Pro advice from filmmakers on how to capture the essence of a travel destination in your Instagram videos
Seattle is a hub for creativity. Not only does the city attract talent from all over the world, but also its varied landscape and dynamic energy make for one of the most inspiring settings. That’s why the city tapped five filmmakers from across the country, including three from the West, to create short videos influenced by the Emerald City and interpreted through the five senses. The initiative titled “Project Five by Five” yielded wildly different and entertaining results—from a whimsical animated, Sasquatch-led tour of town to a documentary-style, day-in-the-life of a dairy farmer—but each had two things in common: They made you want to go to Seattle and would certainly generate a double-tap if it came across your Insta feed.
Visit Seattle, the group responsible for the progress and tourism of the city, debuted the short films with a takeover-event at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah—the first of its kind at the fest. We took the opportunity to poll each director to find out what they think makes for a great travel video and how you can better capture your adventures.
Find something that speaks to you
Clea DuVall, the actress and director known for roles in Girl Interrupted, She’s All That, and Veep, chose the sense of “taste” and says she fantasizes about moving to the Northwest one day. The L.A. native focused on the city’s ties to its natural surroundings by following a dairy farmer’s journey from field to ice cream cone.
Pro tip: She urges you to focus on specific moments and find something to which you feel a personal connection. “Often times people want to capture the most photographed landmark or place,” she says. “But the work will be more unique if you find something that speaks to you.” The closer you feel to the subject, the better you’ll be able to capture it.
Get out and walk around
Whidbey Island-resident Drew Christie creates animations like his recent project with T. Bone Burnett, Drawn & Recorded, which tells what happened behind the stage and between tour stops in musical legends’ lives. For “Project Five by Five”, he illustrated a female version of Sasquatch (because why isn’t the mythical creature ever portrayed as a woman?) to give viewers a tour of the city as she sniffs her way around town, capturing the sense of “smell.”
Pro tip: “Get out and walk around,” he says. “Explore. That’s when you’re going to find the weird buildings, secret shops, and abandoned warehouses.” He warns against touring destinations by car. “We get too safe and isolated in vehicles—you won’t discover things that way.” As beautiful as a town may look from the plane, train, or car, nothing beats what you’ll find when you’re up-close-and-personal with a place.
Approach the landscape from a non-human perspective
Ian Cheney won a Peabody award for his documentary King Corn, an Emmy-nod for City Dark, and a legion of food-lover fans for The Search for General Tso, in which he explores the origins of the Chinese restaurant favorite. This time, the Maine-based documentarian turns his eye to the trees of Seattle in an exploration of the sense of touch. In The Forest and the Trees we see how makers encounter, experience, and use the trees to create beautiful tables, lamps, and tchotchkes.
Pro tip: “Approach the landscape from a non-human perspective,” he says referring to his inclination to think about how an ant may see a sidewalk or how a tree experiences its surroundings. “This ends up giving you a more 3-D perspective of a place.” By getting outside of yourself, you are able to capture the landscape through a more organic, and unique perspective.
Look at the history of where you are
Martha Stephens moved from Appalachia to the Northwest recently, and this project provided an opportunity for her to learn about and showcase her new homeland. She was assigned the sense of “sight” and opted for having a Bruce Lee character as the protagonist. He is on a ferry in the Puget Sound frustrated by feelings of isolation and restlessness, but ultimately finding his moment of peace looking at the skyline. Her previous works such as Land Ho, which premiered at Sundance in 2014, and Passenger Pigeons which earned her the title of Best Emerging Female Filmmaker at SXSW, also focused on sense of place.
Pro tip: “Look at the history of where you are,” Stephens says. “I like to find those places that are untouched by time—the mom-and-pop motels, the oldest diners. That’s where you’ll get wood paneling, shag carpeting, old TVs, and other relics that feel dated. We have to capture pieces of America that will soon be lost.” She encourages us to add texture and a nostalgic quality to our videos by focusing on disappearing landmarks and objects.
Learn to make a memory
Dallas-native Terence Nance’s third Sundance debut is based on the sense of sound and focuses on Jimi Hendrix’s childhood. Nance discovered that Hendrix was a Seattle native on an initial Wikipedia search and thought it odd that the musician’s hometown was rarely covered. Through an abstract, almost spiritual series of clips, Nance shows us Hendrix’s childhood and the sounds he may have been inspired by (church bells, hydroplane races, a one-string ukulele). The director ultimately concludes that Hendrix transcends time and space and may have actually fallen from the sky. You just have to watch.
Pro tip: Nance talks about learning to make a memory. “You have to be in the present,” he says. “Watch how the light falls at certain times of day, how the wind moves everything around it and falls on you. Life moves at a pace you control; as fast or slow as you allow it.” By focusing on environmental factors you are better able to hone in on moments that will inspire others.