Thankfully, Brandon McCarell has given us a visually perfect, sensitive, deep, and thought-provoking insight into a small passage of time in which everyone partakes. And he does all this in a five-minute film. It is no wonder he won the coveted award in cinematography from the Best Shorts Competition.
McCarrell has the arts in his being. He is a visual and auditory person as an accomplished musician and drummer as well. These are some of the forces that drive him. "When I am thinking of how to express an idea through video, I think of each shot from every possible angle and then choose the appropriate shot accordingly. It is very important to me that every detail I see visually in my mind is then expressed on the screen," he recounts. But spirituality and emotion are what is important to him about people. "I wanted to apply the concept of a very art-driven montage of shots and use variations of the close-up shot to evoke a more emotional response," he continued.
More Than Just an Exercise in Detail
But just making a piece to look at its beauty was never enough for McCarrell because the meat of the story, the personalization of a character's inner being, was equally important. This vision and endeavor became even more challenging, and ultimately more powerful, with his decision to make his film without the use of dialog.
As he developed this idea, he selected Zack William's song, Hospital, for his background sound, and gained permission to use it. He felt this particular piece of music helped his story significantly. The song’s simple repeating lyrics resonate with the viewer, and provide an immediate connection to the film character's own inner dialogue and struggle. McCarrell’s selection of this musical rendition with lyrics including "I'll grab my keys, you grab your sweater, and we'll leave", and ending with the refrain, "maybe that's what she needs to hear," worked with the images like a symphony. The ordinary motions that shape, form and contribute to both the quality and proceedings of our lives are here in the lyrics that merge with McCarrell's artistry.
Developing His Art
For Brandon McCarrell this is certainly not just a lucky accident, because he has honed his talents diligently. As he describes some of his background, "Empty Morning is not my first film. I have evolved as a filmmaker over the last two years with the quality of my ideas. Last year I focused on a more basic style of shot development and let my editing do more to tell the story, but this year I have matured by focusing equally on the shot development and cinematography. I also introduced color grading. Color grading can change or emphasize the mood you are trying to convey. I wanted to give the film a warm feel while holding sharp color contrast. With Empty Morning I was able to compose the shots and vary the close up enough to make the film appealing and not monotonous. It is my proudest personal accomplishment to date."
Brandon's Professor at Spring Arbor University, Dorie Shelby, talks about his diligence. "Brandon is conscientious. He immerses himself in his projects and never settles for anything less than the best work he can possibly produce. Brandon excels as a cinematographer. His work reflects a natural eye and inclination for interesting, intentional and powerful composition. Brandon's Empty Morning [is] a visually stunning and fascinating piece. I am not surprised that Brandon's piece was recognized. It was a difficult piece to shoot, and he shot it well."
Filling the Void
There is a force of perfection about Brandon's film, a force that holds the viewer as if with both hands tenderly supporting their chin. The viewer just about breathes each moment with the businessman/father of the film as he proceeds through his morning. Is the morning empty as in McCarrell's title? What is it that leaves a morning empty? It is the particular quality of McCarrell's film that opens us to what is it we do and why do we do it. And his ability to communicate these questions in this short is amazing perfection. In Brandon's own words describing his film, "the concept of going through the motions and your life even when times are tough can sometimes give us a feeling of emptiness...a void that needs filling". The echo of the song refrain, "maybe that's what she needs to hear", that plaintive wistfulness, decision making, loving devotion, echoes in each shot of the film.
McCarrell's personal relationship to his film is as loving and honorable as is his film. "Throughout life there come times when sacrifices and tough decisions have to be made." He describes how his own father had longings to be with his family while needing to be apart from them in order to support them through a year of tough medical situations.
As a piece that inspires the viewer to consider motivation and psychology, this short film brings to the surface the contrast of our lives, the motions we go through and the significance or non-significance of our thoughts inside these motions.
Brandon McCarrell's Empty Morning is a winning film in many ways. But it is only a mere step in his development. But even though he has won an award, what he values most is learning with a sense of humility. "Winning an award for cinematography means so much to me. I have set myself apart by focusing on shot development and storytelling through editing. Because I shoot my films on Canon DSLR’s, I loose camera functions such as zoom and auto focus, which has forced me into a different style of shooting. I frame individual sequences based on the lens, aperture, or shutter speed settings. I just enjoy making films and telling stories through a creative medium. What I take from these awards is a feeling of reassurance that I am on the right career path. I am excited for [the] future growth that will come over time!"
Diligence, Competition and Awards
Brandon's Professor, Dorie Shelby, saw his talent and encouraged him to enter into festivals. She confided, "I entered the piece on Brandon's behalf. Despite Brandon's obvious skill and talent, he lacked a bit of confidence in his work. This award is very affirming for him.” Professor Shelby continued to explain the importance of film competitions such as The Accolade and the Best Shorts Competition. "I encourage all my students to enter their work in credible, respected competitions. The recognition by professionals in the industry is affirming and inspiring to students. It is also great material for their portfolio." And her grade for Brandon is top notch. "Brandon is talented and continues to push himself to improve and learn new things about cinematography, filmmaking, and the latest camera technology. He will do well as a professional."
Growing Your Talents
Moving forward in Brandon's world has been bolstered by his Best Shorts experience and he is building on the positive acceptance of his work. As he describes, "The positive emotional responses to Empty Morning tell me that I am possibly sitting on a bigger, even more emotional story. I will be entering it into more film festivals and may [be] expanding the idea and story as a whole. Right now I have been hired as Director of Photography on a film to be shot this summer.
With his few jam-packed years of film experiences, Brandon McCarrell has a little bit of advice to give other film students. "The best advice is to not be afraid of pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. If you have an idea, go for it! Do not be afraid of failure, because out of failure comes success and valuable knowledge about yourself as a filmmaker and about your craft that will only better your skills in the future."
As for himself, McCarrell proclaims, "without the support of my family, friends, and professors I can honestly say I would not be where I am today, and I am eternally grateful."