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Stories in Film: Karl Koelling

Stories in Film is changing it up with this session by bringing in local filmmaker, Karl Koelling.  Karl is a graduate of Compass College and owner of Taproot Pictures, a Grand Rapids based production company.  His team of creatives have worked with several large brands including Coca-Cola, REI, Michigan State University, Amway, GM, Onstar, and Little Ceasars.  Karl spoke to our attendees about what it's like to be a commercial filmmaker and how storytelling plays a large role in creating content for any size screen.

Are commercials creative?

A common misconception is that commercial work is not as creatively rewarding as film or TV.  That could not be more untrue.  Creators have to work with clients to find the story that they want to convey to an audience.  It is one of Karl's favorite parts, “I love the process, for me it’s discovery, let’s figure out who the audience is, what you're trying to say, what’s your messaging, and who you are. Let’s get all of that into place so when we come up with an idea it’s going to fit, it’s going to be one that works.”  

If anything, commercials challenge storytellers because you have to convey a message in sixty, thirty, or even fifteen seconds.  This is a creative skillset that is vital for career longevity.



Being based in Michigan has not been  an obstacle for Karl and his team.  Through networking, the quality of their work, and the increasing demand for video content they've been able to travel all across the country for clients.  Video is an essential tool that all businesses are utilizing according to Karl, “Video is everywhere, that’s the cool thing is that it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s how people communicate online and consume content, you just have to find a way to monetize it.”  New creators have options to work from Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, or anywhere.  There is opportunity to have a thriving career if you work hard to discover it.

Tell a good story

Whether it is on a large documentary set or a small intimate commercial, story remains king.  Karl has grown his company to where people are constantly coming to them to partner on a project.  There is a freedom to choose their stories, “We look to find content that is worthwhile to tell. That’s uplifting and positive, that can point people to ideas that are more longstanding and transcendent.”  The size of the screen does not matter.  A well told story connects with an audience no matter what.  They recognize a poorly told story or message, and don't buy into the product, service, or characters.      


Throughout this Stories in Film series great storytelling skills has constantly come up.  Being a strong creative storyteller is essential whether you are a writer, director, commercial creator, or film student just starting out.  This takes practice.  Karl's success demonstrates that you can find stories anywhere, and be creative working with clients.  We want to thank Karl for speaking with us, and we hope you will check back in for more sessions.  

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