Viewing entries in
Documentary

Comment

A Tale of Two FYRE Documentaries.

Which unfinished camp do you fall into? Netflix or Hulu? Here is a quick review of both and my personal preference. 

fyre_netflix_hulu.0.jpg

NETFLIX : FYRE 

First thing to note about this documentary, it’s created by the marketing company behind the festival, F$@!Jerry. That’s important to know as an audience member so you can understand the bias of the film. Documentaries are inherently biased. This is hotly debated among creators. I think understanding the creators is almost as important as the documentary itself. So what does that mean for FYRE? 

An exclusive behind the scenes look at the infamous unraveling of the Fyre music festival. Launching globally on Netflix on January 18, 2019. Created by Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, Fyre Festival was promoted as a luxury music festival on a private island in the Bahamas featuring bikini-clad supermodels, A-List musical performances and posh amenities.

I think the most interesting thing about this documentary is the victimized stance of anyone involved in the creation of the festival. Everyone seems to point fingers at Billy. Especially the marketing company. They even take the stance that by not paying Billy for an interview, they are not contributing to the madness any further. Yet, that are ok with profiting off the story. Yeah, ok guys.

It just falls flat.

While this documentary is shot really well. It’s flashy, it’s funny and feels outrageous because the story is outrageous. It takes no stance on the subject or the depth of it’s characters. The narrative is: “Look at this train wreck story, isn’t it crazy?”

To me, it feels like one long marketing video for F@!$Jerry. They position themselves as the geniuses who made FYRE huge and then watched it burn to the ground without taking any responsibility for it’s creation. I imagine a big corporate client watching this and going “Hey, we should hire them!” They don’t dive into any real discussion about the responsibilities of marketers in our digital time. That is a huge, deep and interesting topic. One that influences elections, money and power in ways that we are only really starting to understand.

I did love hearing the story of the initial promotional video. I’ve been there. Unreasonable expectations by a client to create the MOST EPIC VIDEO OF ALL TIME, while going around every filmmaking process that ensures great results. But we glossed over a major dynamic on this shoot. The use of the girls. The toast JaRule gives says it all “Here’s to living’ like movie stars, partying like rockstars and F$!@ing like porn stars.”

No one talked about the ethics of what they were doing while filming the promo. They show interactions between Billy, JaRule and the models and it made me want to cringe. Men with power, filming women on a deserted island with no structure. They came up with ideas that would be “cool,” and ask the models to participate in the fantasy. It’s gross. A rich boys club gone wild. I kept waiting for some of the interviews to point out the ethics of it all. Not just the creation of the marketing, I wondered where the responsibility of everyone involved. Seriously, what was with the “take one for the team,” story. Borderline harassment. If my boss ever told me to give a blow job for the good of the team, I’d report him. Tone deaf to include that and gloss over it like it was a locker room story. Ick.

The “characters," keep moving the project forward, claiming to be on an almost unstoppable train. I wondered, why? No one really answers that question. 

As a director, I wonder why we don’t go here. It’s the most interesting exploration of human behavior. Why did people continue to play along when there were clear red flags in every direction? The filmmakers never ask this. The best interviews were from the workers on the islands. That community had the most substance simply because they had the most to loose out of this situation.

At the end of the day, F$!@Jerry made a documentary on Netflix that got us all to watch, point our fingers and go “man how messed up is that!” But the real underbelly of the story isn’t explored. This documentary barley touches on consequences of the fraud of the festival or what happened to the islanders afterward. It ends almost abruptly. The most interesting footage at the end is the business meeting where Billy and JaRule try to convince employees to stick with them. They attempt to share the story about VIP NYC but I didn’t fully understand it till I saw the Hulu documentary. Then, like the festival, the documentary ends. With a whimper and a cheese sandwich. 

590383042f6ae4ae108b46b6-750-563.jpg

The documentary attempts to poke fun at the fact that the world loved seeing the festival fail and that’s the most interesting stance it takes. It lacks a meta voice. An outside perspective to place the story within social and cultural context. I wanted more zeitgeist. Fyre is a documentary created by a marketing company and it feels like just that. 

tumblr_plk976iq6C1r6hbrlo1_500.png

The best thing to come out of this one is what happened after it’s release. The owner of the catering company that lost tons of money on the island, Maryann Rolle, raises over 100K on go fund me as a result of her tearful interview and Jerry Media donated over 30K of that.

So good for you guys.

The real victims of this whole story are the islanders and none of the documentaries attempt to tell their story with the depth that it deserves and cost of that deception. This tearful interview is all you will get between both docs. I think we could do better.


HULU: FYRE FRAUD 

FYRE FRAUD is a true-crime comedy exploring a failed music festival turned internet meme at the nexus of social media influence, late-stage capitalism, and morality in the post-truth era. The Fyre Festival was the defining scam of the millennial generation, at the nexus of social media influence, late-stage capitalism, and morality in the post-truth era.

Right out of the gate, the title and description should clue you in. The tone is different than the Netflix documentary. A true-crime comedy. They secretly drop their documentary the night before Netflix. Sneaky, sneaky guys.

Worth noting, Hulu’s documentary paid for an interview with Billy. So this story has Billy as a main character in it’s structure. Hotly debated is paying for that interview. People are paid for interviews all the time. We pay criminals for their stories all the time. So personally, I don’t care that they paid him. It does add a nice element to the story. 

This documentary takes a stronger stance on that meta voice that I felt was missing from the Netflix version. I really liked how they dove into Billy as a character. They hit the fraud harder. They place the instagram campaign in social context in ways that helps me think about the bigger picture. It’s not a home run. Some of the themes I mentioned above don’t get a deep dive, but this documentary tries a little more to have a meta voice and structure.

Fyre Fraud takes more of a stance on story.

Fyre Fraud takes the position that the festival and Billy were fraudulent from the beginning. It seeks to tear down the “We tried something so big, we got in over our heads and failed,” narrative that the lawyers for Billy have spun. It paints Billy as a con artist from the get go. It’s not as flashy as the Netflix version. It’s not as funny. But it feels more like a documentary to me. There is more research. More outside perspective interviews and a larger point that they are trying to prove.

Billy’s interview tips the scales for me. I am really interested in how the Billy’s of the world are created and perpetuated by society. I loved the millennial lens. The connection to escapism and fantasy selling. Discussion of wealth and power. But we still don’t talk to the islanders enough. I don’t think the consequences of the story are as clear as they could be. 


fyrefestivalmeme.png
what-time-does-migos-go-on-fyre-festival-bruh-fyrefestival-20358448.png


The closer we get to people arriving on the island, the more the footage is the same. It’s almost like both documentaries were working with the same batch of collected footage with a few new surprises. Cutting back and forth to Billy, who looks like he is shrinking in his seat, is more compelling than the Netflix version. From here, we get a closer look at the lawsuits and issues that arise after the attempted festival. 


The new information we get here is what Billy did in the hours and months after the festival, his conviction and, the depth of his delusions. They pose the question about his six year prison sentence, was it enough?

Finally some one says what I’ve been thinking: “Don’t just focus on Billy. There are lots of people who helped Billy create fraud so they could make money too.”

Was that enough to satisfy my point? Not really. I would have loved to see the creators ask people about their responsibility in a deep and critical way. A credit sequence reveals that the workers on the island were never paid, Grant was fined, JaRule distances himself from the backlash and they point out that F@1$Jerry made the Netflix documentary and they pose the question about marketers responsibility. I didn’t like that we waited till the end to do so, but I’ll take it.


The verdict: I think FYRE FRAUD attempts to tell a fuller story and at least booked you into that villa on the island. So it gets my vote as the better doc. 

I think that the FYRE Festival is a great zeitgeist of our time. A reflection of the power and influence that marketing can have to create big things while at the same time exploiting others for financial gain. We LOVED seeing rich white kids fail. The meme’s were hilarious. I think everyone likes a good train wreck story. I also wonder why.

female-people-swimwear-bikini-springbreak-accessory-accessories-sunglasses-tourist-clothing-apparel-human-person-vacation-940x480.jpeg

The perception of white collar fraud in our country is flawed to say the least. I think most people see these documentaries and don’t fully understand the depth of the crime. We poke fun and make a joke without understanding the real consequences beyond sunburn and delayed flights. We create the perfect martyr in our con artist Billy persona and watch him fail with delight. We gloss over the racial and social justice topics. It doesn’t bother anyone that they essentially exploited a poverty stricken island for the festival and then didn’t pay them? What happened to the islanders? Why do we tell Billy’s story and not theirs? Where is the responsibility of everyone involved? How do we prevent the Billy’s of the world from creating more situations like this? If it were me, I would have told the story from the perspective of the islanders first. That would have been compelling.

Honestly, wasn’t crazy about either of them. It’s a great story but both lack depth. Ironically, like the almost-festival that they document, they disappoint.

Good documentaries entertain us, Compelling documentaries ask great questions and challenge our perceptions.

Neither of these are compelling by those standards. They do entertain though. I am curious, what did you think?

Comment

Comment

Female Filmmaker Friday | ELAINE MCMILLION SHELDON

My new female documentary director crush is Elaine McMillion Sheldon. She's an academy award nominated documentary director based in West Virginia. Her work largely focuses on the Heroin(e) epidemic affecting our country. Her first film to make it to Netflix got my attention long before it was nominated for an academy award. It's a stunning piece of work and is still on Netflix. I highly recommend you add it to your list. 

In the face of the opioid epidemic in a West Virginia town, three women are giving their community a fighting chance. Heroin(e), only on Netflix September 12.

As a documentary filmmaker myself, I know how hard it is to craft relationships and stories within a complex backdrop. The topics Elaine explores are presented with compassion for its subjects. Something I feel very strongly about in my own work. I think it is easy to present a shocking story about drug addicts. It's easy for an audience to gawk voyeuristically, say "how horrible," and move on. I think we larlgey have our news outlets and reality television to thank for that. Elaine's work does the opposite. She dives in deep with her subjects and presents them to her audiences with a tender curiosity. 

RECOVERY BOYS

I just finished her new film Recovery Boys and am equally inspired by the work. It's emotional, heartbreaking and compassionate. Her complicated subjects are treated with respect by her lens and it pays off in her ability to dive in with people and get them to reveal their true selves on camera.  

ecovery-boys.jpeg

I won't reveal much about the "boys," here. I'd rather you see the film. Social issue documentaries have the power to heal, create change, inspire and influence our society in ways that our media outlets can not. It's why I love it so much. I have spent a large part of my career helping non-profits fundraise through documentary films with my peeps over at fig media. I take great care to let my subjects be the voice as much as possible. That is not easy. Personal bias, the desires or my clients and the audiences who donate money to such causes make navigating the stories I tell difficult. So when I see work that I can relate to in this way, I get excited.  

Elaine brings the human element of her stories into spaces that we only hear about in negative contexts in our news. She takes your hand and guides you through these spaces with her camera. She strays from being an essayist and lets her message evolve through the people she follows. This gives her subjects the chance to be the voice versus her directing being out front.

A quick look at her website, made me giggle. She and I use the same website template, we both shoot photography. I didn't realize that one of my favorite Frontline episodes is hers and damn it - she's six years younger than me.  So, Elaine, I am officially a big fan. If you are ever in Chicago, let's have lunch. I promise not to gush too much.

I got some work to do to catch up. 

*Opens a new tab and 'Googles' Documentary grants.* 

Comment

Currently Watching: Ellis

Comment

Currently Watching: Ellis


This is the trailer for ELLIS, a short film starring Robert De Niro, written by Eric Roth, directed by JR. The short narrative film, ELLIS, awakens our collective memory. Leaving their past behind them, immigrants fleeing poverty, discrimination, dictatorship arrived there. Ellis Island was the gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants. Upon arrival, they were processed, approved or denied access. Due to sickness or simply tiredness, many were placed in the hospital. A purgatory of sorts, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, where thousands of men, women and children awaited their fate. ELLIS tells the forgotten story of these immigrants who built America while questioning about those who currently seek the same opportunities and safety in this country and other parts of the world. The short film stars Academy Award Winner Robert De Niro, was written by Academy Award winner Eric Roth and directed by the artist JR whose Unframed art installations in the abandoned Hospital complex serve as the set for this powerful and timely film.

The past few years I have discovered a deep desire to learn more about my own genealogy and cultural identity. Up until recently, when asked, I told people I was a blend of many European cultures. So blended, in fact, that I don't have any cultures I identify with. Being an artist this was a topic I often explored. Feeling invisible among my diverse peers. It has taken me years to be able to articulate the feeling of being removed from ancestral traditions. I know this plays into my desire to work with and capture stories of all peoples. 

It is not that I don't have a form of cultural identity but for whatever reason, it wasn't a currency in my family system. It has been lost. I have no religion that I feel deeply connected to, I study all of them. I have no traditions that stem from generations. I have a few stories of farming and growing up in the depression but beyond that, there is a void. 

Since as long as I can remember, I longed to see the world and learn about different cultures. I purposely seek out worldly people to fill my life with. I reasoned that if I didn't have a specific culture I identified with, that I would become a student of all of them.

Art allowed me to do that. 

I had been casually looking up french street art, you know, as one does, when I came across JR's work. His talk, "How art can change the world," won the TED prize in 2011. JR is a French street artist who had some beautiful ideas about how art could shape a community. After being in Paris and getting to see their street art first hand, I can tell you, they do it better than anything I have seen in the states. It's sassy and on point in a way Banksy could never touch. If you haven't seen the talk yet, please watch it below. It is amazing. I would LOVE to see something like this in Chicago. 

Ellis is not a new piece of work. It features JR's installation, Unframed. The installation was created in 2014, the short film came out the following year. It feels more relevant to me now given our current events. I remember reading Anne Frank in school and having my eyes opened to the horrors of oppression and immigration. I hope to never know such peril in my life. Truth is America was founded by immigrants who fought their way across the land and conquered it. Unless you are Native American, you are the product of immigration. In Ellis, JR attempts to bring you face to face with these ghosts. These stories of immigration. The people who fled discrimination, war and poverty to seek a better life. A staggering number of people living in the United States can trace their roots back here. Millions came through the island on their way to a better life.

It is estimated that 40% of people alive today can trace their roots back to a family member coming through Ellis Island. 

The film is beautifully written. I love me some De Niro, and think he gives the material justice. Personally, I would have loved to hear it in different languages. The photography of Unframed is haunting. It sits among the dilapidated buildings giving story to it's walls. Simply breathtaking.

When immigration became a political hot topic this year, my brain became interested in this project again. Our modern day immigrants don't look like this. They are no longer the European ancestors we see in our history books, they come from all over the world. When I began traveling I was embarrassed that I didn't speak another language. Everywhere I went, people were bilingual. They never made me feel bad for not knowing the native tongue but I had this deep desire to join them. Travel breaks down walls. The biggest wall it breaks down is fear. Fear of others, fear of other cultures, fear of those who are different than "us." 

I think it is more important now than ever that we see the faces of everyday people from all walks of life doing every day things. 

It is important to know our history. I think of our modern day Ellis Islands. The ones that sit on our borders and detain people. They have the same desire as those who came before. They are looking for a better life. They don't want anything they haven't earned. They just want a shot at creating something better for themselves. I can't imagine having to leave it all behind and start over in another country. One that is hostile towards me. What bravery and courage that takes. 

I am headed to New York for the first time this spring. Ellis Island was the first place on my list to visit. I want to stand there. On the steps of what was hope for so many and gaze at lady liberty. Some never made it beyond the hospital. Others were detained for years, living in limbo. Before the island was opened to the public, it was used for deportations. A crazy full circle. 

You can watch Ellis on Netflix or Amazon Prime. 

Sources

Comment

On Location: Women's March Chicago

2 Comments

On Location: Women's March Chicago

#whyimarch

IMG_3003.JPG

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. 

IMG_3018.JPG
IMG_3024.JPG
IMG_3005.JPG
IMG_3006.JPG
IMG_3015.JPG
IMG_3021.JPG

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. 

2 Comments

On Location | Santa Monica in 24 Hours

Comment

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. 
IMG_0255.JPG

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

11_04_30_02_07_tavern-crop-u429.jpg
IMG_0389.JPG
IMG_0297.JPG
IMG_0528.JPG

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) 

IMG_0529.JPG
IMG_0257.JPG

Comment

Currently Watching: HUMAN

Comment

Currently Watching: HUMAN

LOVING this series. I highly recommend this to give you some inspiration. Beautiful, emotional and rich with wisdom. (New goal: Standing ovation from United Nations.) 

Watch everything here: 

https://humanthemovie.withgoogle.com

ABOUT HUMAN
Turn on the Closed Captions (CC) to know the countries where the images were filmed and the first name of the interviewees. What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight ? That we laugh ? Cry ? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery? 
Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years collecting real-life stories from 2,000 women and men in 60 countries. Working with a dedicated team of translators, journalists and cameramen, Yann captures deeply personal and emotional accounts of topics that unite us all; struggles with poverty, war, homophobia, and the future of our planet mixed with moments of love and happiness. 

Watch the 3 volumes of the film and experience #WhatMakesUsHUMAN. 

The VOL.1 deals with the themes of love, women, work and poverty.

HUMAN by Yann Arthus-Bertrand - An exceptional premiere at the United Nations General Assembly Hall - New York City On September 12, 2015, thanks to the the support of the French mission and to the UN Secretary-General M.

 

 

Comment

Comment

On Location | Charleston; South Carolina

image.jpg

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. 

image.jpg
image.jpg

SUNRISE, BARBEQUE, WHISKEY, WHISPERS AND HISTORY.

image.jpg
image.jpg

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

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

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!

image.jpg
image.jpg

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. 

image.jpg
image.jpg

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. 

Comment

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

Comment

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  

Comment