Thursday, May 14, 2009

this is late. this is what i've learned.

i have a tendency to forget things, like my last blog post.

at this year's academy awards, someone quoted someone who said "documentaries are the conscience of film". i agree now, after a semester of being pushed to not only find the interesting things around me, but to articulate them on-screen. having spent three years in a love/hate relationship with film, one in which i completely fell out of love last semester, it's only been this semester that I've actually felt like something i made was worth showing people, thanks to chelsea, and to ellen, kim and our class. documentary making always seemed pretty lame to me; not that many people actually like them, they don't show in theaters alongside narratives, and they are often less beautiful than well-done fiction films. to be honest, i took doc because im lazy and don't like working with know-it-all actors. i figured that doc had to be way easier than all the planning involved in narrative.

false. ive never felt so exposed in my life. chelsea and i weren't trying to sell ourselves to people who knew about film or who were even enthusiasts. we were asking to be let into the private lives of fourteen completely different (often strange) regular people. she may not know this, but i depended on chelsea a lot for direction on how to interact with our protagonists. i felt like an asshole shoving a camera in their faces and trying to balance being respectful of their privacy with  getting information out of them. for three weeks i wouldn't step foot inside the house without chelsea, and i never ate or drank anything they offered because i felt like an imposition. it was more stressful trying to figure out what to shoot and what not to than it is to follow a script. we looked at the footage often thinking, "where the hell are we going with this?". 

but as the co-op members and chelsea and i got to know each other, things got better and i loved going to shoot. doing this documentary was one of the best experiences of my life. i met so many friends-classmates and subjects-and with the help of our class and instructors, i really feel like chelsea and i created something valuable. its awesome to fall in love-its even more awesome to fall in love again. 

i've learned how to better interact with people, i've gained a lot of self-confidence, and i've made relationships that i hope will last a very long time. this doc class has been the best of my college career, and i look forward to the advanced class!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

my doc experience

hello, hello

last semester when i was registering for classes, i had doc pretty high on my list. i had just completed the OTHER 366K, intro to narrative, and wanted to test out the other side to round out my skillz. i quickly realized that documentaries are a whole other beast.

with narrative, i had complete control of my film. i laid down the concept, outlined it, wrote the script, hired the actors, shot it (on 16mm black & white reversal... what a pain), and edited it. i'm not saying it was easy, in fact it was one of the most challenging things i've ever had to do, but i knew exactly how the story would turn out very early in the process.

quite the opposite with my doc. yeah, i had the concept and general direction i wanted to go, but the story didn't come together very quickly or easily. in fact, my concept and general direction greatly changed from when i started to when i finished. originally, i was supposed to follow hasan and wesley around when they went out to get free stuff, and it was supposed to be more of a character-driven doc. but, due to multiple scheduling conflicts, that never happened. so i had to change the plan.

i spent hours looking at craigslist postings, trying to find interesting items up for grabs. that wasn't even the hard part. to my surprise, most people didn't want to be asked questions about their items. i got turned down for awesome items like a bulletproof vest, an old piano, and adult diapers (unused). i was seriously freaking out when finally things came together. in a span of 2 weeks, i got the "wedding stuff" woman, the "christmas cards" woman, and, of course, the manure guy. then it was just a matter of slapping it all together.

working on this doc has been quite a rewarding experience. i got to go places and meet people that i never would have encountered otherwise. i got to explore something that the mainstream culture doesn't really know about and hopefully shed some light on it. what i basically learned is that when i'm working on a doc, i can't be the control freak that i am with narratives. i just have to let the story unfold and tell itself.

What the class has meant..

It would definitely be an understatement in say that the class was very beneficial to me because I got more out of than I thought I ever would.

As a graduating senior, I was narrowing down to my last classes and Documentary was a genre I had always been interested in and eager to know more about. I have always felt that documentaries go overlooked by so many people, mainstream and professional, when in all actuality, they are some of the more creative minds in the business. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to take the class, so I could understand and learn more about them.

At first, I thought the class was going to be the same ol same ol as ever other class. Have lecture, go home, read 30 pages and some article on documentary filmmaking, and then come back adn take notes, etc. Many times I do not get much out of that, however the structure of this class was extremely absorbing. We are often taught the technical aspect of film so much that classes never dig deep into the actual narrative filmmaking process and how to go about it.

This class has taught be how to think outside the box. Not EVERY thing will fall your way or be as black and white as you want. You really have to work for things and figure it out. Sometimes things just come to you as well. Patience is a definite virtue. I also learned that the closer you become with your subjects the more your story will become enhanced. In my film, While talking to Erica she spoke of skydiving, and then mentioned to had footage of it. Well, I never would have known this without digging those answers out of her and making her feel comfortable to give me the footage. In Matts film about craigslist the "card" lady called a friend of hers to see if we could interview her as well for the film. Again, these things just happened, for no apparent reason. It seems that stories are formed over time and as you go versus having it pinpointed from the start. The best line of thought and approach I will now take is to let the story come to you, instead of trying to find the story and give it meaning. The best ones are those that are right in front of you.

I also just wanted to mention on a sidenote because I think it is important. I have gone through a large amount of teachers through my time at UT, and most all of them teach because they teach. There are very few teachers who teach because the care. Ellen, you are one of them. It is extremely evident that you genuinely care about the progression of your students and only want to see them succeed. It is evident in class and with the speakers that are brought in, and that I want to thank you for. It has been a great joy to be part of the class and learn from someone who is so enthusiatic about what they do. It has been great motivation. I am definitely proud to say that you have probably been the best teacher I have had at UT, so I saved the best for last! Kim has been wonderful as well. Thanks for a great semester!

What I've Learned...

What I found the most helpful about this class is that we had to drop any reservations and simply find stories and film them. I know I've been hesitant in the past to work on projects, because I wasn't sure how they would turn out. This semester I simply got out there and created something that, if not anyone else, I will be proud of. It's also been a lesson in the laundry list of things that can go wrong: conflicting schedules, lack of power, lack of light, sound interference, uneasy or reluctant subjects, knowing when I've gone too far, or tiptoeing the line of just how far I can go without violating the ethics of the documentarian. I also realized how hard it is to make a film, even if it's under 10 minutes, by myself. There are a lot of little, miniscule factors to keep in mind and all of those are hard to keep track of for just one person. Realizing how important these are, makes it easier to remember them.
This semester, I've learned to push myself and realized production isn't such a big, scary thing. With each shoot, the process became easier and easier. The camera stopped feeling so foreign in my hands and I felt I could compose compelling shots and get an honesty out of my subjects. Seeing that side of people is special and the fact that they feel comfortable enough to reveal it on camera makes it all the more endearing.
The first day of class, I said that I had worked on a documentary short in an editing class I had taken previously. I found a passion in documentary and found its power to be in its relevance. After taking the class, I still believe in documentary and feel that's what I want to do in my future. I feel like I am on my way to mastering a craft in the field, but I feel like I was not able to completely devote myself to the class. I am excited for next semester, however, and can't wait to really dive into Advanced Documentary and see where it takes me.


No joke, Stephanie and I used that phrase, What Would Ellen Do? when we were struggling with our final documentary.

This class has really done wonders for me, from getting excited about the possibilities of production, to working uber collabratively, to being comfortable with subjects and characters that aren't my friends that have minds and schedules of their own. I was sad that Stephanie and I had such a delayed start, and then so many technical difficulties, that we couldn't get more input from the class for the different phases of our documentary. It was really great to see how everyone's projects developed, often improving for the better with a class input session. I'm the type of person who never EVER lets people see my works in progress. Whether it be a paper or a movie, I am always in complete control from start to finish, am paranoid of criticism (constructive or otherwise), and rarely let anyone see something before its been turned in and graded. Obviously, the film industry is the last place someone like me should be. However, being constantly asked for my own input, screening all our works throughout the semester, and working with a partner on the final doc was a serious reality check, and has helped me focus where I want to go from here.

The whole WWED concept happened multiple times. I think watching Troop 1500 inspired me to get over some of our hesitations and realize that the potential our footage would have outweighed not getting it simply because we were shy. And while dealing with Tie-Dye Dave and prison wardens and inmates is not nearly the same, a few main mantras stuck with us: "What's the worst that happen?" and, "We have to do it now, in case the opportunity doesn't present itself again." We slowly got over our hesitancy to approach people, while also building resiliancy to unforseen circumstances (i.e. hostile drag rats).

I have found this class extremely enjoyable and an amazing learning and growing experience. I will definitely miss the little family we've become over the semester, and I can't wait to see the work everyone does in the future.

Capturing the Friedman's

  Capturing the Friedman’s was both a disturbing and, yet, very engaging documentary. I was really intrigued about finding the truth of the claims posed against Mr. Friedman the whole way through. About an upper-middleclass family in the 1980’s living in Great Neck, New York, Capturing the Friedman’s tells the story of Professor Arnold Friedman and his family’s struggle once he is arrested for possessing child pornography magazines. Police further investigate the case and find that Arnold and his son, Jesse, had allegedly molested students during a computer class held in the Friedman’s home. However, what makes this documentary truly different is its perspective from both sides. It makes the audience feel for the victims of the alleged crimes, but also for the family being ripped apart by these accusations. We hear from each side and all the possibilities are lain out before the viewer.

         The most obvious conclusion is that Arnold is, as the charges brought against him claim, a criminal, pervert, and all around disgusting human being. But at the same time we are able to see behind the scenes of the police investigation and find that the police interviewing the kids (allegedly) victimized by Friedman were being TOLD what happened to them instead of asked and ultimately scared out of their wits into agreeing that Arnold and Jesse had molested them. Not having any background in psychoanalysis, the police talking with the kids force them into believe that something happened to them that may have not even occurred. This doesn’t even to begin to describe the disaster hypnotizing a patient and having an agenda while doing it leads to.

         From a filmmaker’s prospective, the director of this documentary (Andrew Jarecki) has some pretty amazing access to home videos of the family. One of the sons had just gotten a camera and used it to film the family’s decline into desperation as the Arnold and Jesse get prison sentences.

Jesse: “If he [Arnold] goes to jail for state charges, you know he’s not coming back.”

The brother filming, probably David, then zooms in on his fathers face to reveal his complete vulnerability and submission to the fact that he may be in prison for life or worse – the death penalty.

One rack focus in the film reminds me of a rack focus from Ellen's film Troup 1500. The camera focuses on the grate over the window in the courthouse, then to the holly bush outside of it. This is much like how Ellen focused on the wire fence at the jail where the girl scouts’ mothers were held, then outside of it. I think in both cases this simple imagery depicts a longing for freedom and says so much about the subjects of the documentaries.

         All in all the home video cameraman is remarkable and Jarecki was so lucky to have this footage available to him. In the night before Arnold must begin his jail sentence David or Jesse film him playing a jovial tune on the piano, almost a celebration of his final hours of freedom. The cameraman films Arnold’s hands playing (an over the shoulder shot) which is an ordinary technique when someone is playing the piano, but then he goes to a close up of his face with the piano reflected in the lenses of his glass – such a beautiful shot!

         Really,this scene almost brought me to tears. Arnold Friedman was a psychologically disturbed person who lived a miserable life – lying to himself and his family about his sexuality. In the end we’re left feeling ambivalent towards Arnold. We are disgusted by the possibilities of his actions, yet pity him and his family.

But, seriously, you need to watch this. Who wants to miss out on a movie about clowns, pedophilia, possibly shady police work, hypnotism gone wrong, and lots of uncomfortable home video footage of family fights?

Bradley Beesley, Most Inspirational Speaker

            Bradley Beesley was definitely the speaker I found to be most inspiring. I hate using the word “inspiring,” especially in this case. Certainly not because Bradley’s words weren’t encouraging or that he didn’t seemed passionate (he was very much so both of those things) but to describe him with such a cliché as “inspirational speaker” seems pretentious and insincere – and  that does not do him justice.

            Bradley has to be one of the most genuine, funny, down-to-earth filmmakers I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing speak. The stories he told about making documentaries made him seem like, well…me. I loved when he told about the catastrophes of working with an unwilling subject while filming Dr. Dante. I actually found it encouraging that he had so much trouble working with this washed up hypnotist/entertainer. And particularly encouraging were all the problems he had trying to persuade him to perform in a show that he (Brad) had put so much time, effort, and MONEY into. He told us how he got so frustrated that he called Dr. Dante and angrily yelled at him that he’d put a lot into making this performance happen. I loved his honesty. How many of us would be so open to share that we’d lost our cool with an old man? And yet Brad spent so much time with Dr. Dante, a man who is rarely visited by his own kids, that he began to consider him a son. I think that was the heart of Brad’s talk (or at least what I came away with)– in documentary you get so close to your subject that they really become family.

Which leads into another of  Brad’s films: Okie Noodling. At the end of our discussion with Brad he let us hear some of his saved voice messages from the men of Okie Noodling who STILL call him. He’s become such great friends with these people that they call him on a regular basis. That’s when Brad said something that made me stop and think about the all around purpose of documentary filmmaking: “You have to go into documentary because it’s a lifestyle, not because you want to be rich and famous. You want to tell these people’s stories.”

Jordan said in class that she is double majoring in Pre-Med and R-T-F because she decided that art is kind of selfish and she wanted to do something that would actually help people. Documentary, though, bridges the gap between the egotistical artist and the humanitarian and makes art something beneficial on all levels – not just the intellectual.

I could go on for ages about how Brad’s already started to influence me, (and how Lacey and I cut out our own cardboard signs from boxes and gave them to Dave with a marker calling it the “Bradley Beesley technique”) but all that just digresses from my point. Brad has impacted the way I look at documentary, how I look at filmmaking , and how I look at life. If that doesn’t qualify him as the “most inspirational speaker” I don’t know what can.