For the first episode of the Video for Colleges podcast, Frank and I talked to Mark Hanlon, creator of The Butterfly Effect for Stanford University’s School of Medicine. He is an independent producer, cinematographer, and editor who specializes in “microdocumentaries” for non-profits. Before his first higher ed video gig for Stanford, Mark wrote and directed fiction films. Through the years, he’s developed a preference for reality over make believe, though he won’t let you call him a documentarian. However you categorize his videos, there’s no debating that they possess elements of raw truth.
Here are just a few of the important lessons we gleaned from our discussion:
Mark rarely does pre-interviews before the day of the shoot. He prefers to let the camera roll so he can start asking questions right away, accounting for the time that people usually need to warm up. It’s clear from The Butterfly Effect that he’s good at getting people to let their guard down. “It’s just a matter of being respectful, listening more than talking, and demonstrating your humanity. If they see you as a person and you’re not just a guy with a camera and this isn’t just another assignment, they tend to be way more willing to talk.”
Mark always feels like he’s intruding with his camera. He hopes that never leaves him. The moment he starts taking the gift of intimate access for granted, it means he’s lost that special respect for the people he’s filming and their stories.
“That tendency to be reticent and reluctant because you’re invading someone’s space checks you in a good way. If you let that reluctance overwhelm you, you won’t get what you need. Strike the right balance between respectful distance and really pushing what is acceptable in that context, knowing that you wouldn’t be there if the subject didn’t invite you. As long as you’re not suprising them with a really intrusive move, it’s ok because they’re giving you something special — a privileged view of their lives.”
But what’s in it for the subject Paul Martinez?
“One of the things Paul hoped to accomplish by allowing me in his home and showing me his wounds and letting me film was to show the world what this awful disease is really like. I felt obligated not to tone it down.”
Listen to the entire podcast to learn more about how Mark arrived at his decision to show graphic moments in slow motion.