Freeflyer: Mindcastle

We’ve worked closely with Mindcastle for years on a variety of projects. Casey and Danielle make up the small, directing and creative duo based in Seattle. Their work includes films, branded content and social strategy across multiple platforms. They’ve worked with the likes of HBO, Showtime, Canon, ESPN, Elle Magazine, Microsoft, Chevrolet, Nike, UFC, Major League Baseball, ARRI & Brooks Running. We caught up with the two of them to talk about their adventures in filmmaking.

Freefly: What first brought you behind the camera as a team?

C&D: We became friends first and any time we spent together we would be doing something creative whether it was painting, photography, building things out of modeling clay or making random short films. We started making films in high school and then throughout college, so we have been working & filming together our entire professional careers.

Was there a definitive point in the early days when the thought “Hey… we can actually do this.” occurred?

C&D: We started working with ESPN, MLB, Canon & Microsoft during college when there wasn’t pressure for it to be full-time. By the time we were finished with college, we had enough work to go full time. It wasn’t until we started writing our own films that we started to feel more confident in our ‘voice’ or style as directors and artists. Once we started writing, rather than being reactionary in our filmmaking we became proactive in creating the work we wanted to make.

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How did you connect with Freefly?

C&D: Approximately 5 years ago we worked with Tabb on a Canon film to do aerials in Alaska. We went to his workshop to check out his helicopters and after he landed between two BMWs that were parked 4 feet apart in his garage we knew he was legit. The shoot was up in Alaska and have been friends/colleagues since. We also had the opportunity to meet and work with Hugh a few years later on our short film, From 1994. From there we have continued to work and partner together on various films and projects.

Directing… producing… editing… writing… has your vertical integration as a company always been a conscious priority? Has this approach changed much over the last couple of years for you?

C&D: In the beginning it was more out of necessity, but now we really love working in all aspects.  One of the things we look forward to most on productions is the teamwork. One of our favorite aspects of filmmaking is working with other talented people who are excellent at what they do. Filmmaking is definitely a collaboration and when the crew is enthusiastic and talented that really fuels us to keep on making more films.

The space where art and technology intersect is the creative space. It’s a place where art allows you to explore and the technology allows you to create it.

On one of our first ESPN shoots we were only a 4 person crew. The art director would also go get coffee or build furniture. There wasn’t a feeling of being above any aspect of the job. Everyone just had to pitch in to get the job done. That project went on to be nominated for an Emmy. We take that approach into the jobs we do now – even when we have 25+ crew, we will always be extremely hands on. Over the last couple of years, we have found that we enjoy writing and directing the best.

How does your subject matter influence your shot list?

Danielle: Way before the shot list is created we are thinking about: What is the story you want to tell? Whats the message? Who is the audience.  How we approach everything from casting to filming, music and editing is going to be different for each project. In a way, the subject matter becomes your shot list. You subject and what they say, think, or do become the story and in turn your shots should amplify that.

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You seem to revel in the storyboarding process but we’ve also seen your passion for experimentation on set. How do you maintain room for both of these ideals on a shoot?

C&D: Planning is the most important aspect of the shoots we do. If you get the locations, casting, props, and gear all right ahead of time, the project moves ahead smoothly. However, filmmaking is extremely organic. You can plan, plan, plan, but sometimes you see something you haven’t seen before. The second you call action on a set, we like to think of that set becoming a world. A world your characters can explore, and one that you can too. And part of that is capturing new and exciting things within that world. We really like to aim for 360 degrees of freedom so have the opportunity to be spontaneous. If something isn’t working, change it. Or if you see a superior angle then thats great. As long as it fits the final piece you want to create we are all for it.

When a client approaches you for a new project, do you find yourself revisiting past work for inspiration?

No two films or projects are the same. The client and the audience will be different. More often than not a client comes to us with a piece of ours they really like and would like to make something similar for themselves. It’s important to take what you know from your past work and build on it. We would never repeat the same exact film. Thats not fun for us. But we will take the feeling of a certain film that the client was drawn to and apply that to the objectives and goals of their particular project.

Lessons learned?

  • Make your own inspired work.Look into yourself for inspiration rather than others.
  • Constantly create work that you are inspired about.
  • Always keep writing.

Do you have passions outside of the film industry influenced your approach to telling stories?

Danielle: Traveling out of the country to new places is always inspiring. History, science. We always get tons of ideas talking about time, space, and the meaning of life. All the big stuff. As we get older and write more, I realize that life experience is where all the richness of a story comes from. If you can pull from your own experiences it brings authenticity to a character and depth to the story.

Casey: Hah! yeah, for some reason we always like to talk about the big stuff: Life. Death. The Universe. Sometimes trying to wrap your brain around the ‘why’ of the universe helps you think outside the box, and in turn develop fresh ideas, stories and characters.

Projecting 5 years forward, where do you want to be?

We have spent a lot of the past two years writing. We have 3 features we would like to make and several short films. In 5 years, we would like to have completed one of the features. We also are getting more and more excited about telling stories in the short form whether that be short films or commercial content. So we would really love to be still working on new and exciting short projects.

It’s important to take what you know from your past work and build on it.

What’s currently inspiring to get out and film?

Danielle: Deadlines. Sunshine. The more time we spend in the office doing emails, post production, editing, the more we can’t wait to get out and film. I have so many ideas that I can’t wait to execute. Lately I’ve been feeling like I have no lack of ideas which is actually a really good place to be.

Casey: For me I always like to go out and test something. It could be a new piece of gear, technique, or concept. One thing that I’ve been really enjoying is writing. In a way, when you write, hit the delete key and rewrite, you are testing. So to write something and then go out and film it, thats what I am inspired by.

You seem to enjoy the intersection of art and technology, much like we do at Freefly.  Can you talk about why that space is so exciting?

Casey: To me, art and technology go hand in hand. Technology helps execute what is in your imagination.  They share a symbiotic relationship where one cannot exist without the other. The space where art and technology intersect is the creative space. It’s a place where art allows you to explore and the technology allows you to create it.

What are the top 3 things you wish you could tell yourself 5 years ago?

  1. You won’t have all the answers – even in 5 years.
  2. Keep making your own work and passion projects. Set a timeline and get it done.
  3. Make more time to write.
  4. (bonus) If you stay true to your integrity and passion, everything will always work out.
  5. (bonus) ‘Your ideas are as good as anyone else’s.” -JJ Abrams said that this was the best piece of advice someone gave him when he was starting out. We remind ourselves of this often.

You invented one of our most popular / beloved accessories, the MōVI Ring.  How did you come up with that idea?

Danielle: Casey always has ideas, and he can’t contain himself in sharing them with whoever will listen. He bothered ARRI until they made the mini.

Casey: I always seem to find myself holding cameras in awkward positions just to ‘get the shot’. Since the MoVI can stabilize the camera wherever you hold it, I thought, “How awesome would it be if you could hold it from anywhere.” I found some old hula hoops in the garage but those were too big, unstable, and, well, hula hoops: Not in line with the “I’m a cool filmmaker” look, so I ran to the hardware store to see if I could find something better.

I dug through some bins of semi-bendable pipe and bought a bunch of it and ran home. I got into the shop and shaped a few rings out of it then gaff taped the Sh&* out one that looked like the best fit. I raced to Freefly HQ, I think I already had a meeting there that day. Maybe not. I remember being in an office with Tabb and I brought in the gaff taped ring. Tabb excitedly called Dave over, I began my sentence “Hey, I think this would work great for the..M.” Dave’s eyes lit up and he ran away with the ring without saying a word. I heard some scuffling a few rooms over. He returned with Shane, and a pre-production MoVI fully rigged up into the ring. They were both beaming. The rest is history.

Be sure to catch up with Mindcastle on Instagram, Twitter and other social channels. Watch more of their work on their Vimeo page.