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In the works ...

My calendar is a beautiful color coded hot mess of appointments, meetings, deadlines, and productions. I repeat to myself that I am fueled and nourished by my clients, subjects, and films that I get to create. This helps me push through the next round of work. 

I keep going back to a visualization I had while having my aura read about ten years ago. I was told that my energy was grounded and I am delightfully and magically making the world move about me as I move through it. As a director, I loved that image. Right now, I am in it. The world is swirling around me and I am slowly stepping through it. 

From the inside, it is a thrilling and scary place to be. I am questioning my work, what I have to say and what I have created thus far. I am feeling pulled toward my new age. I feel a new transformation bubbling underneath all this activity and I am not sure where it is leading me quite yet. 

I've come here to update. But really, I think I just needed a minute to put some thoughts on paper. I am feeling ready for my next artistic iteration, my reinvention or emergence. I know it is happening underneath the surface, but I have yet to give this new found "thing" a voice.

That's all I have for the moment. I have lots of cool new work to share. Which is the source of all this activity. I've been keeping my instagram updated, come join me there: @melissafoxmedia

 

 

  

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On Location: Hannibal MO

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On Location: Hannibal MO

I have always said that I am a unique blend of city and country. I grew up as an inner city kid but I spent most of my summers on farms in Missouri. Every summer I would pack my bags and head to Missouri to visit with family. I have driven through Hannibal so many times, I have lost count. Getting to Hannibal was a landmark of sorts. It meant that I was one hour from seeing my grandma, Mamo, whom I love dearly. We usually didn't stop. On the five hour drive from Chicago, my dad would get restless and wanted to push forward. We would cross the bridge over the Mississippi and cheer at the state line. Getting to Missouri meant we were all on vacation. I would stare out the window at the almost movie like set that is Hannibal and wonder what it would be like to visit it. We would visit on occasion, making the one hour trip back from Grandma's house to see the Mark Twain Caves or visit the old cemetery on the hill but I never got a chance to explore the town on my own terms until recently. 

Hannibal is the kind of mom and pop midwestern town that would be easily dismissed if it weren't for it's history. You know it's name because it is the birthplace of Mark Twain. This is where Mark Twain grew up, played on the river, got ideas for his stories in the caves and infused his life into his writing. The people who live here have taken pride in both preserving that memory and making it into spectacle. It seems like playing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are rights of passage for young kids. During peak season, you will see them walking about town. The businesses are all run by locals, who like the speed of the river, seem to march slower in time than life in the city. The oddities and curiosities of the historic parts of town are charming and cartoonish. Perfect for those with imagination, a playful spirit and a love of Mark Twain. 

 
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Below you will find a collection of my favorite things to see and do in Hannibal. 

MARK TWAIN RIVERBOAT

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Start with a one hour riverboat tour on the Mississippi. The trip starts with a tune played on the large organ that can be heard about town. This signals a mini parade of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn characters that make their way down to the river and greet you as you enter. The views from the boat will give you a great view of Hannibal, a quick history and a few locations from Huckleberry Finn. Sit on the deck and imagine being Samuel Clement, who was a steamboat pilot on the river. 

Next, head into town and stroll the main strip. Get lost in Lydia's Cabinet of Curiosities. Make sure you take a look at the Dinosaur Fossils, ask the host about them. Missouri sits on a rich bed of limestone. The cave systems here are abundant. That also means that excavating fossils is a local hobby. Ask about them, they have quite the story to tell you. 

Next wander into Mrs. Clemens Antique Mall and oogle at all the deliciously creepy treasures. Those who are easily creeped out by dolls, need not apply.  

EAT 

If you are from a rural area, take this next recommendation with a grain of salt. While Hannibal certainly has restaurants that are themed to suit the history of the place, a good cup of coffee and a healthy lunch isn't on the menu for most of them. You'll find a smattering of calories and grease at the diners, pizza places and ice cream parlors. By all means, if that is your thing dive in and enjoy! I do however highly recommend a cafe not far from all the curiosity shops, Java Jive. 

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If you are looking for that garden to table salad for lunch, this is the place. Not only are the people who run this place wonderful to chat with but they know their coffee and fresh food. All items are locally sourced from farmers. This place is a breath of fresh air on the strip. Bring your copy of your favorite Mark Twain book and cozy up on the couch with a cup for a few hours. The pastries and salads were amazing. Certainly a departure among the greasy midwestern comfort food.  

Before you leave Java Jive, stop at the front and take a moment to see all the brochures for things to do in town. There is much to see and you'll need to make some decisions about what your priorities are. From here, I am taking you to the caves. But that means you would skip the museums, boyhood home, trolley tours and hilariously bad, kind of need to see, haunted house and wax museum. If you are doing a day two, by all means check those out. They are fun for people who want to know more about the places and people that influenced Mark Twains writing. I however have a love of the underground and found the caves be more interesting. 

If you love camping like me, you'll want to camp here for your stay to get the full experience. These are the caves and the grounds that inspired Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. You'll want to explore, set up a big fire and enjoy the landscape. I have a hotel recommendation further down for those that want a bed. 

Explore Cameron Cave during the day and book a lantern and flashlight tour of the Mark Twain caves at night. You'll see hiding places of Jesse James, spots that historians claim are directly related to Huck Finn and learn about the Missouri Cave systems. These tours are easily walkable. Bring a light jacket, the caves are always between 55-60 degrees. Which on a hot summer day is the perfect way to cool off. 

STAY

If camping isn't your thing, I highly recommend a stay at Rockcliffe Mansion. The mansion was recently restored and opened to the public as a bed and breakfast. It is a rare opportunity to sleep in a restored house from the 1800's. The views of the river are worth the trip up the hill. If staying overnight isn't on the menu come take a tour during the day. I will be booking a night for myself next time I come through. I was so excited to learn you should sleep in these rooms and have a mansion to roam around in at night. Mark Twain gave many speeches and lectures from the stairs in the main parlor. They can be all yours for a night. 

ST

Take in the views from the porch before you leave, from here you can look down over the whole town. As a kid, I always longed for travel. My family was bound to the midwest growing up. I used to roll my eyes at places like this, thinking how silly they were when I longed for travel to exotic and more far away places. As I've grown I have come to understand the nostalgic charm of climbing back in time, however cheesy it seems, and enjoying a different perspective. I don't think you'll need more than two days here but it would make a great stop on your road trip onward south to the beautiful state parks in southern illinois or missouri. 

TIPS AND FUN FACTS

By Photographer: A.F. Bradley in his studio. - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a08820.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | українська | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3488440

Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it" as well; he died the day after the comet returned. He was lauded as the "greatest American humorist of his age",[5] and William Faulkner called him "the father of American literature".[6]

Each time of year offers a different beauty to this town. The height of the seasons are Memorial Day - Labor Day. There is a festival in the fall and around Christmas time. After that, most of the museums are closed. Be sure to check the websites to see what time of year is best for what you want to see. 

Hannibal is also home to the Unsinkable Molly Brown. One of the more famous survivors of the Titanic. There is a muesum dedicated to her story. 

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On Location: New Mexico Landscapes

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On Location: New Mexico Landscapes

 

Bandelier National Monument is a 33,677-acre (13,629 ha) United States National Monument in New Mexicopreserving the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans of a later era in the Southwest. Most of the pueblo structures date to two eras, in total from 1150 to 1600 AD.

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, locally known as the "Gorge Bridge" and the "High Bridge",[2] is a steel deck arch bridgeacross the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Taos, New MexicoUnited States. At 565 feet (172 m) above the Rio Grande,[3] it is the seventh highest bridge in the United States and 82nd highest bridge in the world.[4]

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I didn't expect New Mexico to seep into my soul the way it did. One of my favorite things about travel is seeing what the color looks like in different landscapes. New Mexico is strikingly colorful. I felt like I had never seen the color orange until I saw a sunset here. I now understood why artists were drawn to this landscape. With exception to the black and white image, none of these have been color treated. It's like New Mexico has a beautiful color filter all it's own. 

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Gotham Greens Pullman Chicago

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Gotham Greens Pullman Chicago

I was recently granted access to tour the roof top farm in Pullman Chicago for Gotham Greens, the largest hydroponic rooftop farm built to date. I was already a big fan of their greens. They create the freshest and most full flavored salads. The roof top farm is closed to the public, so this was a rare treat to see the farm in action and taste the goods.

Their vision to turn unused spaces into urban farms is pretty inspiring. Oh and their greens are pesticide free! The company started in Brooklyn and has been expanding to cities. Here is Chicago, access to freshly grown greens in the winter is sparse. Most of our greens are shipped in and are already two weeks old by the time we buy them. Gotham Greens are pulled, packed and delivered daily. I can attest to their freshness lasting weeks longer than other produce I buy. The arugula is amazing. It's spicy, full flavored and has that perfect fresh crunch every time. In addition to creating local jobs, using sustainable energy to run the farm and hiring from Pullman, they donate produce to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and to Chicago Public Schools. 

In Chicago you can find Gotham Greens at Whole Foods, Target, Treasure Island, Jewel, Sunset Foods, Sugar Beet Co-Op and Amazon Fresh. 

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On Location: Women's March Chicago

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On Location: Women's March Chicago

#whyimarch

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Political feelings aside, this march has been a long time coming. The election was a tipping point but not the reason people took to the streets. In the planning stages, this movement had a tone that other protest movements did not. Women's rights are humans rights. Equality for all. This movement has a clear agenda, organization and support from the world. Today was bigger than me, my husband or my city.  The images from around the world echo a message that EVERYONE is feeling. The future is female and feminine values are needed to restore balance in our world. I want future generations to experience a better world than the one I leave behind.  

I had a plan to take portraits of protestors. But upon arrival it became very clear that not only would I not be able to find the people I selected but that today was about to be historic. I have marched for quite a few things in Chicago, but this felt different. THIS was the kind of march I read about in history books. The good will of the crowds reminded me of what it felt like to stand in grant park and listen to the first African American president speak on the night of his election. I decided to abandon all plans and go with the flow. There was no cell service and all signs were telling me to be present and soak the experience in. The photograph below beautifully illustrates the feeling: Soaking in the sunshine after a month of darkness while surrounded by like-minded men and women. It was a breath of fresh air. It made everyone beautiful. 

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I march for equality. I march for women.
I march for families and children of all races and religions.
I march for better representation in our government. I don't ever want to see a white washed inauguration again. My world is colorful. I want my art, my work, my media and my government to reflect the tapestry of culture that I experience every day.
I march because I am aware of the privilege my skin color affords me. I am aware that I am joining a long line of dissent from my friends of color.  I am honored to give you my space and my voice. I will hand you the microphone if it is handed to me.
I march because as a woman I have experienced sexism and misogyny first hand.
I march because no little girl should grow up thinking that her body is her only value. Because no man has the right to make decisions about her body for her. I march against discrimination.
I march for healthcare, because no one should go bankrupt because they are sick.
I march for education. As a public school kid I know the value of access to quality opportunities.
I march because the student loan debt is OUT OF CONTROL. Access to education should not put one in debt for a lifetime.
I march for access to the arts, for without it I would not have found my voice or my livelihood.
I march for the climate, because science is real. 
I march for the men in my life who stand with me to fight this fight, because women's rights are human rights.
I march for my gay, lesbian and trans friends because love is love is love is love is love is love is love. No matter what you identify with or where you come from. I march for affordable housing, because the American dream of owning a home is dead.
I march for immigration rights, because my family would not have survived WWi without it.
I march for the fight against income inequality, because I am the first generation to make less money than my parents and it is NOT because I am lazy.
I march for those, who for whatever reason, could not march today but wanted to, because I respect the hard working families that couldn't' afford to take a day off for activism. 

Today was just one day, but it was enough to give me the strength I will need for the days ahead.

Who runs the world?
Girls. Better get used to it. 2020 is female. 

POST SCRIPT JANUARY 23, 2017

It wasn't even 24 hours after the march that I started to experience backlash for marching. In fact, it was five minutes after posting this that I started to see women talking about how they "didn't need this march," or how we "special snowflakes," need to STFU and "get over it." I am currently in many arguments about the " Trump did more for fat women by getting them out to march than Michele did in 8 years," meme. That I even have to explain why that isn't funny is a problem.  

I did not march because "my party didn't win the election," I marched because I see progress on issues I care about slipping away. The election taught me that I need to be louder. I need to work harder.  Again, Trump wasn't the reason I marched but he was the spark that woke me up. He gave me a nice dose of reality. Helped me see that we weren't making the progress I thought we were. He popped my white privilege cherry wide open with his rhetoric. These things have been stirring in my soul for a long time. He was the push for me to speak up. 

I wish Trump well. He was elected and I respect our democratic system. I hope he proves me wrong.
Until then, I march. I write, I create, I scream, I cry, I work, I have uncomfortable conversations.
I am working toward creating a world that benefits all - not just the few. I am skeptical that he will help me accomplish that goal.

But here is the BEAUTIFUL THING: You have the wheel now dear conservatives. Prove me wrong.
Make it great for ALL AMERICANS and make me eat my words!!

Go ahead. I dare you. 

In the past few months I have spent time listening to views that oppose mine, as I have spent most my life among a conservative republican white family. I often felt alone in my views and choose not to engage with the racist, out of touch, conspiracy theories I heard spew from the mouths of those around me. I used to see my silence as respect for that person's views. I now see that as a passive participant, I am responsible for our current events. This work IS upsetting. It WILL challenge me but I am ready to engage more deeply. 

I grew up with one foot in the middle class white world and the other in the diverse poor side of my city. A unique experience I wish more people had. I have seen first hand what discrimination looks like. I have watched my talented friends of color struggle, while I succeeded. Just because YOU don't feel you need to march, doesn't discredit 2.5 million others who feel like they do. 

I am disappointed in you if you choose to alienate me when you keep calling for unity. Lead by example. Be curious and listen. 2.5 million people took to the streets. It will be in our history books. 

If you are a woman you owe your right to vote to the women in history who marched. Period. 

Images (c) melissa fox media LLC 2017 - may not be used or duplicated without my written permission. Inquire for media rates. Will donate for any women's movement, please write me for permission. 

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On Location | Thailand

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On Location | Thailand

STAY @ INN A DAY SUITE 4 O'CLOCK

This boutique hotel is family owned and operated. Nestled on the banks of the river in old Bangkok, far from the tourist crowd, this place is a hidden gem. An old warehouse converted into a hotel, this place is an instagram dream. Suite 4 O'Clock has a giant wooden tub that overlooks Wat Arun, perfect for soaking away the day. Design is fabulous, service is wonderful, Thai Iced Tea amazing. Don't skip lunch. The place is small but it is like having your favorite Thai Chef cook you a private dinner. Walking distance to Wat Pho and The Royal Palace. Easy Access to river cruises. 

@INNADAY

 

OVERNIGHT SPECIAL EXPRESS TO CHIANG MAI

Save some money on accommodations by taking an overnight train to Chiang Mai.  We booked our sleeper cabin via ticket service a month before our arrival. The train was so comfortable and cozy. We had no trouble sleeping. When we woke, we were arriving in the mountains at sunrise! Dinner is surprisingly yummy and affordable. For breakfast, stick to the rice soup. The other options were strange. Meals are not included. If you order, they will collect cash just before arrival. For those adventurous souls, the bathrooms have a shower on board. It's a balancing act, but it gets the job done. I just washed my hair to freshen up. 

PATERA ELEPHANT FARM 

An avid traveler and co-worker friend of mine, Megan Taylor, recommended this place. I saw the video of her experience and knew it was something I had to do. My husband and I credit this place as being literally one of the "best days," of our lives. A spiritual experience that is not to be missed. Thailand is plagued by terrible "animal tourism." From the Tiger petting zoo's to the Elephant camps. These animals are often mistreated for the sake of turning a profit. Patera Elephant Farm seeks to rescue and rehabilitate elephants. What you pay for is helping them care for the animals. You will be put to work, feeding, cleaning and walking them. Groups are small and each human get's one elephant and a care-taker for the day. They space out the experience so the elephants are not overwhelmed and each animal is paired with a human that fits it's personality.  You ride bare-back. No saddles or whips are allowed. When an elephant first comes in, it is assigned a mahoout. This person dedicates their life to caring for this animal 24/7. This is the relationship you experience. This place takes no donations. They want you to help them care for these majestic creatures. It is difficult to articulate the magic that happens when you look an elephant in the eye. It's like seeing eons of wisdom and kindness in one moment. I cried when I hugged my elephant goodbye. We had two women in our group who were back for the third time. I now understand why. If you go to Thailand, do this! 

CHIANG MAI 

Stay near the Old City if you want to visit more Wat's and eat street food. We found a delightful Air BNB just outside the old city. Ratchiangsaen Flora House, Ribbin, was a wonderful host. We were never far from a Tuk-Tuk to anywhere in the city and walking distance from an outdoor market that was open all night. Eat the street food, it will blow your mind. BBQ on a stick, soups, seafood, smoothies and ROTI. Meals are just a few Bhat each. Go to the Night Bazaar and see a Thai Boxing fight. Anthony Boirdain says, "Find the Cowboy Hat Lady at the gate and eat her food." Her stand is called, "Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak." We agree. Don't miss it. 

travel like the monks

Hike the ancient path to Doi Suthep and stop at the best kept secret spot on the mountain:  Wat Pha Lat. When we dreamed of Thailand, this was the place we saw in our dreams. A jungle temple at the top of a waterfall. We packed a lunch and ate it with locals on the rocks with a pack of temple stray dogs. The hike starts just behind the Zoo and winds up the mountain. You follow ties on trees left by the monks.  It is magical. We snagged a Red Truck from Wat Pha Lat to the more famous Wat at Doi Suthep. The best part, no one here had "selfie sticks," and the place was quiet. I was the most connected to my meditation at this temple. "No Ego," etched into a step next to the waterfall. It is the perfect place to recharge outside the city. We got our hiking tips and instructions from Globo Treks. It was easy to follow their directions. 

Hello jungle temple of my dreams. #thailand #passionpassport #lifeisbeautiful #travelgram #livinwithfox

A photo posted by Melissa Fox (@melissafoxmedia) on

 

TIPS FOR THAILAND 

Bring long skirts or pants to wear into temples. Some places, like the Royal Palace, require a collar on your shirt. I kept one in my bag and wore long skirts for most of our trip and I was never denied entry into a temple. 

When inside a temple, women are not allowed to touch a monk. If you wish to get a blessing, you must place your donation or item in front of the monk and he will pick it up. 

Schedule a "Monk Chat" in Chiang Mai. 

The friendlier the stranger, the more suspect they are. Thai people are quiet and private. Those that were super friendly were trying to scam us. We were told many times that something was closed when it wasn't. If a Tuk-Tuk driver needs to "make a stop," on the way to your destination they will stop at a shop and ask you to go in while they run an errand. They get a commission from the shop owner if you buy something.  We had it happen once. You'll learn fast. 

Most signs are in English. Use Google Translator App if you are confused.  

Price is negotiable on souvenirs. Don't be afraid to haggle for items or Tuk-Tuk rides. 

The whole city will shut down for the King. If it happens, just go with it. There is literally nothing you can do. 

Get a massage. Every Damn Day. Seriously. 

 

 

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On Location | Santa Monica in 24 Hours

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On Location | Santa Monica in 24 Hours

It was a crazy 24 hours, action packed with little sleep, lots of pressure to do a good job and some laughs. I donated my time with my team at fig media for a secret project with The Sergeant Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. My first time in California, love that it was for work on a production that I care deeply about. Grateful for good eats, fun clients and cool projects! 
More details to come in 2017. 
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EATS

Seafood and Bites @ Santa Monica Yacht Club.
ORDER:  Gin + juice cocktail with the Octopus Skewers and Blackened Catfish. 

Salad and Rose @ Tavern
ORDER: A Glass of RoseThai steak salad, papaya, cashews, bok choy & lemongrass
CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Academy Award Director + Marcia Gay Harden

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TEAMMATES

@james_gustin  #lookingveryLA (Executive Director) 

@james_gustin #lookingveryLA (Executive Director) 

@melissafoxmedia  #soakinguprays (Cinematographer) 

@melissafoxmedia #soakinguprays (Cinematographer) 

@firstlady.a  #toesinthepacific (VP of Communications) 

@firstlady.a #toesinthepacific (VP of Communications) 

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On Location | Charleston; South Carolina

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I never expected to end up in Charleston as many times as I have over the last few years for work. It was not on my list of "must have," places to visit but I am glad the opportunity presented itself. The air literally smells like barbecue. Every corner is dripping with historical significance. I fell in love with it's cocktails, horse drawn carriages and charm. It is easy to romanticize the big beautiful homes, huge bridges and local art scene. 

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SUNRISE, BARBEQUE, WHISKEY, WHISPERS AND HISTORY.

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EAT: THE RAREBIT; CHICKEN + WAFFLES + MOSCOW MULE or NICKS BBQ; PULLED PORK or 82 QUEEN; SHE CRAB SOUP + SWEET TEA

BUY: SWEETGRASS BASKETS FROM ARTISTS FROM AN OPEN AIR MARKET

STAY: THE FRANCIS MARRION HOTEL

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On this trip I was filming a wedding for a good friend and coworker. He filmed my wedding day and I was delighted to return the favor. It took some convincing to get the newlyweds up at sunrise. It meant an early morning after little sleep for all of us. But I am so glad I pushed for it. This was by far my favorite part of the weekend. Our relaxed couple enjoyed their first sunrise as husband and wife while we documented the glowing occasion. Can not wait to share the teaser!

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DO: THE OLD SLAVE MART MUSEUM

No visit is complete without making a stop to the unspoken undercurrent of the city: The slave markets. If this were civil war era then I am a Yankee from the land of Lincoln. So I felt a little out of place reading placards for the mansions of Confederate generals who have been known to enslave many. On top of the old slave market, sits a confederate museum. On my first trip to SC, the confederate flag was everywhere. Thankfully on this trip, it was no where to be found. I was surprised to see how much of the history of slavery for this area, one of the largest slave ports, refused to honor the upsetting history of its former residence. The one slave museum I could find was small and contained no more than a few relics and oral histories. This museum was next to the historical museum row, whose houses were home to the daughters of the confederacy and plantation owners. That is when I realized I was standing in a city that was built on the backs of its slave population. Letting that reality sink in, hurt my soul. Any history of slavery, began in Charleston. This is where the ships unloaded their cargo. The romance and charm disappeared into the chasm of an expunged horror that had been reduced to no more than a whisper. It would be nice to see more dedication devoted to this history but the sad reality is that after the civil war ended, many documents and history was destroyed to release the owners from the stigma and persecution of owning slaves. Therein lies the unspoken undercurrent current of the city. A historical tension that once felt, can not be unfelt. 

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Noted: I have not had time to enjoy the beaches. The Citadel sounds cool but is just a military school. There is such a thing as He crab soup too. Cobblestone is hard to walk on. The south has more humidity than I can handle. My northern accent sticks out like a sore thumb. There are more churches then Starbucks. Uber will not pick you up at the airport. The bed and breakfasts downtown looked amazing. The light becomes harsh earlier and longer then in the north, so ideal filming conditions are sparse. Fort Sumpter looked small. Many sailors walk the streets in uniform, as a Navy Base is nearby. 

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How To: Five tips to nailing a thoughtful, emotional and story rich interview.

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How To: Five tips to nailing a thoughtful, emotional and story rich interview.

In documentary filmmaking questions are king.

I could write for days on this subject. Interviewing people is a beautiful privilege. Recording someone is transformational. Leading people to their emotions is not only healthy but it serves the deeper hunger that we all have to connect. It is such important work.

Stories matter. People matter. I believe that if people told more of their stories to one another that we could create a more compassionate world. Anytime one can humanize an issue, we are one step closer to creating understanding across cultural, social and economic boundary lines. Have you ever asked the homeless man you pass every day to tell you his story? If you did, how might that change your view of that person? This is why I love my work. I get to ask these questions. I get to be curious for a living. 

Storytelling is an ancient art. We have evidence of it's impact on ancient societies through language, art and artifacts. Ancient cultures passed down their traditions through oral storytelling. I think stories are part of what makes us human. It is a form of expression. We love storytelling so much we have made whole industries out of them. Film, photography, social media are all bi-products of our desire to tell stories. Stories start with questions. 

In screenwriting class my instructor, the kick ass female director Jennifer Reeder that you should totally look up, always told us that if you feel stuck, start with a question. "What if?" If that didn't lead you anywhere, become an expert eavesdropper. Listen to people. Ask questions. 

When I first set out to be "filmmaker," I thought I was going to make narrative films. Before that I thought I was going to be an "animator." I wanted to make disney movies. It took years for me to arrive at the conclusion that what I actually wanted to do was to tell people's stories. It was the stories that inspired me. When I arrived at working on documentaries for clients I discovered that I felt most alive when I was asking questions and letting my curiosity guide me toward getting to know someone. It just so happened that I had a wonderful product of that curiosity in the form of a film. 

So ask questions. Ask lots of them! 

Then think about the kind of questions you are asking. They set the tone for your film and your relationship with it's subject. 

Here are five tips to nailing thoughtful, emotional and story rich interviews. 

1. Research, Write and Prep. The internet is an amazing place. Google your subject. Chances are there is public information that you can find out before the cameras come out. This will save time and help give you information to go deeper with your subject. Find out about their passions, tastes and lifestyle. Use this information to craft thoughtful questions that help your subject relax. I will sit down and make copious notes on a persons interests. I may or may not use all this information in my interview session but I will hold it in my mind in case I need it. Knowing if someone is a middle child versus an older child can help you discern personality traits and styles of questions. Then put together a plan for your interview and start writing your questions. In my work with clients I go as far as to write a script. I won't be focused on getting my words exactly, unless I run into a jam, but I will be able to see my whole story at once. 

2. Word questions carefully. Language matters. Use questions that inspire people to answer with a story. Be aware of your own bias in a question. This will show up in how you word the question. You can still choose to use your bias toward the goal of your film but be aware of how it works. 

  • DO: Describe to me what it felt like to ________. Tell me about ___________. What drives your passion for _________? 
  • DON'T: Were you upset? Do you like ______? If you can answer a questions with "yes" or "no" it is not a good question. 
  • DON'T:"How do police infringe on peoples rights when they scan cell phones during a riot?" Leads the subject to answer based on your believe that they are in fact infringing on rights. 
  • DO: Describe how you feel about police listening to cellphone scanners during a riot?

Wonderful TED talk on conversation analysis. 

I love listening to smart people talk about their work. This talk applies to interviews and communication. There is so much information in how you ask a question and how one responds. 

Prof. Elizabeth Stokoe takes a run on what she terms the "conversational racetrack"-the daily race to understand each other when we speak-and explains how to avoid hurdles that trip us up and cause conflict. Elizabeth Stokoe is a British scientist. She studies conversation analysis. She is a professor at Loughborough University.

3. Ask subjects to respond using "I" statements. Third person storytelling only works if there is a narrator talking about the subject. If you are letting your subject tell the story, they should use the phrases "I feel," "I think," "I know," versus "You feel," "You think," ect. With upsetting subject matter I like to remove myself from the upset and I might start to speak in third person. Good storytelling asks the subject to say "I." It is a small tweak that can make the difference between a story that inspires and one that falls apart. 

4. After you ask your question, listen carefully and pick out themes. Scan for words that are repeated. Listen for words that create feelings. Notice when the person across from you decides to not explore a topic. It is all data. Listening is a key element to getting a great interview. If I can pick out a theme from a story I can lead my subject deeper and gain trust. It is like getting a wonderful gift - it is affirming for the subject to understand that you care and are paying attention. This creates trust. It will also allow you to see where you can lead your subject deeper. 

5. Ask about feelings. I consider this to be the most important tip. Try this at home and with friends: Ask about feelings. While you are listening to your subject pay attention to your own emotions. Chances are if you are feeling something, your subject is feeling it too. Ask about them. "I noticed when you talked about ________, I felt sad. Is that true for you? Why do you think that is?" This is a skill, you can learn it. Notice and ask. You will be amazed with where this simple tip will lead you. 

BONUS TIP: Did you notice that only two of my tips are about writing the questions? The other three are about how you behave when you ask them. 

Yes, you need questions that are crafted to get the type of stories you are looking for. However, the key to getting a thoughtful, emotional and story rich interview is how you are with that person. How you feel listening to them. Feelings and relationships are a big part of my work. Don't run from them. Embrace them, feel them and talk about them WITH your subject. If you haven't "fallen in love" with the person you are interviewing by the completion of your film, you have not done your job and you can not expect your audience to fall in love with your film either.

And seriously, look up Jennifer Reeder and her new film #crystallake  

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Creative Blocks

 

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I know the feeling. The one I get after booking a cool project. The money is in, contracts are signed and now it is time to get to work. I pour myself a hot cut of tea and look over my notes. I read interviews, creative briefs and brand statements. When I think I am ready, I open up a new document and get ready for the genius to flow. 

The cursor then sits there. It blinks in defiance. It begs me to put down an idea. I am stuck.  This happens to me at every project. Be it a painting or a script I am writing. I am both thrilled and daunted by the blank page. 

 "Just start," I tell myself. Even if I have the intention to throw it out later, at least it will be a beginning. So I start. I fall in love with my first few ideas and then pat myself on the back for being so clever. The words are flowing out of me until they hit a brink wall with the weight of a thousand caffinated hang overs. At this point I hate myself. I hate my ideas. My genius is stupid. I give up and walk away for an hour. No use forcing work. 

I end up sleeping on it and come back to the computer renewed. This process happens a million times over the course of a project. I both fall in love my work and loathe it at every stage. That part of my work never goes away.  

Editing is the worst. Watching footage can be painful. It may be my best work to date. But it might not match the high standards I have set for myself. The footage represents all the choices made on a set. Editing is the process of wrestling with those choices while still seeing the big picture. I have to let go of what could be and focus on what is. I make little happy discoveries as I go. One minute I adore it the next I curse it as rubbish.  

At some point I call the work finished. I come to the conclusion that I have done the best with what I have. Months or maybe a year later I watch my work and finally aprreciate it. Creating is vulnerable. I don't think that will ever go away. I often call the same process: wrestling the beast. A blog for another day. 

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