Field Notes: An interview with Truen Pence of Instrument

Truen Pence is a force in filmmaking. Through honest portraits, his films are fully immersive, capturing a vivid and emotional imagery that sticks with you.

We've had the honor of collaborating with Pence and our awesome friends at Instrument on projects for The Metropolitan Art Museum, motorcycle documentaries, and Levi's Commuter Series among others. A common thread that continues to grow in each film from Truen is the art of bottling the human experience within each of his vignettes. His work hits a powerful chord that is relatable and full of curiosity for the world around us.

We chatted with Truen about learning from failure, organizing chaos and how the emotional energy of music plays a role in his films.

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

TP: I became a filmmaker before I knew I loved it. I sort of just evolved into this from design, motion and always just being into cameras, photography and tech. It ended up being something I really enjoyed doing and was good at. It feels like a complex emotional design + sound + color + music problem and challenges me in a lot of different ways. It seems to fit with the way my brain works. 

M: What's your favorite moment of the filmmaking process?

TP: I have quite a few of them actually. Filmmaking is a mix of creative thinking and organizing chaos in and outside your head to create something beautiful. That perfect alchemy usually produces the best results and when alchemy happens on set or you can turn a camera on during that moment you are in luck. I love those moments. The process of making is so different every time there is an opportunity to surprise and be surprised at every stage. 

I particularly love the coloring process, when the raw or ungraded footage is transformed in a matter of hours and the entire film looks completely different and gives you a completely different set of emotions than before you went into the color room. 

Pairing sound to picture is often a breakthrough moment creatively and I enjoy working with Marmoset Producers, Brian Hall and Rob Dennler for those moments. I enjoy surprise + delight and you guys surprise me every time. 

M: What do you think defines a filmmakers' "voice"?

I just like to make things I am excited to see. If that develops into some kind of pattern I guess you have developed a voice, but I think it’s less about developing a style or a look than it is about just being able to tell as story with confidence. You really have to put yourself out there with the decisions you make if you’re being honest about the stories you’re telling and being ok with being that can be daunting. Failures will happen but as long as you are able to learn from them that’s part of your evolution. I don’t know if that gives you a voice or not but it’s a lot of words strung together anyway!

M: When did you know you found the right mood for your Levi's project? What direction were you going with when looking for music?

It’s pretty simple...When you get goosebumps from watching. When you see it/hear it and just say “it’ can’t be anything else other than this” and your emotions are set off.

We wanted to pay homage to the cities that these icons were living in and accurately represent their personalities. All three had a vintage sound that we wanted to maintain and it was fun working with Marmoset to create these sounds. Using old keyboards and old-school techniques was probably not the most efficient method for creating these but it was certainly pretty fun! For James Massiah - London, he was full of upbeat energy and we wanted to maintain and push that element of his personality. Tyrone Stevenson - Oakland had a laid back leadership style and all of these kids looked to him for support, almost like a minister or preacher and I think we were able to harness that. When we heard the track used with him we knew that had to be used. 

M:  Did you have a clear vision in mind? Or did you allow things to unfold while you filmed?

TP: I always a strong vision in mind for what I want to see or how I want the piece to feel but you have to straddle the line between staying true to your vision and allowing the story to unfold naturally. Responding to it and getting it to work for you…

M: What role do you feel music has in film?

TP: Music has the ability to push the picture in a completely different direction. I like the juxtaposition of elements, pairings unexpected combinations of music and sound and feel those are the moments that you remember. Sometimes our job is to push an emotion just a little further or at times just sit in the back seat and let the viewer make their own emotional connection and those decisions are important. 

M: How do you feel music is misused in projects?

TP: I’m not a fan of “stock” sounding music. I think there’s an "Apple advertisements” style of music that has become our new elevator music in our industry and I’m not usually a fan of it. I think we’ll look back on this time period and get a laugh out of it. I don’t even necessarily know how to explain it. When you hear it you’ll know it. It’s just not my style.

M: What's coming up?

TP: Hmm…just more stories that we would enjoy watching for products, projects and people we are stoked on. Fortunate to be in this position where I can make this type of content every day. 

Posted on November 18, 2014 and filed under Field Notes.