Field Notes Interview #55: Cameron Ingalls, Wedding Filmmaker
When it comes to his craft, filmmaker, Cameron Ingalls views his art as serving people with his camera. His wedding films capture an authenticity that only comes from his 13 years of experience. Every film he creates brings another chance for him to fully express genuine moments filled with, as he states, "love, light and beauty." He always knows where to point the camera.
A big factor in Cameron Ingalls' work is finding a harmony between sight and sound. Much like capturing the chemistry between the couple getting married, he finds a natural connection with music and emotion. Ingalls takes this relationship very seriously and isn't afraid to get philosophical about it. We learned this when we chatted with him about his life as a photographer, filmmaker, father and music lover. There's a lot in this one. Enjoy.
M: Why film? What compelled you to be a filmmaker?
CI: I had been photographing weddings for over a decade and became restless with story telling only in stills. I wanted to show another dimension. I craved movement and music to accompany my images. And not a slideshow. I wanted my images to breathe, to dance, to sing. So, one day while shooting a wedding in West Virginia I began to flip my camera into video mode and capture sporadic clips. Not knowing anything is sometimes the best way to start. I did know enough about composition, light, and chemistry. I also knew enough that I was getting myself into a vortex of learning. I was proud to have worked 10 years to become an excellent photographer and all of a sudden I was a bit terrified and at the same time elated because I knew that I starting from the beginning with filmmaking. With just a bit of a head start.
M: What's the toughest decision you've had to make as a filmmaker?
CI: To begin. To just go for it! Originally when I dove into photography I also wanted to pursue filmmaking, but decided against it because It was a whole other set of cameras and software. I knew I needed to stick to becoming excellent at one thing because I’m a slow learner. Being self taught has its disadvantages when the teacher has no experience!
The second time I wanted to go for it was after I got married in 2007. My good friend, Jose Villa, volunteered to experiment shooting Super 8 at my wedding. The film that came from my wedding was the most dreamy - beautiful thing I had ever seen! I got the bug again for filmmaking; this time with Super 8! I gave it a shot and was quickly overwhelmed switching mediums and being terrified that something would go wrong with my film. I stressed myself out and once again decided I needed to focus solely on my photography.
Then it happened… After I got the Canon Mark IV over three years ago I realized that not much was keeping me from capturing clips in between the stills. Nothing except for fear. Truth is... I was afraid! I knew there was going to be these awkward months (and years) where I just didn’t know what I was doing. The learning curve of new software, shooting technique, rendering, syncing, capturing audio, shooting stable clips!!! Where my films sucked and all I could do was keep shooting and try to make things better. However, somehow I embraced that fear, wrestling it into submission and finally just went for it! Reminds me of a quote my friend Lloyd likes to share from some Clooney war movie; "Courage is the thing you get after doing the thing that scares the shit out of you”.
I’m a lot more confident after these 3 years of going for it. I just made my favorite film to date and I’m proud of the story I managed to tell with the mess of clips, music, and audio. It’s far from perfect, but I’m only just beginning. I have so far to grow and I’m just so thankful for every person that sees something in the way I see love and capture movement. I’m blessed by every couple that commissions me to tell their love story!
M: How do you feel music has a role in film?
CI: It may not be the main character, but it’s a supporting role that without, I’m not sure there would be much of a film. Is it true that since the beginning of films accompanying music has followed? Weren’t the first silent films shown with a piano player or orchestra hammering out the soundtrack nearby?
When music underscores a film, it gives everything a real 'story' feel. It replaces the need for constant dialogue and gives the viewer the opportunity to put themselves in the character’s shoes. Music is the emoticon of cinema. Music and film causes a story to swell with feeling. The filmmaker has the power to direct the viewer's emotions with music.
It’s funny because real life doesn’t have a soundtrack playing at all times. However, when we hear a song it has the power to remind us of something we felt at a time when we heard it first. Those sounds, tones, words, bring us flooding right back to that hard time in past or, long drive across country; maybe memories of a first love. Why is that?! I’m sure there’s science behind it but I think it’s because music is in all of us. It’s in creation all around us. Ok… I’m getting a little transcendental now. Next question!
M: How do you feel music is misused in film?
CI: I’m going to speak to wedding films because that’s my jam right now. I think the best way to kill your story is by putting overplayed, familiar music on top of it like an exaggerated red bow. It’s like when the Wedding DJ plays ‘We are Family’ just to get everyone dancing. Every weekend. Cheap move. Just because its a love song, doesn’t mean it works for this love story.
"When we hear a song it has the power to remind us of something we felt at a time when we heard it first."
When telling a couple's wedding story I do my very best to show their uniqueness. And because they are forming a brand new love story, I do my best to feature new, fresh music; something that isn’t too mainstream. I want them to watch their movie for the first time and develop a whole new flood of memories! I don’t want them remembering their first love or that really hard time in their past. I want them in 50 years to bust out their DVD (or whatever we will watch things on) hear that song and instantly feel what they did when they first witnessed their exchange of vows, their first kiss, that delightful walk through a field at sunset.
M: How do you feel your wedding films are different than other films?
CI: Since I’m still beginning I’m not sure what my definitive style is yet. Give me a couple more years to figure it out! ;)
But if I had to say… I think my films are honest. There is a genuineness to my work that resonates with people. I want you to feel like you know the people after you watch a film of a couple’s wedding you've never met. And more so if you know them, I want you to say by the end of it; ‘That’s totally them... That’s their love story!'
"Music is the emoticon of cinema."
I’m also love portraits in nature as a photographer so my films are heavy laden with portraits of the characters usually surrounded by trees, fields, hills; you name it.
M: What's the most recent album you've listened to?
CI: Home by Josh Garrels. That guy! He’s hitting something deep in me with his new album. I’ve been listening to it this whole week. I even used two of his songs on my most recent wedding film. I just love the passion that he creates with. His music has soul. I’m not like a die-hard Garrels fan. He just seems like someone I would be friends with if we were in the same town... With or without lyrics his songs seem to have a message; an emotion that resonates with me. I’ve been thinking a lot about family lately. About what it means to be a father and also about continuing to be a son. About being a husband... and I guess ‘home’ starts with all of that.
M: How do you know when you're finished with a project?
CI: When I’ve polished it so much that I can’t think of what else to do to make it more impactful. I want the film to flow as seamlessly as possible. For there to be as little distractions from the story as possible for the viewer. I know that differs from viewer to viewer, but my main goal is to please my clients! With video there is so much that can go wrong. So much that can take the viewer away from loosing themselves in the story. If the audio sucks because of wind or bad levels or the camera shake makes a viewer think I tripped when filming a shot, I’ve misdirected their attention to me. I’m doing my best to grow in all areas as a filmmaker so I can create more fascinating, believable and honest stories. I’m pretty sure it’s much harder to master than capturing stills!
M: What makes a good story?
CI: For the subject of story I learned in school about character, conflict, rising action, climax and all of that jazz. But in the end I think in dealing with music and motion you can defy gravity a bit. To have good story there must be intrigue. Sights, sounds, words… Something the viewer identifies with or is completely surprised by. There has to be something that hooks the viewer so that they give you some of their most precious resources; time and attention.
M: What's coming up on the horizon in your life as an artist?
CI: More films! I’ve photographed weddings for 13 years with the past 3 combining the learning of filmmaking. I really want to come into my own as a filmmaker. I don’t necessarily need to feel like I’ve mastered it, I just want to be really good at it consistently. I want to get to the point where I can tell an amazingly beautiful, meaningful story with whatever characters and moments I’m afforded.
I’ve also been apprenticing my teenage nephew, David Delmore, in filmmaking and photography the past couple of years. He’s been editing and shooting with me since he was 15. I’m excited for him to turn 18 this fall so he can take over my business like he keeps threatening. ;) He is very much involved in the development of our film style. I love raising up young creatives like himself and seeing what they will create in this world. The kid is crazy talented and plays about 9 instruments. I’ve had him record songs in garage band for a couple of our soundtracks, but he’s had to focus on finishing high school so I can’t take up all his time yet. I’m looking forward to the day when he can begin to really score some of our films! Hopefully he will license some of his music on Marmoset like some of our friends.