How I became a pro Christmas decorator
My video went viral and took me with it.
When I sat down to write this column for PlanetChristmas magazine, I was trying to put everything that happened to me over the last four years in perspective. I went quickly from decorating my house for fun to making a living being an animation lighting professional. After thinking about my Internet video, the newspapers and press, the notoriety and everything else that happened, I realized I happened to upload the right video, at the right time and got lucky. That was just my start but there are many stories of people taking their hobby to the next level. I will try and quickly give you the evolution of Carson Williams to Consar Lights story.
The video I’m talking about was of my house from the 2004 Christmas season. I uploaded it in February 2005 to the PlanetChristmas website and asked for comments in the PlanetChristmas forums. It was viewed by several members saying nice things but that was about it. In November everything changed. Someone found my video and e-mailed the link to a buddy who e-mailed to another and so on. Somehow CNN found the link and published the address of the video still located on PlanetChristmas.com. Chuck Smith told me the PlanetChristmas.com web server was in the corner of his office at work and when my video was referenced by CNN his whole business came to a halt because no one could use the Internet to get anything out. In November 2005, YouTube.com had just started, so the video ended up there and everyone kept emailing the link to others. The video went viral about November 21, 2005 and my name became synonymous with flashing Christmas lights.
The first thoughts of doing light animation professionally hit me around December 15 when the Vice President of Marketing for Forest City, Jane Lisy, drove over three hours from Cleveland to talk to me. She wanted to take what I had done with my house, ramp it up 100 times and put it on the side of a new mall in Denver, Colorado.
After serious discussions with my wife, I decided to pursue the opportunity at the Denver mall. If you want to go professional, make sure you have the support of your family. This business can take over the holiday months so telling your wife that Thanksgiving dinner will be postponed for a Christmas light show is not for the faint hearted.
With the decision to go pro made, I was ready to hang some lights and make them blink. I met with Jane in January 2006 and within ten minutes of hearing her vision for the mall I realized I was in way over my head. I told her the truth and said I knew I could make a great animated show, but I would need to find some expertise to create and build a lighting show of such magnitude. Luckily for me and my new business, she had a person in mind who had created holiday displays for her and got me in touch with John Carter of Parker 3D. A new partnership was born. I’ve worked with Parker 3D for three years and have been able to take my animation skills, pair them with John’s grandiose ideas and create one-of-a-kind shows for large venues across the United States and Canada. Consar Lights would not be where it is today without the partnership with Parker 3D. Partnering with another person or company and utilizing their expertise was vital to my starting out. You can’t do it all like you do when you decorate your own house.
Consar Lights now existed and needed more business so my next opportunity came at Oglebay Park Resort in West Virginia. A friend’s uncle worked on the original drive-through light show in 1985 and he was able to set up a meeting so I could present my ideas. This show was a lot larger than my house! I was able to take the thoughts in my head and the skills I had learned from doing my own house to develop a quote and then a lighting show that they still love today. I designed the lighting show and programmed the animation, but I had the park staff install the lights and hardware. This allowed the park to reinstall the show the next year. This show would not have happened if a friend had not provided the lead. Don’t forget your friends and the power of networking to find jobs and leads.
That was the just first year of being an animation lighting professional. I started out slow by getting my feet wet. I was able to keep my day job during the entire season by using up my vacation days, but I was tired after the decorating season ended. When January 2007 rolled around I started looking for new opportunities for the upcoming season. The holiday light profession is not just around Christmas. The design of a quality light show takes months, so you need to research opportunities, make cold calls and create quotes all year long.
I was lucky and given an extraordinary chance to become an animation lighting professional. I went from home decorator to professional moving in different directions. I am partnering with a Parker 3D for the large animation jobs and using my expertise and local staff for the smaller jobs. I make sure my friends know I am always looking for an opportunity or a job. In an effort to keep Consar Lights going, I spend a lot of the year thinking about Christmas lights and it has been worth it.
In my next column I can go over some skills needed to be an animation lighting professional from negotiations to training.
From the Spring 2009 edition of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Carson Williams.