Film, Storytelling & the Midwest: A One-on-one with Brandon Li

The Midstory Team chats with Brandon Li, a travel videographer, about his unique style of filmmaking, the impacts of the pandemic on the travel and videography industry and his perspective as a nomad who grew up in and left the Midwest.

Browse by topic or read the transcript of our interview below.

Topics covered:
[1:05] Background and situation as a travel videographer and nomad during the pandemic
[4:05] The impact of the pandemic on travel videography
[7:44] The impact of the pandemic on filmmaking industry
[9:57] A unique filmmaking process and aesthetic for “travel videos”
[12:50] The role of a camera as a character in filming
[15:56] The role of films to capture and represent one’s own experience of events
[18:02] Social commentary and personality of film emerging from on-the-ground conversations
[20:15] How Seoul Wave differs from a conventional travel video
[22:27] Perspective on growing up in and leaving the Midwest to explore the larger world
[28:08] The potential attraction of the Midwest’s high quality of life
[33:48] The process of making a “travel video” of Toledo

Brandon Li: Every country is taking a different path. There’s no unified front here on this pandemic. The United States, I mean a lot of parts of the United States are treating it like nothing’s happening. If you go…we were going to discuss the Midwest, I know a little bit later in this in this podcast, but it’s like in Missouri, where I grew up around the Ozarks, from the images I’ve seen it’s like nothing has changed and they’re just living life completely normally.

Samuel Chang: I’m delighted to welcome our next guest on this week’s episode of the Midpoint. As a nomadic filmmaker and professional travel videographer, he has trekked the world to film authentic stories from the urban streets of Seoul, Korea to the Kazakh people of western Mongolia. His work has been featured by Vimeo Staff Picks, National Geographic, BBC, Time and much more. Please join me in welcoming Brandon Li. Well, thank you so much, Brandon, for joining us on the Midpoint.

BL: How’s it going? 

SC: Not bad, not bad. So, some of our viewers might not be familiar with your line of work and what you’re up to, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing? 

BL: Well, most of what I do is travel videos, that’s what most people have seen of my work, which is just videos I make around the world in different countries. They’ve become sort of a popular genre now online, and I’ve had a lot of commercial work come out of it. So it’s gone from being sort of a hobby to being like my main thing. And then I also have a YouTube channel where I teach tips, tutorials about film making. Basically, teaching how I do what I do and reviewing gear, and all that tech stuff, too. The majority of what I do is online videos, short videos and tutorials. And I also have an online film school. Sorry, I just wanted to say that I have an online film school, it’s called Unscripted Studio where I teach about film making. That’s sort of a bigger, more extended version of what I have on my YouTube channel. 

SC: Let’s jump right into it. With the pandemic and you’re currently in New Mexico quarantined, you’re a travel videographer as you mentioned, much of your work revolves around traveling and access to transportation. So, with the current shutdown how has this affected your work? 

BL: Well, it’s pretty much brought my work to a standstill, to be honest. I’ve done a lot of product reviews and things I can do from home, like YouTube-type stuff, but the core of what I’m passionate about, the travel video stuff is completely impossible right now. I just can’t go anywhere. I can’t do anything. I was actually supposed to go to the Galapagos Islands right before the pandemic hit, and I was supposed to take a cruise on the Galapagos. I guess it’s a good thing that the pandemic hit before that happened, because maybe that would have been a risky situation. But, that was cancelled and who knows if that company is even going to survive? You know, small operators like that that do cruises. Basically the whole travel industry is going to take a hit for a couple years, I think. 

SC: You’re kind of a self-proclaimed nomad and you’re a traveling nomad. Are you feeling a little restless at home or how have you been dealing with this pandemic?

BL: Yeah, it’s been rough. I mean, I’m not going to sugarcoat things. It’s been very, very tough to stay at home and to not be able to just grab my camera and buy a plane ticket and go somewhere and film something. Because I’ve been living that life, you know the traveling videographer and filmmaker life for like seven years now, I think pretty much non-stop and I was going to a lot of different places every year, and to suddenly have that all grind to a halt and go to zero and just be sitting at home all day trying to figure out how to stay inspired has been really difficult. It’s forced me to sort of appreciate what I had before, appreciate how easy it was to access inspiring places and inspiring people, because now it’s four walls and me and my girlfriend, and sometimes my mom because I’m staying near her, and that’s my world. That’s been my world for about two and a half months. 

SC: I’ve asked previous journalists this as well, and I think nowadays because of the pandemic, because of social distancing and quarantine, it’s really difficult to capture a lot of those images that we’re seeing. Even now, as states start to reopen, people are still staying at home. If you go to other countries, I think it’s the same thing. So how has that affected you in terms of being able to capture those kinds of images as you go out? And as things start to reopen, do you think that’s going to change kind of the face of what travel videography looks like or what traveling in those countries looks like?

BL: Every country is taking a different path. There’s no unified front here on this pandemic. The United States, I mean a lot of parts of the United States are treating it like nothing’s happening. If you go…we were going to discuss the Midwest I know a little bit later in this in this podcast, but it’s like in Missouri, where I grew up around the Ozarks, from the images I’ve seen it’s like nothing has changed and they’re just living life completely normally. Just sitting around the pool with the beer can, with all your buddies. Well, I guess for those people the landscape of videography and filmmaking will be about the same as it was before, at least until a bunch of people end up on ventilators in the hospital, but for the rest of us who are observing social distancing or quarantining, depending on our own threshold of risk, we may be completely avoiding a lot of places in the world. Maybe a lot of foreign travelers will be avoiding the United States, be avoiding New York which used to be such a common hub of travel, a common stopping off point before you go to the rest of the United States, or just a destination to itself. People may completely avoid it. You may stop seeing travel videos about New York for a while. You may see New Yorkers moving out to rural places to try to get away from the density that’s perceived to be risky, including creatives.

So we may see, for instance, I don’t know, it’s just extrapolating here, you might see a flight from hotbeds of creativity, like East Williamsburg, where it used to be that everybody at the coffee shop was a cinematographer or a director, and maybe those people are going to start moving out to more rural locations. They might go up to White Plains or something. They might just try to get out of the urban metropolises.

And to that end, creatively we may see a lot more film and video projects that are set in places of low population density and also places of low risk for the virus. For instance, Mongolia, the world’s least populated country per capita, I believe is at zero cases, zero deaths still, so as far as I know, their borders are open, maybe they’ve closed off, I haven’t really looked that deeply into it, but let’s take that, for example. I made a video in Mongolia years ago with the Kazakh eagle hunters in Western Mongolia. Places like that may become more popular destinations for travelers and for creatives and filmmakers and photographers, because it’s low risk, it’s exotic, it’s interesting and it’s a place that you can go and shoot freely and not really have to worry about contracting COVID. I don’t know, we’ll see. Or, maybe a vaccine will come along and all this will just get brushed away and this will be an interesting blip in history, which I’m hoping happens. I don’t want to learn any lessons from this, I want to go back to the way things were before.

SC: You definitely know this, but film is certainly a reflection of culture. And with this pandemic, there’s already a hundred thousand plus that have died just in the United States alone, how do you imagine this might affect the entertainment industry as we think about film, even the cinema? Do you think that there will be some kind of effect in terms of the genre and what we see on the big screen? 

BL: Well, let’s assume that COVID doesn’t go away, then we will probably see a lot of social distancing enforcement in the film industry in ways that we can’t predict now. For instance, I know that there’s a production in Iceland that has resumed for Netflix, do you know what I’m talking about here? 

SC: No.

BL: Okay so there was a Netflix show that was shooting in Iceland and then got halted for COVID-19 and then they decided to resume. Okay. And what they did was they created wristbands for different levels of access, basically to different groups of people. So they segmented their crew, and people who needed to be together had wristbands with a certain color code that allowed them to to be with each other, and certain people who absolutely needed to access everybody, like the director, got another color of wristband, and they basically quarantined within their own crew. And they’re also doing really frequent tests of people. So, basically if there is any sort of an outbreak that occurs on the set, then they should be able to somewhat theoretically isolate that and track and trace pretty quickly as to who that person had been able to interact with.

So we may see a lot more of that kind of enforcement, a lot more, at least, cursory measures. For instance, wearing gloves on set, wearing masks on set, maybe shooting from two meters or more. We may stop seeing so many Terrence Malick-style 20-millimeter, ultra close-ups on people’s faces. I’m sure Chivo Lubezki won’t like that one bit, but we may stop seeing films shot in a carelessly non-socially distanced way. 

SC: So I’m gonna switch gears a little bit and talk about film, specifically your films. I feel like after watching quite a bit of your films and your works there is a certain mixture of documentary into your shots, into your aesthetic and the scenes that you kind of overlay on top of one another. Do you see your work as a kind of form of documentary or can you speak a little more about your own work? 

BL: Yeah, my work is documentary, technically speaking, because I am filming the real world, I’m not creating a false world, it’s not suspension of disbelief, exactly. So, if you had to peg it, it would mostly be documentary, but I’m inspired more by abstract and experimental and less realistic genres. And I’m inspired a lot by fiction and in the future I would like to get more into straight up narrative fiction, but most of my videos so far I would classify them as documentaries with more of an experimental flair and I think the greater world honestly just looks at them and says, “Hey. These are travel videos. These are the same kind of videos that everybody makes when they travel or at least a lot of people are making now when they travel.” Fancy cuts, fancy transitions, cool moving shots with gimbals, hyperlapses, things like that. I know when clients come to me, usually that’s kind of what they see in my work first and foremost. They don’t see the documentary aspect as much as they see the flashy surface stuff, like the transitions, the cool hyperlapse sequences or whatever.

I’m not going to be pretentious about what my work actually is and say that it’s in the documentary genre or that’s it’s actually in the experimental genre, it’s definitely in the travel video genre, but you know like anybody who’s been doing their own work for a while, I have my own stamp that I put on it and I like to think that it’s something that’s hard for other people to imitate. And what makes my work hard for some people to copy is the amount of documentary work I put in behind the scenes because I’m not just filming myself on my trip, I’m not just filming my friends and I’m not just filming the easy targets like public monuments and popular tourist destinations, I’m getting pretty deep into the lives of the local people and that’s the documentary elbow grease that’s hard to copy because it takes a lot of effort, takes a lot of digging to get access to those subjects. And that was very conscious, a conscious decision on my part to make videos that went a lot deeper and got a lot more intimate access to the subject than pretty much anybody else does in this genre, because I knew that would be hard to imitate and I wanted that to be what marks my videos as unique. 

SC: As a kind of a fellow videographer, I definitely see that element of your film come out and it almost seems like it’s more of a documentary, it’s a mix and that’s why I brought up that question. I even think that in your own kind of director’s commentary, you talk about how the camera itself is a certain subject or a character as part of that film, and I think that’s a very filmic way of looking at these smooth, very flashy transitions. Can you talk a little bit more about the idea of the camera having its own gaze, being its own character in your own films?

BL: Well, the camera is always a character in every film, and people who don’t take that into account will turn the camera into a boring character. It’s just like any character in a movie, if you don’t put thought into the character, then you come away with a cardboard cut out, a stock character. I try to make sure that my camera has a specific personality in my videos. Basically, I think of it in terms of intimacy and humanity. How intimate is the camera with my characters and how human is the camera? For instance, a handheld camera in the center of a big festival that’s getting jostled around and shaking and it’s right up in people’s faces with a wide angle lens, that camera feels very human to the audience. We’ve all seen newscasts where the camera is shaky, we’ve all seen Saving Private Ryan, which is imitating those newscasts. We all intrinsically know what the shoulder cam, handheld camera, feels like, and we all know that when you see that, that means that there’s a person operating. 

But then, the camera can also have a very distanced, ghost-like, observational personality, which one of my favorite directors, David Fincher, uses in his films almost all the time, which is this camera that doesn’t have a personality, this camera that is not a human and you’re supposed to forget about it. You’re supposed to just see through it like you’re looking through a window and see the scene. And sometimes I try to create that personality for the camera too, and that’s one reason I’m such a perfectionist with my shots. When I do a gimbal move or something, some people will always think about the gear and they’ll always be thinking, “Oh dude. How do you pull off that gimbal move?” But those who aren’t so versed in technology and aren’t such camera geeks, hopefully when they watch those moves, they’re feeling like they’re just being thrust into this world, effortlessly gliding through as if they’re weightless, as if they’re just floating. I want to create that feeling and I want people to be able to be immersed in the scene without noticing little technical glitches and mistakes and stuff that draw you out and make you think, “Oh, this is actually some sweaty guy who’s like peering into a tiny little LCD and desperately trying not to twist his wrist too much and ruin the shot.”

I try to be a perfectionist so that you get wrapped up in the world of the films and you don’t think about the personality of the camera until I want you to think about it, until it’s time for you to feel the energy of the camera within the scene. 

SC: Seeing right now with the political unrest and thinking about your own film, Hong Kong Strong, which you’ve done years back I think some of those images that you captured during that time. Thinking about what is going on right now with the political unrest, maybe those are the last time or the last time you’ll see those images captured in reality. I think sometimes that makes me think about how film really plays a larger role in terms of preserving some of the culture and traditions. Do you think that your films do some part of that and that’s why you want to put so much effort into capturing those moments?

BL: I mean, absolutely. I’ve never thought of my films as a time capsule of the subject as much as the time capsule of my experience of the subject. Hong Kong Strong was about the way Hong Kong felt to me, and I saw a lot of things in Hong Kong, a lot of different subjects that will change over time. Of course there is that documentary aspect to it, but the film in no way is an objective presentation of Hong Kong. I didn’t cover everything in the city, I didn’t show things in a balanced way, I didn’t make any effort to present a political ideology or film what was of the highest cultural value. I’m not UNESCO, so my films are basically just what I thought was cool and what affected me emotionally and what my friends brought me to go see. So, it’s pretty much a personal diary, and when I look back I also get a sense of who I was at the time. That’s one thing that’s really fun to me about doing video and about having some proficiency in video, being able to play it like an instrument, because then I can look back and my video is an accurate emotional time capsule of who I was and what I was feeling at the time. I can feel my own energy in my videos. It’s fun to look back, it’s like looking back at your own Facebook feed, or a scrapbook or whatever, only it’s in the format of HD video. 

SC: Yeah, I think that’s really insightful for you to say your videos are kind of like your own personal diary. And because of that, you bring your own perspective into capturing those images. I think in some of your own videos, as well, I think of the one that you shot in Seoul, there certainly is a perspective behind the scenes. You juxtapose specific shots next to one another and some are slower-pace traditional shots others are fast-moving, urbanization. So I wonder if there’s an added kind of social commentary that Brandon is putting into his films or is it just kind of a this is what you’re feeling or what you experienced during that time?

BL: Well, Seoul, the video about Seoul, it did have social commentary, but basically the reason it had social commentary was because that video, like a lot of my videos, was based on my conversations that I had with people in the city and I asked them, “What is it like to actually live in Seoul?” because I know what it’s like to visit Seoul. I’m the guy visiting Seoul. So you don’t need to tell me that, but I want to know what it is like to spend every single day here and grow up and try to survive in this intensely competitive sort of monocultural metropolis. And they get they said a lot of dark things to me, basically.

There’s a term in Seoul that’s called like “Hell Seoul” or something and it’s a much catchier term in Korean, but they have a term for Seoul about how basically hellish it is to live in the city because of the intense competition, because of the pollution, because of basically the ladder that everybody’s trying to climb and it’s all the same ladder. There’s like one ladder that everybody’s supposed to jump on. If you don’t climb that one ladder, if you don’t try to work for Samsung, if you don’t try to have that corporate white collar job, then you’re considered a lesser person and the weird ways that that affects you when there’s only one path to success that was something I really took to heart. And even though that wasn’t my personal experience of the city, it was the experience of so many people that I met that I couldn’t help but work it into the film and make it part of the personality of the film.

SC: So is that something if I was thinking about a travel video for Seoul I probably wouldn’t think about it in terms of that. Is that something that kind of sets you apart where you kind of provide some grittiness and character that oftentimes you don’t want, maybe the city doesn’t want you to expose, but that makes it for a very different kind of travel video.

BL: Yeah, it makes for a video that’s not a travel video. It’s not about traveling there’s no traveling happening in my video about Seoul I mean it’s called “travel video” because I’m not from Seoul and I went there and I made the video and it’s the easiest way to categorize something like that, categorize a video like that, but it’s like a lot of movies and a lot of genres, I guess, where you know, it’ll look like one thing on the surface, but when you really get down to it, when you really sit down and break it apart and you look at the pieces of it, what is this video really saying? And that video is definitely not a tourism campaign and it’s not a record of my trip to Seoul, specifically. It’s how I felt about Seoul after meeting a bunch of people from Seoul, but it wasn’t like it didn’t start off with the wing of a plane and the pilots saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re touching down on Seoul.” and then me checking into a hotel and then us going and jumping into a pool. And, you know, it doesn’t have all that stuff. It doesn’t have the travel stuff; it has nothing about the food that I ate or how I felt about it or the girlfriend I traveled with or all the typical elements of someone’s personal travel video.

So that’s, I mean I wish the world would look at an online video in a more granular way like that but, of course, just like anything, it gets lumped into a category. So i’m fine with people saying that it’s a travel video. But at its heart, it is sort of a maybe, a slightly bitter little pill of social criticism. And you could say that it’s a mini-documentary in an abstract form and it’s got the sugar on top of all the fancy transitions and the fun camera moves, but inside it’s a bitter pill and that’s just based on what people from Seoul told me about their lives.

SC: Yeah. So as a travel videographer, you’ve been to a lot of places you did mention that you grew up in Missouri in St Louis. Well, I’m here in Ohio in the Midwest. What are your… Growing up in the Midwest, I mean, after seeing so many places, what are your general impressions of the place? 

BL: Well, growing up part Asian in Missouri wasn’t the smoothest road I could have taken, I guess. And I grew up with the impression that Asians were rare and that traveling was rare. Leaving the Midwest was a strange thing to do. That only the crazy people did. So, basically, the Midwest felt like a safe bread basket, right? It felt like a safe cradle that most people, most sane people would stay in because why would you ever leave? They’ve got everything you need there. And why would you ever leave the community and whatever? The warmth and the family and God and all that stuff that they have.

And then I got out and I was like, “I never want to come back.” Once I saw the rest of the world, once I realized how big the world is I realized that I would never run out of amazing places to explore no matter how long I explored and that’s why I eventually became a nomad. When I say nomad I’m not I’m not saying, I’m not using that figuratively like I literally live in airbnbs. I live in hotel rooms or crashing on friends couches. Right now, this is an airbnb that I’m in right now. This is not my house. So I am always traveling in one way or in one respect or another.

So I think that bug largely came from the fact that I spent my entire childhood and up through high school and really all the way through college not traveling. I spent it all in the Midwest. I went to school in North Carolina after I left Missouri. I went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, UNCSA. So that was my film school. It was in Winston-Salem, NC. So I went from a small town outside of St. Louis to a small town outside of Winston-Salem which itself is not exactly a… you know, we’re not a megalopolis in Winston-Salem. So I lived most of my life in these really small areas and my family’s from Albuquerque, NM, which is where I am right now. So I went from small town, America to small town, America to small town, America. And suddenly when I went outside of that I remember the first time I went to New York I was like, “Oh, my god, people walk. People actually walk on the sidewalk.” I thought the sidewalks were just a place that you walked from your car into the store over. I didn’t realize that you would actually walk down the sidewalk instead of just crossing it to get to Quiznos. So, it was just an incredible experience for me to see pedestrian life and to see crowded streets full of people sitting in cafes talking to each other. And to hear other languages when I finally got out to Europe and I went to Dubai. And I was like, “Oh, my god! In Dubai, there’s a whole other way of living.” There’s the Islamic way of living. And around Dubai, there’s different interpretations of the Islamic way of living and they’re all in different stages of progress. And there’s all these people I can meet.

And yeah, then coming back to the U.S., I’m like, “Okay. Here I am with a bunch of people who don’t have passports.” And look if you haven’t traveled outside the United States and you’re from the U.S., I’m not saying that you’re a worse person or that I’m better than you. I’m just saying that you should consider the opportunity if it’s ever presented, because the world is freaking huge and you have no idea. 

Like I’m gonna just ramble one more idea about this, which is have you ever been to Disney World in Florida, to the little like the miniature world in the Epcot Center where you can go around to all the different landmarks and stuff and you can go to the Eiffel Tower.

SC: I’ve never been.

BL: You don’t know what i’m talking about? Okay. Well, I assume it’s still there, but when I was a kid, I went to Florida and I went to the Epcot Center at Disney World. The Epcot Center is like, I guess, the educational side of Disney World, whatever. So they have a miniature world, around the world. I think it’s called Around the World in 80 Days. They have a miniature world that you can travel across in about two hours where you see all of the highlights, like you see the miniature Eiffel Tower. You see a miniature Big Ben. You see a miniature Great Wall of China. And it’s all just very convenient and easy to go around. And to me that’s kind of a microcosm of what I expected of the world before I traveled it, growing up in Missouri because I looked at National Geographic magazines, I watched movies and I kept seeing kind of the same highlights over and over. 

And what I didn’t realize about the world was that when you go to Turkey, you don’t just go to Turkey and there’s like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and Istanbul and that’s most of Turkey. No, that’s like one little tiny part of one gigantic city that’s surrounded by a bunch of cities that I’ve never heard of. And you could get on a plane and you could take a three-hour flight and still be in Turkey and go to a different part of Turkey that has another gigantic city like Antalya that you’ve never heard of before. I’d never heard of it. And you could explore that city for, like, six months and never see everything even in that one city that you’ve never heard of in that country that you’ve never really thought that much about until you went there. And that’s what I mean when I say, “The world is so big.” It’s not just these hot spots for us to go and take pictures of and come back home. It’s an endless, endless pit for you to explore for the rest of your life.

SC: Yeah and I think that’s why I appreciate this conversation because I think sometimes when we grow up and you yourself having grown up in the Midwest, we oftentimes have a very myopic perspective of the world and I don’t think we can blame that I think it’s just a matter of not having stepped out of these kind of communities before. And I think you having stepped out and seeing the world can provide a different lens into even looking back into the Midwest. And realizing that there’s a lot to be had and a lot for us to stay connected. I think with the coronavirus that maybe has awakened us a little bit, maybe some parts of the Midwest, but we’re realizing that something so far away, something so foreign could impact me right here in my comfortable Midwest Ohio home.

So I think part of our mission really to begin connecting people all across the United States to kind of narratives to broaden our perspective is at the core. So, do appreciate that conversation, but we’re trying to figure out how to move forward and what ways it is to begin to think about bringing talent back. I don’t know if you have any, like if you were talking to the city’s mayor, what would you say? What would cause you to say maybe I’ll consider coming back to Missouri or Ohio? What would you need to see for a city to be attractive again to you?

BL: The thing is about the Midwest, it is a high quality of life area of the United States. Manhattan, unless you’re a billionaire or a multi-millionaire, is a low quality of life place. I lived in Manhattan. I lived in Lower Manhattan in the financial district. I actually lived in like three or four places. And generally, I was elbow-to-elbow with another human being no matter where I went, including home. I lived in an apartment with four other guys and this was like it was a nice building, but when you get into the apartment, it’s just dudes everywhere. Just because it’s so expensive and that’s all I could afford. And in the dirtiness of the air, the dirtiness of the streets, the crowds, the competitiveness for every job, you know that kind of pressure, some people thrive in it, but a lot of people they only endure it because they feel like that’s what they have to do in order to earn a living. And the great thing about the world now is we have broadband internet all over the place and we have the ability to work from home as a lot of people are realizing for the first time during this pandemic. We have the ability to do a lot of jobs from anywhere in a location-independent way, which lets us choose according to quality of life and there’s a lot of people.

A lot of people in the world, they look at the Midwest. They look at the quality of the big houses that people are able to afford, the lawns that people can have in front of their houses, being able to grow grass, being able to have a dog, being able to walk outside and say hi to your neighbors and know everybody around you, being able to go to a local coffee shop where you’re friends with the people who work there and have things be a price that by American standards is reasonable. that is a really rare thing. Clean air, drinkable tap water, these things that we take for granted, well in Michigan I guess not everybody takes tap water for granted, but a lot of places take for granted. Those are luxuries like almost everywhere else I went in the world almost everywhere else I lived, I either had to wear a mask or drink bottled water or both when I went out because of air pollution, because of water contamination due to heavy metals and things like that. 

And those little things, they’re like mosquito pricks every day. They just pick at you and they pick at your quality of life. Like the smell of diesel in Thailand, like living in Thailand, having this particulate pollution in the air giving me allergies every single day. That’s something that I never worried about. I worried about other allergies, but I didn’t worry about the pollution in Missouri and North Carolina and also the ability to just drive out to open space and just hang out by a river. These are things that are so, so attractive to most places, most people around the world and even around the United States. And I think if countries, sorry, if counties in the Midwest, if they advertised more the type of life that you could be living in a location in an independent way, now that a lot of people will probably be continuing to work from home and they showed the cost benefit of that and if they create little centers of culture where creatives feel like they have that outlet. 

SC: Yes, that’s key.

BL: Like we need our lofts and our warehouses and our skateparks and our co-working hubs and our hipster overpriced coffee shops with incredibly fast internet that are open until late at night. If counties are not going to be supportive of that then yeah, they will see people leave just because it’s no fun to grow up as an adult there anymore. So I think having culture, places where you can explore different kinds of culture as you grow up, having that be built into the city, having broadband be built into the fiber of every city, intelligence in that respect, and also just preserving the aspects of the quality of life that make it worth living there and not developing the hell out of every single part of your city in the name of economic progress, trying to preserve some of that charm the way Europe tries to preserve its ancient cities like keeping that charm. I think those factors could contribute a lot to keeping people there.

SC: Appreciate that and my last question, Brandon, is going to be a challenge to you. You’ve done some work in Toledo actually and that’s a surprise to me. If I was to task you or if I was to contract you today to do me a “travel video” of Toledo where would you begin? Where would you start?

BL: Oh, I don’t even know the landmarks of Toledo anymore. It’s been like eight years since I was there shooting and I was there in the dead of winter by the way. I remember seeing a car actually slide on the ice and hit like a pole, an electric pole. That was one of the highlights. I think we actually had a brief power outage right after that. I was in a restaurant looking out the window. 

But anyway, I mean I would have to research a bit what tourists go to Toledo for and then apply sort of my method of travel videos to it, which is to also ask the local people what makes Toledo worth visiting and not just visiting, but living in and what makes people from Toledo unique. And I would get more down to the ground level of individuals who have quirky personalities, a unique look to them, who are doing something really cool and I would just do little ride-alongs, little follow-alongs with those people and get under the surface of their lives and maybe show what they struggle with show what kinds of issues they’re facing that can be sort of visually shown. Sort of like what you would do for a photo essay for life magazine back in the day where it’s just little snapshots, little vignettes that tell a lot of somebody’s life and I certainly would not try to sell Toledo just based on things you could do over a weekend there. I would sell it on the deeper aspects of what ties the community together, what roots they have that they hold onto and what they’re looking toward in the future that makes Toledo a progressive place, too. 

SC: Yeah, well the next time you’re in Toledo if you ever make it here, I’ll have to drive you around and we’ll have to do that together. 

BL: Yeah, man. I’m sure I can make something interesting. I never know what it’s going to be until I’m actually out there with my camera.

SC: There’s not a lot of people here for sure, but I’m sure you would come up with something really creative. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Brandon. 

BL: Absolutely, absolutely. Great talking to you.

SC: Thanks for joining me on today’s episode of the Midpoint. Brandon provided a lot of insight on how the pandemic has affected and changed the travel and filmmaking industry and the role film can play in times of unrest. There’s certainly a takeaway from his reflections on the Midwest, as well, as we navigate this moment of uncertainty together. If you like the conversation consider dropping a like or a comment below. As always stay safe, stay healthy and stay human. I’ll see you next time. 


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