One resident, numerous anecdotes
Name: Chris Christensen
Where we found him: Castle Community
Are you originally from Rochester? No, I’m from northern Minnesota, a few miles north of the Itasca headwaters.
Best part of growing up there? Lots of things. The best part was access to oppor-tunity in education, sports, and leadership in a small school. I happened to go to a school that had high standards in education—a school that, despite a low budget, still wanted to push me as far as they could get me.
It’s not often someone says “opportunity” and “small school” in the same sentence. There was less competition. I was captain of my hockey team. I never would’ve been in that position if I had gone to a Rochester school. I maybe wouldn’t have even made the team. Those leadership skills I was able to develop? That wouldn’t have happened for me here.
Pivotal growing-up moment? When I was 17, my dad came out to me, and my parents told me they were divorcing. Growing up in a Midwest, conservative, buttoned-up town, that was crazy—but it didn’t faze me. It just added a ton of experience points to my understanding of people.
That had to be hard for your dad. [My parents] were super concerned about me being upset about it. For years, my mom asked, “Are you sure you’re not upset?” I wasn’t. I love my dad no matter what.
Best coffee in town? It’s definitely a toss-up between Moka and Café Steam. If I’m on the go, Moka. Time to hang out, Steam.
How did you become a filmmaker? It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. I started making films as soon as my parents got a camera when I was 10. … Every kid makes a video instead writing a paper for school at some time, but I had a library of tapes at home. I was editing with VCRs connected to each other.
You lived and breathed film? I was pursuing music, too. I was doing both things, but music was a little more important to me at the time. I’d play a show, film my shows, make videos to play before shows. [My band would] reserve the auditorium at the high school, sell tickets in advance, flyer the whole community, and have lights and videos. It was kind of stupid, but people came.
What was the name of your band? “That One Band.” How dumb is that? … The music was never so good, but it’s interesting how music and the music business have helped my film and entrepreneurial career.
How? I built a fan base. We played this one show in front of 2,000 kids. Sold all our merch and CDs. This booking agent was friends with an A&R rep at Tooth & Nail, which was my dream label, and he was on vacation in northern Minnesota for some reason. … I meet him at this café, and he says, “Your record sucks, but you must be a brilliant marketer, because you’re selling and getting kids to come to your shows. I see your skill set in [marketing/management] and not so much music.”
Ouch? It was really hard to take—not that I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be, because I knew that. I knew I wasn’t going to get signed, but I thought maybe he’d say, “We can help make you better… make you stars!” I did know that he had a point.
It helped form your future? 100 percent. That meeting was huge, pivotal in my life.
What was your next step? I went to St. Cloud State. … For some reason I thought I couldn’t go to school for making films. I thought a film career was stupid because it was not financially smart. It wasn’t on the list your advisor gives you. But I started getting sucked into the filmmaking community. I took one film studies class from a guy, Ron Perrier, and he unlocked it. He inspired me.
Tell me about your company. I operate Wondercloud Media, and I just believe in Rochester, a lot. My industry is film and video production ... and I’m trying to build my business here, instead of building my resume somewhere else and coming here.
What have you worked on? Everything from short films to commercials to corporate. I’m about to work on a feature film in Rochester with all Rochester actors, crew, writer (Melissa Brandt), and director (my wife, Kari Ann Christensen). It’s called Dog Year, and we’re shooting on a farm in Kasson. We’ll be showing it at The Castle, hopefully in the summer of 2020. The goal is to get into some film festivals and maybe someone in China will buy it and put it on some streaming service.
First job in Rochester? I worked at a company called Ashdown, which published a few magazines in the hobby world. I started their video department, creating content for their magazines. It turned into Hobby World TV and had 10 channels. I shot and edited over 3,000 videos. I worked with Betsy Singer—we shared an office and built a studio and I learned a ton from her. She’s one of my mentors in Rochester. I’m getting emotional talking about it because she taught me so much about that industry.
Best advice you’ve been given? Surround yourself with people who influence your dreams and ambitions and stay away from those who don’t. That was from my father. It was also my senior quote. In the yearbook, it’s by a picture of me standing next to a bottle of ranch on a pedestal.
Because you love ranch? I was obsessed with it.