By: Tiffany Razzano
Originally appeared in the July 8, 2016 edition of La Gaceta Newspaper
Musician. Actor. Swing Dancer. Pilot. Marksman. Photojournalist.
Jim Webb is used to wearing many hats. “I’ve lived four lives in one so far, easily,” he said.
But these days he has honed in on just one passion: growing his business, The Webb Works. With an ear for storytelling, Webb specializes in producing legacy and web-based videos for businesses, governments and families. So he’s pushed his other talents and interests to the side for the time being to focus on sharing these stories. “Everybody’s got a story and I love helping people tell it,” he said.
Still, his varied interests come in handy whenever he’s trying to connect with the individuals who are featured in his videos. “I’m rarely not able to find common ground with people,” he said. “And as a photojournalist, I’ve had the opportunity to be out and meet different people, and I use these skills in my business and to connect with people. I’ve learned to draw people out. I have at least a little bit of capacity for showing interest [in others] and getting people’s stories, because everybody has one. It all plays right into my curious nature.”
Webb grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. As a child, his mother enrolled him and his siblings in music lessons. In high school, he went on to join the marching band, performing in the brass section. He was also an athlete, lettering in tennis, cross country track and swimming.
He went on to study at Kent State University where he joined the marching band, was a diver on the swim team and also a member of the cheerleading team. “Boy was that a smart move on my part,” he said. “I got to be around some of the most beautiful women on campus. And when we went to other colleges, I got to be around some of the most beautiful women on their campus.”
During the summer of 1973, he headed to Wisconsin to perform with the legendary Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corp. That’s all it took for him to be “hooked” on drum corp. He performed with them through 1975, his last year of eligibility since he had turned 21. But that year the group was the undefeated Drum Corp International. He stayed on as an instructor for an additional five years. “It’s an art form,” he said, “and I haven’t seen a single marching band in high school or college that wasn’t affected by it.”
Decades later, his time with the Madison Scouts still affects him. “I draw on that daily for inspiration,” Webb said.
An avid photographer since a high school student – he borrowed his mother’s Kodak Instamatic camera as a teen “and she never saw that camera again” – he was offered a job taking photos for an NBC affiliate in Madison. After five years, he moved to Toledo, Ohio to take a job as a news photographer for the PBS station there and also to be closer to home.
In 1984, he accepted a position as photojournalist for WFLA News Channel 8. “I was in the news department there, shooting news on film, long before video cameras and live trucks and all of that,” he said. After a year and a half, he was promoted to chief photographer, overseeing special projects and the department. It was a time of growth at the station, he said. Staff doubled and the station added a number of special shows and weekend editions.
Webb has also remained involved with his many passions since moving to Tampa. He’s served as chairman of the board for the Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps and volunteered to work with the Robinson High School marching band.
He took up swing dancing, something he learned as a child, and not only did he frequent local swing dance events, he taught it as well for several years.
He continued to play music, forming a band – a 12-piece rhythm and blues revue – with other journalists for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Battle of the Media Bands, which raised money for its minority scholarship.
He took flying lessons after years of flying radio-controlled planes and spending time up in the air as Channel 8’s primary photographer. He even went on to fly with the Blue Angels. And because of a video he shot for a friend, he developed an interest in skeet and trap shooting, becoming a decent marksman.
Webb is also an actor and does voiceover work. He’s the official voice of the Tampa Bay Arts Center Entertainment Network. He’s appeared on stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall in productions including “Guys and Dolls” and “South Pacific.” He also appeared in the short film “The Wallet,” which was selected for the Gasparilla International Film Festival. (Several other films he’s filmed himself have appeared at the film fest as well.)
All the while, he worked for Channel 8. Working for the news station, he traveled the country – sometimes the world. “I got to tell stories and meet the most interesting people in the places that I’ve worked and get paid for it,” he said. He’s met everyone from actors to national leaders, from James Earl Jones to President Barack Obama and Colin Powell. He’s travelled around the country and to places such as the Kremlin, in Russia, and the Andes Mountains. “The list goes on and on. I’ve had many, many brushes with greatness. That camera has been my passport to travel to many places and do things I never would have done.”
But it wasn’t all fun for Webb. He also had to cover difficult stories about death and violence. “I’ve seen the very best and the very worst of the human condition from behind my camera,” he said. He recalls that when working in Toledo, every spring as the Toledo River thawed, a body would come floating to the surface. He’d inevitably have to cover this news. “I’ve recorded things, I saw things that I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” he said.
This is part of the reason he decided to leave the news business and create The Webb Works to focus on legacy and corporate videos. He wanted to make videos that told happy stories and touched people.
He recalls a series on aging that he filmed while working for PBS in Toledo. “I knew then that some of the people I was recording wouldn’t be around in 10 years,” he said. That’s how he realized the importance of preserving people’s stories. “You don’t want to wait until it’s too late. You want to get the twinkle of their eye or the sound of their laughter before you can’t. Those are the treasures”.
While he creates videos for corporate entities such as Tampa General Hopsital, WellCare and the University of South Florida, “the legacy videos are what I live for,” he said. “When I get my chance to sink my teeth in a good story, I want to record it. And there’s a lot of them slipping away from us.”
Webb currently operates out of a studio space on West Shore Boulevard. He’s recently teamed up with a film photographer, Hallie Ladd Heck, who also rents space in the same building. The pair are building out a larger, 1,400-square-foot studio with a green room and meeting space. He’ll be able to offer photography classes and swing dance lessons in the larger, open space. “It’s going to be really nice when we’re done in a few weeks,” he said. “There are so many possibilities.”
He’s also writing a book. It’s part memoir, sharing his life story, and part encouragement for others to pursue their passions. “I’ve been fortunate enough to do this my entire life,” he said. When he meets college students, he has one piece of advice for them: “Do what you liked to do as a child. If you do your passions, then you’ll never work another day in your life.”
He added, “Then I like to modify that a little bit. I tell them to do what you did as a kid that got you into trouble, but kept doing anyway.”