By Alexa Kelly
CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (CBS) — Philly is known for cheese steaks and football, but an up-and-coming company in Conshohocken wants to add popcorn and quirky independent films to the list.
Stratagem Pictures creates short movies, music videos and commercials. An Upper Dublin native, co-president PJ Dimuzio said what started as buddies hanging out has transformed into a growing company.
“I started that back in high school with a bunch of friends, so we made movies in the neighborhood,” Dimuzio said. “Then we moved to a studio about a year and a half ago, and now we’re continuing to do real business.”
The studio is an 8,000 square foot warehouse that serves as the headquarters for Strategem and six other media brands. Collectively, these brands form an umbrella company, the Creative Outfit, run by Dimuzio and his partners, Alex Favin and Meegan Rubin.
The start-up runs the gamut from film and photography to graphic design and audio to even real estate media and party planning. Stratagem began in 2007 when Dimuzio was still a student at Upper Dublin High School. He and his partners grew their business organically, offering more services to clients over the years.
To Dimuzio, the types of creativity are not so different. “All facets of it kind of have to do with story, whether you’re making a song in the recording studio that’s in there or you’re making a music video it all comes down to story,” he said.
The 22-year-old business owner has 11 full-time employees, including video producers, audio technicians, designers and fellow managers. Like the rest of their business, Dimuzio and partners took a hands-on approach to their Conshohocken headquarters.
“We kind of built the whole thing ourselves,” he said. “You know, I did all the dry wall with our friends and built all the cycloramas. It’s very self-built and self-funded.”
Dimuzio and his team still produce short narrative films, “passion projects”, as Dimuzio called them. A new Stratagem dark comedy is in production now. “It’s about a magician who really thinks like in his mind that he has magic powers and he goes up to the devil and all of a sudden,” Dimuzio said. Well, the rest of the plot is still forming.
For this film, Dimuzi will work with another long-time friend and Upper Dublin grad Jared Hirsch. “He writes everything, the creative mastermind,” Dimuzio said. “I’m more of the producer…with the cameras and the lights, getting everything technically situated.”
The Creative Outfit has worked with local performers, including rap artists Beanie Siegel and the Ground Up. “That’s really what’s keeping the lights on at the warehouse is doing the music videos, and rappers need their videos,” Dimuzio said.
Dimuzio said that filmmaking in high school was more of a compulsion than a calling. “We were making movies, and it was kind of addicting,” he said.
“Watching people’s responses is probably my favorite part,” Dimuzio said. “In ninth grade, we would screen the most corny film in class, but everybody would be freaking out or laughing, so that reaction made it a what I want to do with the rest of my life type-thing.”
After a semester at Montgomery County Community College, Dimuzio decided to jump back into moviemaking. “I just wanted to continue to do what we were doing [with Stratagem], so I kept working,” he said.
His family supported his decision to drop out of college, Dimuzio said. “They didn’t mind. They clearly knew it wasn’t for me. I’m definitely blessed to have a family who was accepting of that,” he said.
Dimuzio wants to expand the Creative Outfit. Five years from now, he dreams of having different art studios across the country. “I hope to have a bunch of little teams all over the place making art,” he said. “And then in thirty [years], hopefully it’s still around, you know? That’s the goal.”
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