Produce bins at farmers market

“The temperature is hovering around 100 degrees right now in Phoenix,” the pilot announced. Then, dryly, “We expect it to climb steadily to two or three hundred by the time we land.”

I have to admit to a little bit of dread over my trip to the Valley of the Sun. The temperate nature of the Willamette Valley has made me weak and intolerant of extremes. I hail from Chicago and Missouri, where conditions range from blistering to arctic with the occasional tornado thrown in. But I’m afraid I’ve lost my Midwestern heartiness.

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After four years, seven states, seventy interviews, three name changes and what seems like an endless process, we’re finally nearing the home stretch. Now we’ve got a rough edit of the film and we’re raising some finishing funds to help us launch the film in 2014. Check out our campaign on Kickstarter, and look for American Wine Story to be screening in the fall and available through digital download.


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?

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Cliff face
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.

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Scene from The Wind Kept
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.

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Badlands near Bend, Oregon

“Nostalgic” is a short story I wrote as background when brainstorming ideas for a music video collaboration  for the song The Wind Kept by Brave Julius, which we produced in 2012-2013 and premiered at the Whiteside Theatre on March 16, 2013. Santiago Uceda directed the video and more artfully and imaginatively executed the concept in a way that only  he can.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

TypewriterI 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.

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