A talented minority of artists manage to be profitable without losing the creativity that drives them. Nineteen-year-old Parkite Daniel Riley is part of this select few, playing the roles of both visionary and businessman within his personal filmmaking venture, Stratus Productions.
"[Stratus Productions] started back four or five years ago when my friends and I would make skiing and biking videos," Riley says. "We just wanted a name to work under someone came up with 'Stratus,' and it stuck."
Scrolling through the past on Stratus Productions' YouTube page, one is able to find widespread coverage. Stratus' sports edits are scattered amongst humorous shorts, documentary-style interviews, and local advertisements, with most projects' view counts totaling in the thousand to ten thousand range. Even on his newest channel (dedicated mostly to his work with his miniature planes), "rctestflight," Riley has gathered over 30,000 subscribers.
Though Riley, a Park City High School graduate, refers to Stratus Productions using the inclusive pronoun of "we," it is currently a one-man show.
"In high school, 'Stratus' included [classmates] like Matt Cone, Jack Drain, and a couple others... now it's just me," Riley says.
The broadness of this solo expenditure leads one to assume there exists lot of pressure, but the current University of Utah student responds with optimism: "I mean, it gives you room to do your own thing and add your own style."
However, upon being asked to describe his "style," Riley steers clear of labels.
"Producing videos is a very artistic thing. I kind of developed my own style in editing and my own style in cinematography but it's more about what I hope to get across. One of the things that I try to add to my videos is unique camera movement. I'm always coming up with new ways to move a camera, whether it be with a CableCam, a Steadicam device, a drone "
"Yeah," Riley affirms. "I use drones."
This, understandably, sparks interest. After all, the media seems to be throwing out this particular trigger word every chance it gets. The idea of a "drone" seems futuristic and somewhat formidable -- but it's not as impressive as it sounds, Riley insists.
"Back when I started, there was really no such thing as a 'drone.' It was never called that. The name caught on just recently. It started from things like helicopters, or model airplanes, made for hobbyists, and now they're 'drones.' I just put cameras on them."
Riley considers the alignment between his skill behind a camera and his business plan to be one born of natural progression.
"When I was younger, I was really into building those model helicopters and remote-controlled airplanes. I started putting little cameras on those and flying them around, and as far as that idea goes, not much has changed. The cameras just got bigger and more expensive," he explains. "This [eventually] led to getting hired by companies and networks to shoot commercials and aerial video."
The current success of Stratus Productions is measured by the sort of clientele it attracts. The Discovery Network is one of the more prominent past customers, and Riley looks at this as a pivotal point in Stratus' growth.
"It just took off with the Discovery [Network] thing," Riley says. "They used some of my footage for a show called Kings of Crash on their Velocity channel. I definitely consider it one of my biggest accomplishments so far."
Though the history of Riley's work is already peppered with impressive names and achievements, he still considers himself in "resume-building" process.
"What I'm kind of focusing on at the moment is just perfecting the technology [behind Stratus] and different devices," he states. "The goal is to develop my skill enough to eventually put together a showreel that is amazing and has insane camera movement, then sending that out and marketing myself. I'm just kind of working up to where I can say 'look what I can do' to these bigger companies we're not there yet, but Stratus is advancing to the point where we will be able to grow soon."
But where down the line will that point come, and in which direction will Stratus grow? Riley has no plans set in stone aside from his anticipated graduation from the U in 2017. As to the business, the sky's the limit -- literally.