Behind the Scenes: Dustin Lee

Ron Lemasters | 12/5/2019

Behind the Scenes Dirty Mo Media News

As the face behind the popular JRM360 series plus many other Dirty Mo Media productions, Dustin Lee wears many different hats at JR Motorsports.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Dec. 5, 2019) – Many of you are huge fans of the JRM 360 franchise, which sheds light on important—and funny—events in the life and times of your favorite racing team. The series, which has just concluded its ninth season, was the brainchild of Mike Davis, who runs the brand management team for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

While Davis may have put JRM 360 on the map, Dustin Lee is one of the people who actually puts it on “film.” It’s not really film, per se, it is video. Lee heads the Dirty Mo Media production staff that is charged with producing JRM 360 and the Dale Jr. Download for both DMM and the NBC Sports Network. James Brosan, Micah Caldwell, Matthew Dillner and Leah Vaughn make up the rest of the production team.

Brosan and Caldwell came to DMM from Hammerhead Entertainment, another Dale Jr. entity, along with Laurie Smith, earlier this year. Lee made the move the year before.

The 32-year-old Lee hails from New Bern, N.C., which is the place where Pepsi-Cola was invented. “It’s pretty cool,” Lee said of his hometown’s claim to fame. “The Bradham family is from there (it was created in 1898 by a pharmacist named Caleb D. Bradham, who was hoping to duplicate the success of another southern drink, Coca-Cola). I worked as a waiter in New Bern, and it was really funny because if anyone from the family came in and you served Coke, you’d have to leave the restaurant and go get a 2-liter of Pepsi or Mountain Dew, whatever it may be.”

From New Bern, Lee moved to Boone, N.C. to attend Appalachian State University, where he majored in electronic media, broadcasting and communication theory. Lee added a master’s degree in audio engineering.

Lee wears many hats in his role at JRM.

“I’d say my job title is producer, first and foremost,” he said. “We’re required to wear a lot of hats and I believe the term that has been coined recently is “preditor.” That’s a combination producer and editor. I wanted to be an audio engineer, and I quickly discovered after graduating that video and storytelling was where I wanted to go. I had a little bit of experience shooting video, but not commercial production. I do audio engineering, audio mastering, I shoot video, do editing and graphic design...all of the above.”

That’s a lot of responsibility, given the fact that there’s always something going on in the creative process.

“I’d say I am the guy when it comes to pretty much all that we do here at JRM and Dirty Mo Media,” Lee said. “I have a pretty talented staff, thank God. In previous years, I was pretty much the staff. It’s been fun to see it grow.”

The addition of Brosan, Caldwell and Dillner to the production staff has taken some of that burden off Lee’s shoulders.

“It helps,” he said of his colleagues. “We took on more work this year. It’s interesting to see what everyone brings to the table. We’re required to stretch ourselves thin over a lot of different areas. In the long run, when you’re setting something up, I am so used to doing everything myself. I want to go in and set up the camera, set up the audio, compose the shot, light it...so on and so forth. I’m so used to being hands-on in all those areas. It was interesting to see a team come in and maybe do those things better.

“For me, it was trying to be hands-off in some of those areas and letting them excel where they’re really good. It is better for me to let my team exercise what their strengths are and to not put a damper on them by saying, ‘No, this is how this should be done...’”

The combined experience of the team has been a boon to the creative process as well.

“They taught me a lot too,” Lee said. “James comes from a more commercial production background, he’s used to spending the time to set the shot up so that when you go back and post, everything is perfect. We’re used to run-and-gun, on the fly and see what you can make out of what you have. It is very important to make everything consistent and perfect our shots and get them exactly where we want them to be.”

The best thing for Lee about handling the role he has at JRM and DMM is the fact that he is able to let his creative side loose, he said.

“It’s not operating inside the red tape,” he said. “I came from a place where in a normal commercial production shoot, there’s going to be a creative agency, and there’s going to be the actual sponsor, a marketing agency, PR reps...there are so many different people involved with different voices on the direction they want you to take the piece. In the end, it isn’t your work. It’s you working for someone else and making someone else’s vision come to life. In and of itself, it’s gratifying.

“Here, I get to take an idea or a concept...that’s what I love about Mike Davis so much and the primary reason I came over here. He’s a creative genius in his thought process, in us identifying with NASCAR and actually telling stories about what happens at JR Motorsports. He’s able to identify that and turn it into a 2-minute short. One of my downfalls is writing, and once he gives me an idea, I’m able to run with it with no caution tape, no red tape, nothing that is going to keep me inside what a commercial production would have. That’s what is so special about it to me.”

Getting his co-workers to take the time to make some of that product can be a chore, but Lee has been successful in making it happen.

“To me, it means a lot,” Lee said. “I have been able to work on my craft as far as directing, so as a director, you need to get the best performance out of someone. We’re not working with actors, paid actors, or not even people who really want to do that. They’re busy, they’ve got a million things going on, and I have to stop them and get them to perform at a time where they’re thinking about doing anything other than what I’m asking them to do.

“I can maybe get them out of that busy day for a second to do something fun, or something that could be fun, and I’m able to coax a performance out of them. That’s made me stronger in directing. I am able to break up the monotony of their day, maybe introduce something fun into their day. It’s a two-part deal.”

The success of JRM and DMM productions hinges on Lee and the team doing what they do in an environment that is not set up to make it easy. Perhaps that’s part of the charm and why viewership continues to climb.

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XFINITY Series Standings

After Las Vegas 300*

Las Vegas Motor Speedway | 9/26/2020
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Chase Briscoe (P)21100
2Austin Cindric (P)2093-17
3Noah Gragson (P)2076-34
4Justin Allgaier (P)2068-42
5Justin Haley (P)2054-56
6Brandon Jones (P)2053-57
7Ryan Sieg (P)2049-61
8Harrison Burton # (P)2042-68
10Michael Annett (P)2032-78