On-Camera Interview with Jeff Stein in the Can

One of the reasons I keep blogging is it seems to lead A Life’s Work down roads it might not otherwise go down.

Case in point: Jeff Stein, AIA

In the summer of 2012 I had the idea of conducting an email interview with Jeff Stein, Paolo Soleri’s successor as President of the Cosanti Foundation, the umbrella organization that includes Arcosanti. I approached the kind folks at Arcosanti to see if Jeff would be amenable. He was.

I sent him my six questions and I promptly received six very thoughtful answers. (Read the mini interview.) During our email exchanges, the notion of an on-camera interview arose.

“Production is over!”

I’ve declared many times here and elsewhere. And yet…

When it became known that Jeff was coming to the Northeast, I had to take advantage of the opportunity. We struggled to find a date that worked for both of us. During that time, I had a sense that the interview might be a very important piece of the A Life’s Work puzzle. Stein was something like an heir. In a film about legacy, heirs can be very important.

After a little searching, we found a place to conduct the interview.

Meeting Jeff Stein

The night before and the morning of the 20th I was a little nervous  because I always am, but once Jeff arrived, whatever jitters I had disappeared. He came bearing gifts, including a book, which I had him sign immediately, along with the release. And within minutes, we got to work. Cinematographer Andy Bowley worked his magic while Jeff and I chatted for three hours about his work, Arcosanti, and Paolo Soleri.

I figured the interview wouldn’t go longer than two hours, because anything more than that and I get tired and the interviewee become tired. Focus is lost. But this interview went on for something like three and a half hours and it was all good. Jeff was articulate, thorough, funny and charming. Best of all the camera captured his enthusiasm for his work at Arcosanti.

That Was Easy!

It turned out to be probably the easiest interview I’ve ever done. The reasons for this?

  • I didn’t have to hop in a cab to JFK, go through security, sit on a plane for hours, drive a rental car somewhere. I took the subway to the location for a godsend 11 a.m. call time. Not even a transfer. When I was done I walked a couple of miles and was in my apartment.
  • I would ask Jeff one question and he would answer it and the next four questions on my list. The interview was more like a conversation. This makes my job very easy.
  • Jeff is very personable and open. He looked very comfortable under the lights and in front of the camera. If he was uncomfortable, he didn’t show it.
  • The supersecret shooting location was very  quiet. There was a small break while we waited for some street noise to abate, but otherwise, it was as quiet as you can get in NYC.
  • Andy shoots with all his own equipment and doesn’t let me touch his lights, stands, camera, or any gear. This means I don’t  lug anything or  set up or break down anything! Sweet!

Afterwards, Jeff, Andy, and I went out for an early dinner at a cozy Korean restaurant where we talked about the David Wright house, motorcycles, and Julius Shulman. It was a very good day.

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The Guest Bloggers

Over the years (yes, I can write that and mean it!), this blog has had some wonderful guest posts. Here’s a list of them.mynameis


My Pursuit of Science Took an Ugly Turn by  William Swearson  (words)

Bonsai and A Life’s Work by Karen Bell (photographs)

Time, Nature, Mortality… A Life’s Work by  John Yearley (words)

Her Life’s Work by Kate Hill Cantrill (words)

Arcosanti and the Writing Process (words), An Arcosanti Slideshow (photos), and The Ultimate Selfie: NASA’s Golden Record 2.0 (words).

Designing SETI Institute Graphics by Danielle Futselaar (words and images)

Death Be Not Enervating by Duane Kelly (words)

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins (words)

Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: the creative act,” by Robert Darden (words)

Mr. Pete’s Tree by Jon Bittman (words and photos)

Arcosanti – City on the Edge of Forever by Nathan Koren (words and photos)

Why Would a 21-Year-Old Be Interested in A Life’s Work? Haroon Butt (words)

Sunset and Sunrise in Arcosanti, AZ: 24 Hours Amidst a Sea of Arcology, photos and essay by Niall David (words and photos)

Hardest/Easiest Work Environments So Far by Andy Bowley (words and photos)

The Meaning of Life by Jane Waggoner Deschner (quote and art)

Bob Marovich’s Top Ten All Time Gospel Recordings (list)

The people above are writers, playwrights, photographers, visual artists,  urban planners, DJs, college students, etc. I like that the list is so varied. I look forward to adding more names. Maybe yours?

You know the themes: legacy, continuity, work one devotes one’s life to, mentorship, stewardship, a sense of connection to something larger than yourself. It’s pretty broad. I’m looking for  visual art, video, interviews, poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. Send me an email and maybe we can work something out.

d  a v i d [ a t ] b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m  s { d o  t } c  o  m


Music Is Fun!

When I was at VCCA, I had a conversation with a very fine writer, Randon Billings Noble, about our pasts as musicians and our presents as something other than musicians. Randon  played violin, practiced 6-8 hours a day, and from our conversation I could tell she must have been a very good one, though she was modest about this. We both confessed that though we still play music, and at a level that some nonmusicians might find impressive, we don’t think of ourselves as musicians.

“I’m musical, but I’m not a musician,” Randon said. Neither of us thought of playing music as a hobby, though; so it was something more than an avocation, but not quite our vocation, either.

Last week I was catching up with one of my guitar students, L.C., also a very fine writer. We spoke about the frustration that comes with being a writer, the impossibility of setting down in words the ideas, characters, events, etc., that reside so perfectly in our heads. We talked about the drive to get the work out there, to have it published, read, and appreciated, and how when that doesn’t happen, we feel miserable. I mentioned that once I felt that way about music, but I didn’t anymore, even though I practice (play!) for an hour or so a day. And though I do “perform” for people, for friends and others, it is without the expectation that comes with a professional performance. Now I do because it’s fun.

Writing Is Fun?

And then cinematographer Andy Bowley emailed me a link to David Foster Wallace’s essay, The Nature of Fun,  about perfection and imperfection and the “fun” of writing (or whatever it is one creates), how when we begin as writers, we do it for fun, to get ourselves off. And then we achieve or long for some kind of idea of success and writing becomes something we do to seduce other people, and it becomes less fun. And then, if we’re lucky, we realize this and return to it for that initial sense of fun, and then when we do write it becomes a deeper, more profound kind of fun because we have new knowledge.

Something is in the ether.

For a related post, read Why Do I Keep This in My Wallet? 



Editing a Setback Sequence – Process

Previously, on A Life’s Work blog

In a previous post I wrote  about the process of editing a clip from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project section of A Life’s Work. Since I’ve been working on the subsequent section of the BGMRP story I thought, why not share that process as well?

You don’t need to view the previous clip, but it might put this one in context a bit more. So here’s the clip. Or read on.


So in that previous clip that you may or may not have viewed, Robert Darden lists the numerous challenges the BGMRP faces while the visuals take us part way through the process of archiving some rare vinyl. Audio engineer Tony Tadey role is prominent. What’s not in the clip above, but is in a newly re-edited clip, is Robert expressing his concern about the project’s reliance on the audio engineer position, and how that position is not financially secured.

“… if he’s gone and we don’t have money to hire another audio engineer, then everything comes to a halt,” Darden says.

I wanted to resume showing the archiving process. The newly re-edited clip ends with the needle dropping on the record and the sound of the pre-music scratchiness of stylus on vinyl. I liked the idea of ending that section with some suspense. What are we going to hear? (Note that the clip above starts playing music, a different song than you’ll hear at the start of the clip below.)

Right here’s the new clip.


Where to Begin the Editing Process?

As with every section, the editing process begins with the subject telling the story in his or her words. In this section, the narrative was all about the hurdle the BGMRP encountered. There really wasn’t that much editing to do to the spoken word. When Bob described what happened, he did it in his usual articulate manner. Sometimes I’ll ask essentially the same question twice, but rephrase it to see if I can get something new the second time around. Here, it wasn’t necessary.

When I put together the talking head selex, I had three longish sections that were very rich. In fact, I considered using just these three extended interview bits, going to black briefly between them. But I thought better of it. One reason: I wanted to use some music, and this was a perfect opportunity to do that. What you’re hearing is the first minute of a gospel standard, Old Ship of Zion by an ultra-obscure gospel quartet called the Mighty Wonders of Acquasco Maryland. Very little is known about them. If you know something, please let me know.

What Images Shall I Use?

I was picking up where the last section left off, so we’re in the digitization room. But what shot should I start with?

I could have simply resumed with the last shot from the previous clip, that beautiful extreme close up of the stylus riding the grooves of a 45. I dismissed that idea quickly. I wanted to start somewhere new. For the first few versions, I started with what is now the second shot — the tilt down that is a little abstract. But since this section is about Tony, I decided to start on Tony. I liked the medium shot of him at the console. The lighting is bright. The shot looks kind of  … pedestrian, but I liked how this shot would set up the ones that would follow.

Deciding to Go for It

I really liked the idea of this music showing the listener’s world as colorful, fluid, dynamic, maybe even ecstatic.

And layered. (0:33 to 0:53)

Tony Tadey Digitizes Vinyl

When I first looked through footage of Tony at the monitors, the distortion in his glasses grabbed my attention. Then I noticed how prominent his ear was in some of these over the shoulder shots, and I knew I had to use one of those. Audio engineers hear more acutely than most of us.

When I was putting these shots together, I was timidly crossfading them. Then I thought, why not try superimposing. I had seen a few effective instances of this recently, so I decided why not. What did I have to lose?

Right now, I’m very happy with the superimposition. I can hear some film editors I know grumbling, but for now, I’m going with it. I like how expressionistic it is. I lucked out with how the audio waveform seemingly went right into his ear. This bit is a stretch for A Life’s Work. It isn’t really in keeping with the rest of the style of the film, but I think that’s okay. I’m comfortable leaving my comfort zone here.

The waveforms you’re seeing do not correspond to the song you’re hearing, and I know of at least one audio engineer who will bristle, but for now, for this rough cut, these shots work for me. That’s how it is with documentaries. You fudge sometimes. Actually, it could be argued that whenever a cut is made, even the most verite of cinema verite filmmakers is fudging.

 One Very Short Minute Later

A minute in, Robert appears. That minute goes by very quickly to me. The music makes the time fly.

I have a fondness for starting stories, paragraphs, and sentences with the word “and.” It immediately signals that something came before this moment, that this moment is not the beginning. I thought starting with “And” here was a good way to go. I’d like to start the film with one of the subjects saying, “And…”

He’s on screen unedited for 20 seconds, which is actually a relatively long time. But I felt it was warranted because he’s emotional here and I wanted to show his passion.

Cut to the extreme close up, which cinematographer Andy Bowley shot with his Canon DSLR and some exotic lens or other.

Stylus rides vinyl, shot by a Canon DSLR

Back to Reality

As Robert is talking about the setback, so the images leave the ecstatic and return to that pedestrian real world. Tony at the console. Tony listening, no superimposition, no distortion in his glasses.

Back to Robert. Earlier in the film (the first clip above), we saw Robert and Tony going through recently donated records, and I think Andy captured their friendship — it’s a relationship full of respect and admiration for each other. Robert and Tony have nothing but great things to say about each other on camera and off. I wanted to show early that Tony was more than a guy turning knobs and pushing buttons, that he was a beloved part of a team. That way when you heard and saw Robert speaking about Tony’s departure, you knew what that departure meant.

Back to the studio and Tony lifting the needle off the record. I have many shots of the needle being dropped and the needle being lifted. Those were important moments to me. These shots happen all over the 45, beginning, middle, and end. I couldn’t resist using a needle lift in the middle of the song. Just as I like starting with “and,” I also like ending abruptly in the middle of sentences and songs. It was really the only way to go here. The BGMRP’s story was being interrupted.

Full Stop

Then the record stops spinning.

Often with editing, it’s what’s you don’t include that makes the difference. In previous cuts of this clip, this bit included shots of Tony shutting off the monitors, turning off the room lights, and exiting the studio. It was clunky and not working at all. It took me having to go through the pain of editing those in before I realized the record coming to a stop worked much better.

Back to Robert. By the way, Andy shot these interviews with his Letus rig, which gives it that nice, filmic, depth of field. When we discussed using it, I was a little concerned about matching it with the other interview segments, but Andy was very reassuring. Once I started cutting it in, I knew without a doubt it was the right decision. It also gives us a visual cue that something is different from it was back when we saw Robert in the previous sections of the film.

Dark Light Dark

Baylor University's vinyl digitization room

This is where the clip shifts a little, and this shot sets that up. For the next minute, most of the visuals will be about darkness-light-darkness.

The headphones. As I recall, Andy was kind of drawn to these headphones resting on that table like that. If you look very closely you’ll see a little movement in the silver part of the headphone — a reflection, probably mine. I like the idea of rooms containing some kind of ghostly presence, and I thought this was one way to show that. Maybe it’s too subtle, but I like to think this kind of thing is communicated even though we may not consciously register that small a detail.

I’m not totally satisfied with the pans and tilts of the LPs. Those will be worked on. But I think they get the idea across for now.

“I Need More Faith”

Back to Robert on screen for 20 seconds. This bit… my goodness. Often, when you’re conducting an interview, you don’t know what’s precious and what’s not. I don’t know about other people, but I usually only realize it when I’m transcribing or editing. Your attention is divided when you’re interviewing, but the captured footage tells you all. But I remember when Robert said, “Okay, I need more faith,” during the interview, I had to stop myself from crying. Every time I see it tears well up in my eyes. Maybe I relate it to the struggle of making this film, that sometimes “I need more faith” to finish this project, but to me, this is one of the three best lines in the film. Maybe the best outright.

I ended this clip with the tilt down the Mahalia album cover. I chose this album cover when we were shooting because it referred back to Robert talking about the first gospel album he heard. At the time, I didn’t have the darkness-light-darkness motif in mind, but as I was assembling this, it made sense to me. In its own small way, those shots are what the film is about. They say when we embark on long-term projects, we travel through periods of darkness and light, fallow times and productive times, periods when everything is going right, all the stars properly aligned, and periods when everything seems to be not that.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you made it this far, thanks for going the distance with me.

If you felt like going a little further, leave a comment or ask a question. I love hearing from you.


Lost Gospel Music Clip – Process

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]

Take My Advice, Don’t Take My Advice

Here’s a recent email exchange I had with Andy Bowley, one of the fine, fine cinematographers who worked on A Life’s Work. How we arrived at this point in our back and forth doesn’t matter. What matters is the content of this excerpt, which I think fits in nicely with the theme of the film and the blog.
Andy Bowley
Where’s in the World is Andy Bowley? Among the Allen Telescope Array.

when i was in high school, i was encouraged to write a letter to a fellow who was doing a lot of work in computer graphics/filmmaking. i was interested in this field, so i wrote him a dorky letter asking him many questions, among them: which should i study if i am interested in both filmmaking or computers? a few months later a letter came back from the guy.  in a dense and beautiful hand, he wrote that it was a miracle that my letter was delivered at all, as it was addressed to his loft space, where he never received mail. he gave me great advice, telling me that when it came to pursuing computers vs. art, he suspected that the choice would be “made for me” — and in closing, he advised me never to take anyone’s advice too seriously. anyway, i was so happy that a new york guy had taken such obvious effort to craft such a thoughtful reply to a high school worm like me.

i have always remembered his name. it was carter burwell. who, i was delighted to learn many years later, had quit the computer graphics/academics racket altogether to become one of the most successful film composers in hollywood history.

a nice guy triumphs.

i like that.

I asked Andy’s permission to use this email and because he’s a very nice guy, he graciously agreed. He also added:

i should mention it was his father charles burwell, a teacher at my high school with a similarly generous sprirt, who put me in touch with carter.

And then I asked if he still had the letter.

i believe the burwell letter has gone the way of the dumpster. you’ve heard of pack rats? i am the opposite-animal, whatever that may be.

i do get a twinge of regret when i throw stuff like that away, but then it’s rare that i ever think about it or need it again.  and then and there i have gained another cubic foot of free space  such are the inner machinations of a man who lived on a boat for 10 years.

The moral of the story? Write to people you don’t know and ask their advice, and if you’re the person written to, respond thoughtfully and seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Here’s some Burwell music for you, from the end credits of No Country for Old Men, a film made by his most famous collaborators, The Coen Brothers.


For more on the cinematographers who have worked on A Life’s Work, click here.

[cross-posted on Extra Criticum]

On the Shoulders of SETI Giants: A Clip

This weekend is SETIcon, and A Life’s Work’s little tribute to SETI continues with this clip of Jill Tarter. Here she speaks about Frank Drake (included in the clip below), who conducted the first SETI experiment in 1960.  Drake , Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi, Barney Oliver–these and others trail-blazed the field, allowing future generations of SETI scientists, such as Tarter and her colleague Seth Shostak, to carry on with the research.


Behind the Scenes at SETI

We were there to interview Tarter, and A Life’s Work isn’t the kind of documentary that asks other folks for sound bites about the main subject. I was concerned we might insult him by asking to just film him and not interview him. But he was very accommodating and gracious. He asked us what we wanted to shoot and we decided on him at his desk, writing something. We weren’t going to zoom in on what he was writing, so anything would do.

“I’ll write the Drake Equation. How’s that? If I can remember it.” Cinematographer Andy Bowley and I laughed heartily. So we shot about five minutes of him at his desk, writing the Drake Equation over and over on a sheet of paper.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but now I wish I had that sheet of paper. What a keepsake that would have been!

And Lastly…

Have a great SETIcon, all of you who will be attending and presenting. If all goes well, I’ll have a guest blogger sharing her impressions of the event.

 See also:

The Shot That Got Away




SETI’s Jill Tarter on Gender Bias in the 1950s: A Clip

Gender bias in the 1950s

[This post originally appeared on October 16, 2009.  The clip in this post is one of my favorite sections of the work in progress. The post is also a fave because of the comments it generated. I love the virtual exchange between artist Jane Deschner and scientist Jill Tarter. I would be thrilled if the comments continued on this post, and that’s the real reason I’m reposting it.] 

Here’s a clip from the sample of Jill Tarter, Director of SETI Research, The SETI Institute. I hope you enjoy it.


My favorite part of this clip is the edit that happens about 1:43 in.

Miss Jenkins:
… you need to know more than just how to run a house or an apartment. You need to know why as well as how.

Cut to

Jill Tarter:
All of this counseling …

The expression on her face–it’s as if she were watching Miss Jenkins dole out that advice–it’s so telling.

How did I find Why Study Home Economics, this educational film made by Lawrence, Kansas’ Centron Productions? (Was this directed by Herk Harvey, director of the cult horror classic Carnival of Souls, who worked for Centron for 25 years?)

Before I get to how I found it, you need to read the unedited transcript from that section of the interview.

Why do you want to take calculus, you’re just going to grow up and have babies. You want to take shop, no you have to take home economics. Oh, you’ve already taken home economics, well I guess you can take shop. All of this… this counseling that was so aimed at making you do what was expected and the norm rather than going off and being an engineer…

You may notice that the clip and the transcript differ. That’s not a big deal, that’s what editing a documentary is all about. But notice what we cut:

You want to take shop, no you have to take home economics. Oh, you’ve already taken home economics, well I guess you can take shop.

In that sentence Tarter tells us about the prevalent attitude of the time.

From the start I’ve always thought there was a place for educational films in A Life’s Work. When Cabot and I were editing, we thought a good place to insert some of it might be here.

I had discovered the Internet Archive when I was searching for stock footage quite a while ago. I went to the site (and I encourage you to do so, too; it’s an amazing site, more interesting and entertaining than YouTube) and I searched “home economics” because those words were planted in my mind by Tarter in the complete interview.

I found Why Study Home Economics and downloaded it. When we watched it, we realized we struck a little gold. That little bit of educational film shows and tells us the attitude of the time. Tarter’s sentence became unnecessary. It is, I think, an efficient, effective, powerful, and amusing edit.

But I would never have dreamed I’d find archival footage that cut in so well with her statement and expression. Never. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Did you like the clip?

Edited by Cabot Philbrick. Cinematography by Andy Bowley and Thomas M. Harting, CSC.

Special thanks to everyone at SETI, especially Jill Tarter, Seth Shostak, Frank Drake, Karen Randall, Cynthia Phillips, Rocco Mancinelli, Chris Neller; Susie Jorgensen and Rick Forster at Hat Creek Radio Observatory; U.S. Park Ranger Steve Zachary; and the students in SETI’s 2008 Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates Program in Astrobiology. More on the students in a future post.

An Email On My Corkboard?

We all need some kind of reassurance from time to time. One of the things I need it for is my skill as a cinematographer. So on my corkboard is a print out of an email from Andy Bowley, a very fine cinematographer who shot much of A Life’s Work.

Here's an actual email from a real cinematographer!

Thank you, Andy. Your email not only flatters me, but it makes me laugh. And that’s why it’s on my corkboard.

And here’s the video clip in question. Which I shot. Enjoy the banter, which starts about 30 seconds in.


For more about this clip, which I shot, click here. Did I mention I shot it?

Do you keep such things around to bolster your confidence? Please tell me I’m not alone here.

What a D.P. Sees

I am always awed by how cinematographers see so much more than I do. We can be looking at exactly the same thing, the same angle, the same  frame, and they’ll register all sorts of details, big and small, on an initial viewing that I won’t see until I’ve viewed the footage they shot several times.

In July, cinematographer Andy Bowley and I went to Arcosanti to shoot some construction and conduct a follow-up interview with Paolo Soleri. Here’s what Andy saw through the viewfinder during the interview.

During David’s last interview with Arcosanti architect Paolo Soleri, I was struck by what I witnessed through the camera – something rare and powerful and surprising. Initially our interview clicked along in the usual way: director asks question, subject answers.

But halfway through, David asked Soleri how he maintained his motivation — and then went on to admit there were times when he had difficulty maintaining his enthusiasm for A Life’s Work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a director show such vulnerability to an interview subject during an interview. It was startling to me – a wonderful moment. But what put it over the top was Paolo’s silent reaction: he leaned forward to listen, smiling and avuncular and compassionate, and then went on to answer the question in the broadest philosophical terms anyone could imagine.

Soleri’s expression said so much to me about the relationship between the filmmaker and subject.  Sure they had been jousting all along – Paolo endlessly skirting David’s more personal questions, David dancing and jabbing as best he could, but underneath it all there was also a kind of artistic connection between them –  clearly (and wordlessly!) established during this one little moment.

It strikes me as such an important thing in any documentary: a nod to the audience, no matter how subtle, that there is a process going on. There are pointed cameras and hovering furry microphones, and most importantly a relationship, often rich and complex, evolving between the subject and the filmmaker.

Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody.

Andy’s other posts:

Charismatic Manhattan Pinecone Test

This Post Is For You, Gearheads!

Hardest/Easiest Work Environments So Far in 2010

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t