Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Stories We Tell

For as long as I can remember I’ve always had various creative endeavors underway. Throughout my teenage years, for example, I channeled my emotional turmoil into overwrought poetry and short stories overwhelmed with dimly ironic pop culture references and phantasmagoric nonsense, vast amounts of which can still be found tucked away in my parents basement. In college, when the allure of writing poetry began to mysteriously fade (I’m unsure what caused this, but I suspect it had something to do with the sharpening of my own critical skills and the glaring disparity between my own work and that of some of the poets I was then studying) I found tremendous creative satisfaction and psychological equilibrium through making music. I’ve made three albums over the last decade and I’m currently in the final stages of a fourth, so clearly I’m getting something good out of it!

Foremost in all of this is satisfying some urge, deeply personal, followed closely by the desire to share whatever it is I’ve created with those closest to me. After all, there would be something sadly masturbatory if I was not to share, you know, and quite frankly I want to get everybody off. I need/want/crave affirmation, too- who doesn’t?

On the periphery of these creative pursuits has been the idea of working with video. Back in the later years of high school and early college, my friends and I filmed on roughly a dozen different occasions. Sometimes it was a party, other times we were making silly, nonsensical skits because it was something to do. As it stands, they’re some of the only documents of that time- conveying a level of context and nuance that photographs can rarely establish.

A few years ago my friend Mike edited together a brilliant 20-minute documentary that combined footage from a New Years party in the early 90’s with one in the early 00’s. Fortuitously, many of the same good folks were at both parties, and Mike had a lot of fun slyly comparing and contrasting who we were then with what were now. I found it all incredibly moving- not only because of the nostalgia- but because it took these otherwise rambling videos, made up of various, seemingly random moments and recontextualized them into something that struck deeper, more satisfying chords. It took these disparate lumps of raw video and alchemized them into something lovingly linear, framed by a supremely goofy-ass narrative involving an old trailer to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the impending birth of a friends child. Mike’s mini-documentary has, ever since, served as my impetus to do something similar- especially now that I have no excuse not to. All the tools are in my possession- the digital camera, the basic editing bells and whistles- the only thing I lacked was a story that moved me enough to follow it.

(Pregnant Pause, cue swelling strings) Until now.

I had originally planned on making a documentary about summer in Chicago. When Memorial Day rolled around and I was preparing to launch, however, I realized it all felt way too amorphous and that other topics of interest were vying for attention without any sort of framework for how I might incorporate and sustain them. So I made a decision to put things on hold for a while until I could think more about how I wanted to approach it.

Here’s what I’m currently thinking:

-I’m hoping to make an essay-documentary. I think what this means is that I’ll probably occasionally narrate the proceedings via a script, with the hope being that this narrative device will create the necessary momentum and story arc and sustain the viewer’s for what I imagine will be a hour. I want final results to snap along with lot’s of humor and plenty of opportunities to think and interact with people in a way I wouldn’t maybe have the courage or opportunity to do otherwise.

-This brings up an important point. What this project is really about is giving myself the space and opportunity to use all these way-cool tools I now have at my disposal to interact with cool people, explore things that fascinate me in new and exciting ways and, in the end, hopefully create something that’ll be fun to watch. I might fail, but I’m pretty sure the end result isn’t the most important thing here.

-I still want to make a documentary about summer in Chicago, particularly the vitality of the city during that season and the nostalgia (or saudade) I have for this time of year but summer will be the pay-off. The first half will be about autumn and winter. Each season, it’s important to note, won’t be the primary focus- they’ll act more like chapters or frames for the exploration of other topics of interest. Autumn, for example, will be more ruminative, establishing things, and will probably detail our move away from Chicago to Berkeley and feelings of dislocation, of establishing community and roots, etc…

-It’s the "other topics of interest" that I’m still thinking a lot about. But I’m interested in exploring ideas of displacement, home, community, memories (particularly memories of summer) etc… If there’s a central theme, it’s the idea of home and community.

-Talking heads. I want to come up with, at most, 10 questions to ask a variety of people. For example:

-When you think of the idea of home, what do you think of?
-When do you know it’s summer?
-What’s your favorite place in Chicago?

(I need help with coming up with interesting questions that will engage folks and get them talking. I need to frame the questions with some context.)

-During the talking heads, which will be interspersed throughout, I plan on assembling accompanying visuals that are sympathetic to (or symbolic of) whatever the person is discussing. This will mean doing a lot of the talking head interviews over this coming autumn and winter, transcribing them and then making plans as to how to counter these visually. It might include using the actual person who did the talking, filming them in various contexts- or using old photographs or texts or maps or animated sequences. Really, the opportunities are pretty wide open- the important thing is keeping it manageable. I imagine planning and assembling this footage will be a ton of fun.

-I want at least 10 different scenes filmed from the same vantage point during each season. I have a few ideas so far: one of the boat harbors along the lake front (I imagine boats, no boats and colorful autumn leaves, snow and ice, Spring and some boats returned…oh, you get it…), one of a residential street, maybe single tree….what else?

-Some time-elapsed stuff.

-Old family Super-8 footage, which will probably be used to accompany my own family.

-Footage of my parents home in Bay Village, the same home where I grew up and probably the template for what constitutes the idea of home for me.

Obviously many of these ideas are still somewhat hazy, so any insight others may have is welcome. I’m excited about playing in a medium that’s always fascinated me and attempting to utilize it in a way other then just the usual, seemingly random collection of shots and trying to tell an interesting story. We’ll see.

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