Storyteller Sit-down

VOL. 29 — Meet a longtime staffer who FINALLY caved into a year’s worth of requests from the editor to produce one of these…

Meet Mariano Carranza — a Brooklynite by way of Peru and an avid fan of South American Indie rock. He was schooled at NYU’s prestigious undergraduate film program before finding himself with a camera in his hand, pursuing a career in non-fiction filmmaking, (first at Vice Media and currently at Great Big Story).
He’s in love with Amazonian art, has a small but growing record collection, and loves tacos and beer. He won a prize for “The Best Laugh at the office”. He once smoked weed with the president of Uruguay (it was strictly for work) and also really hates celery.

You’ve been around the storytelling block a few times now… What’s the one constant you find most enjoyable about it? Something that no matter what the subject is, you’ll always experience whether it’s out in the field or in the office…

MC: Every time I find myself in the field, shooting inside someone’s home or at a random place in the world where I’m filming a documentary, I stop for a moment and I realize how incredibly lucky I am to be able to make a living doing what I do. I feel an incredible passion for telling stories, I truly respect my craft and I’m fascinated and happy every time I’m behind a camera, getting to know a character. It’s such a privilege to be able to tell other people’s stories. I guess that’s what I enjoy the most, is hearing someone’s story. Each one is unique, different and special in its own way.

Being a documentary filmmaker is like having a master-key that lets you into people’s lives. I also feel that with all this privilege comes a big responsibility, and that is, to be respectful of the stories you’re telling and to be honest in the way you’re telling them.

← There are some interesting photos posted of you in our #OnLocation Slack channel. Can you describe the backstory on this one?

MC: I like this photo because it reminds me of a shoot I really enjoyed. I was in the small rural community of Quehue, a three hour drive from the city of Cuzco, high in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

I was there with my freelancer shooter Elard Robles, documenting the construction of the Last Incan Bridge: Q’eswachaca. The story of this bridge is quite incredible. It’s the last bridge in the world made exclusively with hand-made ropes and the community comes together every year to throw the old bridge into the river, before building up a new one again. At the end of the four-day construction ceremony they throw a big party and everyone dances. I loved shooting this story not only because I felt like I was getting to know my country better, but also because the passion with which the community builds this bridge (which they call ‘our bridge”) is really inspiring.

Storytellers will go through a lot to get the shot just right. Tell us about a time where you really went through some trying circumstances to capture footage the way you envisioned it during pre-production.

MC: There was one time when I went to Harvard University to shoot a story about the Brain Tissue Resource Center (aka the Brain Bank). It is a repository of approximately 5,000 human brains that helps scientists, doctors and researchers to study the brain, its conditions, how it works and how certain diseases affect it.

To me, it is fascinating that this is the only way we can study the human brain, and donors are so important to this process. How they get the brains was really important for me to show; they only have 24 hours from the moment a person passes away (which could be anywhere in the country) to ship that brain to Boston, Massachusetts. They don’t get brains everyday and we couldn’t really plan in advance because there is no way to anticipate a brain donation. We got lucky enough that we were able to shoot a donation (turned out they received a call that same day and we managed to stay an extra night to shoot how the brain arrived via private courier at four in the morning). The work this group of scientists is doing is truly remarkable, shout out to professor Sabina Berretta and her team.

What skill(s) do you think make today’s generation of camera-toters better equipped to tell stories? Is it the speed of production, the technology, or do you think the golden age of storytelling still lives in the past?

MC: Honestly, I think the best skill is being a good listener. That’s so important: to be able to tell stories, you have to be able to listen.

During my college years at NYU I used to work at the Film School Media Library — I was in charge of renting out all the DVD’s from our collection to students and professors, so that gave me a great chance to interact with a lot of really bright minds and cool people and be able to hear their stories. A lot of good journalists claim that they got their best training when they were bartenders, because a good bartender has to be able to be a good listener. I guess working the Media Library was my version of being a good bartender. And it really taught me how to listen.

I think anyone can figure out how to use a camera in under an hour watching a YouTube video, but at least to me, what makes a really good storyteller is a combination of a strong “camera-eye” (aesthetics and good taste in visuals) with a good “story-eye” (being able to identify what constitutes a good story).

That, to me, is the trifecta: have a good visual eye, a good story eye and know how to listen. The rest just falls into place.

Who are some of the producers / directors / filmmakers that inspired you to get into this industry? Are there certain techniques you try to mimic through your work?

I grew up watching a lot of Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodóvar. Those two have been an incredible inspiration for me to become a filmmaker. I’m always inspired by their very layered and sophisticated ways of telling stories.

Give us one or two Instagram handles you can’t stop sharing with your friends lately.

There are so many, but I enjoy looking at these ones:

After work, you’re most likely to ________ ?

MC: New York is such a playground that I’m always trying to do be doing different things: live podcast shows, museums openings, concerts, etc. But on any random day after work you can probably catch me watching a movie on my local cinema (shout out to Nighthawk cinema in Williamsburg), or cooking (If I didn’t work behind a camera I’d probably be working in a kitchen) and probably having a mezcal margarita with my friends (whom I consider family here in NYC).