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    Posted March 5, 2014 by
    los angeles, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    iReport at the movies

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    Canadian Director/Cinematographer Turns from Documentaries to Scripted Material


    Q&A with Cinematographer/Director/Producer Geoff Browne


    CHASE: When did you first start getting into films?


    BROWNE: I started really getting into films when I was around 10 years old watching all the Spielberg/Lucas classics. I have two younger brothers, and my dad had a little video camera so the three of us would often make little films. By the time I got to high school I was making them with other students, and they always ended up being pretty popularl. When I turned 20, I moved to Vancouver. Seeking film work, I walked around from set to set asking if I could volunteer.  Mostly the answer was NO.  Eventually I met a location manager who let me get my foot in the door... ie work for free that is, or for food, which was a major bonus for me at the time... I was so excited to be on set the first day that I called my mom and had her listen in to the walkies on the phone for a few minutes. It was awesome, I'd made it, I was a PA.  At the end of the shoot the crew got together and drank some beers in the make-up trailer, I was still so jazzed I kept the bottle caps!  Despite my initial infatuation, the PA thing got old fast.... I wanted to make films and see the world, not help someone else make their films. I started brainstorming, and I came up with a travel film idea.  I could get the hotels to cover my expenses and those of a small crew. As long as we got free food, free booze and free lodging we were golden!  After working on the idea for a year, of sleeping on the floor in a tiny office, and "convincing" the staff at McDonalds to give me free food by claiming there were hairs in my burgers etc, the film finally came together. I was 21. Continental Airlines paid for my tickets, a severl resorts and hotels came on board the project, including Francis Ford Coppola's resort 'Blankneaux Lodge.' My tiny crew and I shot the film on a 35mm camera donated by our sponsor Panavision. me with old Arri 2Cs and we collected a bunch of short ends. That was the beginning... my team and I had the time of our lives, the footage looked amazing and I ended up getting hired by the "Worlds Most Travelled Man". From there we went on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Ushuaia, the southern tip of Argentina, to Cape Town South Africa. It was a spectacular 22 day journey aboard a small 125 foot Russian freighter.


    CHASE: What was your motivation/inspiration for getting into film?


    BROWNE: My inspiration was honestly watching Star Wars and Indiana Jones... I remember as a kid watching the behind the scenes of Star Wars and being hooked. It looked so cool, they were shooting in Morocco if memory serves, and right then I decided that's what I was going to do: travel the world and make movies.


    CHASE: Aside from directing, you also act. What was that experience like? And do you plan on acting in other movies that are not your own?


    BROWNE: Yes, I have always loved acting.  As a kid I always got involved in theater and doing comedy sketches at Kilcoo, my summer camp in Ontario Canada. Being in front of the camera is exciting. As a director and cinematographer there is so much to think about, so many elements; its a nice change of pace to switch to acting sometimes because you can focus on really becoming someone else. I love creating back story for each character I portray; really acting out the moments leading up to the scene.  I've also grown as an actor by practicing some helpful techniques I've learned from Aaron Speiser, my acting coach here in Los Angeles who was coincidentally also Will Smith's acting coach. I believe that with all my traveling, and experience working on documentaried, I have been able to study a wide range of human emotion which has given me a plethora of unique characters to draw from. I love it.


    CHASE: What made you make the move from your native Canada to the US? And how has the impacted your film goals?


    BROWNE: It has always been my dream to move here to California and work in the film industry.  When I was 17 I even snuck away to Los Angeles for a long weekend without telling my parents just so I could see the entertainment capital of the world. Unfortunately that little adventure got me grounded for 3 months... But it was worth it! Every day I am so thankful to be here, even when I'm in traffic I think "well, at least this is LA traffic... I love it."  As for my film goals, it has placed me exactly how and where I need to be... It has allowed me to be a director of photography on National Geographic's hit show Drugs Inc., and it has allowed me to work with some exceptionally talented artist such as Tom Hanks, who I directed a PSA with for a gala. I feel as if my real dreams are really coming to fruition. Plus, working on the fictional side of the biz, is always what I'd hoped for.

    Over the past year I have worked with Sky Studios International on a number of feature films with a host of stars including Danny Trejo, Vinnie Jones, Misha Barton, Luke Goss, Vern Troyer, Michael Pare, and Tom Sizemore.


    CHASE: You've had some amazing experiences overseas filming, can you give some details on some of your most memorable?


    BROWNE: My most notable project I wrote, directed, and shot was a project titled 'Call it Karma' which was filmed in Tibet.  I stayed in a remote village in Eat Kham Tibet. There was no electricity, so I had to charge my camera with a little gas generator. I don't speak the language and didn't have a translator with me, which posed some issues ended up getting me the dramatic recreations I needed. However, before leaving Vancouver, I'd filmed 'the Monk'. I'd had recorded him speaking in Tibetan explaining what I was doing so when I went to the village I could show the footage and the locals would, for the most part, comply. The only problem was, I'd only recorded him and not me saying what I needed in English, so when I got there and played the tape back I had no idea where the request I needed was on the tape. Anyway, it ended up being an amazingly rewarding experience. You can check it out here: ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=884beRoVZkI ) . Most recently i have been working at putting two films together that I want to shoot in Nigeria.  Its exciting, dangerous but exciting.


    CHASE: What was the most eye-opening/terrifying experience(s) you've had working on a project?


    BROWNE: When I was in Nigeria, close to Delta, I wanted to shoot some scenes for a proof of concept for a feature I am developing there. I was there alone, with some hosts and needed to get scene shot where the protagonist is kidnapped, and once taken to jail. Nigeria is the second most corrupt country in the world and people care kidnapped daily. Anyway to get this scene done, I had to teach a kid from the orphanage where i was staying how to operate a camera, and then the guards and two other guys how to act. I found a clearing in the jungle and then had to show these guys how to make it like they were kidnapping me. After the first take I realized their Ak-47s were loaded and stopped to have them take the bullets out.
    The other quy was wheeling a sharp machete over my head... I had to  instruct him not to do that, just swing it around me, see if my hands  were up to high he would lop them off. At the same time they were  yelling at me to give them a million dollars. Their voices echoed  throughout the forest and into the nearby village... Soon people came  out to see what was going on, they did not look like the friendliest of  sorts. In Nigeria the only way to get around is with armed guards. So  now I had to keep one eye on the kid with my camera in fear he would run  off with it, make sure the guy with the machete wasn't getting it too  close to my hands, and also put trust in the fact there were no bullets  in the gun... In these kind of countries anything can happen, and the  bottom line is not to trust anyone. So it was a little scary. Another  time I needed to shoot another scene in the jungle but they insisted we  go for a swim first. They took me down a long path that led to a river.  At the river there were about 25 Nigerians most passing around big  spliffs. They were shocked I was there, and dumb enough to bring  expensive camera gear. I felt people casing my stuff...Then one guy in  the water called me in for a challenge. I'd have to leave my camera with  my associates, and dive in. To make them feel I wasn't intimidated by  anything I jumped in the water. 25 guys jumped in after me and formed a  circle around me. I was doing the eggbeater looking all around. One guy  came up pretending he couldn't swim, and was getting into attack mode...  but thankfully I took classes and safety at summer camp, so i put my  foot up and back away right into another guy who held a big empty  bottle. he told me to watch him, he went underwater... I couldn't see  where he had gone and soon he emerged with the bottle half full of  water. Now he wanted me to go under water, hold my breath and see how  much water I could get into it. I didn't know if this was a real game or  a trick to drown me. Anyway the guys were circled around me and I took a  deep breath and went under. I sunk to the bottom and looked up at all  their feet. At that moment I just had a beat inside me that said they  won't let me get up. I realized I was idiot... I proceeded to play and  try and fill the bottle... but was thinking of how I'd make it... Not to  mention I couldn't see my camera anymore. I got some water in the  bottle but worked at swimming under water away from them and closer to  land... And I did. I rose from outside the circle with a tiny bit of  water in the bottle. They laughed and shouted as I tried to make it look  like I was enjoying myself and quickly pulled myself on land. This  pissed them off, they wanted me in again and there was no way. In fact  the Nigerians I was with said we had to leave quickly, and we did. Then  briefly filming for National Geographic series Drugs Inc. had some  intense moments. I had to meet active dealers in secret locations. I  would text a fixer, they would meet me somewhere and we would go into a  room with the dealer and his thugs. Nat Geo wanted there to be Drugs on  the table for the show, and they had huge containers of what they were  dealing. I would quickly go in, put a balaclava on the dealer and shoot  the interview with all these serious bad asses standing behind me. What  scared me was if they got busted the next day for some other reason they  may have thought I rated on them or something. One fixer just got out  of jail and he warned me if I stayed an inch from what I said we would  do, it would be the end of me. "Rules in our world are different from  rules in your world,' he said. "We can have people killed for fucking  up, or lying. If you are ok with that then I can introduce you." I  swallowed hard and said "absolutely." When I was crossing the Atlantic  ocean when I was 25 we were in the roughest seas in the world. My room  was about twenty feet up from the water if it was ever calm... (it never  is). But one night there was a huge storm out in the middle of the  planet... So dark out there, the wind was so strong, I could here it  whistling through and banging around every clip, rope and wire on the  deck... A high pitched screeching sound, mixed in with massive crashing  thuds and thumps as our boat was being battered by the waves and  rollers, the chair in my room was flying back and forth. A few days  before another storm somehow knocked butane gas into our waterline and  everything smelt like gas...


    CHASE: Do you have a favorite project you've worked on?


    BROWNE: I have a few favorites. The 22 day trip I took when I was 25 years old, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Southern tip of Argentina to South Africa was by boat was pretty wild, especially since I ended up being the first Canadian to land on Bouvet Island. I  loved working with Academy Award winning and 4 time nominated director Malcolm Clarke on a film i shot for him. It was intense piece about a serial killer who murdered 49 prostitutes and fed them to his pigs. Anytime you're working with someone as talent as Malcolm it's amazing. He taught me a lot and we had a great time.

    My Tibet film was also a highlight... Especially when I tried to find a  way to get permission to film the Dalai Lama in India... That's another  story...


    CHASE: You've worked on everything from shorts, and documentaries to features, do you have a favorite platform?


    BROWNE: My favorites, hands down, are features. Everything I have done has always been a stepping stone allowing me to build my craft and to become a solid feature film director. Its what I have always dreamed of doing.  Documentaries are fun because it's essentially guerrilla film making, and its taught me so much about  people, places, and scenarios but now I want to incorporate that into my features and even into acting. I have seen so much from amazingly lit temples, mud huts, and night skies, to the people and their unique tics - from drug addictions, money additions, gangssters, murderers...


    CHASE: Movie making can be a time consuming job what do you do when you're not working on a project?


    BROWNE: Movie making does take up 95% of my time, but when I'm free I need to stay active.  I volunteer to feed the homeless here in Los Angeles, I take boxing classes, and acting class. In the summer I try to take off and head to the South of France for 10 days or so to clear my mind and do some writing.


    CHASE: What is your favorite film genre to make? And what is your favorite film genre to watch? Why?


    BROWNE:  My favorite genre is 'action drama'... Well, more action films with a  good subplot: a character with a fatal flaw or something, and through his  'adventure' he either overcomes that flaw and succeeds or fails epically. I want and the audience to feel for the  protagonist, I want  the writing to make us consciously root for  him/her to learn  and to change. Those are the best films, they are the  ones that stick  with us. Right now I am developing two action dramas that will  be shot in Africa, one in Nigeria the other in Ghana.


    CHASE: What do you say to young people out there struggling to get into the film industry?


    BROWNE: Persistence is key. My mom always taught me to be  persistent... My gosh that's the key.  Also, just do it. Don't try and work your way up in the industry, just do whatever it is you want to do. If its a directing, grab a camera and start directing; if your acing, find a director and make a project. Everyone has access now to great cameras there really aren't any excuses. Just get out there and create, never stop, never give up... If you really want it and really work hard you will suffer through the hard times but I promise there is something  good waiting for you.

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