Before I get to the clip, some background. My first meeting with Bob Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project was in Chicago, August 2009. During our sit down interviews it became clear very quickly that I would have to go to Baylor University (Waco, TX) to shoot audio engineer Tony Tadey in action. And so I did. The footage with Bob and Tony was shot April 2010, the interview footage is from that Chicago meeting.
Here’s the clip.
First Things First
The first thing I wanted to do was edit the sit down interview. In this section I wanted to present the reasons why so much Black gospel music is lost, so I went through the paper transcripts and selected each bit where Bob spoke about this. I cut and pasted these instances and put them in a separate document and edited and edited and edited this text until I thought it contained the important information, had a narrative flow, and was the right length. But the spoken words and its transcription are very different. Sometimes what works on paper cannot be made to work in the audio. For example, a subject’s sentences may rush into each other, or an intonation might suggest he’s continuing to speak while on paper you can make the sentence come to a full stop. For this clip I was lucky and I was able to make the digital audio work without much hair-pulling.
When to Show What
Great. I have Bob’s sit down stuff strung together. I’m trying to make this film with minimal talking heads, but there are times when I want to show the subject’s face during the interview. So I marked the bits where I thought Bob’s face was especially expressive or telling us something in addition to the words he spoke. I definitely wanted to show Bob deliver the “pool of wax,” and “given them to you!” lines.
While I was editing the audio, I was thinking about what visuals I could put over it. I thought it might be an effective contrast to show the process of the music being preserved as Bob spoke about why it’s lost, so I decided to use the digitization process.
Before we shot anything at Baylor I had a made a few practical decisions. One was we would shoot a couple of 45s as they made their way through the process. The record I chose to focus on for this clip was The Unfolding Book of Life, by Rev. Cleophus Robinson on the Peacock label. I liked the title a lot. You’ll see it throughout the clip.
Establishing shot. I have footage of the Baylor campus and exterior shots of the library where the archiving and digitization takes place, and that will be used — must be used — at some point, but for the purposes of a discrete section like this it wasn’t necessary. So I decided to use the exterior of Tony’s office. I liked the little move (a Canon 5D on a mini dolly). The office nameplate was a simple way to introduce Tony. (In the whole film, we were introduced to Bob long ago.)
Gospel Music, Love, and Money
When I was choosing selex I was struck by how delicately Bob and Tony handled the vinyl, how much they smiled and laughed as they looked at the labels, how much they enjoyed each others company. There was a lot of love in that room.
Bob listed many reasons why so much gospel music is lost; I wasn’t going to order those reasons randomly. What in his litany would work with the love in that room? Collectors, definitely. That’s a special kind of love. And capitalism! In this case, the love of money trumping every other kind of love, including the love of doing the right thing. Showing Bob and Tony’s love for this music was a great contrast to what Bob was saying about corporations interested only in the bottom line. I knew I had to have this “on the fly” exchange during the capitalism bit —
Robert: “Man that is battered.”
Tony: “You can tell that really was loved.”
I was really excited about that one. The first minute came together pretty quickly, the images and spoken words had a nice symbiotic relationship.
Time to get out of Tony’s office and into the scanner room. Cinematographer Andy Bowley and I loved this room, what with that giant scanner and its high contrast dark and light. I liked the idea of contrasting the high tech and very expensive equipment in this room with the picture Bob was painting of mom and pop record labels that had no money for good record keeping, good storage, etc.
The Exciting and the Boring
Editing these shots in the scanner room I wanted to focus on light and the movement of light. You’ll notice the light traversing the bed of the scanner and the light shifting on Darryl Stuhr’s face. I wanted to time this sequence of shots so that we came back to Bob’s sit down interview for his line, “So when we got there it was just a pool of wax.” Light moving like that can evoke revelation and it can evoke the passing of time. I like to think here it evokes both.
On to the next challenge and another step in the process. Inputting of information needed to be shown, and though someone sitting and typing doesn’t usually make for exciting film, I do have a fondness for closeups of words materializing one letter at a time on paper or a monitor. So we shot Amanda Harlan entering the data — “Unfolding Book of Life” — and a closeup of the words “unfolding” on Amanda’s (and your) monitor. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.
The transition from Amanda typing to Tony examining a 45 is my least favorite edit in this clip, and probably will not remain. I tried to make it work based on the tilt up of the camera, but it’s awkward and takes place off the beat during Bob’s audio — too much off the beat. If you watch the entire clip closely, you’ll notice that the edits occur during natural strong breaks in Bob’s speech — at the end of sentences or clauses. This one does not. I did like the contrast of “took them to the dump” and Tony cleaning the 45.
By the way, this part of the process, the cleaning, took place before the scanning, but I played with the truth a little bit. Us documentary filmmakers do that sometimes, play with the truth. Why did I do that?
I wanted to focus on Tony for an uninterrupted chunk of time. Two reasons: He’s the one who does the technical stuff. Bob is the first to admit that he is not the tech guy and he does not have the super sensitive ears of an audio engineer. Tony is an audio engineer extraordinaire. I also wanted to show that these endeavors, BGMRP, SETI, Arcosanti, Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, are not one-person operations. This is obvious, but up to this point in the film I’ve been focusing on one person per project. (I treat Jared and David Milarch as one person.) In focusing on Tony (and showing other people in the other projects — like the students at SETI) I’m hoping viewers will have an a-ha moment and see that these projects are undertaken by a community and have heirs. There is another reason I decided to spend so much time on Tony here, but I can’t tell you what that is just yet.
Wrapping It Up
We shot a ton of great footage of Tony working. I choose the shots I loved. I have a fetish for those little yellow inserts, so that had to be in there! The care Tony takes centering the 45 shows the attention again, the love. I wanted to draw out the needle dropping on the vinyl as long as I could because I think that moment is magical — a stylus finding its groove, very rich. Andy shot that with his Canon 5D and some bizarre old Eastern European lens and I love the look of it; the depth of field is amazing. (You can watch a clip of the 5D footage, put together by Andy. Gearheads can read about Andy’s equipment here.) And from here I wanted to go to the monitors. I asked Andy to shoot the heck out of the monitors because those lines and bars are mesmerizing. I played with the truth again by using a shot of the monitor that is not from the sound you’re hearing. I think I matched it well enough so that I could sneak it by, unless you are an audio engineer. (Sorry Tony, I know that drives you crazy, but I had to do it.)
And then a simple fade out.
Hope you enjoyed this look at how I put this clip together. In a future post I’ll write about the material that didn’t make it into this clip.
[cross posted on extracriticum.com]