We had the good fortune of connecting with Austin Nordell and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Austin, how do you think about risk?
In my specific career as a director, cinematographer, and editor in the film business, I’ve always found “risk” as an undeniable catch-22. On one hand, there is a responsibility to the financial investments that have been made by the producers and you must do everything in your power to utilize that budget for maximum return on everyone’s time and money. If you don’t adhere to that, you’re already stacking the deck against yourself. You run the risk of creating overages, production delays, a toxic work environment, or safety hazards if proper strategies haven’t been planned out in pre-production. Even with the best laid plans, things can still go wrong for various reasons. Accounting for the “unknowns” is key. There is always financial risk making a motion picture but the goal should be to minimize it as much as possible. On the flipside, to stand out in what has become a more accessible and saturated market, you have to risk trying new and creative approaches to your storytelling to capture people’s attention. You can certainly “re-tell” the most unoriginal or “regurgitated” stories out there, but you’ll find better success if you tell them in a way that’s never been done before. Whether your uniquely creative approach works or not, is subjective, and the main reason why risk is such a double-edged sword in our industry. You have to plan well and protect investments but also hopefully push the envelope and create something genuinely exciting that’s different than what’s been done in the past. Your specific taste and style might not be for everyone, but you must have an interesting flavor to your art if you expect anyone to consume it. I am not the kind of friend that you take to Vegas to gamble. The risk is too high and the odds are never in our favor, so I find no thrill in risking my hard earned money on the experience. However, I am the type of guy that finds excitement in sky-diving. That’s an experience worth investing in! These dueling thought processes, caution versus adventure, have served me well in my eighteen years in the film business. As a department head, likewise, there is no sense in risking producer investments or the safety of my crew due to poor planning. There is added value however, in being adaptable, thinking outside the box, and approaching material in the most creative way possible while still serving the intent of the story. I have worked on projects that have had schedules of five weeks or more, and feature films that have been completed in just three days. Yet we stayed on budget and schedule because planning and managing expectations is key. With realistic expectations and a creative team, these different types of endeavors have both fueled my artistic expression and fulfilled my emotional well-being. No matter the size of the project, both the financial and physical risks need to be discussed and assessed with all department heads, and plans must be solidified before committing to a start date. No exceptions. This all starts with the screenplay, and how realistic it is to film with the budget allotted. Bigger budget films have their own hurdles and considerations for sure, but lower budget films might not allow for the director’s original vision of a scene to be achieved the way he/she originally conceptualized it. Therefore it’s time to get creative and adjust expectations accordingly. You don’t want to end up with what I call “the champagne taste with a beer budget” syndrome, as you will certainly overwork or endanger your crew, and more often than not, exhaust or over-extend your budget. Mitigate risk by being realistic and willing to compromise. Find material that works for the money. Scale your project down if need be, to something more comparable that fits with the numbers your given. Then think creatively how you can utilize the time and talent of your crew to create the most unique version of that scaled down concept. Don’t stretch everything so thin that if feels like gambling in Vegas. Production delays, horrible reviews, no return on investment, or even worse – an avoidable personal injury on set are all the children of poor planning and execution. This is the type of business that requires massive mental dexterity. You need to be mature and respectful of the financial investments, but also able to creatively and safely pivot and push forward through various filming challenges. Nothing interesting worth viewing was ever made without trying something new. Whether it be a painting, poetry, a photograph or a film, chances are your favorite artists have done something unique, bold, and yes – risky. That’s why you are attracted to them. I’ll leave you with a couple risk-reducing certainties I’ve learned over the years: Create a budget and stick to it. Don’t spend your post budget on set. Keep the story simple if your budget is limited. You don’t always need big toys or overly complex stories to make a mark. Study the masters. Learn from a mentor if you can. Light your project professionally. Be a team player. Only break the rules if you actually know what rules you’re breaking. Good framing goes a long way. Hire trained and skilled actors for your film. And please, I’m begging you – hire a quality sound mixer.  There are too many vanilla projects being made these days. I get it, vanilla is a favorite for a reason. But let’s keep creating bold new flavors that allow us to continue expanding our pallet.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
There are a lot of skills that I share with other colleagues in my profession, but our work isn’t just technical. It’s emotional. There are some phenomenal artists out there, but when you get hired onto a project, what they’re really paying for is our personality, work ethic and ideas. I think what sets me apart is the empathy I have for my cast and crew, the responsibility I feel for the projects I’m involved in, and most importantly – the constant creative problem solving I bring to a film set. It’s about marrying efficiency with creativity and pushing the envelope in the most interesting, yet safe way. A majority of my work over the last few years have all been due to a spider web of referrals. I’m extremely grateful to everyone I’ve worked with, and my “film family” expands when they refer me out to one of their friends or colleagues. I’ve met so many cool artists I never would have otherwise if it wasn’t for these types of enthusiastic referrals. There is no more uncertain job in the world than the film industry (with the exception of the military). This career wasn’t and still isn’t easy all the time. I love what I do and I love being busy, but I’ve unfortunately had to cut working relationship ties with people when their goals and motivations change or are no longer aligned with my core values. Talent isn’t everything. Empathy is important. Respect is key. People change, but I’ve seen some of them change into the worst version of themselves for various personal reasons and that always hurts. Sometimes it’s easier to move on to greener pastures than to try and rewire someone’s nervous system. But it’s true, when you surround yourself with a group or team of people that you actually enjoy working with and there is a strong level of respect, nothing but good can come out of it. Good people lead to more good people. Good projects do the same. I’m so lucky to have so many wonderful friends and collaborators in my life, and I’ve had an absolute blast making this my career. Every project is a challenge, but I love these types of challenges. I’m always working on improving myself and always enjoy creating new relationships with other filmmakers. If you feel like reaching out, check out my site at: austinnordell.com

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m a theme park fiend! If it was safe and open, I could make Universal Studios, Six Flags or Disneyland a week long adventure.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Brenton Covington. We have worked on countless projects together and always supported each other’s endeavors. In the darkest times, I go to him for perspective. dynamicfilm@gmail.com

Website: www.austinnordell.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/austinnordell_soc/
Other: www.therawnegative.com

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