Zach Green shoots TC’s trafficking problem solvers

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Zach Green owner of Zach Green Films captures the efforts made by law enforcement’s agencies to thwart sex trafficking

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

VISALIA – Visalia’s go-to guy for high quality promotional videos is now pointing his camera at a tragically local problem of sex trafficking that had gone unseen for years.

Zach Green, founder and owner of Zach Green Films, has been working with Shelly Ellis, general manager of the Visalia Convention Center, on a five-minute documentary further exposing human trafficking in Tulare County. Set to premier on Oct. 19 at the Tower Fox Theater in the Fresno Tower District, along with nine other Valley related documentaries, Green and Ellis have gone through dozens of hours of film to excavate the local depths of traffickers preying on under-aged girls and boys, among young adults.

The documentary was born out of a project Ellis had done for the 2017-2018 Visalia Chamber of Commerce Leadership Visalia class.

“A lot of people think it’s a third world country problem, but we are talking about it here in Tulare County and a lot of organizations are transparent about it and it’s happening everywhere,” Ellis said as a guest with Green during an interview on episode 78 of the Paper Trail Podcast.

“We learned a lot of human trafficking in the leadership session…and that’s when I was introduced to heavy hitters in the Valley and I didn’t know it was happing this much. It was shocking,” Green said. “It can infiltrate through their cell phones and social media and people can put up false information and manipulate these young under developed girls who don’t know how to handle things like that.”

Green, Visalia’s newest documentarian, has built his client list by creating promotional videos for school districts including Visalia Unified, and nonprofits like the Visalia Chamber of Commerce among many others. He’s also made his presence felt in the community of Visalia by serving on the Visalia Unified School District’s Media Arts Advisory Aboard at El Diamante for several years. Work Based learning Coordinator for VUSD Kim Batty says he has been a wealth of knowledge for upcoming students trying to break into media.

“He’s created dozens of videos for the VUSD Linked Learning Academies. His work brings life to the otherwise static career focused academy videos. The videos beautifully highlight what the kids will be doing during the course of the four-year academy as well as what they can expect to do in their respective career of choice,” Batty said.

Green says his repeat clients have allowed him to grow and improve on his production value. But it wasn’t till last year when he decided to work on his first documentary and applied for a Central Valley Community Foundation documentary grant meant to produce Valley centric videos. Although, his project wasn’t accepted, when the grant became available this year Green proposed sex trafficking as his focus.

“When this topic came up and applications were coming around again I immediately thought to apply,” Green said. “The application called for an uplifting story and there are uplifting aspects to it…but they’ve told us that we are the darkest story that was accepted as one of these films.”

Sex trafficking in Tulare County made major headlines when Tulare County law enforcement made 14 arrests in Operation Baby Face in 2016. The Sheriff’s Office began the investigation into a human trafficking ring that identified more than 50 victims, both juveniles and adults, in the county for sexual exploitation and for monetary gain. Between then and now law enforcement have gone through several other phases including luring would-be predators into homes who expected to meet an under-aged boy or girl. The tactic was largely based on the popular TV show How to Catch a Predator.

The project has yielded hours of footage that has led them to interviews with Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and District Attorney Tim Ward, along with other important players working to end sex trafficking. Ellis and Green remember a detail they were invited to film by the Visalia Police Department.

“[Officers] were posing as people soliciting prostitution and then the prostitutes themselves were going to be taken under arrest and questioned. The idea in most cases is these women are victims and they want to find out more about how they got into this life,” Green said.

“What they are calling it is a rescue…they want to provide these women with resources and offer ways to get out,” Ellis added.

In another case there was a man, who has since been sentenced to 40 years for trafficking, that had lured underage girls into a trafficking ring using a fake Facebook account. He had set up the account using another woman’s photographs, unbeknown to her, and selected vulnerable young girls to contact. Green says law enforcement had to work through 30,000 pages of conversations of this man posing as a woman who lived a lavish lifestyle and wanted to invite young women to join him. It is not an uncommon tactic for predators to use.

“This guy has a full-time job. He had a family. And somehow, he had all this time to do all this other stuff on the side. It’s crazy,” Green said.

Ellis said part of the purpose of the documentary is to make sure parents are aware of what their children are doing when they aren’t looking.

“We honestly hope to scare the viewers a little bit because we want to make them aware and have parents go home and be a mindful parent, because kids have these phones in their pockets and we need to know what they are doing on them,” Ellis said.

Green says that he’s enjoyed making this documentary because it will shed light on a tragedy affecting underaged girls and boys. But Green says it is hard to make documentaries work as a small business. Of all places, he learned that lesson when he worked at Apricot Lane Farms in Southern California. The owners were documentarian John Chester and his wife Molly Chester, who is also a chef.

John has put together four successful documentaries that he shares on his website. Super Soul Sunday, won an Emmy for short films. Jockey’s, premiered on Animal Planet. Rock Prophecies, explored the career of photographer Robert Knight. And, Lost in Woonsocket, tells the story of two addicts living together in the woods and get a second chance at life.

Oddly enough, Green’s road to Apricot Lane Farms began with a marine biologist consulting firm, a job he had taken after he graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in biology and wildlife. Green’s firm would be hired by power plants and cities to review environmental law and how they are impacting the environment.

“We would go out on the boat and sort through samples and we would do reports for the City of SLO and the Morro Bay Power plant,” Green said.

Having a decent job with the potential to move up is a perk for most college grads, but Green said he did not get into biology for consulting, instead he wanted to be a part of a conservation effort. Before long he found a month-long volunteer program with Point Reyes National Seashore. Green spent his time tagging and tracking great white sharks above the San Francisco Bay. It was an awesome opportunity for a young biologist.

In the month Green was out on the boat what caught his eye was not the sharks, it was a Discovery Channel film crew capturing footage for their famous annual Shark-Week series.

“It’s great to be a volunteer, you see a shark every once and while but so does the Discovery team. Then I was like I’m going to try out some other things,” Green said. “I would rather be the one that comes in for a week and shares this with the world and leaves.”

When he decided to start pursing media as a field his next stop was in Tahoe shooting 500 photos a day for large ski resort. The pay wasn’t great, but the free room and food made it worth it.

“That was such a cool job and I was outside every day for two and half years,” Green added.

Eventually Green left the resort and headed back to his home town of Visalia. For a summer he worked painting houses and fixing up his 1984 Toyota Dolphin Motorhome. When he had some expendable cash in his pocket Green packed up a few belongings and went on a road trip around the country with a friend to make travel videos and posted them to Youtube. On his way around the U.S., he stopped in Kentucky and applied for an internship with U.S. Fish and Wildlife in the Florida Keys. Six days after New years in 2013, after he had come back to Visalia, he found out he was accepted into the internship.

“I really liked Key West, that was cool. I was in the wild I’m kayaking for work and doing butter fly surveys and things like that…and doing whatever I can do for the wild life refuge,” Green said.

The job made $40 a day and Green said he would give himself two years to figure out if conservation was a worthy life despite the financial setbacks. Ultimately, after six months in the Keys he decided to follow his passion for film and learn under John Chester. Unfortunately, he was not working on any major documentaries at the time. Although, Green did help with some production on a few short films, most of his time was taking care of chickens and ducks.

When Green moved back to Visalia in 2014 he decided it was time to start Zach Green Films at 27-years-old.

“I just started making videos and people liked them and they started to get better,” Green added.

His first ever professional job as a videographer was his friend’s wedding. He was offered $400 for the assignment but Green said he would rather just have his friend buy him a $400 microphone, so it all shook out in the end.

Between 2014 and now Zach Green can add an extensive list of promos and a worthwhile documentary to his business’s resume. But one project he did for Habitat for Humanity truly sticks out as the purpose for his film company. The project was meant to show what Habitat for Humanity does around the globe for villages, and why it is important that people contribute to their local chapter.

“I think we created a piece that was pretty compelling. I enjoy watching those because it moves something inside me. I’m not setting out to make people cry but I’m setting out to make people feel something,” Green said.

This article was updated on Oct. 5 at 8:47 a.m.

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