Cinematographer Mark Poirier kicked off PAB2011 last night with an inspiring keynote about storytelling. Here are a few thoughts on his talk….

Mark Poirier has, in my opinion, the ultimate storytelling job. Mark is a cinematographer, but in a very specialized part of the business. He shoots in IMAX 3-D. A far cry from your typical camera. It takes 4 people to lift Mark’s camera, and something like 3 people to operate it (including him). The technology is immense, and complicated, and I’m sure, subject to any number of time-sucking malfunctions. And as we know in the film business, time is money.

But there’s more. You see, in spite of the challenges of working with this large, expensive format, Mark’s job is to get the shot that tells the story. Not only that, but Mark is often getting those shots in the most harrowing of places. On the ground in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. 1000 feet up on the edge of a cliff. Next to the loud, giant waves of the South Pacific.

Mark Poirier operates in a world of distraction, yet must remain focused on the task at hand. He must not just do his job, but he must do it consistently and exceptionally well. No matter what.

We live in a world where the level of distraction is at an all-time high. Information is pummelling at us from all directions, at alarming speeds. Our attention is diluted like never before, and our temptation is to point and click on everything that catches our eye.

And as a result of this distraction, we’re not always achieving what we want to achieve. We’re getting 3 stars on every level of Angry Birds, but we’re not moving needles on our business goals. We’re talking with people on our networks, but we’re not getting that next blog post onto their screens.

In many ways, we’re subject to the same level of distraction that a guy like Mark Poirier is. The technology in front of us sometimes works, and sometimes fails. It prevents us from focusing and wastes our time. The things happening in our social circles are coming at us continuously, and we’re unable to detach from it.

But Mark Poirier has shown me that distraction can be overcome. By spending the time (and money) testing the gear, and knowing the technology and having good people to help with it, Mark is able to overcome any malfunctions that might occur. He doesn’t let potential technology hiccups distract him from the work. And although our technology might not cost $1 million, we can overcome our technical hurdles too, by being prepared, learning how to use it well, and calling in people to help when we need it.

Mark overcomes the physical distractions by focusing on the most important thing – getting the shot. It’s not to say he’s not affected by what’s happening around him (it would be impossible not to be affected by the devastation in Haiti), but at the moment he’s there, doing his job, there’s really no choice but to focus on how to tell the story through the lens. The best way to overcome distractions related to what’s happening around you is to shift your mind onto the task itself. Make that task the most important thing, at all times. Then, even though the distractions will still be all around you, they won’t affect you in that moment.

Distraction is a pervasive beast, but one that can be overcome, by ensuring your tools are working for you, and by remembering the job that needs to be done.