Growing and preserving a style: a conversation with Mindcastle

Danielle Krieger and Casey Warren are the minds behind Seattle duo Mindcastle. Throughout the years, their thoughtful approach to visual storytelling have turned a few heads, leading them to collaborate with great companies and brands. We had a chat with Danielle and Casey about how they approach and execute their shoots, getting their hands on the Alexa Mini and finding the uniqueness of each project.

Hi guys and welcome to the Movidiam podcast. Today, we’ve got Danielle and Casey from Mindcastle. Danielle and Casey, welcome to the Movidiam podcast.

Casey: Hey, how’s it going.

Danielle: Hi

It’s actually great to hear you guys, to have you on the call and talking about producing in this sort of era, the connected era that we’re now living through. And the benefits of having networks and producing and working with people all over the world on various different commercial projects. Can you just tell us a little bit about Mindcastle, as to how it got started?

Danielle: Well, Casey and I are also a couple. We met in high school, and we needed to get summer jobs. Our parents kind of pushed us towards working at various places, and we decided instead to start a photo video company. And so it really was born in high school and then just continued from there.

When we went to college, we got communications degrees and there wasn’t a film major at our school at the university we went to. But we ended up getting hooked up with some people at ESPN and Major League Baseball, and then we started shooting some sports. Now we’ve kind of transitioned into directing more commercial work. So that’s where we are headed now, is more commercial work and some directed client work that we’re doing with people that we have connections with.

ESPN NBA Countdown / MIXTAPE — Directors Cut

Sure, and you’re sort of pioneers of this sort of latest and greatest technology. For example, I read a little bit about you being some of the first people to use the Alexa Mini, for example. Have you always pushed the envelope on the image and the technology or are you a creative engine? Or are you more on the execution side of things? How do projects come to you? Are they fully distilled when they arrive to you, or do you build up the brief, so to speak?

Casey: The Alexa Mini project was kind of two parts, one was the camera development, and then one was the actual film that we did, called Journey. So to speak to your question about did we come up with concepts or not, it depends on how the project’s brought to us.

But that project was something where we came up with the concept and we wrote it and directed it. And then other times when we’re working with agencies, they have a creative brief that they bring us that has basically sort of things laid out. But then we take it and we create a treatment of how we would want it do it and put our own spin on it, so there are various degrees of creative input.

Our favorite is getting a blank sheet of paper and going from there because you can just start laying out your ideas and really see them come to life.

Danielle: But it’s also really great, too, when you work with awesome creatives from agencies and they have a really amazing idea that you get excited about, and you can see how you can expand it. So this year, we’ve had the ability to work in both different ways, working directly with clients where we can come up with concept and really spend more time with them and get to know them and delve deep in what they need for their videos.

But then we’ve also be working with some great agencies that have awesome ideas to start with and then we kind of just build upon it, so it’s been good to do both, I think. But as far as you were asking about visual, Casey and I, when we first started, the visual’s just so important to us in how we were telling the story.

We were never really happy with our camera setup, and one time we were at NAB and just trying to figure out what the next camera would be for ourselves. At the time you’re shooting on a $2,000 camera and a DSLR, and then we decided we wanted to jump up to the ARRI Alexa.

The one we got was over $100 thousand, so it was a huge jump for us, but it was a big, important one for us. It led us to a lot of different jobs because we weren’t seen as like DSLR shooters. We really were taken more seriously, and then also we had a great connection with ARRI that led us to work with them to develop the Mini and give feedback on that one.

It was a good process for us. Once we decided that that was the camera for us, we stopped worrying about the image. We stopped having these discussions, how can we make it better? Because we just had a camera that we really loved the way it looked, so it did a good job for us.

Danielle and Casey

That’s a very interesting sort of journey from that DSLR world where you can charge a certain amount here and maybe brand it, cause many people have access to a DSLR. But the camera being the professionalizing moment or just presents in. I can see from your Movidiam profile, it’s incredibly striking, even the still images of the videos or the movies, so it’s a key part of it.

How do you find the people that are coming to you now? Do the clients or the agencies actually understand that ascetic, or do they just believe that everything should look that sharp?

Danielle: Well, coming from how people are finding us is a couple of different things. We have an agent, like a rep in New York that is helping us get agency work, so that’s been just this year, and so we’re starting to get work through her. All the other work has just been through connections that we’ve built over the last five to ten years.

And word of mouth, and people getting featured places and then someone seeing us, and just building that connection with someone, or someone seeing our short. We have a company we work with here in Seattle that two years ago, saw our short film from 1994 and asked us to come in for a meeting.

They didn’t have any projects that were available at the time, but we just met with them and got that face-to-face connection and then earlier this year, we did a big project with them. It’s just about building connections and networking, and those have been successful for us. We’re doing both different things now which is still fostering relationships on our own, but then also having a rep that’s bringing us more commercial.

I think this is what’s fundamental about Movidiam, actually, is we find that you’re building the network around your area of expertise and specialists. We’ve got a whole bunch of global agencies now all over the world coming to the platform, looking for creative producers, creative talent, and actually accruing and resourcing productions in a very, very dynamic and fluid way.

Danielle: In comparison to only two or three years ago when you might be shipping people around the world or using teams that maybe have the right skill set, but not the perfect team or best fit.

Yeah, I think online is definitely good, and it’s definitely the first start. We’ve had agencies call us, not through our rep, but call us individually too, where they said, I saw this video and you were using it as an example video for what we wanted to do, and then we just decided we’d call you.

But the main thing that I’m noticing, especially with the rise of more filmmakers and DSLRs and all that stuff is, what’s the difference between let’s say Journey or a high-production film where all of those people are cast. Everyone is outfitted with a stylist, everything is found and is done purposefully.

Everything that was in the shot list ends up in the film versus someone just going out and shooting, and that’s kind of misleading for clients where, okay, can you execute that? If we gave you a brief, can you execute that again, or did you just happen to have beautiful-looking friends that you went on these hikes with?

Or you went and did something and you did the work, but you happened upon the story. One thing Casey and I really focus on in our work is just making sure that what we set out to get is what we end up with in the end. And obviously, there’s some sort of organic stuff that happens on the shoot that you end up with some cool things that you didn’t expect.

But it’s important when agencies are coming to you or clients are coming to you, that they know that you can execute what your portfolio shows.

“From 1994” Short Film

Sure, it’s the reliability in the storyboarding phase, so as their idea basically comes to life, not a different parallel version of it.
How is the dynamic with your creative, co-producing effectively, how does that work? Is Casey or are you more, in one particular field, are you more technical or planning or logistics, or both have the same skill set? How does it actually divide up?

Casey: Well, usually on shoots, I’ll look more at the details, smaller detail things, and then also the imagery and how we’re gonna achieve that, and things like that. Then we also both kind of work on and create the story together. From beginning, Danielle looks at a lot of the big picture stuff, and I’ll kind of focus on the sort of nit-picky details, I guess, but yeah, it’s awesome to work together.

We’ve been working together so long that it’s just like a unified vision, and I’m definitely more technical on the camera and how we shoot it side. Our goal in the future is to find and work with some really amazing DPs. So far, we’ve been just doing it ourselves because that’s how the projects have been, and that’s where the budget ranges have been. But I’m totally down for really bringing in someone with an amazing skill set.

Danielle: And we started in photography, so I don’t actually operate the cameras anymore. I used to shoot when we did DSLRs. Once we got to a bigger camera system, I’m not gonna DP anymore. I don’t want to, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I want because I come from that background.

So we do work together on the image, but it comes down to personality differences. Casey is very detailed, like he said. I’m not as detailed on certain things, but I see the bigger picture. And since we’ve been working together for so long now, it’s like there are certain things that he really cares about that I’m not gonna fight him on.

And then there are certain things he knows I really care about. So there’s certain points throughout the process that one of us takes us a lead or the other, but ultimately, we have a unified vision.

Actually very refreshing to have that close bond over that creative vision.

Danielle: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of couples ask us, how do you do it? And I think, we’ve been basically working together for 13 years now, as our whole professional career has been working together, so we don’t really know any other way of doing it. And so it doesn’t seem weird to us, but I know sometimes other couples are like, how can you work together?

We either can have a relationship or we can have working together, not both, but that’s how we’ve always done it.

And do you think in this search for working with different talented DPs and new people coming into your network to kinda build your team, is that something that Movidiam might be able to assist with, with this sort of global talent search and the map search?

Casey: Yeah, we film projects all over. I was just out of the country last week and that’s what’s cool about the web and the community of film makers that’s not just local, but global, so we’re always on the hunt. For instance, we actually found an amazing composer who’s in Europe, and we would have projects.

We’d send him the video and then we’d wake up the next morning and have some different tracks to listen to. So it’s actually amazing on the time frame and how we worked with him overseas where it worked out great. Every night, we’d have a little call with him and hang up, and next morning, we woke up to little Christmas presents of mp3 files that would come through and just your amazing, amazing stuff.

Danielle: And I think online platforms are definitely the first start. So you can build a connection with someone, keep in touch and say, hey, I really appreciate your work, would love to work with you some day or whatever. And then you can start that platform of becoming friends and seeing their work grow together.

Casey stays in touch with a director that’s in France, and when we went there a couple of years ago, we met up in person. But just if we did something together, we might do something together. Online is a great first step for finding people and staying connected when you’re not local.

SonoSite Brand Film

Sure, and I think also with project management features now as well, it kind of keeps assets all safe and secure. When there’s a lot of moving parts to a production, there’s so many moving parts, often, keeping everything organized and notification-based as well. So you can focus more on the creativity and leave this administrative planning side more to an assistant.

Danielle: Yeah, totally.

Do you find that your work, people ask you to do the same stuff where you get particularly pigeon-holed into an area of outdoor or cars or underwater? Do you find that people come back to you for the same stuff, and do you want to change that? Do you want to do different work?

Casey: I think people definitely come to us for what they’ve seen us do, but we always tell people, every project’s different. For example, the medical project we just did, they came to us because they were inspired and really liked our short film. So just by nature that this company makes medical products, their video is gonna be different just because of who they are and the creative process that we want through them with to create it.

I think that we always tried to make each project its own unique thing. It just sort of happens organically anyway, just based on the client or the creative that’s needed. But I think it is important just to have a style and keep on growing that style, cause for us, it’s about trying to preserve it being an art form.

And just continuing to have something that you can be recognized for, and camera technique is different than the story that’s told. I think that for me, camera technique can always change, you can shoot something, say, all on a Gimbal, on a MoVI. And then you can go next week and and shoot something hand-held, and that isn’t necessarily a style, it’s just a story-telling technique.

So, I like to focus on more what the story is and finding a technique that fits it rather than always being stuck to, we shoot everything on Steadicam, or all of our stuff is always on Gimbal. We like to use what best fits the story.

The Journey — Directed by Casey Warren & Danielle Krieger

Danielle: I think the thing that we’ve noticed, too, is that the bigger the budgets get, the more the people’s jobs are on the line and they don’t wanna take a risk. So if you’ve done a film that is all outdoor stuff like Journey, then a company will come to you because they see that and they want that for themselves.

So if someone’s feeling like they’re pigeonholed into something, they need to make their own work because people are not gonna take the risk on something completely new. It seems dumb sometimes where it’s like, okay, I shot basketball. I can’t shoot football now, or I’ve shot kids, but I can’t shoot teenagers, but they really wanna see within your work what they’re looking for because there’s so much money on the line and there’re so many jobs on the line.

So if we ever feel like there’s something we’re not winning because we’re missing something, it’s important for us to just go film out on our own and take the risk. We’ll take our own risk on ourselves, put out the money to make a short film or a project so that that can be incorporated into our reel.

Or if there’s something like wanting to do something more experimental, it’s hard for people to visualize what you are talking about unless you show them exactly what you can do. So just doing some experimental films to pair with your hired work so you can say hey, look, I’ve done this hired work.

But then I also have this experimental stuff that kind of fits, then you’re showing them what you can do rather than you expecting them to take the risk for you to do something completely different.

Kind of effective like putting a bit of marketing budget into the work by producing something unique which isn’t commissioned, but might get you two or three more jobs in that area.

Danielle: Yeah, definitely.

Storyboards “From 1994”

Very interesting. So, what’s next? What’s your six-month to a year plan? It’s always challenging cause you’re only as good as your last job in the film business.

Casey: Totally, yeah. For us, we’re definitely getting into doing more commercial content, but we also just wanna go back to the roots of real film-making in the sense of narrative film-making. That could be longer-form short film work or feature stuff, so we’ve just been trying to hone a lot of our writing skills and just really trying to develop those further and just get stuff into script form to try to get produced in the future.

Danielle: Yeah, I guess the goal is always to have enough work that we can live, survive. But then also save enough time so that we can do some creative projects that we’re really passionate about. And there are some jobs that do bridge those lines of where you get to work on something you’re really, really, really excited about.

But in the end, creative projects or ones that you do on your own are those ones that are just so exciting because you have complete control over it. So we try to at least do one a year, so hopefully in the next six months, since it’s been a while since our last project, that we’ll be filming hopefully one of the ones we’ve been working on, we’ve been writing.

Great, well I know we’ve spoken for about 20 minutes, and I know you’ve probably got to get back into an edit or get out onto a shoot location, so thanks so much, indeed, for your time, and joining us on the Movidiam podcast. I look forward to connecting further and seeing more projects come live onto your portfolio.

Danielle: Yeah, thanks so much.

Casey: Thanks so much.

Find Mindcastle online:

Movidiam:Danielle Krieger