Create Multiple Products from One Idea
So this is a case where there were many voices, many topics, the film ended up being, suffering from segmentitis. It ended up kind of feeling like, you know, here we are we went to a prison and then, immersed in a geriatric prison ward. Oh here we are at the Senior Pro Rodeo, so it ended up being almost like a lot of these mini films that were strung together as part of this kind of survey overview piece. In the course of it, and you see also that we ended up relying on a certain amount of text slides to get the, some of the statistical information out of the way. It really was a survey piece, and it was a piece that the overview, this entire film ended up being incredibly valuable as a teaching tool, which make sense, as I mentioned before because it is used extensively in courses in gerontology, in social work, in geriatrics, their whole range of types of classes cause it gives you this great overview. But in the course of shooting it, we came across one story that rose to the top, a...
nd so this is the other thing where you may take on in terms of having these big issues, and starting to cover the big uber-theme, and then as it is progressing you find one story that really overtakes the rest as an interesting story. And so I wanna show you "Friends For Life", which grew out of "Aging In America", and so "Aging In America" is a one hour film, it's been on stations across the country and PBS, but "Friends for Life" is the piece of that film that everybody remembers. What we did is we extracted this one story that's in the hour long film and strung it together as it's own stand-alone, because even though you're starting out thinking you know what you're going to cover, you don't know sometimes and you have to be flexible enough to then pivot with it, so that you can really now immerse in what is a great story. (upbeat music)
Warren DeWitt and Arden Peters live in a small town in West Virginia. Arden's children had moved far away and Warren had never married. They were trying to cope with the demands of aging more or less on their own, then they met each other.
What do you think about this guy? You happy you met him here?
He's all right when he's asleep. (laughing)
And I call him my friend. We used to come here every morning for breakfast. We didn't know each other at the time, and he and Mrs. Peters would sit at one of those booths over there, and that was my booth over there in the corner. We never talked any until eventually Mrs. Peters wasn't coming any more. He came in by himself.
Arden was 90 years old, and he was trying to look after both himself and his wife. It was proving impossible.
Maxine has the Alzheimer's Disease, and she also has Parker's Disease.
She was starting to get bad and I'd meet him at a Wal-Mart and he'd tell me about what all he had to do, scrub the floor and wash the clothes and had to look after her and help her and, so it was pretty stressful for him I think to have all that on his mind. When she gets real sick, like at night, when I would be home and he'd call me and I'd come up here, he'd just be crying and crying and carrying on. I felt so sorry for him, I swear. Broke my heart. She can't move her arms, she can't turn her body, she can't do anything. They have to, they have to shove her over, push her over on her side and put pillows behind her to hold her there.
Mama's crying and she said "You need be making plans to put me away." I said "oh no, we're not." And when they first started here, they said they'd put her in a rest home I said "No you're not going to put her in no rest home."
The doctor did say that if they had someone 24 hours a day, we would let you keep her at home, and I said Pep, why don't we tell him that Doris is gonna be here in the daytime and I'm gonna stay with you the rest of the time, and see what he says about that, so we just turned the car around and went back and talked to the doctor, and we told him that, well, we had this girl working here eight hours a day, and I was gonna be here the rest of the day and night, every night, he said "Okay, if there's gonna be someone there, I'll let you take her home." (slow banjo music) I don't think she would get this kind of care in a rest home that she gets here now.
Yeah, I don't know how she'd ever get better care than she's getting. I did everything I know what to do.
He's got an awful lot of patience with her, really. More than anybody else that I know would have.
And I sort of like her a little bit. (laughing) See her grin.
But I do most of the work that has to be done here. After all, he's 90 years old, he don't have much strength you know, so he couldn't possibly take care of this if someone wasn't here.
Have you thought about what you're gonna do when she passes?
Oh, I'll stay here with him. I wouldn't leave him for anything, no. He'd need me more than ever then.
Well, when you get this old, you just don't look forward, you just live from day to day and, but you don't worry, I don't live that way to worry. So I went and bought our grave lots, and I have got our tombstone put up and everything.
Where you goin' after you die?
I'm going to heaven, that's where I'm going. And I'm positive of that.
You and Maxine, both.
That's right. ♪ The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. ♪ ♪ He makes me lie down in green pastures. ♪ ♪ He leads me beside the steel water. ♪ ♪ He restoreth my soul and guides my path. ♪ ♪ In righteousness for his name's sake. ♪ ♪ And surely goodness and loving kindness ♪ ♪ Shall follow me all the days of my life. ♪ ♪ And I will dwell in the house of my Lord, ♪ ♪ Forever and ever and ever. ♪
One of the last words I remember her saying now is she says "I love you." (slow music)
Hey Pap, your breakfast is ready. It's just like I belong here, we're just great friends but it's like, it's just like being in your family. But I wanted to be around for a long time. I guarantee you I'll take care of him as long as he lives. We're gonna be together for life. (upbeat music)
Let me shake your old dirty (inaudible) (laughing)
Oh Pappy, Pappy, Pappy, he's my buddy all the way.
What an incredible story, right? Incredible characters, I mean, you know I'm often asked when I'm interviewed what, are there, the particular story or something that touched you and this is always, this is almost 40 years of experience I have now, and this one always rises to the top, and a few things I want to talk about before I hand it back to Julie is, one is that song that was sung, that was the Hospice nurse. Like who would a thunk, who would ever, so again always keeping your eyes open, your mind open for these possibilities. I can't remember how we, we sort of befriended we spent a couple weeks there in West Virginia, and we befriended her, I think went out to dinner with her and her husband a few times, and somehow we found out, and there's a tradition in that part of the country of people playing music together, whether it's for church or just music, and so we somehow found out and we were like well, can we record, can we record you singing a song you like to sing, never expect, knowing, would it be used how it would be used, and then Julie beautifully matched it with sort of the death scene, and again this was back when I was mostly doing stills and a little bit of video, it was at the very early stages of our video process. So pay attention, you never know where, where these raw materials will come from that you can infuse into the final piece and make it something that you otherwise never could have made it, and you also don't have to pay like, you don't have to like spend money to have it composed, I mean, that's, that's a minor point in the context, in the spirit of what I'm talking about here.
Thankfully the Lord's Prayer is not copyrighted. (laughing)
And then the, the thing I wanted to say was how really because of this project and particularly this story but this aging project, that's why we moved back to the east coast to take care of Julie's father, never expecting it to become this sandwich generation thing. So think about that, that meant that this, when we talk about finding, you know, how do you find a story, something you care about, well, who could have known in 1994, when we were, started talk about, I think aging's going to be like a topic of, one of the main themes of our lifetime, almost like anthropologists, it suddenly it, not suddenly, it ends up being how many years later is that? Almost 20 years later, now we have changed our lives and thank goodness we did, we moved our family, took care of her father, and then ended up even being able to tell more stories about this issue. So, I always say that one of the many things I love about doing this kind of work is that it engages you with the world in a way that you otherwise never do it, for most of us, and it allows us to go deep, it allows us to meet amazing people and witness amazing stories, and they're not going to be the headlines, but that's okay, so.
Yeah, and it's testament to the universal relevance of individual stories, so back to this sort of overarching question you're trying to answer, and why does it matter? Cause you're always asking yourself, well, who cares? Who cares about two guys in West Virginia. Well, we all care if you can touch us with that story and open our own eyes to pay attention. You know, there are a million of these kinds of stories right here in town, so it's finding the universal in the personal. This is a case, too, where we had set out, for this portion of "Aging In America", we had set out to do something about home hospice. That was a topic we were thinking about, well how do we deal with end of life, we're dealing with old age, but it's inevitable, we're talking end of life ultimately, so we wanted to show something that was about a good death, how good can death be? So again, back to this like, starting from the macro, we started with end of life, well what is the version of end of life we would like to show, home, a home hospice situation, so then researching, researching, researching, and literally reaching out to the National Association of Hospice Organizations to then find out what programs are exemplary in the country and this one in West Virginia came up a couple times. "Oh you gotta see what they're doing there, they're really, you know, ground breaking, they run this program really well, you're in an area that's very spread out, not a lot of access to care." That was the other thing, so statistically, most people who would die at home were in rural settings because there wasn't a lot of access to care, so the story started to inform us from the macro to the micro. We showed up in this town, having made, established communication with the hospice, and the Hospice Organization then asked about like which clients, and what does it feel like when you show up in a town and you're saying to people, "Is there anybody who you think is gonna die within the next two weeks?" cause we only have, you know, two weeks. So "Is it possible you could take us to patients or clients who are really at death's door," right? Which is a very uncomfortable and inappropriate kind of request, but again you're on board with people who this is their business, they're not afraid to talk about death, and this is about facing death head on and looking at it as a life process. So instead, you have to sometimes shelve your own prudishness or discomfort or whatever it is in the topic and really kind of get on board with people who deal with this topic in a very open and honest way as opposed to through taboo and embarrassment.
And just to say, they took us to ten, maybe ten, clients, and at least half of them were like "No thank you."
You know, we're not gonna let you film my mom, my dad, our grandparents.
You know, but you have to like take that rejection in a graceful way 'cause of, you can't like argue with them, you can try to convince them maybe but I've also learned that you want to be careful about using up that capital, especially, you have to be thoughtful, you have to be mindful of the fact, well, in this case we're coming from San Francisco, we're in West Virginia, we wanna, we need to make, who knows how they look at us, these are all, this is even within our own nation, let alone when we're going abroad, so again, not to make things too complicated, but these are critically important elements to pay attention to.
Uh huh, and if you noticed in that story also, this ark is created because we allowed enough time, so we had the luxury, and this is what you get to do when it's a personal project, where we met these, we met Warren and Arden and Maxine, while we were in West Virginia on that first trip, somebody did pass away and we did film a death and, but it wasn't nearly as compelling as this story. And so we left West Virginia and just, again it was like, that was an incredible story, we gotta go back. We've got to stay in touch, we've gotta find out what is going on in their lives. Is she declining, it was how many months after we met them that she passed away?
That was July and then in October, I went back for a week to ostensibly go for a family reunion, so again, we're always looking well, what are going to be interesting situations to get into, once you have access, so cool, so I went back alone, I was living with Warren and Arden and Maxine in that farmhouse and we're just like three teenage boys being idiots, like teenage boys, but, but it was sweet and then so, family's gonna be arriving from around the country for this family reunion, and come the middle of the week, it's clear Maxine, that's her day to die, and actually I was the one who was, who had to go and tell Arden to give her permission. It was so clear that she's so strong and so tough, she would not let go, and there was no one else I think only, everyone else was afraid to do it, but cause I was sort of an outsider, so I talk about this as an example of how sometimes in this work, you don a different cap. You know, I can't say I was a friend at that point, but I was maybe is it a social worker, that you're playing a different role now, and I was the one who told Arden, got on my knees and said Arden, you're going to need to go in there and let Maxine know that it's okay to let go. He walks in and does it, an hour later, the death scene, she dies, so a very powerful, lot of responsibility, too. Lot of responsibility that, in this case, we're taking on. Not all short films have to be this sappy.
I know, right?
We really packed it, didn't we?
Cat hiking, cat hiking, we need the cat hiking story.
Cat hiking, we are so doing a cat hiking story next.
Anyway, so I'm sorry I, but, yeah.
And not to shy away, I mean, clearly, and Ed was photographing during the most important emotionally heightened moment of their lives, but we had spent enough time with them that they were comfortable having that happen, also, that that was part of their experience in that moment, so you know, that is a testament to building the relationship and the collaboration, that this was their story and they were helping to craft that story.
Yeah, they're real heroes, actually, that's what I've come to feel of subjects, they're collaborators and they're heroes that they're willing to do that. I remember going back to San Francisco with a dear, dear friend and her mom had passed a year earlier and I was like oh, you know you would have let me go and do that and she said "No f-ing way, I never would have allowed you," and she was one of my closest friends, so I want to say a take away from this, one of the many take aways is that again, it's going back to that thing of that quality or that element of story telling journalism, whatever you want to call it, where or short film making, where you need to have genuine curiosity about the world.
You need to genuinely care about other people, you know, ideally you care about an issue, so any one or all of those things put together is a very powerful motivator, and very powerful inspirational tool for you to get out there and do it.
And it's easy to forget that when you're in the field, cause you're so busy trying to get the story and you're so worried about your gear, and you're so worried about being at the right place at the right time, so you lose sight of the humanity of it, you really do need to make sure you're constantly remembering why you're there in the first place, cause they don't necessarily need you there, their lives are going to go on with or without you.