Tell Amazing Stories...with Ryan Booth.
So, really, “thrilled” doesn’t cover it: on Tuesday, June 24th, for the very first of four webinars, Ryan Booth will join us, as well as Patrick from Stillmotion, to Tell Amazing Stories.
In just 4 days, we’ll be announcing our inaugural Exploration, and the following day you’ll be able to hang out with Ryan as he shows you his own Exploration story, as well as share the thought and process behind bringing it to life—the challenges he stomped out, the triumphs he reveled in, and then, of course, the film he came up with.
That’s not all! No! Because then Ryan will stick around to live chat-up all things storytelling—we mean it:
Just like a true adventure, nothing should be off limits when it comes to your filmmaking education.
And this is how Ryan will help us learn everything we need to Tell Amazing Stories—not just within this 4 week course, but as we continue down each of our filmmaking paths.
As we’ve already spilled some ink on Ryan’s background, especially, as you may remember, during our Ask Us Anything event, then you have a pretty good idea of his impressive filmmaking acumen: in addition to directing work for MTV, Sony, Universal, and EMI, Ryan runs Serialbox Presents, a live, one-take, multi-track performance series that’s been featured on NPR, Paste, CMT, and Rolling Stone.
But we don’t want to speak for Ryan, especially when it comes to his unique filmmaking voice, so, to introduce him to those of use gearing up to join him as together we Tell Amazing Stories, we just wanted to ask him some questions about what inspires him, what pushes him, and what storytelling means to him.
S&H: We all hear so often about the lack of original stories in the world. That we've all "seen it before." It's pretty much every storyteller's deepest fear. When inspiration is waning, what do you do?
To be completely honest, I get really bummed when I hear people say this. I don't view "it's all been done before" as limitation, I view that as freedom. Because, if it's all been done, then we don't have to worry about being the "first", we don't have to worry about novelty, we don't have to worry about re-inventing something that already exists. The stories that we tell each other are how we try and make sense of our existence. We struggle with what it means to be alive and to be human and to be in relationships and work and be parents and have responsibilities. Sure, the nuances ebb and flow depending on the place and time, but so much of what we tell each other, we've been telling each other for thousands and thousands of years.
The Odyssey? It's a story about how even grand adventure can't take away our desire to be known and to have a home.
Even the stories in the Bible are substantially normal, universal. One brother wants what the other brother has and he kills him for it. Jealousy, anger, love, hate, grief. These are the fundamentals of any story. Of course it's all been told, it's all been seen. And we need to hear it over and over again.
As a storyteller, that is the grand adventure. Using the things at our disposal to make stories to gut punch.
The job of the storyteller is to take the normal things, the everyday things, the adventure, the pain, and the elation and assemble them in just such a fashion that the audience, wherever / whenever they may be, feels something.
S&H: In addition to old school photojournalists, where do you find inspiration?
When I'm searching for inspiration, I do it in a cross-disciplinary fashion. I don't go looking at Vimeo Staff Picks or AdAge or what the cool kids are doing. We've already got enough of an interconnected feedback loop happening from a style standpoint. Nah, if I'm trying to write a script, then I'll go listen to music. If I'm trying to edit a film, I'll go to the museum. If I'm trying to prepare to DP a narrative, I'll read Texas Monthly. I find that looking outside your particular medium, really forcing your brain to make connections, is the most helpful thing for unclogging my idea generation.
Now, to get even more basic, in my very humble opinion, the single best thing you can to do to help with inspiration is to get outside and exercise. It could literally just be a 30-45 minute walk. But, no question, getting the blood flowing does wonders for creativity.
There’s a really great fine arts museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, that’s free every Thursday, and if I’m stuck on something a lot of times I’ll just go and wander around. It’s a perfect size where you can get a bunch of different styles of art...there’s something really cool about seeing something that’s several hundred years old that people spent years and years and years making. The lighting’s beautiful, the composition’s beautiful, and you can get this really great kind of hit of inspiration seeing all of these master works in one place. Paintings and museums I think for me are the most inspiring.
S&H: What's harder: getting started or being able to keep going?
This is obviously a very, very personal question. Depending on your personality, you may have a stack of unfinished projects that you've abandoned at the first sign of resistance. Or, you may have a book full of ideas that you've never acted on. For me, it's incredibly easy to start something, but keeping on is the absolute hardest part.
There is an inevitable transition that occurs when you move from the beginning stages of a project when everything is new and shiny and exciting and the possibilities are endless—to the long, difficult, middle. The middle is where, most likely, no one cares at all that you're working on X project. The middle is where the money starts getting thin, the supporters start wavering, the reality of what you're making is not living up to the idea you had when you began. It's the middle that is the work, long before you begin to see the faintest light at the end of the tunnel.
I think the way forward is in a community. It's with people who can come along and simply say, "I know it's hard work, but it's worth it. Keep it up." Hearing those words, on a consistent basis, is the key to being able to keep going.
If that's where you are right now, keep it up! The struggle forward is worth it. It really is.
S&H: What if you’re struggling in even moving forward at all? How do you find the story that is right for you?
Just being interested in people—I love to have conversations with people wherever I go: being open and being interested and curious in all facets, and reading a bunch, and being open to the people that you meet. As a storyteller you have to be willing to follow rabbit trails, so to speak, so it’s kind of about always keeping your eyes open—it’s how I’ve stumbled upon a bunch of stuff I never would’ve known I was looking for. I’ve got a story in my back pocket: I want to do a feature one day, I already know what the story is, but it will likely be years and years and years before it’s done, but I feel that strongly about it...When you get that feeling inside you have to stick with it.
S&H: And you can look to others to help you get started. So, how do you build a team of likeminded professionals in a freelancer’s world?
I do a music project called Serialbox Presents, and at this point we’ve had like 75 or 80 people work on this project.
It started out as a personal project where we just got people together and started...it was a way for me to learn filmmaking basically. So I started inviting friends in. The thing I learned from it, which I did not start out knowing, was that the most important thing about building a team was enabling them to feel like when it was all said and done that there was that thing, “That thing that I contributed, that I did, that if I hadn’t been involved then that thing wouldn’t have happened.” Being very intentional and specific about giving everyone a sense of ownership over the project.
S&H: Does that ownership ever go too far? Creative differences or criticism: how do you deal?
A huge majority of the creative differences and conflict is about picking the right group of people, so a lot of it can be headed off before you get to set, basically. So when I’m shooting I typically don’t have these big blown up creative differences, because we’ve tried to put everything out on the table.
I tend to use criticism as a radar...I may have things in the back of my mind, that maybe things aren’t working, and when criticism tends to line up with that little feeling I’ve had then I really pay attention.
They say all criticism is autobiographical? What they’re really saying is, “This is what I would do.” The trick is to kind of take what they’re saying...and those places where you agree that something wasn’t working, that’s where you pay attention.
S&H: You consider yourself a relatively young filmmaker. What do you hope the filmmaking industry will look like in 10 years?
I’m extremely new to this. I’m just under 4 years in, and the difference between when I started—which was just because I happened to get a 5D—and now is just dramatic…
The beautiful thing is that we tell each other stories, we always have, and we always will in some capacity. That’s what I love the most: finding stories that really connect, that help people feel something. I’ll ride the technology wave wherever it goes, but I think the fundamental thing is telling stories, and I don’t think that is going to change.
The obsession with finding the new thing, a new story to tell, is really not that important. All of the great stories are very fundamental, very basic, and they’ve been true all through time, but what does change is specific people, culture, place, time, and the reality is that you could tell a love story today that only exists for now because of everything that led up to how we are right now, right here…
I think this happens a lot when a movie that was made 30 years ago suddenly gets popular again? An entire new generation of people that are living in a new set of specific circumstances connect to that timeless thing in that story. Like: “Dude, this guy gets me! He knows what I’m going through!” That’s a signal of a story that’s touching on some really fundamental things. That’s what we should be focusing on? Not a new trick—just how to be more fundamental.
Questions for Ryan? Of course you have them! Write some in the comments below, but more importantly: join us in 4 days for a once-in-a-lifetime collaborative adventure!