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Alumni Team Finds Success After Striking Out on Their Own

COM graduates combined their skills to create their new business, Fog City Multimedia, specializing in short-form storytelling

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Academy of Art University alumnus Mike Sorola. Courtesy of Mike Sorola.

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Academy of Art University alumnus Shaun Horrigan. Courtesy of Shaun Horrigan.

Business is booming for Academy of Art University graduates Mike Sorola and Shaun Horrigan, who a little over one year ago, founded a boutique production and multimedia company called Fog City Multimedia. Fog City Multimedia specializes in short-form video production but the duo also offers website, social media and other business support. 

Their clients include AAA of Northern California, The Melt, University of San Francisco, TEDxDavisStWomen and many small businesses like SF Wonderland and KJ Couture. 

“We’ve been fortunate to work with some reputable, established brands right from the start,” said Sorola. “We are beyond grateful because we know this doesn’t always happen. Alternatively, we’ve been able to help young companies execute their brand by meeting their production needs.”

Sorola and Horrigan met in the School of Multimedia Communications’ graduate program and had paired up on a couple of projects and a TV commercial. Both wanted to try to stay in the Bay Area after graduating. 

“So we thought why don’t we just combine our services?” said Horrigan. “We specialize in short-form storytelling. Right now we have our own little contact list of photographers and web designers but would like to grow to where we can do it all in-house.”

So far Sorola and Horrigan have been doing as much as they can on their own. Instead of working with large crews, they shoot, write, edit, do voiceover and most aspects of the production. They credit the Academy for teaching them how to do it all.

“When we have jobs that require bigger crews, we often hire fellow alumni. We are fully functioning, fully operational,” said Horrigan. “We’ve got big aspirations and dreams, but we’re not jumping off the deep end. We’re trying to be smart about everything and grow within reasonable expectations.”

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(L–R) School of Multimedia Communications graduates Shaun Horrigan and Heather Young on the scene at the 2012 San Francisco Giants World Series Champions Parade. Photo by Bob Toy.

Horrigan credits instructors Peter Shaplen and Steve Kotton as being the greatest help when they were in their program.

“Steve Kotton has been there, he’s done that, had his own production company and is realistic about everything. He stays current, he knows what the trends are,” said Horrigan, who already had a B.A. in film and sought out the Academy not to be in a lecture hall learning theory but to get his hands on digital cameras and editing programs.

“AAU is great with that,” said Horrigan. “Here are these cameras, go out and tell a story. Whatever it is you want to work on, reality or broadcasting, it gets you going really fast.” 

“I think a lot of people are not as brave as Mike and Shaun,” said Steve Kotton, co-director of the School of Multimedia Communications. “The vast majority of our grad students want that comfort level of working with a big company, and I think that’s a wise thing to get that experience first. But both Shaun and Mike had large organizational experience already and to strike out on their own … it’s a good time to do it.”

In the COM program, Kotton and his instructors emphasize the importance of working with clients to deliver in the real world. They have classes that focus on entrepreneurship, multimedia, social media and are very job-focused. 

“It’s really good to see that they’re advancing in their careers and it’s based on the model that we’re teaching,” said Kotton. “And they’re nice guys too.”

Even with such early success, Horrigan readily admits that they are not in the big leagues yet. Their strategy is to keep costs low and over-deliver. 

“People look at us and think you’re new, you’re a year and half old, lets see what you can do,” said Horrigan. 

To garner business, Fog City Multimedia have approached tech companies and startups, have won bids through presentations, word of mouth, as well as through Academy contacts and some advertising.

“We’ve gone to a lot of startups who need Kickstarter videos but maybe they can’t afford the big boys,” said Horrigan. “We are not the big boys right now.”

The two are happy in knowing that they are living their dream jobs, but also deal with plenty of challenges in owning a small business. 

 

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(L–R) School of Multimedia Communications graduates Alejandra Galan and Mike Sorola on the scene at the 2012 San Francisco Giants World Series Champions Parade. Photo by Bob Toy.

“Geographically, we are in an area with a large concentration of incredibly talented artists who drive up competition,” said Sorola. “Our challenge is to stand out, provide the best work, and make the entire production experience pleasant for clients. I think we do that quite well.”

On several occasions Sorola and Horrigan have been thanked by clients for making it easy and keeping the stress levels down. Even clients who’ve worked with production companies for several years tell them that it was the best working experience they’ve ever had. Those companies have come back and in quite a few cases, referred Fog City Multimedia to their networks. “We’ve actually received a considerable amount of new clients through referrals,” said Sorola. 

What’s next for these guys? Growth.

“The Bay Area continues to be a strong market for new businesses, larger brands and startups,” said Sorola. “With media consumption at an all-time high and no sign of slowing down, we anticipate the need for production services to increase and we are positioning ourselves to meet those needs.”