The Nicest People in the World

Laboratory for Tree Ring Research U of AZ

Many years ago, when A Life’s Work was granted fiscal sponsorship by the New York Foundation for the Arts, I met with a NYFA advisor. She was a wonderful woman, a filmmaker, with positive energy emanating from every pore. She looked at the people I had lined up to work on the film and commended me on my choices. I told her a few of them had agreed to work for rates well below what they usually charged, below the friend rate, even. The advisor said, “It always amazes me. In the film business, you meet with the nicest people in the world, and the … not nicest people in the world.”

I interacted with both recently. And in a previous draft of this post I included the latter but I’ve cut it because there’s more than enough negativity going around. So here, the latest instance of dealing with the nicest people.

Laboratory for Tree Ring Research U of AZ
Matthew Salzer in front of a 1,407 year-old giant sequoia from California.

In January I went to Tucson, AZ, for a pick up shoot at the Laboratory for Tree Ring Research; they have a couple of crosscuts of the Prometheus tree there and I needed those shots for the film. I had been using a placeholder, a couple of stylized shots taken from a Nova episode I digitize from a VHS. When I reached out to license that footage, the company that owned it wanted an obscene amount for 10 seconds. So obscene that flying out to AZ, renting a car, buying meals and gas, all of it, would be significantly cheaper. And I’d get the footage I wanted.

Canon 5D on slider

I lined up the logistics of the shoot with Professor Matthew Salzer of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory for Tree Ring Research and needed only one thing. A camera. (My camera is obsolete.) I considered renting one and looked at prices, and they were reasonable, but being the poor, cheapskate that I am, I asked filmmaker, collaborator, and dear friend Wolfgang Held if he had a camera he didn’t need that week and would he consider renting it to me. He offered me his Canon 5D, two lenses, some other accessories, and a traveling bag. And he would not rent it, but he would lend it to me. I was  deeply moved by my friend’s generosity.

I paid him back with lunch and a thousand thank yous. But I like to think I paid him back in another way, too.  Enter my colleague at the education factory, Sam Richman.

When I was about 13 and developing an interest in photography, my father brought home a camera bag with an old Pentax 35mm and some lenses; apparently, “they had fallen off a truck.” Inspired by cinematographer Andy Bowley’s use of funky lenses, I brought them into work for possible use with our 7D. Sam and I played with them a bit, and then into the factory’s camera bag they went.

About a month later, Sam asked if he could borrow my 35mm lens (the one in the foreground) for a personal project.  I didn’t ask about the project or how long he’d need it, but said yes without hesitation. He borrowed it for a weekend and on Monday he showed me why he needed a slightly wide lens.

Here is the result: a video he made with his band for NPR’s Tiny Desk competition. Sam is on drums.

Sam paid me back with enchiladas. Later he told me he finds himself helping out his friends’ film projects just to help them out.

And so it goes. You’ve got to  keep the giving in circulation.

Do you have a favorite pay-it-forward story? How about sharing it in the comments below!

Big shout out to Matt, who made the shoot stress-free.

If you’d like to pay it forward by helping out A Life’s Work, you can do so by clicking the button…

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