Interview with filmmaker, Rob Finch

Field Notes Interview #82: Rob Finch, Filmmaker

We chat with filmmaker, Rob Finch about his unique video journalism, how he finds stories and what makes a compelling soundtrack.


You don't need to go too far to dig up compelling stories. Often there is a rich landscape of diverse and powerful stories packed within daily conversations and interactions -- it's all about the art of questioning and deciding which path to go down. For filmmaker, photographer and director of Blue Chalk Media, Rob Finch, stories are everywhere, happening at every moment. Finch's work hits on a very human level and his video journalism expresses visceral stories through personal experiences. There is no sugar coating -- his stories are filled with pain, triumph, awe, and challenges that provide snapshots of the complex web that makes our collective experience so special and colorful. 

We chatted with Rob about how he continues to find inspiration, how he uses community as a starting point for storytelling and how he overcomes the challenge of finding soundtracks for his project. Enjoy.

M: Who are you and what do you do in the world?

RF: I am the father of two amazing little children and husband to an incredible woman and human being. Everything else is secondary. I am the Creative Director of Blue Chalk Media. We are a small production company with offices in Portland, Oregon and Brooklyn, New York. I try to be a filmmaker in various ways -- sometimes directing, sometimes editing, sometimes DP’ing. I am also a photographer.

M: What's your first memory in filmmaking?

RF: I edited a video for The Oregonian about an incredibly overweight cat that got caught in a doggie door.

M: How experienced were you in filmmaking at this point? Just starting off? Was it the content that struck you?

RF: I had no experience at this point. I was working for The Oregonian as a photojournalist, but I was increasingly dissatisfied with the paper as a medium to tell stories. I was looking to online as a place to do more complete storytelling. I had no particular interest in that fat cat, I was just trying to learn the skills. I used stuff like this to teach myself Final Cut.

M: What's been one of your favorite projects to work on?

RF: Every project has an element of fun to it, but probably my favorite filmmaking experience was working as a DP on “Belief.” It was a series on OWN about various stories of belief around the world. The stories were great, the experiences were great, but mostly the people I was with made it special and I learned a ton.

M: Can you share any specific memories that made this project so great? What did you learn from the people you were surrounded by -- anything in particular?

RF: It was the biggest production I had ever been associated with and I really began the learn the diversity of skills that different people brought. I had been used to doing almost everything myself, producing, directing, shooting, editing. This was an opportunity to see incredibly smart and talented people perform their jobs at the highest level. Plus, we were traveling around the world together and that makes for fun experiences and lasting friendships.

M: What makes a good story?

RF: There are so many ways to answer that. The one thing that I like to focus on is relatability. Can someone see themselves in the story? Is there something there for someone to grab onto and recognize from their own life? Of course they do not recognize the full narrative, but maybe it’s just an emotion; love, friendship, loss, etc. How do we get people to care about others, no matter where they live, or how much money they have? I believe it’s through the human experience and what we all share. That experience is critical to a good story.

M: What helps you to find those human touch points when working on a project? Can you share an example?

RF: You just need to be human yourself. It sounds easy, but it’s not. What do you care about? If you can relate to it, if it stirs you emotionally, on a human level, I believe it will work in a film. There are times I am shooting or editing and I get chills. When that happens, I know I am connecting on some level. But you need to be open to it and not so unyielding to preconceived notions of what “the story” is.

M: What role does music play in film?

RF: In the multitude of voices that make up a film, it’s a major one. Sometimes it’s the lead and sometimes it’s a minor player. We should know when to use it and when not to. It’s almost always one of the emotional backbones of a film. It should keep an audience invested in the emotion that needs to be communicated at that particular moment.

M: How long into your career did it take you to learn and perfect this skill and how did you do it? Can you pinpoint a project/job/experience that helped you do this?

RF: I am not perfect at it by any stretch of the imagination. I struggle with music in every film we make. I don't think I can pinpoint any specific moment that has helped me. I just try to pay attention to how people use (or don’t use) music in films, commercials, etc., that I enjoy.

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

RF: Like anything in film, there should be a thoughtfulness behind it. It’s often just used as a crutch and often it’s used too predictably.

M: Have you ever struggled to pick a song for a film? Maybe you couldn’t find one that gave the film what you were looking for? If so, what did you do to resolve this?

RF: I struggle picking music for every project. I often think it is one of the most challenging hurdles in the filmmaking process. I often choose a selection of tracks before I even start editing. Sometimes, when I can’t find what I am looking for, I engage a composer to help. I absolutely love the process of working with original composition. But I have a lot to learn about the language of music. I always feel silly trying to describe what I am looking for to a composer. Like what does the word “emotional” really translate to musically?

M: What's one thing you'd tell a filmmaker just starting out?

RF: Be curious. Explore your community. Tell stories that matter to you. Don’t sleep very much. There will come a time in your career in which you are trying to make your business work and your life is complicated. You will have demands on your time that will interfere with just “doing the work.” But, when you are starting out, it’s time to do whatever you believe in and experiment and just be amazing.

M: What's the last album you listened to?

RF: I love listening to soundtracks. The last full album I listened to was the soundtrack Nebraska by Mark Orton.

M: Have you ever found inspiration for an upcoming project while listening to a soundtrack/album/etc?

RF: Yes, all the time. Sometimes too much. I often find myself looking for music that sounds like the last thing I really loved. Since I often lack the vocabulary to discuss the nuance of music, I often share references. I find myself saying, “listen to this track, you hear that thing the guitar does at 1:30? That thing is awesome. Can we find something that sounds like that?”

M: What's one of the most challenging things in filmmaking?

RF: To me, every single thing in challenging -- I think that’s what’s great about it. You should be constantly challenging yourself to make something great and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I am guilty of not always doing that, but it is a goal of mine. So to answer the question, it’s just that -- to push for something better on every level of the production. Avoid being satisfied with what you have done before. Sometimes there are so many variables going on during a shoot or the deadline is so tight on an edit that you make compromises to your vision or your ultimate goal. I think that’s a human reaction, but it’s something we should push against.

M: What's coming up for you?

RF: Myself and the team at Blue Chalk are making a documentary film that’s taking up a lot of time, but is so much fun. It’s great fun to just tell a story that you believe in.


Posted on April 18, 2016 and filed under Field Notes.