We had the good fortune of connecting with Brook Aitken and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brook, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think when I was younger I didn’t necessarily make a conscious decision about risk versus reward. I grew up competing on a national level in both ski racing and kayaking, risk-taking came very natural to me. Going 75 miles an hour on a downhill course or hucking myself off of a 40 foot water fall, it’s all a risk. However if you have put in the time & preparation that leads up to those decisions it doesn’t seem nearly as risky, its calculated. I have always had a healthy & relatively high threshold for fear I guess you could say. As I’ve gotten older I’ve had more time to reflect on my decisions regarding risk, as one naturally does. As I look back on my career up to this point I think I certainly took a few risks both artistically and perhaps physically that I wouldn’t necessarily do over today. Filming the documentary “The Cove” we risked going to jail or potentially being stabbed by angry fisherman in Japan but then again I also didn’t have my kids back then. I also got shot up in a Black Hawk helicopter (also before kids) in the cocaine fields of the FARK controlled territory in Columbia. We landed, and moved on through the jungle only later to be shot at again while blowing up the HCL/ coca labs. Had I known we were going to be shot at I might not have intentionally taken that risk but I think because of my disposition, situational awareness, & comfort level, it enabled me to remain calm, clear headed and not panic. I think making decisions involving risk is all relative, physical harm vs artistic. Do you choose to shoot a scene a certain way, give an interview a certain look or go on a project that is potentially risky knowing that there are certain measures that are out of your control? Of course we all do but everything is relative to your combined life experiences as well as your acceptable tolerance level of risk. There is certainly a cross over and I don’t believe that always playing it safe will get you the result you want, sometimes you have to push the boundaries a little.
Please tell us more about your business. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I think I have a pretty decent eye for a shot as does hopefully anyone in my line of work, but what I have learned to do more and more over the years is to trust and rely on the other professionals around me. I can certainly light most anything in the manner and style that I prefer, but sometimes you learn more from trusting other artist. For instance with my Gaffer, I don’t always ask him to light it the way I see fit, we have a lot of give and take its a technical collaboration on painting with light. Filmmaking is often a team process and you can’t be afraid to let some of the control go, it’s the best way to learn. Over exerting one’s control and micromanaging every department is often a mistake and leads to failure and ultimately it hampers your own creativity.
I personally thrive on being versatile. I am comfortable working on the side of a snowy mountain peak, hanging out of a helicopter, or filming on a large commercial set. There is simply no substitute for experience in this business, you can’t fake the mileage. Taking risks and learning from my mistakes is a culmination, a sum total of my experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had so many great experiences that I learned from and look forward to many more.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I couldn’t limit their visit to just the city. When my family comes to visit from Denmark I take them to Rocky Mtn National park, camp & cook out! After that we would go kayaking down the Arkansas river and spend a few days near Salida. Last stop Moab. Mountain bike, dirt bike and enjoy the amazing scenery shooting photos all the while of course!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Firstly I would have to thank my father Len Aitken, who was and still is a filmmaker. I would sit in on color correction and film transfers, edit film with him on his Steinbeck flatbed, or carry his cameras while on skis acassionally getting to frame up a shot. He cautioned me about getting in this line of work & rightly so! Despite his best efforts I somehow kept crawling my way back into the industry and manage to survive and thrive. I learned quite a bit about technical and artistic components in the world of filmmaking from him as well as how to be good to people you work with and that work for you. This is still incredibly important to me, taking care of your crew! I also had several amazing professors at the University of Colorado FILM department. Stan Bakhage, one of the godfathers of experimental film, was a giant and incredible important. Jerry Aronson a documentary filmmaker with extensive credits in his own right. Jerry would call at two in the morning to discuss ideas about my upcoming film project with no shortage of arduous details. He would somehow always push you to be much better than you actually were!
*Other notable classmates at CU were, Director Derek Cianfrance, writer & director Drew Goddard, Matt Stone & Trey Parker of SouthPark.
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