Storytelling in Overwhelmingly Cinematic Environments

Written by
Cliff Englert
Creative Partnerships

An approach to documenting unique people and places.

Marfa, Texas is an overwhelming environment.

“It’s a place where the physical and spiritual worlds get very close… and there’s very little separating the two.”

When it comes to filmmaking in overwhelming cinematic environments (where the elements of the story are endless), there is little separation between planning and reacting to key moments behind the camera.

Planning to shoot key themes is strategic and more controlled.

Arriving prepared is a necessity in filmmaking. Planning is the foundation of “being in the right place, at the right time” and successfully capturing the contextual nature of a story worth telling.

“But thinking on your feet, embracing the unknown and reacting to what works in your current environment, at the precise moment, is the turning point in documentary storytelling.”

The inflection point is virtually invisible as it happens. Separated by milliseconds and a myriad of other factors, it’s a thin but powerful separation that works in unison.

It’s a planned reaction.

/planned/ /rēˈakSH(ə)n/

Action or prescribed within a controlled plan in the event abnormal or non-conforming events or phenomenon are detected. *

“… better defined as experience, creative talent, natural instincts…an intangible gift and a little bit of luck.”

When the environment is moving very fast and the pressure is on, filmmakers must become part of the process, capturing moments on the fly.

Many times, it’s a shared mission objective with only one chance to capture the dust and smoke filling the frame, like the above reactive scene of a cowboy branding cattle.

Artist Adam Bork turning on a dirt road / Marfa, TX.

Sometimes the reactive shot is a unique perspective. Our subject Adam was fairly confident one of his cars would start and our Director of Photography squeezed into a tight back seat. Reaching his arms out from a small corner window behind Adam, the camera was placed into his outstretched arms by an assistant. This was more of a planned shot, but we didn’t know whether or not it would exist in the film.

Portrait of Eugene Binder in his truck / Marfa, TX.

Stay ready for a shot to fall in your lap. While capturing portraits throughout the day’s shoot was secondary to planned subject shots, it was still an important objective for the creative team. Early in shoot, Eugene Binder (in the portrait above) became unavailable for a portrait; however, as we were packing up and saying our goodbyes, we were able to capture a key moment and portrait in the film as Eugene rolled past in his truck.

Storytelling in cinematic environments, such as Marfa, can be overwhelming unless you have a plan AND the willingness to deviate from that plan in a reactionary way. In execution, these moments may be brief, but they do evoke emotion. And that’s simply part of the endless challenge in documentary filmmaking.

To see these moments and the full story, visit Adobe Create Magazine:

*Source: Business Dictionary

⟵ Back to Journal