Cinematographer Bryn McCashin “Own’s” Cancer for AHS fundraising campaign

Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, Bryn McCashin always had a passion for filmmaking. He would take his family camcorder and film his friends, acting as the director, the cinematographer, the editor, he did it all. However, he knew cinematography was his calling the first time he ever saw a film light, a small 650w Fresnel. He watched as it was used to light the actor’s face, but also bounced from behind with a silver board to be a backlight, and then caught with a white bounce in the front to fill in the shadows. He was absolutely floored, amazed by the limitless creativity a cinematographer can possess even with the most modest of tools.

“I think that when something is creatively fulfilling to you, like cinematography was for me, it would be a real shame to do anything else professionally. Work takes so much of your time, from a wickedly finite life, and I decided that I wanted to wake up every day and do something I loved. I’ve been fortunate enough to have success doing it, and so far, there has not been a day that I have woken up and dreaded going to work. In fact, it doesn’t feel like work to me at all, because for years before I did it professionally, I did it for fun, for free. I think that when you can take something that is your hobby, and turn it into your career, you are setting yourself up to have a much better work life,” says McCashin.

McCashin’s resume is filled with many decorated productions. Recently, his work on the commercial for Levi’s “Born Wild” was shortlisted for Best Cinematography at the Berline Commercial Awards, and his film OMI, part of Hulu’s Bite Size Halloween, was an Official Selection at the world-renowned South by Southwest Film Festival, and even took home the award for Special Jury Recognition “Powerful Short Trip”. His work on commercials for Coors Banquet honoring the Wildland Firefighter Foundation has been broadcast across the United States and is still the main promotional material for the campaign on the brand’s website, and his commercial “OWN:Cancer” for the Alberta Health Services has raised over $95 million, with an end goal of $250 million to fund a state-of the-art cancer research center in Alberta.

“With a multi-million-dollar fundraising initiative at hand, we were tasked with creating a film to tell the story of a soon-to-be constructed cancer research hospital. The campaign, titled

“OWN:Cancer” was created in partnership with Alberta Health Services and it was a hugely

important and sensitive project. Not only were we producing this film within active hospitals, with real healthcare workers, patients and survivors, but we were also doing all of it under the strict guidelines of Covid-19,” says Christopher Brown, Director of “OWN:Cancer”. “The project, and its great success, would not have been possible without Bryn. From day one, he understood both the creative vision, but also the stringent parameters we’d be working within. He worked tirelessly to find creative solutions to what seemed like constant challenges. With a refined yet naturalistic visual approach, he has the incredible ability to transform the most ordinary moments into rich, cinematic scenes.”

With the goal of the project being to attract people to donate and fund this research, McCashin wanted to create something that resonated with audiences but was also honest and right for the project. For this cancer PSA, it’s incredibly stylized, but with context that the style was what gave it the edge it needed to get people excited and engaged, encouraging them to donate. From the beginning, McCashin knew that he didn’t want to portray a hospital in the traditional light. Hospitals are often visually cold and sterile, and he and his team really wanted to inject life into the space that made it feel like a machine working towards finding a cure for cancer. He also wanted to make sure that the characters and spaces felt warm, and human, but also heroic. They came up with a few visual themes to make this a reality, using moving lighting cues and fast paced camera work to give the feeling of the researchers success, and contrasted that with slower paced warmer portraits of cancer patients and survivors. It was a unique approach, but one that created a very specific and exciting vibe. 

“Chris and I were on the same wavelength and he gave me a lot of leash to experiment with, and a lot of that experimental stuff ended up making it into the final cut. It’s those moments where, as a cinematographer, I think you can really add your personal visual style to something in a way that is impactful. In the end you are hired for your voice and vision, so it is important to me to stay true to myself in that regard,” says McCashin. “It was also a very humbling experience, working with real cancer patients and cancer survivors, and seeing their will and strength was amazing. It was awesome to give them a platform to tell their story.”

In addition to the vast distribution and fundraising success of the commercial, it was nominated at The One Show for Editing craft. For McCashin, these accolades are secondary to the success of the fundraising campaign, ultimately allowing his work to better the lives of cancer patients and their families.

“The idea of people working together for the greater good is such a universally positive story. Cancer is something that touches people in every corner of the globe, a universal experience. Any time something has that scope, you can really make something that tells a global story. With much going on around the world, I think any opportunity to remind people that we are all having similar experiences, no matter what our backgrounds are, is important. When a disease like cancer is cured, it affects the entire world, and I hope that these ideas and concepts can help remind people how similar we all really are at a base level,” he concludes.