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An Interview With Paul Brenno: Director of Covid-19 vs The Magic City

How did you get your start in Film/Video Production and how did your career begin?

I grew up in Minot, North Dakota, a small city, from an early age, I remember always being attracted too or having big interest in Photography and Video Production. My mother worked in education, my father worked in sales for a TV and Radio station, so in visiting them both on various occasions, I remember going to the TV station my Dad worked at and feeling like I was in a different world, seeing people in person and not just on TV, like the news actors and reporters. Being so far away from Hollywood, this felt like Hollywood to me, I felt a big draw to it.

On various occasions, my Mom/Dad would talk to me about going out with the camera crew on sporting evens like a tournament or even commercial shoots, which was a huge treat for me, since it was so different than the normal fast food or retails jobs I kept seeing. I had no idea you can make any sort of living(???)

I always remember going to the movies as a kid, seeing films such as "Superman: The Movie", when I was like 9 or 10. Superman made me want to be Superman, then later in my life, seeing the film "Dances with Wolves". I was home on a 30 day leave from my overseas tour in the Air Force, I was stationed in Italy, saw "Dances with Wolves", Dean Semler's photography made me what to be a Cinematographer, so I knew the power of film, what I wanted to do.

I finished my 4 years in San Antonio, was honored to meet my first Hollywood Cinematographer Ken Lamkin (ASC), who directed an independent feature film. Ken was famous for this work on the sitcom "Frasier". I was thrilled to make contact with their production office and go on the set and observe him work. When I finished my four years, I went to film school on the GI Bill at Montana State University in Bozeman. They had an great undergraduate program, my focus was Cinematography but studied all disciplines. In 2018-2020, Montana State and Bozeman were feature in the Paramount Series "Yellowstone" TV series, which has been one of my favorite series.

Tell us how you began your career after film school?

After film school, I was hoping to head to Hollywood and find work, but that didn't happen.

After graduating in 1997, I then started my career as a Commercial Video Producer/Editor, have never looked back.

You work as a cinematographer, producer, director and an editor on your own films. What does it feel like to do all of these tasks together as an indie filmmaker?

My love has always been Cinematography and Lighting, so I initially only wanted to shoot then hand off my footage to an Editor. After a few years however, I began to actually miss editing, chose and grading the best footage shot, since I knew the shots, went back into it, really enjoyed it all over again.

Is it difficult to make a film and send it to film festivals or even distribute a film?

I remember listening to a guest speaker in film school, Montana State Film alumnus Mark Vargo (ASC), He went to Montana State, he came to speak at one of my film classes, which was a thrill. I remember Mark saying something about trying to make a film is like making a miracle happen, then in watching press interviews with Kevin Costner during the making of one of his films "Open Range" after I graduated, saying something like it's always hard to make any movie, and it's really hard to make a good movie, and almost impossible to make an award winning film so those really stuck with me, esp since they were talking about spending all the time, energy and money trying to be as creative as you can, make a movie that you hope people will really enjoy, especially an award winning film.

I've never send my film to be distributed, but am shocked at all the honors/awards I have been given, it's amazing, very much honored and very humbling too. I'm just wanting to continue to work and tell stories, but also be able to make a living at being a Filmmaker, Director, Cinematographer

Your recent short documentary film is about your community dealing with Covid19. Tell us about this project and how it was for you to shoot the film during the Covid19 pandemic?

"Corona-Virus vs The Magic City" film idea came to me in March 2020. Earlier in my career, I worked as a News Photographer/Photojournalist, and now as a bit of a viewer (not newsmaker), I began to notice how news is and isn't covered, to me, it's seems more about sensationalism, highlight the negative and hype plus lots of just opinions compared to just straight news, to get viewers, which I just got tired of seeing. With corona, I kept joking about how what news media was covering it now, after they covered Impeachment, etc.

I was actually at a local truck stop getting some food, this was a week before the Take Out Only rule was in place, began to notice areas of most restaurants were being closed down, not in one restaurant or a few, but all of them. I then began to think "all these closures or temporarily closed, this looks like something out of a sci-fi movie". Later that week, I noticed on some film boards on social media, alot of filmmakers and video producer were complaining or just making comments about being stuck at home and not being able to work. I began to immediately see images in my head of empty stores, restaurants and other business being shut down and thought "I should make a film about this, esp now while it's happening".

I was originally thinking of a short narrative, but then I thought a documentary short about how businesses are being affected would be easier, esp since this is more a government shut down rather than a natural disaster like a tornado or flood. My thought was how are small city USA businesses are affected, what their plans were during and after this, and get as many different businesses as I could get?

Tell us about your filmmaking plans for the future?

I'm currently seeking to relocate to Arizona and find a staff position or if I an manage, find steady work regularly as a Video Producer/Editor, Cinematographer. I have lots of family and friends there, just need to relocate I hope this year. Until I do, I want to do as much video production/filmmaking work as I can.

Why do you make films?

When I started shooting still photography growing up, I began to love composing shots, look at how light or lighting works in a shot and how it doesn't work, along with color and focus. I began to really like photography, but something was missing. I wanted my pictures to move, hence I discovered Cinematography. I remember in 1987, just before I graduate high school, picking up the American Cinematographer Magazine. I hadn't heard of it before, but as I began to look through the magazine, the features and articles on Cinematographers and Directors of Photography, it just clicked with me, I understand what they were talking about, with film, color temperature, rule of thirds, and just filmmaking in general.

I was thrilled to finally discover what I was passionate about, began to tell my friends and family about Cinematography, nobody knew what I was talking about, although when they saw a video crew, they sorta understood, but nobody knew any Cinematographers or Filmmaker where I lived, so I just had to move forward. Most people mis-understood, thought I was talking about being a "Cinnamon Photographer", so I had to explain a bit more, but sounded delicious!!

When I get behind the camera or are working with clients on an commercial or video/film idea, the creative just clicks with me, it's what I feel I do best, but most importantly, I just love the work. I think of all the Filmmakers I admire from Cinematographer Dean Semler (ASC/ACS, Oscar Winner for Dances with Wolves to Apocalypto), to Taylor Sheridan/Kevin Costner with "Yellowstone" series (Filmed in Montana where I went to film school) to Christopher Nolan, they just inspire me to be better on every project I do, I hope I'm that good one day.


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