The Year in Review, Part 1

I took the advice of my friend Jenn Chen and reflected on 2010. Here then, with a focus on A Life’s Work, the year’s accomplishments.

February and March: Worked on the film at The MacDowell Colony.
April: Shot follow-up interview with Robert Darden in Waco, Texas.
June: Footage from A Life’s Work shown at World Science Festival.
July: Shot follow-up interview with Paolo Soleri.
August: Shot Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains, California. Production over!
September: Worked on the film at Blue Mountain Center; A Life’s Work at Independent Film Project.

And then there were the grant proposals submitted, and 111 posts written for the blog and the cajoling of the guest bloggers who wrote 11 awesome posts.

Had you told me at the end of 2009 this was what I was going to get done in 2010, I would have laughed in your general direction.

I recommend this reflection exercise. (Looking back is only half of it, you also look forward. Visit Jenn’s blog, Typecraft, for the whole magilla.) I found it put the past year in perspective and made me realize that I can get a lot done in the coming one.

Marvin Gaye and A Life’s Work

While I was at Blue Mountain Center I edited a Black Gospel Music Restoration Project section with headphones on so as not to disturb my fellow residents. Unlike the clip that’s online, this bit takes place at Baylor University (Waco, Texas), the home of the BGMRP.

I was working on establishing the locale by putting together some shots of the campus, and linking them aurally through the campus bells chiming the late a.m. hour. I wondered if I could keep the bells ringing as I left the establishing shots and proceeded with a talking head shot of Robert Darden in an office.  I liked the idea, but when I tried it, I wasn’t completely won over.

A day or so later I was listening to my iPod and on came Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up (Part 1).

Here’s a studio version of the song someone synced up to a Soul Train performance:


I’ve heard this song a bazillion times, but this time I was surprised to hear that the banter ran through the entire song. And it works. Brilliantly.

This doesn’t mean my idea will work in the film of course, but it might be worth spending more time on.

And if you’re wondering, there are two reasons why I didn’t include the BGMRP clip. One: I don’t like putting clips up that haven’t approached a certain finish, and two: there’s no way I’m going to compete with Marvin Gaye. The bass line alone is a killer.

Perfect! Print!

Blue Mountain Center Boathouse

There was a time when I believed it was possible to achieve perfection in art. (See Practice, Practice by yours truly in Helen Literary Magazine.)

Here’s me playing one of the first classical pieces I learned, Lagrima by Francisco Tarrega, recorded at the Blue Mountain Center boathouse (hence the sloshing sounds). I’m playing my guitar, not BMC’s beautiful Robert L. Vincent guitar.

The sheet music represents a kind of ideal; it is very clear what notes are to be played and it is unforgiving. Over the course of my guitar-playing life, I’ve played this piece thousands of times; it is hardwired in my brain and fingers. It’s about 130 notes total, twice that with the repeats. It’s not especially technically challenging  but whenever I perform it I always misplay at least one note. Always.

Here’s a still pulled from A Life’s Work.

We shot this interview at a lovely B&B in Chicago. That circled bit you see? That’s a framed, atmospheric photo of a large elm tree. It was on the mantle in this room and we tried to hang it where the arrow points. We tried to use gaffer tape but it wouldn’t hold. We didn’t want to make holes in the wall, and pressed for time, we let it go and placed it where you see it.

When I look at a shot from this interview I think, I should have tried harder to get that picture up there in the background. That would have made the shot perfect!

So this documentary, I’m sorry to say, will not be perfect. I’ve accepted that; I stopped believing in perfection in art (I never believed it was possible in people and life) a long long time ago.

But I am not dismayed, because there is something more exciting than perfection anyway: the happy accident. And A Life’s Work, like life, is full of happy accidents, like this one. There are many more, too, I’m sure. I just need to be attuned to them. And that is my job as I begin editing the whole film.

I’d love to hear about your happy accidents. Care to share?

Related: More classical guitar music.


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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

A Last Look at BMC

My residency at Blue Mountain Center is over. It’s been a productive and reflective month, full of great people and delicious food.

Thank you, my fellow residents and everyone at BMC for making September 2010 so memorable.


Here’s a photo of my set up at Blue Mountain Center.

If you read the VCCA and MacDowell posts, you’ll notice some familiar décor accents.

This is also my bedroom, one of several studio-bedrooms in this building that used to be a lodge back at the turn of the century (19th to 20th). There are two writers down the hall from me and one directly above me. This means we all must be respectful of each other’s need for quiet, which means I can’t play guitar whenever I feel the urge or need to look away from the monitor for a bit.

Now this is not a bad thing, because I suspect if I had an isolated studio and was left to my devices, I would be playing guitar more than editing. One reason this might be so is BMC has a beautiful classical guitar. I mean, a truly stunningly beautiful hand-crafted instrument with a rich, full tone, made by Robert L. Vincent, a luthier with a connection to this very special residency. I have played this guitar, to the joy and annoyance of my fellow residents, during non-quiet hours for hours on end. It is a wonderful thing to hold and play.

When I want to play it between 9 am and 5 pm, I take it outside. Here it is making itself comfortable in an Adirondack chair.

And here, for your listening  pleasure, is a recording of me playing the Chopin piece I’m obsessed with, Prelude 28 no. 7, on this guitar in the BMC meditation garden. It is my gift to you.

If you’d like to give something in return, why not subscribe to this blog? The posts will go directly into your inbox, and should I ever do a newsletter featuring updates about the film, its subjects, and its topics, you’ll receive one of those. I’ll never spam you and I’ll certainly never give out your e-mail address.

P.S. If you would like to hear more classical guitar recorded at BMC, click here.

ALW on the Big Screen!

To be honest, I’m not crazy about screening works in progress, especially if the work is nowhere near ready for feedback. So when I go to an artist residency, my presentation is usually a brief introduction about how 8 1/2 x 11 was my film school and how Tango Octogenario was a reaction to the dialog heavy, static nature of that film.

But when the possibility of doing a “Meet the Filmmaker” night at the local movie theater was tossed out there, it didn’t take me long to decide to show A Life’s Work. Nothing compares to seeing and hearing work on a big screen.

Afterwards there was a q&a. The BMC artists and activist were an easy crowd, but I was thrilled that several Indian Lake residents were, judging from the thoughtful questions they asked, engaged with what they saw.

Thanks to everyone who showed up. You made it a memorable night.

The Indian Lake Theater in Indian Lake, NY is a gem of a space, a 250-seat venue rescued from oblivion by Blue Mountain Center’s Ben and Harriet. The theater serves its community by doing more than showing Hollywood fare; it’s a community arts center that hosts live theater, music, and streams operas and ballets from European theaters. It is one of my fantasies to open such a space some day.

The “Meet the Filmmaker” series is funded by the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Program, administered by the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts.

And Now a Quiet Moment

After the hustle and bustle and hustle of IFP, I am back at BMC, where I’m continuing to edit the BGMRP material for ALW. But first, I need to press the reset button and get into creative, artist residency mode. Here are some images of Blue Mountain Center, taken by my fellow BMC resident, writer Karen O’Reilly, who clearly knows about words and images.

Thanks, Karen. Now go have an oatmeal raisin cookie. You deserve it.

Blue Mountain Center… & The Great Escape?

Cross posted on

I’m here at Blue Mountain Center in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Adirondacks doing a residency on a pristine lake surrounded by trees verging on their fall foliage glory. You’d think I would write about how inspiring it is to hike with a botanist-writer, or kayak with a writer-painter, or accompany on guitar a singer-songwriter who killed “Girl from Ipanema.” You’d think I’d write about how these interactions with nature and people stimulated me to make brilliant edits on A Life’s Work. But no. I want to write about the photograph that’s hanging in my bathroom.

I stare at this photo while I towel off from my shower and it always reminds me of the spectacular chase scene in The Great Escape. In it Steve McQueen, the rebellious American character, speeds through hilly expanses on a stolen motorcycle, eluding his Nazi captors, going off road, making dramatic skidding u-turns at the sight of oncoming foes, jumping barbed wire fences until they prove too challenging and he winds up landing in one, entangled. All the while the timeless Alps stand silently in the background. The beauty of this scene is that expanse and those mountains (and okay, McQueen’s speeding motorcycle flying over rows of barbed wire fencing). Until this moment, we’ve spent all of our time in a claustrophobic WWII POW camp, and a lot of that time in an underground tunnel. The release into the Alps is literally breathtaking, the sound of the motorcycles is a rush.

The next thing that comes to mind is the irony. Now, I haven’t read the nonfiction book the film was based on, so I don’t know if the film is “faithful” to it or not, but I always smile when I think that of the dozens of characters that made it out of the camp, who stole airplanes, boarded trains, and rode motorcycles, all of them were recaptured, and the only three characters who managed to find their way to freedom were those who traveled by foot, rowboat, and bicycle – the slowest, steadiest means of conveyance.

“And this relates to A Life’s Work how?” you ask. Well, often when I mention the documentary and the subjects, the person I’m speaking with will ask, “So, have you noticed any similarities in your subjects?”

Yes I have, the most prominent being that they are all very steady and even keel. For the most part, they are not prone to extreme highs and lows. I would describe their pace as measured. When it comes to their work, they show up day in and day out. They have goals and they don’t lose sight of them and they know the surest way to reach them is one step at a time.

Any similarities between the subjects and the filmmaker are purely coincidental.

Yeah, right.

Artist Residency Time Again

Blue Mountain Center, Photograph by Jan MammeyFriday I leave for another residency, Blue Mountain Center. I’m very much looking forward to this one, and I’m a little bummed out that I will have to interrupt this month-long stint to return to NYC for A Life’s Work’s screening at IFP. It’s a good problem to have and I’m not complaining.

What do I hope to do at this residency besides play ping pong?

Continue editing. The sit down interviews are roughly edited, and that is the narrative spine.  Now I need to place the images over them. And I have a lot of images to choose from (105 hours worth)! The footage we shot since April, in Waco, Arcosanti, and the White Mountains, has been logged and is ready to be incorporated into this edit.

Blue Mountain Center has a strict no cell phone policy and internet only in a common area. This means I’m going to be taking a little break from the blog. But I’ve lined up bunch of guest bloggers that will offer their unique perspectives on the film or something related to the film. (If you want to write a guest post, leave me a comment and we’ll discuss.)

I hope to put up some photos from the residency, and I’m going to try to report from IFP as well.

Studio: photo by Jan Mammey.