Kansas City–based cinematographer Ryan Breitenbach captures stories while living on the road for months at a time. He’s worked on more than a dozen films and television shows, training his eye on all types of genres, from mystery and drama to the everyday, all inspired by his nomadic lifestyle.
“You spend a lot of time out on the road in a hotel, for three, four, five weeks; you invest time in the place you are staying. ” says Breitenbach, a Marriott Rewards member, who estimates that he spends 105 days a year living in a hotel. “It’s almost this feeling where you are building a micro life in that five weeks.”
When did you decide to become a cinematographer?
It’s always been in me. I was part of the Star Wars generation, and as a kid I totally bought into those films. My quest became to employ some of that Star Wars magic to tell stories of my own.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My role is to connect everyone on the job, maintain the energy and ensure a good experience, and I like that. The best work comes out when everyone is feeling good. I also like being the hub of the wheel. I work with so many talented people who specialize deeply in what they do. I get to sample everyone’s jobs and know a little bit about each of them.
See the entire TownePlace Suites Stories from the road series here.
How does being on the road inspire your work?
There is a certain energy you get from being able to jump in your car and go anywhere. That freedom in your physical space unlocks your mental and creative senses so your mind can go anywhere, too. There are so many places in this country you can visit without paying a lot of money, and they all hold different stories.
What are some of your favorite places to shoot a film?
I love Chicago and New York. It’s also fun to go to more rural places, to find unique spots in different areas of the country.
How does filming in a certain place change your perspective?
As a filmmaker I get to see places that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Sometimes I’ll drive around Kansas City and realize that I’ve shot in all these different buildings. When you get tours of places most people have never seen and then you shoot there, you see so much more texture. I try to translate that texture for the viewer.
Are there any common threads about people or storytelling that you’ve learned from traveling?
Everyone is pursuing a certain level of honesty. They want to feel genuine. Even if it’s hyper-realized or larger than life, a story can still be honest and genuine. People just want to show who they are.
What do you like most about life on the road?
New places with new cultures are a huge draw. I love the freedom of being able to go anywhere. And traveling with other people is incredible. In movies and in real life, the best friendships are made on the road.
What’s your favorite tip for feeling like a local when you travel for long periods of time?
I always ask the person at the front desk of the hotel I’m staying at to tell me about the place. This is their home so they are your boots on the ground. And because it’s their home, they want to tell you all about it and make it feel like your home, too. So I go to the places they mention and talk to people. You need to build yourself a mini life for the time that you’re traveling.
Do you have a travel routine that keeps you grounded?
I’m super introverted, but in my job, I have to talk with everyone. So when I’m driving or waiting at the airport, that’s my quiet time. I try to eliminate thoughts and find my center so that when I get to where I’m going, my mind is ready. I use travel to reset my brain and put it back to its neutral, ready-to-work space.
I also always dress up to go to the airport. I love that old-world idea that if you’re able to travel and see a new place, you should show it respect by dressing up for the occasion. It’s sort of like putting a little romance in your life in the true sense of romance. You can expect things to happen if you dress the part.
Is there any place you dream of filming in that you haven’t been to yet?
I would love to go anywhere overseas. There is so much richness, history and texture. I find it calming to be there and see how worn the streets are and think about how many people have come before me.