Translate the Idea to Reality
What are you going to capture? So you've decided you've got this fantastic idea and step one has got to be that you start researching. There's no way around it. So as I said before, you have this idea and you say, "Nobody's ever done this. "Everybody's covering the story in a different way". So we, for example, did a pre-shoot... We did a shoot for this class so we had a one day shoot. But in preparation for that, the first thing I did once we had chosen the subject, the first thing I did was I Googled the guy and I started doing my homework cause I wanted to know, first of all, can I see what... In this instance he is a violin repairman. I wanted to know if he has a violin shop, what does the shop look like? What am I in for cause in my head I can conjure the Hollywood version of the violin shop but is that really what I'm gonna get, right? And it rarely is. So that's step one: research. So then I found out he actually had a short film about himself done. And so then I watched that an...
d then I get a chance to hear him speak, which is also super important. Is this an articulate person? Is he energetic and charismatic? Or am I gonna have to kind of pull his story out in other ways? So so much is in that pre-production phase. Before I do anything is doing a lot of homework and research. So more often than not, maybe you're doing a local story and there or may not be existing material. Sometimes it's print stories. If you're doing a local story, often there's a newspaper article that was written about this person. So become at least a temporary expert in your topic. As you're doing that, you're gonna find out what else has been done so that you don't just repeat it. And sometimes it's intimidating because you see there's somebody who's had a lot of coverage and then you think, "Well why am I doing this?" You know? "This person already has had, "you know, a spot on NBC News, "and the New York Times wrote about them". That's back to, "Well how am I going to "approach it that's different, visually different?" And also the angle I'm taking on. So everything begins with that research component so that you actually know what you're talking about. You're not gonna just dive in with your camera. No showing up with your camera (laughs) before you're prepared.
Just an interjection. In the case of Dave Goad, the subject we did the pre-shoot on here in Seattle. Through the phone call and looking at his website and seeing that other short film that was done, we learned some really important things. He's very soft spoken. His shop is incredibly small; it's in an industrial zone. And, ah, but we were able to organize one of his clients, this incredible, young violinist and he's 15 years old, to come and, someone whose violin he had been repairing, to come in as part of our shoot day, okay? So that pre-production was incredibly important. If we had just showed up, we would have got nothing.
But now we had a situation where a client was gonna come in, there would be interaction, right? Then we started to... Okay, we knew that the space was small, so we were already talking for a few days prior to flying here and once we got here, "How are we gonna handle that?" Okay, we're gonna have to do a lot of details. You know, we're already problem solving before we've actually physically entered the space. And then we started to think about, well we could get, Takumi is the young boy's name. This incredible virtuo violinist who is gracious enough to give us his time and come, that we're able to get him through the pre-production process to agree to play a couple of pieces in the studio. So we not only got him to agree to come to David's shop so we could get some B-roll interaction, but also to tape him playing.
It's a very small self-contained story and, you know, there was still a lot of work that went into figuring out, you know, who's the subject? What are we doing? What can we fit into our time frame? Sometimes you're taking on something much bigger and, you know, that's not unusual. We all have these big visions, you know? So for us because we do a lot of geopolitical issue driven work or really taking on kind of big institutions and rethinking, "How do we create films "about the problems and the solutions "to these big issue type of stories?" So we do extensive research. Ed may look like a human being, but he is a human clipping service. For years now our morning newspaper used to literally have Swiss cheese holes in it if you held it up. So we did...
Now your email inbox is full.
Yeah, right, exaclty.
Much to the chagrin of our teenage kids, though.
So lots of research and we're constantly... Like right now I'm working on a project with Ed that's about immigrant detention and I am literally, in my hotel room is a book called, American Gulag, about the immigrant detention system in America. So you have got to intellectually take this topic on if you want to be well-versed. If you want to understand the history of this issue, where we are now. And then really, really setting up in your, you know, with your Google alerts, what stories are coming out because there is a lot of local small media telling really, really powerful stories. So if you only rely on a surface level of research, then you're gonna walk into something uninformed. The other thing I think is important we haven't talked about is I will always ask the experts that I talk to on the phone, you know, "Well what is the story people don't understand? "What do you wish was being told about this topic?" You know? And it's a really great base line question to always ask because you're coming from the outside with a pretty naive perspective versus somebody who is immersed and who really understands your issue inside and out.
And I wanted add that in terms of your subject interaction, the more research...the more you can familiarize yourself with the situation that your subject or subjects live in, the more they open up to you. That's just human nature, you know? So I just can't emphasize how important this point is is to do the research. And the research can come in many forms, you know? It can be books, it can be poems, it can be fiction writing. It can be magazine and newspaper articles. It could be conversations. You might find a story because you talked to a friend about something. Well just like a couple of nights ago we were out with a friend who works for the paper and she was telling us she did a story about this trend of cat walking.
Hiking with your cat.
Hiking with your cat. Now, it seems like a silly story, but what a cool little film you could make out of that, right? So you never know where your ideas will come from and the way you research them are multitudinous but the better versed you are, then the more your subject will open up to you? I cannot tell you how many times people, especially when I'm abroad, their eyes will light up or you just see their hearts open up because they see this guy took the time to understand our history, the political situation. You know, whatever it may be. The social issue that my subject is impacted by, right?
And so we're gonna share a little bit that I always think being more specific is helpful, cause generalities are sometimes too big. So Aging in America is a case where we were looking for a big theme that would be a multi year project that we felt was really gonna capture a social transition unfolding and this was back in the mid 90s that we started this project. So we were reading newspapers and we kept seeing articles about the demographic shift in America. More people are living longer than ever before. 40 years added on the life span. That's big news. But it's also indicative of a social transformation that's underway. So as journalists we're seeing a trend and reporting and the reporting is about statistics. And so we're wondering, "Well, what does this mean?" You know, we're hoping to be ahead of the curve always rather than reporting on things that already have been told. So the more you talk to people, the more you research, the more you can connect dots that, perhaps, haven't been fully connected yet. Or you see that in print there are stories but you're not seeing it yet play out in the kind of human drama, right? So we did a lot of research and literally I have, you know, filing boxes full of clippings about aging. And we started to then compartmentalize it by different topics. You know, aging prisoners. What do you do about aging prisoners? Oh my, the advent of geriatric prison wards. What do you about all of these single people growing old? And now you have an increase in marriages of people who are in their 80s. You know, every time we come across things and we started to see what proportion of young people are being raised by grandparents. So we clipped, and clipped, and clipped and really just kept building this personal archive of really compelling stories that were about the human drama that was unfolding to reflect the statistical demographic numbers. So this was a decoding of complex issues. It was a super complex issue; lots of tentacles. Where do you begin? I mean that's a huge undertaking and we could have chosen any one of the stories and told one story, but we ended up doing this particular project more as a survey of many different topics. So then we drilled down to figure out, "Okay, geriatric prison wards. "There's a really compelling story." And this is way back in 1995. So where are those prison wards? And you're reading articles and trying to figure out. There are a couple of them in the country at that point. There was a new phenomenon. So then you're starting to narrow it down. So I see all of this very much as an inverted pyramid, or a sieve. You can start on this uber level with your issue and then as you whittle, whittle, whittle, you're waiting to see kind of what distills out the bottom. So we ended up with quite a few of these themes that, you know, lent themselves and then you find a geographic location. And then you find an organization dealing with it. And then you call the organization and you find compelling individuals who fit your bill for how you determine a good subject. So it's very much that kind of from the macro to the micro that you do. So when you're at that macro level is when you feel overwhelmed cause it's too big to take on. And then you read an article and you see an expert referenced and you get on phone, you know? People want to talk. If it's something they're passionate about, I have yet to find a person who doesn't want to talk. And they want to be listened to even more so, right? So if you can just take it and do that kind of filter, you know, filtration system down, somebody's gonna pop out in the bottom, you know? And I don't care what the topic is, it's pretty consistent. So we're gonna show you just a little four minute. I think it's the opening of the film that ended up being the result of what was seven years of field work that Ed and I did. And you'll see this at work. (gentle music)
When do you think somebody is old?
Well when we were children, I guess 30 was old.
I really don't have a definition of old. You know, some folks think 57 is too old.
I think it should be like 35.
And then when we get to 30, then 50 is old.
What is old?
More than 10 years older than me (laughs).
And then when we get to 50, 80 is old (laughs).
And how old do you feel?
Probably about 25. I'm telling people 27 now (laughs).
I feel like I'm in the fourth quarter and there's no time outs (laughs).
I don't feel 87.
I don't either.
How old do you feel?
Oh, say 57 or 60.
So what's old now?
Well, maybe 85 (laughs). (gentle music)
When you get to be my age, life expectancy is going to be between 95 and 100. Are you gonna sit around contemplating if you're enabled between 65 and 95? I don't believe it. (gentle music)
It's not about growing old. And I think we've looked at it all wrong. If you want to grow old, you can. But if you don't want to, you don't have to. You can grow up and die but you don't have to grow old and die.
With more people living longer, healthier lives, we're able to do things in our later years that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. (upbeat music)
I have a hip replacement. I have a prostate removed. Oh man (laughs) don't ask me. But I'm still moving.
But longevity is only a gift as long as your health and your money hold out. (gentle music)
Do you think if there's a point when maybe we live too long?
Oh yes, definitely. Well there's a good example of it. (melancholic music)
With the number of people over 65 expected to double in the next three decades, all of society is going to feel the impact. That's why photographer Ed Kashi and I set out to discover what is a good old age and is society ready? (gentle music)