5 lessons for always leaving with an amazing story.
Everything seemed to be working against them: A fast-paced action sport, limited access to talent, and an extremely tight production schedule. With everything you know about filmmaking, this scenario must sound like it’s a recipe for disaster.
But Matt Brue, founder and director at Capture, knew he had a good story and that he and his crew needed to tell it—despite any challenges. With the clock ticking and the challenges piling up, how did he pull it off?
It all started like this...
Matt and his team had heard about a rally race that was happening within driving distance of their studio in Minneapolis. Although preoccupied with a number of projects for paying clients, they had been wanting to find an opportunity to work with Nick Roberts, a rally car driver who competes in Rally America, for months. This was a curiosity of theirs—rally racing—and their guts told them there was an interesting and unique story here, and one that would push them creatively.
With Capture being a respected studio that has produced stories for Toyota, Harley Davidson, ESPN and Target to name a few, Matt’s team certainly had the technical chops to make a film about cars and speed happen. And the resulting short film is an exciting and compelling overview on an underground sport slowly gaining popularity across the country.
In bringing this story to light, Matt’s team faced a multitude of challenges. As a result, we've found a few compelling lessons here about how you can—despite the odds—accomplish great things and tell an amazing story. We chatted with Matt about what he learned through this experience.
5 LESSONS FOR ALWAYS LEAVING WITH AN AMAZING STORY.
1. Go where other people aren’t going.
It’s hard to tell a great story if you’re following the same path as every other filmmaker.
“We noticed in the industry that most of the footage that existed was shot inside the car, with GoPros and Sony Action Cams mounted everywhere. There are a lot of car-mounted cameras, but rarely was anyone shooting the car in action—from the air, from the side or from another vehicle.”
After just a few short hours on set, Matt saw that rally, though an action sport, is incredible controlled and graceful, and action cams didn't articulate or couldn't convey the true precision of the sport. To tell the story he saw unfolding, a different approach were needed.
"It wasn't just to be different, but the way that the story was being told up to that point was very one-sided. And there was just more there than what the action cam or pov cameras can do."
“We wanted to show the car in action, and that’s something we hadn’t seen before. It really romanticizes the car as something that’s graceful. That’s why we shot it the way we did, trying to shift the paradigm away from a lot of shaky cams.”
A memorable story starts with a fresh perspective; not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of a good story.
2. Seize every opportunity.
Pre-production in filmmaking is a must, but sometimes the window for extensive research isn't available. In those cases, it takes being present on set to make the most of every situation.
By staying aware and curious, Matt made two important discoveries on set:
1) With rally racing, there isn’t a lot of major corporate sponsorship putting money behind the events. The races are hosted out in fields and on tracks in the forest, not in huge stadiums.
2) With the race being in Nick's hometown, his childhood farm—the place where he honed his rally skills—was available as a location for filming.
By linking them together, he was able to overcome the difficulty he faced with limited access. If rally races are typically held in fields and forests, and Nick's farm is comprised of fields and forests, Matt could easily make the farm look like the race track.
Bypassing the challenge of limited access during the race itself, Matt was able to capture many of the graceful shots mentioned above and bring the views into a new way of seeing the sport of rally.
Find the intrigue. Discover the unexpected. Stay alert and see what amazing places every opportunity could take the story. You’ll be surprised what happens.
3. Understand your characters.
Stories arise from conflict, and conflict arises from your characters. If you don’t understand your characters, you don’t know your story. You have to follow their every move: Go where they go; do what they do.
As an outsider of the sport, the traditional shaky action cam footage you typically see makes rally looks uncontrolled. But, that couldn't be further from the truth.
"Other films we had seen out there didn't satisfy us, or do justice to what Nick does."
In Matt’s case, he found that the simple act of being a passenger in the car with Nick for a lap changed his entire understanding of the sport and, consequentially, his story.
“We had sat in the car and seen the total grace of the driver amidst the suicidal chaos of insane bumps in the road and breakneck speed around tight corners. We wanted to communicate that perspective with how we approached the story.”
For Matt, understanding Nick’s perspective on the sport transformed how he thought of rally racing. And since most fans don’t ever get that experience, he knew that was the story the short film needed to tell.
To know your story is to know your characters; follow their every action and see where they take you. That’s how a great story unfolds.
4. Focus on the story, not the spectacle.
When you’re filming with tight deadlines or with difficult shooting circumstance, you have to work even harder to tell the story. This is especially true when filming action sports. But if you fight for it, it will pay off.
As Matt mentioned above, his team could’ve just shot a lot of cool action footage. But the storyteller inside of him wouldn’t let him do that.
“There was definitely the huge temptation to spend the majority of our time on the Sony FS700 to shoot in 240 frames per second and just create lots of sexy imagery for our reel. Regardless of how our shoot went, we knew we would walk away with some incredible images. But we are storytellers, and we wanted to tell an incredible story.”
By being present and not getting lost in the spectacle, Matt was able to dig deeper than the typical surface-only action sports film.
“Stories were popping up left and right, and we knew—considering we had such little time—that we could not follow all of them. So we had to balance sexy footage with narrative content. However, by staying curious, we found so many great stories that could be told.”
One story that came up in particular was the farm, which not only allowed them to bypass the restrictions of the race itself, but to also to infuse more meaning and purpose into the film.
“We learned that this is where he grew up playing on dirt bikes and four-wheelers. We also learned about Nick’s father—how he never got to chase his dreams—and that rally racing is Nick trying to live his life differently.”
Fight to tell a good story; it can be easy to get footage that looks exciting or beautiful; it takes a bit more digging to find a great story. But, at the end of the day, it’s worth it.
5. Things won’t go as planned.
This is true of anything in life, but it’s especially true for filmmakers: things won’t go as planned. You have to roll with the punches and problem solve as you go along. In Matt’s case, when he’s working on a very limited timeline with action happening all around him, any problems required he act fast and problem solve on the fly.
“The biggest problem we faced is that we didn’t realize that Nick drove so fast. If you’re driving along 40 miles per hour on a gravel road chasing a rally car, that just isn’t fast enough. And if the rally car drove 40 miles per hour, it looked like a rally car driving 40 miles per hour. Speed was a big issue. We couldn’t shoot the way we normally do.”
By combining wide angle lenses, fast camera movement, and close proximity to Nick's car, Matt was able to really accentuate the speed of the rally car and make it feel like it was traveling much faster than it actually was.
The lesson to be learned from Matt isn’t necessarily what he did to address the issue, though those can be useful techniques. Rather, it’s more important to understand that every project will post its own set of challenges, and you have to be intuitive and think on the fly to make things work.
The Bottom Line: No matter the circumstances, keep your eyes on the story.
Matt and his team are expert filmmakers. They have the technical expertise to problem solve on the fly and to tell an amazing story in spite of the many challenges. However, there’s a universal lesson here for anyone, regardless of your skill level or what type of filmmaker you are: stay laser-focused on the story.
It can be easy to get caught up in technical difficulties or get distracted with solving what seems to be a huge problem. But what really matters is how closely you follow the story. No matter your circumstances, this requires a keen understanding of your characters and staying alert to what’s happening around you.
Matt Brue is the director and founder of Capture (capturefilmco.com), a film company based in Minneapolis. You can follow what’s happening next for Matt and his team on Twitter (@capturefilmco and on Vimeo).