Finding Order In Chaos: An interview with Dwightly

Field Notes Interview #60: Colin Cabalka & Ian Pratt of Dwightly

When it comes to finding the right story to tell, it starts with relationships and everything unfolds from there -- this is at the heart of what Portland-based agency, Dwightly does. They're not just telling stories, they become fully immersed in them.

The duo that make up Dwightly, Colin Cabalka and Ian Pratt, run on one essential principle: make the world a better place by living and telling incredible stories, and they do just that. Whether they're creating films, photo series, websites, lives events or social media campaigns, they're building relationships throughout the process.

However, it's not always that simple.

When telling a story in all of its intricacies, there's a delicate balance in finding order with everything that comes with it -- life happens. Each project presents mini stories and random events which can result in natural forms of chaos -- this is where the story surfaces. We sat down and caught up with these awesome guys and got insight into how they glean a cohesive story on the other side of randomness.

M: Why film? What compelled you to be filmmakers?

D: Human beings interpret reality and store memories through the vehicle of story. When we see an incident occur in our daily lives, we don’t just observe objective data and store it that way, our brains interpret what we see through the lens of our own experiences and perspectives, and we interpret and store memories in millions of mini stories. Life is a series of random events, it’s chaos. As storytellers, we bring order to that chaos, and give it meaning. We create and shape realities, and invite people into them. 

For Dwightly, the stories we want to tell are ones of hope, beauty and redemption. We want to instill hope again and again and again. We want the world to be a better place because of the stories we live out, and the ones we tell.

M: What's the most rewarding and frustrating part about being filmmakers?

D: There are basically three realities within filmmaking. The first is this perfect thing that exists in your mind: everything is awesome, there are no limitations, you are obsessed with it.

The second reality is reality as it exists. You show up to a location and it looks nothing like you imagined, your talent isn’t cooperating the way you want them to, for some reason you’re not happy with your gear, etc. 

As filmmakers, it’s our job to create a third reality out of those two realities, and that is what you as a viewer see. The most frustrating and rewarding parts of making films lie in the push and pull of this process. 

M: How do you feel music has a role in film?

D: The role music plays in a film varies based upon what type of film it is, but as a rule, music informs the viewer what they are supposed to be feeling. It operates as a tour guide into the new reality we as storytellers are presenting you with. It both prescribes and describes emotion within this reality, and creates another dimension in which the viewer can be put at ease, drawn into tension, stirred, lulled, etc.

Similarly, a lack of music creates and influences this dimension of experience for the viewer as well. 

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

D: If music is a guide into a new reality created for a viewer by the storyteller, it has to be a good guide. It can’t tell too much, it must leave room for the viewer to infuse their own meaning. It should inform and underscore emotion, not manipulate emotion.

If you can tell the story and impart feeling in a particular scene without music, do that. music is powerful and important, but as a storyteller, you can’t play one string too loudly or too often. You have to use all the instruments at your command, you have to become the master of your orchestra. 

M: What do you hope your audience will take away when they watch your films?

D: When we tell a story, the number one thing we want people to take away is gratitude. 

We want our audience to be thankful they are alive, thankful they are human, thankful for the people in their lives and the gifts and opportunities they’ve been given. For us, any positive action is birthed from gratitude. 

M: What's the most recent album you've listened to?

D: We’re listening to a lot of Nathaniel Rateliff these days and Oh Wonder. Stars just came out with a great EP. Oh, and Bieber. "What Do You Mean?" Come on.

M: How do you know when you're finished with a project?

We’re finished with a project when we can step away for a day or so and then come back and watch it, look at each other and smile. We’re recovering perfectionists learning to see the beauty in human imperfection, learning how to be okay with making mistakes, putting things out into the world more often, and letting go of the need to control everything.

Ian Pratt  and  Colin Cabalka

Ian Pratt and Colin Cabalka

That being said, we strive for excellence in everything we do, so it’s not done till we’re happy with it. And making ourselves happy can be a hard thing to do. Afternoon drinks come in handy here. 

M: What makes a good story?

D: What makes a good story? We’ve been speaking to this throughout our other answers, but a good story is one that creates a well developed reality and invites a viewer into it, restoring order to chaos, and instilling meaning, beauty, and hope. Story structure and key story elements are basic principles you can learn to master, and you can read about that anywhere on Google. But for us, what makes a good story is pretty simple: leave them with gratitude. 

M: What's coming up on the horizon in your life as artists?

D: We’re building an agency. so that means lots of different types of projects, bringing in more and more collaborators who hopefully become colleagues, and continuing to widen our reach to extend far beyond the video camera.

Some film-related goals include producing a feature film and getting back to producing content for ourselves and not just client work. We’re trying to balance being business owners and artists at the moment, and thankfully we’ve been able to infuse our passion into every project we take on, so hopefully as the business grows and the staff expands, we’ll have much more personal work coming your way soon. Stay on the look out for that!


Share your work with us at and we'll feature our favorites on the journal next week and send out a sweet swag bag of vinyl and a Marmoset shirt.

Posted on September 21, 2015 and filed under Field Notes.