Rock and roll, a whale, and a dating show

Eric Hamlin worked in a 6-foot-by-6-foot room that felt like a throwback to the 1980s before moving to a studio space in MarketStreet in the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center.

The executive director of the Lynnfield Media Studios since 2009 was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. Hamlin has worked in media for nearly 37 years, holding numerous jobs in Pittsburgh and Florida before moving to the Boston area in 1993 with his wife, Susie.

Armed with a degree in media production and photo journalism from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Hamlin began his career while he was still in college at a small-town newspaper called the Sewickley Herald, where he worked as a photographer covering what he referred to as “fun but weird” stories.

After graduating, Hamlin worked for Ryno Productions, Inc. where he helped produce corporate and industrial videos and local cable commercials before realizing he wanted a change and needed to get out of the cold.

“I was in my 20s and was just thinking that I had to get out of there; the weather was driving me nuts,” Hamlin said.

He took his skills to Orlando just as Universal Studios opened.

“I had always liked Florida and I liked the whole idea of the Universal Studios, so I decided to go down there,” Hamlin said. “I was living on pretty much nothing at that point. There was a little bit of money that I had stockpiled, but I was doing the old Ramen Noodle special.”

Things started to look up when he was hired by a film company to work as a set photographer on a movie called “Night Breath,” which ended up falling apart due to problems with the production company.

“It was kind of a bummer because I was depending on it financially,” Hamlin said.

He then had to rely on freelancing, which got him a gig with Century III Teleproductions working on national game shows including a dating game, “Studs,” and a sports show.

The freelance work then brought him to a company where he worked as a stagehand doing lighting for U2, Metallica, and Van Halen, and then another company working with The Beach Boys and The Doobie Brothers.

“That was a really cool thing,” Hamlin said. “I did this for quite a while to make ends meet.”

His next job brought him to SeaWorld, where he worked as one of the people running the jumbotron system over Shamu Stadium.

“It was a whole multimedia thing where we had two live studio cameras in the audience… and we would rotate as a technical director up top, or working graphics,” Hamlin said. “That was for hundreds of thousands of people a year. I mean that thing was packed every day.”

During his time at SeaWorld, Hamlin got to see killer whale Tilikum — of “Black Fish” documentary fame — up close.

“We used to videotape all of these shows, so I had a demo reel with a bunch of my stuff and I’m watching the documentary (Black Fish) and was like ‘wait there’s footage of mine in there; that’s mine,’” Hamlin said. “It was stuff from the show with them (the whales) sliding across the stage.”

One of his coworker’s wives taught with the woman he would marry.

“We really hit it off and next thing you know we were talking marriage,” Hamlin said.

Marriage led to talk about moving back to his wife’s hometown of Boston. Hamlin wasn’t a big fan of the idea because of the weather, but he said “love makes you do these things.”

They moved to the Boston area in 1993, and Hamlin took on freelancing again.

He stayed in the media business, working for a company that employed people to work on television sets for when shows like Dateline and CNN came to the area.

His next gig brought him to the Boston Garden, where he took photos for the Celtics, before becoming the senior videographer editor for the North Shore region at Comcast Spotlight.

“I had a lot of great exposure,” Hamlin said.

In 2008, he got laid off from Comcast Spotlight and started to reassess his career, realizing he wanted to spend more time with his family.

“I wanted to get out of the situation where I’m constantly on the road,” Hamlin said.

That’s when he stumbled across community-access television, which he thought was a funny career curveball from his video-production days in Pittsburgh.

“I thought it was kind of interesting and that maybe I can kind of do the pay-it-forward thing and come back full circle,” Hamlin said.

At the time, Lynnfield needed a director for its media studios. He applied and got the job.

He began his work in a former storage closet at Lynnfield High School, but spent years advocating and searching for a new location, which led him to MarketStreet about eight years ago.

“It’s a small town and there wasn’t a lot of space or availability to start up a station,” he said. “I looked at commercial space, but that didn’t seem to work out too well, and that’s when MarketStreet came on my radar.”

Moving to the studio in MarketStreet from the high school was “like night and day,” Hamlin said.

For the next five to six years, it was mostly just Hamlin working at the studio, with freelance help here and there and assistance from his son, Tyler, who is a junior at Emerson studying Film and Video Production.

Funding for community-access television depends on the franchise fees from Comcast and Verizon, which are based on numbers of subscribers.

Since Lynnfield has a smaller population, thus less subscribers, they get around $200,000 to run the facility.

“We were always at a sort of disadvantage with this, not being able to hire a ton of people,” Hamlin said.

In 2017, he stumbled across a freelancer, Drew Sanborn, who graduated from Westfield State University. Hamlin loved Sanborn’s work and drive and hired him full time as a production assistant about three years ago.

“He’s a great kid and just real positive,” Hamlin said. “I have him shoot a lot of the sports games, and then we work hand-in-hand with all the boards and groups townwide that have to be televised.”

When the pandemic hit, Hamlin was forced to rewire the studio equipment and programs to his house so he could continue to produce and inform the Lynnfield community through virtual programs.

“It worked. We did have hiccups here and there, but it was very successful,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin worked with town officials to get information about COVID-19 out to the community as quickly as he could.

“You’d shoot something at 8 in the morning, and it would have to be up by like 10,” he said. “I’d be editing, downloading a bunch of stuff, and it was quite the ordeal… We were able to pump out a bunch of pertinent information.”

The recent transition back into the studio was a little more difficult, having to reconfigure everything back to how it was before.

Hamlin said it will be some time until things are back to normal, with interviews and live productions in the studio, but plans to continue to have options for hybrid interactions via Zoom.

“We’re still experimenting with my engineer on the best ways to do this,” Hamlin said. “We’re just kind of trying to integrate these new technologies where we’re able to provide these services in a manner that is easy to watch and use, but also viable for the studio and any of our viewers.”

Having to deal with the pandemic and it drastically changing his everyday work, Hamlin said he did his best to deal with the curve ball.

Over the years, Hamlin said he has faced so many “funny things” that led him on the long road to get where he is today.