5 Minutes With Reagen Butler

Having built his reputation as a story teller through a decade of craft in the stills industry. Reagen's expertise lies in blending atypical ideas and filmmaking techniques to create a setting for talent to deliver authentic performances.

“...creativity and ideas are really just the culmination of what you surround yourself with, what you see, who you’re with and what you expose yourself to.”

So, first off, can you share a film that really left a mark on you early in life? You know, something or someone that influenced the way you perceive the world and how you approach visual storytelling. Did a particular movie, director, or artist make you think, "Yep, I want to be a director when I grow up"?

It kind of all started with Skate videos, I remember watching a tape of a tape of Blinds - Video Days while sheltering from the hot Hawkes Bay summer at a mates place and just being truly engrossed by the culture portrayed in the pictures. Something about the way a 22 y/o Spike Jonze used skateboarding to create characters and show insights into the culture right from the jump got me and in a way still kind of informs the way I approach a script.

There’s definitely something to say for some of those early 2000’s music videos too, people like Director X and Hype Williams and the storytelling, playfulness and colour they inserted into Hip Hop videos with Ghostface Killah, Nelly and Nas. This kind of all came together for me into my teens as I started to imagine my pretty standard small town NZ upbringing as images to music, life and culture images, cut to music.

I think I’m still chasing that feeling of sitting behind a pirated copy of Sony vegas as a 15 year old and accidentally syncing the landing of a tre flip to a booming 808. Stoked.

"This kind of all came together for
me into my teens as I started to
imagine my very standard small
town NZ upbringing as stories of
life, culture image and exploration
cut to music."

My earliest exposure to ‘cinematic’ imagery would have been Gregory Crewdson, like a lot of people I was instantly inspired to create images which told whole stories and invoked questions and sometimes answers in a single frame. The film approach of casting, lighting and storytelling to then only play in a single image was super inspiring to me and not something I had really thought about before, mostly focusing on documenting what already existed. I then started to consider the world I could create on my own and began to start crafting scenes, characters and worlds to explore. I definitely feel like the combination of these early references has created the style that I enjoy working in today - careful management of everything all the way through pre production to then enable a sense of discovery and finding the image on the day. 

And speaking of films, could you list a few from your top 10? You know, those stories that just stuck with you, scenes that are etched in your memory. And after that, I'm curious, what's your all-time favorite advertisement?

One of the earliest films I remember watching is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. By this stage I was way too interested in American culture and something about Ferris, this style and the opening monologue scene where Ferris breaks the 4th wall and we cut to that MTV sting. ‘How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?’. It was home alone with swagger and I was hooked instantly.

Another film from my top 10 would be Adam Mckays ‘The Big Short’ - the way it builds the story through multiple characters towards the ultimate and depressing crash of the US housing market reminds me of a disaster film. It uses dialogue and hard breaks in the action to introduce completely random characters to help you understand the endlessly complex world of adjustable rate loans.   

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents which meant lots of Jazz music. It started with the standards and then discovering my own taste later. This ultimately lead to learning Jazz guitar and playing in some pretty average bands, starting with Jazz and ending in metal. Jazz though, has always had my heart so it's pretty hard to look past Whiplash and it's psychotic exploration of tension, ambition and a very grumpy J.K Simmons. The scene where Neiman breaks up with his girlfriend at the diner in what is essentially an unbroken push in shot of her listening to him breaking up with her until he says "I want to be great" perfectly sums up his aspirations and how it affects those around him.

One of my favourite commercials would have to be the infinitely simple ‘Volvo - Home on the road’. No fluff, nothing fanciful, no lighting. Just a beautiful, simplistic and relatable story of a couple sitting the the back of their car as the rain patters against the roof. We discover the scene through simple camera movement and sound design and every single time it feels like getting home after a long day on set and just sitting in the car, quite happily not moving for just a little while.

"No fluff, nothing fanciful, no lighting. Just a beautiful, simplistic and relatable story of a couple sitting the the back of their car as the rain patters against the roof"

Where and with whom do you like to spend your time to get those creative juices flowing? How do you nourish your creativity?

Disconnecting from devices and taking long drives with loud music is a huge thing for me. When a script comes in I like to read it a couple of times, start to imagine it and then remove myself from it and everything else. Often this is in the car, put on a playlist and drive around and let the ideas flow, make a voice memo when an idea comes and then keep driving. 

If it’s not that though I’m big on walking around new places with whatever camera has film loaded in it and grabbing images as I see them.

Is there a dream collaboration in your mind? An actor, actress, composer, or anyone, whether they're alive or not, that you'd love to work with someday?

It’s probably Christian Bale for me, I really enjoyed his recent performance in Amsterdam and his ability throughout his career to transform from character to character is pretty unparalleled.  On a slightly more realistic note I’d love to work on a film or MV with Leon Bridges, I feel like we could just roll with a tiny crew down the Mississippi from Jackson to New Orleans. 

Lastly, what's the last book you read, the latest album you discovered, the most recent addition to your garden, or perhaps the best meal you've ever whipped up? Tell us about it!

I just bought ‘The British Isles’, a photobook by Jamie Hawkesworth which is a really fascinating and tender take on Britain as a modern, multicultural society. It’s a mix of found street scenes paired with portraits of people and places from his travels around Britain. The portraits feel both honest and direct and I feel as though he has really portrayed every character in the book with dignity while his photography style carries through and ties them all together. It’s a really good flick through and the book itself looks really good on a coffee table. 

Music wise, I’ve played the Avantdale Bowling Club album ‘Trees’ a lot in the office throughout the recent long winter - often relatable lyrics with a double bass that’s nice and loud in the mix. I’ve also become a fan of the latest Stormzy album, ‘This Is What I Mean’.  Seeing his transition from showy, ego driven grime towards his latest album which is driven by this inward looking, questioning sort of acknowledgment and self affirmation is super inspiring. 

I can’t garden much at all but I did pressure wash my driveway for 4 straight hours the other day, very satisfying and it turns out the perfect amount of uninterrupted podcast hours.  

To discover more of Reagen's work and porfolio click here.

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