This past Friday we screened our documentary, American Wine Story, for some of the film’s subjects. It was bit of a nail biter as you always wonder how folks are going to react, especially to a film that’s largely about them. The reception was very enthusiastic. This is an inspirational flick about the American Dream in a bottle, not a hatchet job, so the folks involved were bound to enjoy the fact as they’re being positioned in a somewhat favorable light. Now the question remains: how will outside audiences respond? If we take it beyond wine people will the audience find something to pull them into the story?
I’ve made up stories since I was a kid. I started my own version of The Hobbit at least eleven different times. Then later on I tried making up stories that were more original. A few were. Many weren’t. Some were good. Others lousy. Ultimately, stories are aggregations of a thousand overheard conversations, films, books, poems, tall tales, barstool monologues, lies and nursery rhymes heard, read seen and watched over the years.
Stories are interesting. People like them. And they’re willing to pay money for them. At least that’s our hope when I co-founded the company Slipstream Cinema, which focuses on aerial cinematography but is ultimately about assisting people in the telling of their own stories and using technology to help them do so.
How does a writer who is used to hacking away on a coffee-stained keyboard in some dark corner while mumbling incomprehensibly to no one in particular suddenly find himself part of a team premiering a music video in a historic theatre with a group of collaborators from around the country?
Well, like most things it starts with a conversation during lunch or in some hallway in a crumbling university building. “Let’s make a music video.” I’m not sure if I said it first or if it was Santiago, but one of us uttered that fateful phrase. It seemed like an innocent, wistful thing to say at the time. It reminded me of an earlier conversation with Truen Pence over fried chicken tendons at Corvallis’s best greasy spoon Chinese place where one of us broached the question that has come to dominate our existence for more than three years: “Hey, we should make a documentary about wine.” This music video project started much the same way.
HE SAW HER ONLY ONCE in church when he was nine, and he never forgot her summer dress, her freckled, peeling shoulders, the scent of lavender and sunburned skin. She glanced at him once, over her shoulder, from where she sat in the pew with the McIntyres, and he felt his back straighten and the hairs rise on his neck. She smiled and he stared, frozen, the only time in his life he’d ever mustered the courage to look at someone so directly for so long.
Here’s a project we’re wrapping up. It’s a music video for acoustic guitarist Brave Julius and director/illustrator/animator Santiago Uceda. We’re raising funds to put on a concert and premiere the video in a classic theater in our hometown of Corvallis, Oregon. It’s a fun project: part filmmaking, part concert and part community art project. Strange how water cooler conversations and a simple email inquiry can turn into something so much bigger. Suddenly we’re trying to find a way to fill an 800-seat theater. No small feat for an artist, writer and musician who are all essentially introverts (I can, admittedly, have a big mouth on occasion).
Fortunately Jaime Williams of the Whiteside Theatre Foundation has quite a bit of event experience and is driving the planning. She’s a passionate advocate of bringing live music to Corvallis, and doing it with class and style via a glorious old venue that was rescued from the brink of demolition. Architecture is community art, and it’s something we often overlook in this culture of the rugged individual. Great wealth, fame or achievement is celebrated, but who still builds beautiful things that truly last these days? That’s why I like filmmaking: it’s a collaborative effort…and to ultimately be successful, you need the community on board in the form of an audience.
I just took my daughter to the premier of Justin Smith’s documentary, Relentless, about a team of student engineers who build and race formula cars. I’ve never been a car guy. To emphasize that point, I drive a moss-covered Pontiac Vibe mini wagon, which is noted for two things: it has a standard electric outlet in the dashboard and it’s the least stolen car in the US. My daughter isn’t really a gearhead either. She arrived at the premier in multicolored tights, a pink skirt and red glitter shoes. She’s something of a girly-girl.
But a solid documentary is one that pulls in an audience and makes them passionate about a subject in which they had little interest or knowledge before the lights go down. Justin pulled that off in Relentless, carrying the audience through an emotional arc of a championship bid in a very intense competition. It’s a moving and inspirational experience.
Part 4 or the fantastic series Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson is out. An impressive, polished series that makes you think. It’s a meditation on creativity, the nature of ideas, the inanity of intellectual property laws and litigious society. Looking forward to his next project, which sounds quite ambitious.
I bought a typewriter off of Craig’s List today. It’s a manual Smith Corona Galaxie XII that I picked up from a house on a Portland side street for thirty bucks. I’m fairly well convinced that it’s quite possibly one of the more beautiful objects I’ve ever owned. Off the top of my head, the only thing that comes close is a powder blue Kramer electric guitar or maybe my Sage fly rod–well, not actually the rod itself but rather its smooth cork handle.
Werner Herzog has been in the business of encouraging young filmmakers since famously eating his shoes in a bet to inspire Errol Morris to make his first film in the 70s. In a recent interview on The Business, Herzog offered some more advice to filmmakers.
Herzog declares that, because of the digital tools available today, there are no excuses for aspiring filmmakers to not make features.
Today it is fairly easy to make a feature film for, say, $10,000…earn the money, don’t wait for financiers. Don’t waste your life to promote your project.
Our cousin Eric recently graced us with a visit on his way to Okinawa for his first deployment as a Marine attorney. When someone visits you, it’s both an honor and a gift, and it leaves the host with a certain measure of responsibility. As this was Eric’s first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and his last stop on the way to overseas duty, that responsibility was, if anything, more acute.
Preparing a meal is perhaps the quickest and most effective way to give someone a sense of place. Eric showed up at the Greyhound station on a redeye bus, so I sent him to the Coast for the day. He’d already offered to buy steaks, but I upped the ante by sending him to a favorite seafood shop on the bayfront in Newport. He returned with fresh halibut, scallops and crab meat in a bag of crushed ice, plus a bottle of pinot noir from a local vineyard. We added asparagus, scallions and fish sticks for Bailey and the result was quite nice.