part.”

Christian grew up surrounded by media production, but the lights, the cameras and the action did little for him.

“I just have memories of walking into my house and there would be lots of strangers there with lights set up,” says Christian, whose parents occasionally roped him into helping. “I really never realized the business end of it.”

It turns out that the free time he spent playing video games and fiddling with the computer cultivated an inherent talent at post-production.

After graduating from City High School in 2010, Christian headed to Northern Arizona University to major in psychology, with thoughts of being a prison therapist or psychiatrist. After a few years, he realized college was not for him. He returned home and approached his parents about the possibility of a job with Creatista as he figured out next steps.

Scott approached the decision with caution.

“I think if you enter into a family-work relationship without fear and trembling, you’re probably fooling yourself,” Scott says. They decided Christian would work for Creatista on a two-year trial and then they would re-evaluate.

Creating an identity

About five people do contract work with Scott, Anna and Christian on Creatista projects. The family selects what it wants to work on, often using large projects such as an upcoming Internet commercial for a Mercedes-Benz Smart car, to compensate for lower-paying projects that capture one of their hearts.

In 2006, Scott spent about five months walking from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., to film “The Asphalt Gospel,” a documentary following six people across 2,500 miles. Produced by the progressive Christian organization CrossWalk America, the film promoted a message of compassionate and inclusive Christianity. Scott spent another year-and-a-half working on the film in post-production.

Creatista works closely with other progressive Christian projects through the Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ and Darkwood Brew, an Omaha-based Web show.

These enterprises — and those done for local nonprofits such as Literacy Connects, the Primavera Foundation and the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation — build a core reputation of compassion for Creatista. Some projects are quick while others span years. For each client, the Griessels give their best.

“I have a lot of self-identity wrapped up in it, and I think as a family, we have a fair amount of family identity in it, and it says some things about what we will do and what we won’t do,” Scott says. “It’s not that we dress the same and have a T-shirt that says, ‘Hey it’s a family business.’”

Creating a future

No one expected such a smooth transition when Christian joined the team.

“He and I work well together, and I get to do stuff with my family. Not to sound too sentimental, but I like working with my family,” Christian says of his father. “I’m pretty good. I have 50 percent of his DNA coursing through me.”

At this point, Christian plans to stick around beyond the two-year agreement. He focuses mostly on editing video and photos in post-production and works on shoots, setting up and handling gear.

“He’s a lot stronger to carry big, heavy things,” Anna says.

“And younger,” Scott interjects.

“And better-looking,” Christian adds.

Scott closes the banter: “That’s debatable.”

Both father and son admit to having a dry sense of humor that they lob back and forth on set. Christian has no problem expressing his opinion to challenge his dad. Their quips often confuse clients unaware of the relationship.

One of Christian’s first jobs with the company took him to a Warner Bros. Studios back lot to film a commercial for Mercedes-Benz, a frequent Creatista client. On that shoot and others, people have pulled Christian aside after hearing the father-son banter, telling him success in the business means giving the director the utmost respect.

“It’s the kind of rapport that he and I have,” Scott says. “People look at us cross-eyed sometimes because we’re having fun while we work.”

The family recently opened a new studio, which doubles as an apartment for Christian and his girlfriend. Living in-studio means he can set up for the next day’s shoots late at night and work when necessary. Working for family heightens the stakes — if Christian shirks his responsibilities, no one gets a paycheck.

“And we would never let you forget it,” Scott says.

“And then they’re bankrupt, and I’m sleeping in a box,” Christian says. “It just gets worse and worse. To summarize it all, it motivates us to do well because we’re trying to do well for each other.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@azstarnet.com or 573-4357.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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