Paul Brenno: A Cinematographer’s Resilient Journey Through the Lens of Life

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In the sprawling landscape of North Dakota, a young Paul Brenno found his calling in the captivating world of film and video production. Born and raised in Minot, his journey has been marked by a profound love for storytelling, ignited during his early encounters with iconic movies like “Superman The Movie.”

Paul Brenno

Growing up in the era of 80s television, Paul was immersed in the magic of MTV and an array of influential shows, from the 1980’s TV series Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider to his favorite series “Riptide”. It was in high school that he discovered his affinity for photography, setting the stage for a lifelong passion that would shape his future.

Paul’s familial background, with a father in advertising at the local CBS station and a mother dedicated to education, instilled in him a deep appreciation for learning. This foundation, coupled with his early attraction to video production, paved the way for a remarkable career in the film industry.

Ken Lamkin

Post-graduation, faced with the absence of film schools nearby, Paul chose a different path and enlisted in the US Air Force. This decision not only provided him with valuable life experiences but also served as a stepping stone towards realizing his dream. Stationed in Rimini, Italy, while home on leave, a viewing of “Dances with Wolves” fueled Paul’s determination to study cinematography. This viewing led to a fortuitous meeting with renowned cinematographer Ken Lamkin (ASC) while stationed in San Antonio.

Upon an honorable discharge, and utilizing the GI Bill, Paul earned his BA in Film/Cinematography from Montana State University-Bozeman, an institution nestled in the very setting of the popular TV series “Yellowstone.” It was during this time that he crossed paths with Dean Semler (ACS/ASC), the Oscar-winning cinematographer of “Dances with Wolves,” further solidifying Paul’s commitment to his craft.

Upon graduation, Paul faced the challenge of breaking into Hollywood but found his niche as a Commercial Producer/Editor. His journey led him from Houston to Denver, where he garnered a 2009 Telly Award for a show on teen life in Colorado, only to face the setbacks of the 2009 recession.

David Letterman Shoot Dec 1998

Returning to his hometown, tragedy struck with the sudden loss of his mother. However, Paul’s resilience prevailed, and he embraced new opportunities, producing award-winning documentaries and commercials, showcasing his cinematographic prowess.

In 2015, I began to do freelance video production work around my home state, from commercials, web-content to web ads for Yelp and Zillow. In 2019, “Noble Inc,” a documentary on an oil drilling company, earned Paul accolades from prestigious film festivals across the globe. The pandemic presented challenges, but Paul turned adversity into opportunity, documenting the impact of COVID-19 on his hometown in “Covid 19 vs the Magic City.”

Despite facing personal and professional setbacks, Paul continued to pursue his passion. In 2021, he took on the role of Director of Video Production at a retail store in east Texas, creating an award-winning film about their story. However, a life-threatening bout with COVID-19 and subsequent job loss tested his resilience once again.

Undeterred, Paul sought new horizons, relocating to Oklahoma City in summer of 2023. Despite facing another job loss, he remains steadfast, drawing inspiration from the masters of cinema. With an eye to relocate to Arizona and a determination to find a long-term position, Paul Brenno’s story is a testament to passion, perseverance, and the enduring spirit of a true filmmaker.

Dean Semler and Stephen Windon

As Paul navigates the challenges of the industry and life itself, his journey exemplifies the essence of a filmmaker’s life—full of twists, turns, and an unwavering commitment to the art of storytelling through the lens. 

My deepest thanks to my dear friends, family, my faith in Christ is above all, to Ken Lamkin (who passed in 2012), Dean Semler, to so many others who have supported and encouraged me along the way.

Paul Brenno

Connect with Paul Brenno

You can also find this article in Volume 58 of FilmmakerLife Magazine.
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