Brandon Brown

Brandon Brown and a colleague view video footage on a camera
Brandon Brown (right) and a colleague view video footage on a camera | Photo: courtesy Brandon Brown

Brandon Brown

Director and cinematographer transfers experience with skateboarding and sound to film

For Calgary director and cinematographer Brandon Brown, before there was an image, there was sound.

The emerging indie filmmaker didn’t start his journey 35 short films ago with the idea that he would ever make a single film. “I would record vocals and mixed beats and stuff like that,” Brown says. “I got familiar with editing vocals and instruments.”

“And then,” he adds, “then I got into skateboarding — so I started filming skateboarding.”

Calgary, it turns out, is filled with outdoor spaces that are great to skateboard around, and a lot of them are on the promenades surrounding an array of hip, chic skyscrapers that are gaining our city attention as an architectural hotspot of sorts. “I always remember skateboarding and looking at stuff, so I’m skating by (a building) and I’d see something and think, that looks really cool,” he says. “When the sun is peeking behind something while rolling roll by, I love architecture, so I’d look up and think that’s gotta be recorded. I think of those images in my mind and I’d transfer them to (imagining them on) film.

“Skateboarding really helped me, motion-wise,” he says. “I always loved skateboarding through the city at night, I always filmed my friends doing crazy tricks and I got very close to the skateboarders, so it was very intense.”

It also turned out that editing video, once you feed it into your laptop, looks a lot like editing vocals and mixed beats, only instead of listening, you watch and you wonder what goes next. “It’s the same timeline,” Brown says. “When I went into video, everything was a comparison to sound, so I was like, Oh, I record video and put it on the timeline and edit it, and it’s basically like sound, except it’s visual. It was a really nice smooth transfer.”From that, Brown was off and running, making music and corporate videos, before morphing into a series of independent shorts such as Elon’s Revenge, Pigeon, 4 Sons, The Albanian Eagle and Don’t Mess With Bobby.

Introverted Director

Most recently, Brown served as the cinematographer on Only One, a short film made by a cohort of young Black artists for Action Dignity, a Calgary anti-racist non-profit agency. Brown, who grew up in northeast Calgary, calls himself an introvert — which presents challenges when you’re the director on a film set, and there’s a cast and crew to constantly communicate with.

“I’m still learning,” he says. “I learned that we need to prepare a lot. You gotta do a lot before you shoot film. I learned a lot about everything: about sound, organizing people, casting people, cinematography, and the main thing which I’m still learning, which is directing people.

“Basically,” he says, “I’m still taking myself to school, learning how to make my own film from scratch to finish.”

As for why it matters to live a creative life, with all the challenges that entails, he doesn’t hesitate. “It makes me whole,” he says. “It fills the void. If I wasn’t creative, I’d be so bored…. Maybe I would be at clubs and drinking or something like that. But creativity, film and everything I do, that’s my drug — that’s what fuels me, that’s what makes me who I am.”

‘Anything Batman’

He’s not a big watcher of films, either, but has a few that have influenced his sensibility, including Quentin Tarantino movies and “anything Batman.” That brings up the news of the day, which was that Steven Spielberg, who was just nominated for a bunch of Oscars for The Fablemans, said in his opinion, The Dark Knight should have been the first superhero film to win Best Picture in 2007. That strikes a chord with Brown. “I really liked The Dark Knight,” he says. “The Dark Knight was wild.”

That leads to a film Brown says really influenced his visual storytelling style: Batman vs Superman. “I have a very short attention span so when I watch movies, I just watch a scene for 10 minutes here or there,” he says. “I really liked that cinematography style, so I basically stole from that and implemented it into my film and then I tried to figure it out.”

That leads to a comparison of the soundtrack of DC Comics films like Batman v. Superman, Aquaman or Justice League and their Wagnerian sensibilities, versus the pop culture playfulness of Marvel films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool that are almost as much fun to listen to as they are to watch. “Marvel is a lot better for sound,” he says. “I would agree with that. I came from sound and I don’t really know all the (Marvel) movies, but when I think about Marvel — the sound — it just sits right.

“It’s so cool and epic and beautiful,” he says. “But DC is kinda sticky — like it does not quite hit, you know?”

Brandon Brown with two other people, looking at the screen of a video camera.
Brandon Brown (left) on set | Photo: courtesy Brandon Brown

100 Films

Brown set out on his filmmaking journey with the idea of teaching himself the craft by making 100 films. He plans to spend some of those on exploiting the cinematic qualities of Calgary, with its mountain vistas, river walks and 21st century architecture. “I live downtown, everything is so cool, everything is so beautiful to me that I just feel like people should see it more,” he says. “That’s the skateboard thing — so when I skate by (something visually interesting), I think, that’s a movie! I could create what I see.”

That leads us both to one of Calgary’s most visually striking spots: Wonderland — the big head sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa in front of one of the city’s most iconic downtown buildings. “That’s the Bow Building!” he says. Which leads to a chat about how the Bow’s architect, Norm Foster, also designed Lusail, the main stadium in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. “It’s like a Japanese building,” Brown says. “Calgary is starting to look really cool. All the new buildings that are going up — really cool.

“I’m trying to make 100 shorts and I’m on my 35th,” he says. “Hopefully as I grow big, people will continue to be drawn more to my work, and soon I can make this city be seen more.

“Hopefully,” he adds, “my films will be seen — and so will the city.”

About the Storytelling Project

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

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