More Than Dynamite | Sean Covel | e.28
If you have never been in Deadwood, SD on a Tuesday evening during the off season of tourism, it’s a bit like stepping into an older world. The streets just off of Main are silent and the cobblestone roads heightens one’s sense of the historic setting they are now finding themselves a part of. Late November also brings with it an early sunset, and by 6pm it’s as dark as the haunting hours of night.
It was a night like this when I set out to meet Sean Covel and record our podcast episode. Added to all the history of the town around us, Sean’s office is located on the higher floors of the 100+year old Post Office building right next to the Adams Museum. With old built in safes for an office supply closet, and windows over looking the brick layered street I walked up, Sean does his work creating his own slice of history in a building that is packed with it.
As I sat up to record, Sean and I caught up a bit. It had been a spell since I was the Monday night bartender at Flanagan’s Irish Pub in Spearfish, SD and I had first met him. Monday’s are the open mic nights and you could usually set your clocks by the time the regulars would walk in the door. I’d sling the drinks and get up to play when I could, while Sean and the rest of the posse would settle in for a night of good times and great people.
While I’d known Sean for a while, I was looking forward to getting to know more of his story and how he came to be all that he is today. He’s full of laughter and smiles and has a genuine quality about him when he’s conversing with someone that one sees becoming rarer as culture progresses. I knew going into this that no matter what we talked about, I was in for an entertaining few hours.
We started off talking a bit about his history and how he got into film production, or, as he so eloquently put it, the “cinematic experience”. It’s quite a journey that led this SD native from Edgemont, SD to Los Angeles, CA…via Kearney, NE…like one does on their way to LA. From working in a grocery store turned shooting gallery, screaming at crows on his college campus in an effort to get them to rain shit on his pals path to class, to living in a moving truck in San Francisco, buying a BMW to haul around diesel gas cans, and the many other stories along the way, Sean was carving a path in pursuit of a dream.
It was at USC that things began to take shape. Los Angeles holds a very different set of rules, especially for people in the same pursuit as Sean. What he found was following those rules though only gets you in the door. Once you’re in, the persona you’ve built up gets stripped away.
“The rules I've made for myself and the skills I've built up, no longer applied. Now it was about getting into the dirt and getting it done. Film school rips everybody down to their basics and builds you back up as you develop new skills and slowly rip through that facade.”
Sean learned quickly that the intimidation he felt coming from a tiny town in SD was not unique to him. It didn’t matter where you came from, everyone here was on the same wagon train slowly moving in the same direction. Whether you’re living in a small mid-western town, or rubbing shoulders on a sky rise in Manhattan, being honest and allowing yourself to be re-structured gets the wheels turning faster than holding on to what you were.
“I stripped down to be honest and real because there was nothing else to be, and from that perspective is how I found Napoleon Dynamite.”
The success of that movie is not something that really needs mentioning here as unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, odds are you’ve seen it or heard people using the numerous catch phrases as they are now fully integrated into how we go about our daily lives. What excited me most about talking through this story with Sean was what he’s done since.
When a certain amount of social capital is built up, the question then becomes “how do you spend it?” In this humble human’s opinion, Sean has been spending his on phenomenal investments.
He cashed in some of that capital and put together, along with the help of the Black Hills Community Bank and Pizza Ranch, a food program for the holiday season when schools completely close down. It’s called the 12 Days of Pizza and it provides a HUGE assurance to lower income families who may not know how they are going to feed their children during the holidays. Schools provide breakfast, lunch, weekend backpacks stuffed with food, and summer meals, but the holiday vacation still had a gap waiting to be filled.
In addition to this, he’s also authored the Porter the Hoarder children’s book series that aims at helping with parent and child engagement with each other in a world that creates a culture of constant business.
He made the conscious choice to move back to South Dakota after he started loosing sight of what was great about LA.
“You're wasting so much of your life if you're in a place that you don't love, and I love it here (SD) so much!”
It’s through that move and being around family and friends and the setting of the Black Hills that put him in the path of these incredible services. Of all the things one would expect someone riding a success of a break out movie to do with that found fame, I’d venture to guess this was not high on the list. That is, unless you’ve met Sean.
The test of character can be seen in what one does with success, and as long as I’ve known Sean, which is closer to the far end of a decade than the beginning, the sincerity of his character has always been evident. He loves people and does what he can to help and make the lives of those he comes in contact with a little brighter.
When Sean and I were talking about Napoleon Dynamite he said the following about that movie:
“There are career defining things that you do and then there are life defining things that you do and I think this will be a life defining thing for me.”
While that movie will certainly be a highlight in the story of his life, I would venture to guess that the people who really know Sean, would define his life by something greater. So while those in the world may only ever know him as the “Napoleon Dynamite Guy”, I’m betting a guy like Sean will be defined by much, much more.