This process has been life changing. Making this film has been some of the most challenging and most rewarding work I’ve done at Medill. It’s the best feeling in the world to see the movie we’ve created start to really take shape. I’m so happy with the video we took, I’m so happy with the editing and I know that even at this point, the film we have is something I will be proud of forever.
Our main subject was difficult to work with for so many reasons but we had to be patient. I started to realize that while we as a documentary team felt abandoned by our main subject from time to time he was dealing with his own feelings of abandonment himself. He struggles with issues I cannot even comprehend, from homelessness to poverty and loneliness.
I felt like I went through an emotional spectrum with our main subject. He would miss our meetings, he would not speak clearly during our interviews and he was so hard to reach. He rarely responded to text messages and there were times we worried he might disappear from the project and leave us without a conclusion to our story.
There is a story arc. This alone kind of blows my mind. Creating a documentary is so much harder than, perhaps, making a scripted movie. I think this has to be the case because with a film based on reality there is no guaranteed resolution to the story. There’s no guarantee anything will drastically change during filming. A large part of the success of our film comes from just getting lucky.
It was a wonderful idea to make the climax the moment our subject buttons up his shirt before he goes to his interview at Chipotle. We trusted Brent, even when we were worried that the climax would be a weak moment. In Brent we had to trust.
When we screened the movie for our class I felt so connected to the film. I got emotional watching it. I could see all our hard work, all the hours we put in filming and then editing. I care about our main character. He’s like “our” kid. I feel like this project is part of me. This whole experience has made me more sure than ever that going into film making is the right career for me. I love being behind the camera. I loved expressing my creativity through film. And I’ve been so lucky to work with Zongwei. She’s a wonderful editor and the two of us spent nearly 70 hours together editing. I love seeing how this film has evolved. From an interview that no one could understand without interesting video attached to it, into a lyrical and thoughtful film that takes the audience into the life of this one person.
This is why I love watching documentary films, because you get to see into someone’s world. As a filmmaker I have loved seeing this movie come to life. I think we did what we set out to do. I think we have made a great film.
For distribution we wil link our video up to the Curt’s Cafe website. I want to submit to the student Emmys, also look into other local film festivals to submit to. Maybe shoot for the stars a little bit and use withoutabox to submit to some international film festivals.
Posted in My Blog | Leave a Comment »
Up until this point it seemed like we were really moving forward nicely with out documentary. JR, our main character, is this likeable charismatic kid. His sense of humor is subtle and witty and his laugh is contagious. But then our interview with JR happened and our documentary seemed like almost an impossibility.
JR, when he’s on camera in a formal sit-down setting is not the same person he was before. He’s quiet, he mumbles, he seems to not care about much and he has an attitude when he talks about his past and his future. All of this has been frustrating, and that’s an understatement. JR is not showing the camera and our audience who he is during the interview and it makes for some pretty miserable audio.
Now the challenge for our team is to show our audience the JR we as the filmmakers know. His laugh may be the key. It makes us smile and laugh ourselves. It makes him seem young and innocent and it makes the audience care about him.
The pressure on us to create a story arc has been the next problem we need to conquer. The story is there. It’s something like, JR got involved with gangs in Chicago, spent time in jail, ended up in shelters but ultimately got back on track. So how did this kid avoid the cycle of incarceration? He found Curt’s Café in Evanston, found people he looked up to and respected and then got a job in Evanston at one of the trendiest new restaurants in the area. He’s fighting an inner battle between becoming an adult with a job and the street life that most of his friends in Rodger’s Park are living. He’s on his own. He feels alone and in many ways he is alone. So that’s what I think the story is that we need to tell but the real issue is how the heck do we tell it?
Film review: The Queen of Versailles
I love this movie. In many ways it’s just about this couple that’s struggling to decide whether they even love each other and what that means. The storyline about this couple building the largest home in America is less interesting to me than the relationship battles between the couple. They fight constantly. The stress of the economic crash causes the husband to abandon his wife and retreat to his study. My favorite moment in the film actually comes toward the end when the tension is at its highest between the wife and her husband. They get into an argument in his study and the camera reveals the whole scene from outside the room, looking into the study from the hallway. The husband seems to not know the camera is there. There could be an ethical issue with this moment because the husband may have felt he wasn’t being filmed and that the way he talks to his wife was actually a private moment. It’s the saddest part of the film for me. You see the wife really trying to talk to her husband and work on their relationship but he shuts her out. It feels like the two of them are speaking different languages.
Without money and the mission to build the largest house in America these two people actually don’t share anything in common. The film is tragic and I was amazed by how the filmmaker was able to gain the trust of these characters who seem to care so much about their image. The walls come down and we see the sadness and the emptiness in this family’s life. It’s beautiful and tragic at the same time. Well documented. I hope to create something this profound some day.
Posted in My Blog | Leave a Comment »
I thought I understand what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. I really thought the images of the flooded streets and covered houses was enough to get a sense of what happened there. After watching the film “Trouble the Water” which was filmed mostly by amateur videographers who were just showing everything as it happened around them, I realized that i had no idea.
Trouble the Water takes you into the unpredictable moments as they unfolded around the people who were living them. It’s the story of the people who stayed and (mostly) survived the hurricane and subsequent flooding. It shocked me. It also broke down my notions about what a documentary can be. As someone who is used to shooting on a tripod for much of the stories I produced at Medill the idea of an entirely handheld serious of shots made me challenge my own stubbornness as a videographer. It was almost because the film was shaky or too dark to see anything that you really feel like you’re there.
As the water rises outside on the streets we see a family as they take to the attic and wait for the water to lower. We know what happens but of course they don’t know what is to come. Watching the water rushing by I had no idea how powerful it was. The force it had and the quickness by which it rose. When the electricity goes out in New Orleans we the audience lose our ability to see our characters at night.
So as I’m watching this I started to feel really angry. I felt like there was no one coming to help these people and through the film I’ve become close to our protagonist and her family. I’m scared for her. None of the video that the news showed made me feel that way. It was surreal but it all felt far away from me. And that’s the power of documentary films, that’s what I realized after watching this movie.
The most touching part of the film for me were the audio clips from 911 calls while the water was rising and the National Guard was not being dispatched. People were desperate and had climbed to their attics to escape the risng water. When they did so they created coffins for themselves. On the phone calls you hear one elderly woman asking if anyone was coming to help. The dispatcher tells her that no one is rescuing at that time. Then the woman says, “I’m going to die here.” And the dispatcher is silent. It wasn’t even a video portion of the documentary but it was horrifying to hear it. I knew there was desperation and that people needed help but I had no clue what that sounded like coming from the people who were living it until this film opened my eyes.
Posted in My Blog | Leave a Comment »
This week was a roller coaster in the progression of my documentary. The film is about alley cat races and bike messengers in Chicago. At first the issue was whether there would actually be an alley cat race coming up this month before this project is due at the end of May. After speaking with one of my bike messenger sources it seemed like there was a rumor about a race coming up in a week, but that fell through. And that’s when I started to worry.
On Friday, April 12, my team got word of a huge alley cat race weekend on May 24. There will be races every day that weekend. The documentary is officially a go. Now we’re in the process of finding our bike messengers to highlight. The goal is get three of Chicago’s fastest messengers and have them talk on camera about preparing for the race and maybe get a little smack-talk action in there.
I would love to take a comical angle about this documentary. Of course, these guys take themselves seriously to a point and there is a competitive culture among messengers, but there’s also a sarcasm that pulses through the bike messenger culture. These guys don’t take themselves too seriously and I want this film to reflect that.
I’ve put my feelers out there, officially joined the Facebook group for this weekend of alley cat races and I’m really excited about how this movie is going to come together.
The idea will be to follow three messengers (one I hope will be female) while they’re working, when they’re home, maybe at a bar before the race and then the climax will be filming them during the race itself.
I need go-pro cameras. I’ve been wanting to invest in one but one camera will not be enough for this film. I need three. It would be nice to the have a camera on every bike during the race itself. Each of those cameras would have a little subtitle saying something like “Nico’s Cam” that we’d add in post production.
As a videographer it’s been my dream to create a film about bike messengers. Focusing on the alley cat race makes this story different from stories that have been done in the past, including the story I wrote for Chicago Talks three years ago. It’s easy to talk about the perils of being a bike messenger. It’s far more entertaining to focus on the race that these guys care about and hear about the competitive underground culture they love.
It’s something I think they’ll all want to talk about. That makes getting these interviews a little easier. I want my three characters to be charismatic, honest but not too crazy. I want them to be relatable enough, not too anti-society. Obviously I want them to be talkative, tell me the story in a way I couldn’t do with my own narration. I’m working on finding these characters. It’s the next phase. Hopefully we’ll have one of our subjects interviewed by my next blog.
Posted in My Blog | Leave a Comment »