Phyl Newbeck, Contributor
Ken French has come a long way from his early days doing corporate work in Boston as a recording and sound engineer.
These days, the musician and filmmaker prefers a collaborative approach, both in his work at the Media Factory and in his personal life as a resident of the Ten Stones cohousing community.
French is the municipal services manager for the Media Factory, and in that position, he is responsible for filming municipal meetings in Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Vergennes, and school board meetings in districts ranging geographically from Addison to Winooski, amounting to roughly 30 meetings each month.
“I started five or six years ago working in the field,” he said, “and then I moved into a management role. I’m still on the ground if I have to fill in or train new people.”
French enjoys the training part of the job because it involves entry-level staff who get to learn all about camera and audio placement and live production.
“It’s a steppingstone to get new skills,” he said. “We’re big on diversity and intentionally looking to hire women and new Americans; people who may not always be represented in technical fields.”
French admits that, when he films meetings, he is less focused on the substance and more on the technical aspect, which he finds a bit ironic.
“It’s a complicated set-up,” he said. “We try to set a high standard for the production of the video stream using multiple cameras and microphones and graphics inserted live.”
Before his Media Factory job, French ran Ken French Media, creating videos and films, including one project traveling with the Vermont band Eight02 to Russia.
These days, he doesn’t have much time for outside work but believes that when he retires, he’ll do a bit more traveling and return to more community-based projects. That said, he has been involved in several community projects through the Media Factory, including videos of the band A2VT which is comprised of African-born Vermonters.
He also takes part in a project called Crowdsourced Cinema VT. “We take a blockbuster film that people know,” he said. “We slice it up into five-minute scenes and hand them out to people to recreate. This year we’re doing Star Wars and last year was Jurassic Park. People use Media Factory equipment to create their version of the scenes and then we stitch them together.”
French started his career as a musician but has been scaling back in that field. He’s currently part of a Middlebury band called the Doughboys which plays R&B, Motown, dance and other party music.
“We play half a dozen times a year,” he said. “We play a lot of Middlebury college events and private parties. It’s not like when I was full time in music and felt I needed to promote and be aggressive. Now, I can just play and sing.”
In 1996, French was one of the first residents of Ten Stones and describes the battle to get clustered housing in Charlotte as an uphill one in which the residents finally prevailed, thanks in part to working with Vermont Land Trust. These days, there are 13 house lots on 90 acres of land.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” French said. “It was bootstrapped. A bunch of people who had very little experience with development and housing decided to make a co-housing community.”
French said the first ten years at Ten Stones were spent figuring out essential services, followed by things like legal agreements and insurance.
“The second phase was more about collaborating and working together to build community with people. including our governance structure and how we make decisions by consensus,” he said.
The most recent stage has dealt with land-management issues such as creating a pollinator meadow and removing invasive species like buckthorn, honeysuckle and wild parsnip.
If there is one theme to French’s life it is community.
“I was part of a community of musicians,” he said, “and now I’m part of an intentional community at Ten Stones and a community resource in the Media Factory. It’s a place where I can work with someone who grew up in Connecticut and just graduated college and someone who just came from Africa.”
Although French recognizes that Media Factory has more of a traditional top-down decision-making process, unlike the flat structure of Ten Stones, he believes the organization is good at connecting people.
“It’s letting other people know the diversity we have around us,” he said, “respecting other people’s perspectives and backgrounds and trying to learn from people who are different.”