Talking about his mentor and colleague Anthony Bourdain, Morgan (“Mo”) Fallon (BA ’94) explained once how the host and executive producer of “Parts Unknown” always reminded his crew to turn the cameras outward, literally and figuratively, often saying, “What we’re trying to achieve is out there.” The humility, wide-eyed curiosity, and enthusiasm for exploration that Fallon celebrates in Bourdain are, in fact, the elements that most compellingly distinguish Fallon in both his professional and personal engagements. As part of his “Diverse Thinkers” podcast series, Head of School, Craig Gemmell, met with Fallon in Los Angeles to talk with the award-winning cinematographer/ director/producer about how his work on the CNN series “Parts Unknown” and his time at Brewster helped to shape not only his career path but also his understanding of who he is as a citizen of the world.
What comes across powerfully during Gemmell’s conversation with Fallon is the artist’s deep respect and gratitude for all that Anthony Bourdain, creator of “Parts Unknown,” taught him. (Bourdain died in June 2018.) Although Bourdain is known to many as a celebrity chef, to Fallon, Bourdain is a brilliant story-teller and producer, one who worked relentlessly to break down perceptual barriers and to show humanity in ways that are free from judgment and stereotype. Always conscious of the inherently authoritative quality of television, Bourdain encouraged his crew, in Fallon’s words, to “go out and let the story tell you what it is; let the people tell you who they are and present that to the world.”
Fallon digested Bourdain’s charge fully. Discussing the organic nature of the show’s production process, Fallon characterizes the team’s approach as flexible and reactive. They entered the field—whether on the bustling streets of Vietnam, the shores of Gaza, or remote villages of Guyana—with “open eyes and open ears” ready to listen and follow the story, wherever it took them, shedding along the way concerns about being perfect or being the expert. Fallon describes Bourdain as an “incredible voice for the exploration of the other – other people, other cultures” and a “fearless ambassador for going out into the world in a brave and open way.
Fallon believes that Brewster prepared him well to absorb Bourdain’s lessons and employ his methodologies. Reflecting on his Brewster years, as both a “fac-brat” and a “lifer,” Fallon suggests that it is no coincidence that he has followed the path he has. He explains that “baked into the Brewster experience” is a diversity that he would arguably not have found elsewhere. This diverse range of people to which Fallon was exposed at Brewster—from SoCal skaters to Japanese martial artists-- stirred his curiosity about other cultures and gave rise to both the wanderlust and open-heartedness that define him now. At Brewster he discovered "the other" and realized, “I don’t have to be afraid. This is awesome.” Fallon also credits Brewster’s flexible program for allowing him the time he needed to build the portfolio that launched his collegiate artistic endeavors.
As an artist, Fallon values experience over awards. Along with a host of nominations, Fallon won an Emmy in 2013 for Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming (for the “Parts Unknown” episode on Myanmar) and one in 2018 for Outstanding Informational Series or Special. Thus far, however, he regards the high point of his career as the series’ episode on West Virginia, a location he suggested to Bourdain, but one recognized by many as a culinary wasteland. But for Fallon, returning to a place he lived as a child with the opportunity to see it and show it to others through a fresh lens was one of the most fulfilling experiences of a career that has taken him to sixty countries and seven continents.
As Brewster launches its global initiatives: Brewster Global, Gemmell sought Fallon’s advice about how to prepare students to explore the world with an open lens and a willingness to engage with humility. Fallon explained that he was once asked what he regarded as the most critical piece of equipment needed to produce “Parts Unknown.” His unequivocal response to that question and to Gemmell’s inquiry-- a smile. Fallon believes that what is out in the world for all to experience is a sincere kindness and generosity of spirit. And a smile is that first invitation to connect and share.
Mo Fallon is grateful for what he has learned from Anthony Bourdain, and we are grateful for all of the wisdom, adventures, and advice Fallon has shared with the Brewster community. We look forward to continuing to learn from his fearless approach to life.
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