In previous posts, I wrote about other people and projects I considered for A Life’s Work and why I chose four subjects instead of three or five or twenty-seven. But neither of those posts address why I chose these four people.
A Life’s Work is very simple, really. It’s me searching for an answer to the big question: why are we here? I knew I didn’t want to have four artists or four scientists or four philosophers or four clerics addressing that question. I wanted people who were doing different things. I also wanted people who were doing things I was interested in because I knew I was going to spend a lot of time with this film.
So with that in mind, I proceeded. Actually, it was more like I kept my eyes open and my antennae alert.
Paolo Soleri was the first to sign on. An architect and a philospher: a builder, an artist, and a big thinker all in one. Perfect.
I knew I wanted someone doing something with living things: animals, insects, trees. I was also thinking about water a lot; I was thinking elemental. When David and Jared Milarch of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive (then Champion Tree Project) came to my attention, and when I learned there have been four generations of tree-farming Milarchs, I salivated.
SETI was a no-brainer. I had been fascinated by this endeavor since I was a teenager. The question was, who at the SETI Institute. I was torn between Frank Drake, Seth Shostak, and Jill Tarter. They were all intriguing possibilities, but as I read more about each of them, it seemed Tarter would be the best fit in this film.
I knew I wanted some kind of preservationist, too. Originally I was thinking along the lines of someone who actively seeks out lost silent films. I didn’t know of any such person. Lost silent films seem to become found because someone stumbles upon them, not because someone is actively seeking them out. I toyed with the idea of a conservationist who specializes in Tibetan textiles. I liked this idea because textiles are doomed: at best, you can slow down deterioration, but eventually, it’s going to disintegrate. But when my friend Roland Tec brought Robert Darden and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project to my attention I knew I had my final subject. Robert is a multi-hyphenate (writer-teacher-musician-gospel music fanatic), and included in that litany is deacon. I thought this brought in an element that had been lacking. The prospect of including gospel music in the film was gravy.
They did very different things. I loved that they lived and worked in different parts of the country. They were articulate and passionate about what they were doing. I thought they would complement each other in ways I couldn’t script, and that’s turning out to be true.
So that’s why these four.