Often during our lives we end up places where we never thought we’d be, but surprisingly exactly where we need to be. For Zac Murphy, he never in a million years would have thought he’d end up here in Olympia. Growing up in California, it’s no wonder Zac gravitated towards a career related to film. However, he chose to study illustration and story design, which ultimately took him around the world. “I got a job out of school and went straight to Hong Kong. I had never left the country before, it’s always just been me and my mom, so this was huge,” he shares with me. It’s a cold rainy Washington day and we are talking at the site of his latest project – literally piles of rubble that used to be a house. But the real story is how he went from working in Hong Kong, to this.

Even while working in the commercial sector, Zac knew right away he wanted to do something a little different. So he and a few colleagues raised more than four million dollars for a project to produce videos teaching English. “That was my first adventure into immersive content and storytelling and story for change because you’re changing people’s lives once you give them access to English,” shares Zac. But these weren’t like any other language videos out there. The team took more of a tongue and cheek approach, something they thought would better reach their audience. They saw great success from it.

However, opportunities like that one proved to be few and far between, so Zac spent many years filling passports while traveling for other commercial work, yet knowing he wanted to do more. While filming in Thailand on a project he just couldn’t stomach anymore, he made the rash decision to head for Cambodia to chase a dream. It had been almost ten years since Zac had seen a documentary about elephants stepping on old land mines, but he remembered his promise to himself.

Zac Murphy filming in Hong Kong
His first job out of college took him to Hong Kong.
His first job out of college took him to Hong Kong. Photo courtesy: Zac Murphy

“I said, if I ever get to the point where I am able to just tell stories that mean something and really change lives than I’m going to do something about that,” he explains. He had heard the APOPO organization was working with rats to detect old land mines that both animals and people often get injured from. So he says he literally just showed up and went to work.

But something even more meaningful took priority just a short time later and sent him back to California. Zac’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer and would not be recovering. So he hopped a plane home to make good on another promise and for three years placed his own life on hold.

Zac Murphy Filmmaker
These days Zac is searching for more meaningful work. Photo courtesy: Zac Murphy

“That fundamentally changed my life, my view on everything,” he says. “I couldn’t go back. The experience with my mom just changed me. I realized I couldn’t go back to doing the type of commercial work that I was before Cambodia.” So instead, again he went in search of more meaningful work and revamped who he and his film career were.

At the time Washington State was literally burning down during one of the worst fire seasons on record. Zac was trying to put together a project about GPS and how firefighters use it, so what better place to be? A local Olympia resident and firefighter promised to connect him to the right people, but instead turned him in a new direction. Zac’s GPS project quickly changed into one on CPR and how to handle emergency situations using virtual reality. It was also here that Zac got to know the area and made the decision to stick around.

“I think I’m kind of at ground zero now,” he shares. “How do you tell stories that change people’s lives, that change and impact communities, that build them stronger, how do you do that and keep doing that and not try to profit off of that?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always clear, but Zac tells me he is working on finding a way because this is what he’s meant to be doing.

Zac Murphy Olympia filmmaker
While the sunny California beaches used to be his home, Zac Murphy has found his purpose in Thurston County.

His most recent project will profile a local family who has literally lost everything, including their home and almost their health, all due to mold. Zac says his goal is to bring some eyes to what these people are going through and hopefully help them get back on their feet. He’s not getting paid, he’s not doing it for fame. He’s doing it because he knows it matters. “So here I am starting this brand new beautiful chapter in my life,” Zac says. “I’ve given myself this year to complete this transition. Right now I’m kind of operating like a phantom out there because I’m working to really connect with people in the community. I haven’t really landed yet, but I will.”

If you are interested in learning more about Zac Murphy’s latest projects or how you can work with him visit his website.

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