When you look back on your personal journey, what are the most important decisions that got you where you are today? If you take a moment to really think about that, the answer is often one you totally didn’t expect.
And perhaps more importantly, as you move forward, what are those decisions that you can make, those things that you can choose to do, that will make all the difference?
I got a chance to sit down with renowned cinematographer Shane Hurlbut and ask him about his path from a farm in upstate New York to the sets of multi-million dollar blockbusters.
Shane is a real deal Hollywood DP. Think Terminator Salvation, Act of Valor, We Are Marshall, Need For Speed, and so many more.
This is a world I know almost nothing about. I mean, we just celebrated shooting out first short narrative at the same time Shane was color correcting his latest feature, Fathers & Daughters. This guy has a library’s worth of knowledge he could teach us.
But what few of you probably know is that Shane grew up on a farm. Much of his boyhood spent on a tractor in the wee hours of the morning long before school started.
So how does a farm boy working the fields all day find himself getting dropped off in Key West, ushered into a small Zodiac thats headed into the Atlantic, with nothing as far as the eye can see. Then all of a sudden – boom! – a 600 ft nuclear sub blasts out of the ocean, he’s hopping in, and three days later winds up in the horn of Africa.
As Shane wrapped up that story he asked the somewhat rhetorical question “How many people have experienced that?” Not many, that’s for sure.
And that’s what I wanted to explore on the call. How did he get here? And what were those decisions, those defining moments, that have made all of the difference on his journey? And what has he learned along the way?
What I found out will certainly surprise you.
Sure, Shane is exceptional at what he does. That’s certainly no secret. But beyond his ability to craft with light or push story through every decision he makes, there’s something far greater he can teach us.
So little of his success has to do with his ability to light or shoot.
Here are the five biggest things Shane has learned on his journey.
At Stillmotion, we are always under tight deadlines, but not like this.
Picture this – you’re an editor with a crew that has two days to produce, direct, shoot and edit a short film that will be seen by millions exactly 48 hours after you have the concept. From start to finish, and with not even an inch of wiggle room if something goes awry.
If you’re Adam Epstein, editor for Saturday Night Live’s film unit, this isn’t an every once in a while-type event. Every single week, Adam has less than 24 hours to turn around an edit that’s ready for broadcast just in time for SNL’s iconic “Live from New York…” to hit the airwaves. As Lorne Michaels says, “It doesn’t go on because it’s done. It goes on because it’s 11:30.”
After five seasons of this madness, Adam is hitting the road this summer on MZed’s The Cutting Edge Post-Production Tour to share the methods, theories, techniques he’s developed while editing in a lightning-fast turn around environment like SNL.
We had the privilege of being able to check out Adam’s workshop when he came by Portland, and it’s seriously awesome. The workshop delves deep into the technical side of things, but what makes it every cooler is that Adam shares a lot about the art and soul behind what makes a good editor, too. As Adam says in his workshop, being an editor today encompasses so much – you have to know how to cut, know rhythm and story, be a compositor, a sound designer, a motion graphics artist, and maybe more importantly you have to be able to deal with people. But, according to Adam, none of that is as important as the why – the overall feeling and bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.
We had a chance to ask him first-hand how he turns around hilarious, memorable work, and stays sane in the process.
Grasping what story really is, is a tough one. Then learning how to not just tell a story, but tell an amazing one is that much harder.
For us, we are always looking for new ways to push our understanding of story and test out what we know. When we told Jude’s story over at Sugar Wheel Works we debated whether or not to include a few clips of her meditating in the morning as it wasn’t directly related to her craft of making wheels. A few clips may seem trivial but Joyce and I went back and forth, talking about it for a quite a while before we came to the conclusion that it was important to show that sequence as a metaphor to what wheel building does for her character.
By really understanding and embracing the structure of story, we can look to inject it into every film we make.
And by understanding these 4 things that every amazing story needs, we can look at each of our stories moving forward and ask ourselves how we can strengthen each element.
This tutorial is part of Storytelling Parade, a Story & Heart initiative to bring people together and encourage us all to tell stories of those doing good.
We want to make sure everybody that joins the Parade gets as much out of the experience as possible. We are offering 5 tutorials, entirely free, for those that sign up – the one above plus 4 more over the next two weeks.
We asked Maribeth to share the 5 directing tips that she took from her experience.
Before we get there, some back story on what she was up against.
Tell a story that matters. Learn about it, dive deep, then bring it to life, all over four days in Portland. In true Stillmotion style, it’s about making the impossible possible. Each team member pushing themselves to help create something that is so much more than any one of us.
Each team will have a Director, Producer, DP, Second Camera, Gaffer, and Audio. Then two Stillmotion team members to constantly push the story forward and hold the team accountable.
Coming in, nobody knows the role they’ll get. In the am of day two, roles are assigned and then it’s off to the races.
A short time later each group learns of their charity and has about 48 hours to produce, direct, shoot, edit, and deliver a strong story that will will push them in every way possible.
One by one we sit down to meet with each attendee. We share the role we’d like them to have .
For the group I was with, Maribeth was chosen as our director. Directing at EVO is a very challenging position. And for Maribeth, it was her first time directing a larger crew while also having such a tough timeline.
Many of us feel like an island. Though we’d love to, we often don’t have crews to collaborate with. And when we do get that chance to work with a team, to direct a team, it can be quite overwhelming.
To help prepare you for that opportunity, we asked Maribeth to share the 5 biggest directing tips she can offer from her first time directing.
First off, we asked Maribeth how it felt when she got asked to direct?
When P handed me a booklet and on the cover it said “Director’s Handbook”, my first thoughts were:
Director. OK. Deep breath.
This is what I wanted, right? I came to EVO for a challenge. But, director? Leading a team of 6 to tell an important story that matters. Gulp. I was equal parts excited and nervous for what the next 48 hours would hold.
I used to be a photographer and have recently fallen in love with the power of film. I’m also a mother of two wonderful kids. As a busy mom with a part-time career, I’m used to juggling responsibility and making decisions. But, I don’t have a ton of experience in motion. And I’ve certainly never dove into anything as ambitious as leading a team of 6 to develop, shoot, and deliver a story over 48 hours.
I wish I could say that I felt excited and up to the challenge. But, really I felt like I was going to puke. I felt responsible for the experience that the 6 people on my team were about to embark on. They had taken time away from their own work and families to come to EVO to learn. And as director I felt like I needed to make sure they had a positive experience. Not to mention, we had an unknown story that we had to tell in two days.
Could I really do this? We were all about to find out.
At 2pm we were handed our project briefs. The ball was rolling. There was no turning back. In the next 48 hours we would be telling the story of Oregon Public House, the world’s first non-profit pub.
And here are the top 5 directing tips from Maribeth:
But not the buzzword story. At Stillmotion, we’ve taught across the world, we’ve worked on several Emmy Award-winning productions, and our studio mantra has long been ‘Story First’. Story is in our DNA and this is something we share with
Story & Heart.
Guided by heart.
We know the power of a well-told story. We donated our time to telling the story of Old Skool Cafe, and a year later, we dove into our first feature-length documentary about a 9-year old fighting child slavery with lemonade. We’ve invested ourselves for years in stories we believe in, and that we believe need to be told. We have, and always will be, guided by heart.
Today marks a significant moment, and no countdown could ever correctly represent the breathless anticipation we’ve felt as we’ve spent the past year telling a new kind of story.
The time has come: Story & Heart has taken flight!
Story & Heart, the world’s first story-driven stock footage licensing platform is HERE.