Field Notes: An interview with Filmmaker Randy Warren

Stories evoke an emotional response, something we carry with us long after the credits roll down the screen. The filmmaking of Randy Warren tells stories that not only instigate strong reactions, but are calls to action to actively participate.

Warren is a filmmaker with Advocate Creative, an agency that works with nonprofits, capturing compelling stories of organizations doing incredible things around the world. We've had the honor of collaborating with Warren and Co. on a few different projects and love the work that they're doing.

We got a second to catch up with Randy right before he headed out to Honduras on another shoot. He chatted about his influences, working in remote areas and the importance of using "real" music in film.


M: When did you start filming?

RW: So I have the cliché story of always wanting to make movies as a young kid, starting with my grandparents old Super8mm film camera, experimenting with lego stop-motion. When home video camcorders came out, I shot dozens of tapes, making homemade music videos, comedy sketches and shows with my friends. I remember trying over and over to get an edit right by hitting record on the VHS VCR, hitting play on the Sony Hi8 camcorder and dropping the needle on the turntable all at the same time.

M: When did you know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?

RW: I was always a huge music fan, and I used to love music videos - making them, watching them. It seemed like the ultimate art form, because it combined both music and visuals and there seemed to be no rules. I remember watching some Hitchcock movies, like North by Northwest and Rear Window, and just being spellbound by how you could tell a story with no words. I was a pretty shy kid, and I always loved story so I thought, hey, I could do that. 

M: What's usually your favorite moment when working on a film?

RW: That’s hard to say. My least favorite moments are when I have to work alone. Collaborating, whether in PrePro, during the shoot, or even in the edit is so rewarding. If you’re lucky enough to find the right creative partner(s), then you’ll be able to see firsthand the difference two or more minds can have on a project versus being limited to only your own. I’d have to say I love shooting the most, mostly because I’m active. And I do enjoy the hunt for the right composition, even when I often miss the target.

I’d have to say I love shooting the most, mostly because I’m active. And I do enjoy the hunt for the right composition, even when I often miss the target.
— Randy Warren

M: How did you get involved with Advocate Creative?

RW: I was working full time with an amazing non-profit org called Nuru International with my creative partner, Doug Scott. I would travel a few times a year to Kenya for filming, then edit out of my house the rest of the year. While we were on staff, we kept getting asked by other non-profits who was doing the creative for Nuru, and if they could hire us. We had a growing passion to go and help other unique non-prof's, so in 2012 we launched AC with the goal of using creative to help innovative organizations spread their world-changing ideas and grow. We have had some unbelievably amazing clients and it has been rewarding beyond words.

M: Have there ever been any happy accidents when filming?

RW: So I accidentally dropped a thin slice of potato into a pot of boiling oil and out came something… delicious. I know that I’ve had some accidental shots that have worked out in the edit, but I can’t think of anything specific, sorry. 

M: How do you feel music plays a role in filmmaking?

RW: I'm actually way more passionate about music than filmmaking. I've always dabbled in playing, writing, even recording on a 4-track cassette recorder since I was in junior high. I feel like music has the potential for actually doubling the impact of a story’s impact. It doesn't just add, or complement the visuals. I feel like it adds 200%. (Trust me, it's that new math.) I’ve thought that ever since I was a kid watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET. At rare times, I feel like the music can almost rise above the soundtrack and almost act as one of the characters, like in There Will Be Blood

I feel like music has the potential for actually doubling the impact of a story’s impact. It doesn’t just add, or complement the visuals. I feel like it adds 200%. (Trust me, it’s that new math.)
— Randy Warren

M: What's your process of finding a soundtrack to a project? 

RW: Sometimes I will think of a band or artist that I feel matches the feel of the story. And occasionally, we'll even go after an original artist and pay for synch-rights. It used to be you'd license "canned" production music that specialized in creating music that sounds like specific artists, but that always felt a bit cheapened. And it was never as good as the real thing. But nowadays, there's such great indie artists that are getting the exposure through sites like Marmoset, that unique compositions and dynamic styles are creating a much better and bigger palette from which to choose a soundtrack from. I used to always love looking for the “Sigur Ros waveform” - songs that start small and intimate, then slowly build over time to a triumphal anthem. But almost always, I’ve editing a piece of music a ton to fit the structure of the edit, repeating measures, jumping to another section, etc. So I, more often then not, look for songs with lots of dynamic sections that I can pick and choose for different parts of the story. And often, we’ll use more than one song if the one track doesn’t match the whole story.

It used to be you’d license “canned” production music that specialized in creating music that sounds like specific artists, but that always felt a bit cheapened. And it was never as good as the real thing.
— Randy Warren

M: When do you know you've found the right one?

RW: As much as I love music, I do have a hard time finding just the right one. I'll often have a 2-3 options that I love. Occasionally, it will be perfect and just feel right, but often I rely on my team-mates and creative director to have the final say. A project is always always better when you have more creative brains involved vs. just flying solo.

M: How do you feel music can be misused in film?

RW: I’ve seen some non-profit promotional videos that have really sad and repetitive music to help the viewer feel more sad. And in some ways, I’ve been guilty of that in the past, but you never want it to be obvious, and especially not cheesy and repetitive. A lot of times, it comes down to the final mix. Sometimes I’m distracted by music in a video because it’s mixed too loud. 

M: What are you working on now? What's a project you're excited about coming up?

RW: Our team has the ambitious goal of producing videos for each of the ten different organizations that are nominated for The Tech Awards in San Jose. It’s kind of like if The Oscars and the Pulitzer had a baby, essentially Silicon Valley honoring the use of technology to benefit humanity. We have two months to produce, travel, shoot and edit all ten. We split up in to two teams to tackle five videos each. My team just got back from traveling 27,000 miles, across two continents in 16 days. It’s super challenging but a ton of fun.


Inspired by Randy Warren's work, we have a call to action for you. Tweet, comment (below) or message us a story of a time that you performed a selfless act of charity. We'll choose our 5 favorite stories next week and send our Side By Side vinyl to the winners.

 

 

 

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