Colby Allen - West texas

3:50, 2009, Documentary
WEST TEXAS documents the unsettling, quiet beauty of an austere, arid landscape. Filmed in and around Marfa, Fort Davis, and Pinto Canyon, the film visually explores the grace sometimes found in the most pedestrian of places.
DirectorColby AllenProducerEmily SiekerCameraColby AllenEditorColby Allen


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Who is Colby Allen?
It would probably be easier to answer this question as "Who is You and Yours?", which in the short answer is the production company that Emily Sieker and myself run. Everything we do really is a collaborative project between the two of us. We both have different skill sets that allow us to work in, what I consider, a unique and creative way. To be honest, I couldn’t get any of this stuff done without her.

If I had to try and define myself it would probably revolve around movies, books, cats (we have a mysteriously large number of mysterious cats), and basketball.

How did you start with film, and do you have an educational background in art/film?
I majored in film in college and have been making some short films and videos over the past ten years. It started with just filming random things on an old camcorder and trying to make something out of it and eventually evolved into what we currently do, which doesn’t feel that much different.

A lot of my education came from watching movies. I learned to edit by watching how other films were edited, learning how to shoot the same way, just trying to teach myself little techniques along the way.

I try to learn something on each new project, and so far I have. Each one has a new set of challenges or problems that are completely different from the last set. For me, the only way to truly learn about making films is to get out there and make them.

What is West Texas about?
West Texas is about the land and sounds of a specific area.

Where did you get the idea for West Texas from?
I took a trip to the West Texas area surrounding Marfa and Big Bend a couple of years ago and was pretty blown away by the beauty and enormity of the landscape out there. We were kind of enamored with it and found ourselves just wanting to take drives into the country and the next thing I knew, I was filming. It was just an organic reaction to try to capture that silent vastness on camera. The majority of the footage was filmed on a drive down Pinto Canyon Road – this 15 mile road that turns from highway into rock and travels through a private ranch. It took us close to 3 hours to travel those 15 miles. We saw some javelinas and hawks, but we didn’t see or hear another person the entire drive. It was amazing.

Why did you choose not to use people and language/dialogue?
Using dialogue or people were never even an idea that we entertained. It just seemed to make sense that showing this area in a natural way was the best approach to presenting it. And to be honest, we didn’t really hear many people during our trip. The people in that place are so incredibly laid back that the places that are inhabited can sometimes have the same affect on you as the ghost towns that lie on their outskirts.

How important is sound in your work?
To me, sound is the most important technical aspect of any project. You can work around a bad image or lighting issues, or whatever, but if the sound is bad your project is pretty much ruined. Good sound design adds that extra dynamic or layer that isn’t immediately noticeable, but the project will be completely different if it’s missing.

In West Texas we see nature and (for example) graffiti on a train, how would you describe the use of this contrast?
The contrast was to show that no matter how far out from people, or cities, or cars there are still some reminders of their imprint. We would go hours without seeing a single person but there were always these traces that would let you know that you were not completely alone. Eventually they just become part of the landscape.

Could you explain how you usually work, your method or style, and what’s important to you?
I tend not to plan too much in advance. I usually arrive at the location, access the area, and see what happens. I guess it’s a cinema verite approach even though you wouldn’t call what we do cinema verite. I try not to impart too much influence over what is going to happen, preferring just to capture the events.

Then in post-production I’ll go off for a few days and work on editing a first cut and show that to Emily. She’ll tell me everything that is wrong with it, I’ll go off and sulk for a while, then realize everything she told me is right and we’ll go back and forth like that until we have a finished product.

Which are your influences?
Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog, The Maysles Brothers, Jean Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, The first ten minutes of Ali, Babe: Pig in the City, Walter Murch, Roger Ebert, books, music, and other random videos I see on the internet.

What is your current project about?
We are currently in production on a documentary about the history of the Dallas art scene, and plan to have our first screening of it in September. I have many other ideas swirling around my head for documentaries that I’d like to explore once our present project is completed. The whole experience has shown me how easy it is to just go out there and make something and how willing people are to help and be a part of something.

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