Preston Zeller

Preston Zeller ’09: The Power of Storytelling

In the wake of profound loss, Preston Zeller ’09 sought to navigate the complexities of grief and loss, questioning the societal discomfort surrounding this inevitable human experience. To better understand his grief, he undertook a dual creative journey — immersing himself in painting to comprehend his grief and crafting the groundbreaking documentary “The Art of Grieving” to redefine the conversation around loss. Released in 2022, the documentary has captivated audiences across over 30 countries.

Beyond the canvas and film reels, Zeller currently serves as the Chief Growth Officer at BatchService, where he credits his experiences at Chapman as instrumental for both his personal and professional development. Ultimately, Zeller’s story is one of resilience, fortitude and personal fulfillment, serving as a testament to the power of storytelling.

preston zeller at worktable paintingQ&A with Preston Zeller ’09

Q: Share briefly about the documentary and the inspiration behind it.

In 2019, I experienced the sudden and devastating loss of my 35-year-old brother, Colin. It was the type of loss which made me question a lot about death, grief, my relationship with him, and also why this is such an awkward experience to deal with.

The further I dove into grief — both by necessity and desire to understand the concept — I realized it being a taboo subject has a lot to do with why I felt so unprepared for my own experience and journey.

In response, I combined my various skill sets to paint for myself to understand my own grief and to also create a documentary out of the process with a different approach to the subject in hopes it may help others talk about it more.

The documentary, “The Art of Grieving”, came out in 2022 on major streaming platforms, and has been seen in 30-plus countries and by tens of thousands [of viewers]. In August 2023, I released a follow-up short film/documentary that explores a singular large canvas versus the 365 smaller ones from the feature.

Q: Have you always been an artist or did you create Zellerhaus Art during your grieving process?

I’ve been an artist my whole life. Second to painting, I’ve been a musician for decades, having performed live (during most of college people knew me as “Preston Chase”) and later producing music for TV shows. Filmmaking is another art form, of course. The common thread in all of this is storytelling. That is my true passion.

Q: LinkedIn says that you also work as Chief Growth Officer at BatchService. Can you briefly share about that role and what you enjoy most about it?

“Chief Growth Officer” is the combination of a Chief Marketing Officer and a Chief Revenue Officer. I currently do this at a real estate technology and data company in Phoenix, Ariz. In this role, it’s mainly about the people, the vision and strategy execution. I work closely with the CEO and founders to ensure we’re aligning corporate strategy with how teams execute on work and then measure the fruit of this work with modern tools.

Q: How did Chapman prepare you for your career? For life?

One of my best experiences at Chapman was the hands-on film making with peers and access to a network and resources for creating my own productions. This ranged from film to music, live events, and everything in between. This taught me a lot about project management, hard work and collaboration.

Q: Share about your involvements (clubs, study abroad, research, etc.) while attending Chapman and how it impacted your experience.

By far, my most memorable experience was studying abroad in Cannes in 2007. During my 5-month stint on the Côte D’Azur, I studied French and international business. I went on to intern for Entertainment Tonight (ET) at the 60th Cannes Film Festival. A year later, I held a paid role as key production assistant overseeing 7 other PAs with ET. Still some incredible stories about this experience to this day.

Apart from this, I was most active with my fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Many of us were in the film school and the arts, so we often made productions together (aside from throwing themed parties, of course).

Q: Who was the most influential person for you at Chapman and why?

I met with Ken O’Donnell prior to joining Chapman and he provided great advice about how to make the most of my experience and what to expect. I also admired his approach to storytelling.

Q: Did you have a favorite class you took at Chapman? Why was it your favorite?

Ken’s teaching on the 12-sequence structure. That really opened my mind to the possibilities with storytelling, but my most favorite line he said was, “by the end of this semester, you will master these concepts, then I want you to forget about it.” Learning these nuances of storytelling help you know how to bend the “rules” of storytelling markers.

Q: What advice can you share with students or recent graduates?

Once college is behind you, build your personal brand with authenticity (if you haven’t already started), and look for ways to help others. Helping others is one of the most rewarding, and longest lasting investments into relationships and yourself. Where people take advantage, identify that and move on — do not dwell or live in the past. Also remember, just about everything is temporary. Control what you can (aka yourself) and don’t obsess about the future or what you can’t control. Set goals, work hard, enjoy life and love your family. On goal setting, don’t become rigid over how you’ll get there, just work towards it.

Q: Anything else you would like us to know.

Visit my documentary site The Art of Grieving or my art label Find me on Instagram at @prestonzeller.

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