Bellwood group make it big
Three 2009 Bellwood-Antis High School graduates credit the solid academic and theatrical foundations received there for their L.A.-based company’s success.
Called Black Coffee Produc-tions, they’ve worked with Lady Gaga, Pink, Ozzy Osbourne, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Migos and others.
Friends since kindergarten, Eli Austin, 27, Nathan Larimer and Josh Rimmey, both 28, solidified career dreams while participating in high school chorus, drama club and speech league. Their fourth team member, non-Blair Countian Zach Williams (Rimmey’s college friend) completes the company’s leadership.
The local men credit the late Joe Anello, a local photographer, and retired choir director Richard Bower, with providing the confidence, tools, and drive to pursue their big dreams.
“Mr. Bower directed our musicals, our speech league competitions,” Larimer said. “He was this force of creativity, being goofy and letting yourself go. He encouraged and supported the performing arts. Singing, acting, and dancing — it all correlates to why we went into film. He taught us to break out of our comfort zone, take risks, put it out there and to fail.”
For Rimmey, Anello mentored him and helped him create his thesis film — “Zach Williams Makes it Big Time” — playing a principal role as well as housing, feeding, and entertaining the crew at his Bellwood home.
“We had a natural bond,” Rimmey said. “… He was creative himself,” Rimmey said. “He saw kids who were going for it and he did everything he could to support us so we’d succeed. He taught me that friendship knows no age.”
The trio also credits their families’ belief and encouragement.
Austin is the son of Angie Yasulitis and Buddy Austin, both of Altoona; Larimer is the son of Dean and Lora Larimer of Tipton and Rimmey is the son of Tim and Lois Rimmey of Bellwood.
Larimer and Austin went to Penn State University at University Park. Larimer studied Film and Video Production within the School of Communications while Austin majored in Business Marketing with a concentration in International Business at the Smeal College of Business. Rimmey and Williams graduated from Ithaca College, N.Y., majoring in Cinema & Photography.
Lora Larimer said she and her husband “never doubted” the boys’ success even in the face of skeptics.
“When people would ask what he was majoring in in college and we would say film and video production we would get a lot of (sarcastic) comments,” she said “like ‘oh, good luck with that’ or ‘my nephew majored in that and never did anything with it.’ Nate has a lot of drive and determination and we knew he would make it work. You have to let your kids pursue what they are passionate about. That’s how they become successful — because of their passion. We always knew Nathan and Josh, in particular, were passionate about film.”
Lois Rimmey said she and Tim are proud of their son, his friends and expressed gratitude for the group.
“We are also thankful to our family, the teachers, our church’s youth pastor and youth group workers, Scout leaders and helpers, those involved with the yearly musicals, speech competitions and anyone who worked with the kids. We appreciate their time and investment,” Lois Rimmey said.
For a time, the trio gained real-world work experience separately. Austin used his newly acquired business acumen to benefit his father’s restaurant business and joined his mother at an advertising agency in Annapolis, Maryland, and eventually formed The YaZo Group in Altoona, Yasulitis said.
Meanwhile, Williams and Rimmey joined Philymack Productions, a full-service creative and management agency for artists (like musicians Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, and the band DNCE) and produced commercials and music videos.
Near the end of 2014, Lovato’s national tour desperately needed a videographer and editor, so Rimmey contacted Larimer, who was working in Pittsburgh. Within 48 hours, Larimer flew to San Antonio, Texas, and joined the tour. At it’s conclusion, he returned to L.A. and didn’t look back.
“DNCE’s ‘Cake by the Ocean’ music video captured 340 million hits on YouTube to date,” Rimmey said. “It was one of 2015’s biggest hits and helped us establish legitimacy professionally.”
Technological advances combined with the evolution of social media created “the perfect storm,” Rimmey said. “We took advantage as work options in film rapidly expanded,” he added. The pair embarked on several whirlwind national and international tours, including stops in Paris, Amersterdam, and Tokyo.
Rimmey and Williams landed on the name Black Coffee, reflecting a fresh, organic, stimulating experience for artists, clients, and most importantly, the viewer. In 2017, the four made it official by incorporating as Black Coffee Productions.
“Being a group for as long as we have ,” Austin said, “we have an unspoken language and understanding of each of our roles and we have the same work ethic … clients love that.”
Like supportive spokes in a wheel, each member’s expertise moves projects forward.
Together, Rimmey and Williams’ create vision and on-site direction.
Larimer “keeps his pulse on new technology, runs all the photography and videography equipment and digital tools. (Technology) changes so fast and it’s made it easier for us to pave our own path,” he said. Larimer and Austin share roles as producers, who are responsible for planning shoots, hiring crew and dealing with logistics.
When creative difference occur because of budget constraints, for instance, Austin and Rimmey will “play good-cop and bad-cop,” Rimmey said. “It happens very easily between all of us — Zach and I advocate for the creative and Eli brings in the reality. It keeps it clean.”
“If 99 people love the product sent for approval but the artist hates it, we’re not done,” Larimer explained. “Every project is different and crazy with hundreds of moving parts. We are making something where everyone has input and we’re not done until everyone loves it.”
The synergy and long history between the men makes it work well.
“Between all of us, we keep the clients happy and make it fun,” Rimmey said. “Our jobs, really, are making adult fairy tales for a living using fancy equipment.”
For Yasulitis, her son’s growing role in Black Coffee is bittersweet.
“It’s been a joy to see the progress,” Yasulitis said. “Production is definitely a part of marketing and working in an agency. But for him to take this company and take a pivotal role in Black Coffee has just been an incredible opportunity. I’m personally excited to see where they take it. For now, I get to see their growth from the inside as Eli also holds a role at Black Coffee and YaZo.”
After taking a brief holiday break, the men worked in New York City together for several weeks on a criminal justice reform campaign before returning briefly to L.A. before Austin and Larimer flew to Florida and later Austin, Rimmey, and Williams traveled for a few weeks with the Meek Mill tour where they created, directed and produced on stage visuals.
“They have a great work ethic,” Yasulitis said. “They’re not doing any marketing right now because they do one project for an artist or company and then they get more work out of that because they are pleased with their work. It just grows.”
The others also credit Austin for their growth.
“We’ve greatly expanded our wings and Eli is a big part of that,” Rimmey said. “He put a structure in place and he’s the business backbone.”
Lois Rimmey recalls Josh getting a text during a visit home.
“(He) received a funny text message from one of the singers they filmed on tour and that just blew my mind,” she said. “The places he has been are incredible.”
Their upward trajectory and expansion often demands going 36-hours without sleep to meet an editing deadline and the travel-induced jet lag. “It’s so crazy and stressful,” Larimer said, ” but it is so exciting and I can’t imagine stopping.”
Neither do the others, who admit they don’t have much time to reflect. But, Rimmey said, “I’m working with my best friends from kindergarten and Zach who became an instant best friend early on at Ithaca. We’ve built our dream team and we’re doing what we love. That alone makes me feel like we’ve ‘made’ it.”
Larimer agrees, “I’ve exceed my wildest dreams that I had in high school.”
Austin said future success means managing growth wisely, to retain the values and high quality that’s brought them this far. At some point, the men would like to have an office in Blair County so “we can come home and see our moms for dinner.”
They also want to give back to the “great community. We’re a product of Bellwood’s finest people,” Rimmey said.
For Larimer, that unwavering belief in them from parents and mentors made all the difference.
“When we can afford it,” he said, “we want to give back to the high school and the town we were so very lucky to grow up in and to the support system here.”
Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.