“I must have more shots of the military!”

I’ve been editing a section of A Life’s Work that relies on some archival footage, so I’ve been searching and watching and thinking and searching and watching and cutting. A new post about archival footage coming soon, but here’s one I wrote back in 2009. Think of it as Archival Part I.

[The title of this post if from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.]

Edward D. Wood, Junior
Edward D. Wood, Junior

I share with Ed Wood a fondness for stock footage. There, I hope, the similarities end. In fact, I don’t even like to call it stock footage. I prefer to call it “archival.”

I think it goes back to when I was in high school and my history teacher included some AV as part of a lesson on the Great Depression: “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.” Here was a voice singing about poverty and desperation, traveling over time and space, and punching me in the gut in 1978.

And that’s how I like to use archival. It’s evident in the SETI clip and the redwoods clip. That footage of redwoods being felled (from The Redwood Saga) looked a lot differently to people in 1940 when those images were first seen than it does to people now. Then it was a sign of progress: those trees were being used to build an America that was economically growing. Watching it now it seems like a mass execution. With the Soleri clip I posted I didn’t do that, not exactly. There I wanted to show Frank Lloyd Wright’s L A R G E presence; interviews you see or read with Soleri invariably begin with an introduction that includes his apprenticeship with Wright, and in Dome House you see Wright everywhere, except, as Soleri points out, in the table.  (In another Soleri section I use archival extensively to show the passing of time.)

I also have a feeling that when I’m using archival and home movies I’m working with found objects and incorporating them into a bigger canvas. I’m repurposing, in a sense, and I like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about archival these days because I’m about to edit some new footage–the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project sections of the sample. These sections will add about eight minutes to the sample, which will bring it in at 35 minutes. It is now beginning to look more like a film than a sample.

But how to use it to advance Robert Darden and the BGMRP’s stories, and of course A Life’s Work as a whole? What footage do I choose? Where do I place it? How much? If I use gospel performance footage, what performer(s), which song(s), from when during the golden age? Big questions. Some of them have obvious answers, others don’t.

But finding answers to those questions is an exciting part of the process, and I’m grateful that I’ll have a chunk of time to examine those questions.

More on that chunk of time in the next post.

Quotes: Who Is Heroic?

“The preservers of history are as heroic as its makers.”
Pat Morris Neff, former president of Baylor University and two-term governor of Texas.

I first heard this quote when we interviewed Robert Darden in Chicago. Here’s how Robert used it.

Andy Bowley shoots the Baylor University Library
Andy Bowley shoots the Baylor University Library and a tree.

You know when I was a Baylor student there was a sign carved into the marble on the big administration building and I just hated it. And when you’re 18 to 21 you hate a lot of things if you don’t understand it. It was something like, “The preservers of history are as heroic as its makers.” And I thought that was the most asinine thing that I had ever read. And I hated it for years and years,  ’cause it always had such a reactionary feel to it. But now… I wouldn’t claim that I’m heroic — a guy who can save redwoods, that’s pretty heroic — but preserving this [gospel music], if not as important as original creation, is important in its own right. And things that are lost forever can’t teach us anything, they can’t fill us with the emotions that they were meant to fill. And if it was recorded and it’s of that caliber, then it deserves to be saved.

It came up again in a post written by Eric Ames for The Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections blog, In A Time Of Uncertainty, The Pursuit of Permanence Reinforced. It’s a beautiful essay about finding comfort during trying times.

How to Conduct an Interview, Part 2: Asking the Questions

Andy Bowley, Cinematographer

Last week in How to Conduct an Interview Part 1, I dealt with preparation. This post features some pointers once you are sitting across from the interviewee with your questions in hand. Ready? Go!

(Note: Make sure to read this post’s comment by Andy Bowley. He’s worked with some great interviewers so he knows what he’s talking about. That’s him operating the camera, and me in the corner, trying to be invisible.)


You’ve organized your questions and they have an arc and everything. That’s great. But don’t be a slave to the pages in front of you. Interviews are best when they are more like conversations. With Jeff Stein, President of the Cosanti Foundation (Arcosanti) and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, I’d ask one question and they’d answer it and the next few follow-ups as well. I’d then ask the next logical question without having to look at my printed questions.

Shut Up and Listen Some More

You are not there to impress the interviewee with your knowledge of their subject. You are also not there to tell them your personal history. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, when you talk to you’re saying something you already know; when you listen you might learn something new.

That being said you don’t want to be a question-asking automaton. Be friendly and personable, and judiciously share a brief anecdote  or two to show that you can relate to interviewee , but don’t go over do it.

Be Expressive and Responsive

You will not see or hear me in A Life’s Work, so it is important that I not talk while the interviewee is talking, and that includes no hmmms, ahhhs, or ooohhhs. And those interjections, under ordinary circumstances, propel a conversation.  So I nod a lot, smile a lot, frown a lot, raise my eyebrows a lot. This gives the interviewees something to respond to. You need to show you’re interested, after all, because then they’ll be excited to tell you their stories.

Silence Is Gold

Don’t be afraid of silence. There is the small silence necessary after an answer so you’re not stepping on the toes of the answer and making for difficult edits, but there is also a bigger silence. I will pause once in a while and check my page of questions to make sure I’m covering ground, and this bigger silence can lead to unexpected places. Often subjects thinks they’ve finished answering, but then something comes to mind that they want to add during that silence. This is often the real good stuff. Another reason to do this is you may want a shot of the subject sitting silently — these can be interesting shots — and these pauses can provide that.

Be Ready to Improvise

Some people are talkers and don’t need you to ask questions. David Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is one of those people. I had the great, mind-blowing pleasure of shooting an interview filmmaker Roland Tec conducted with David Hockney and he was this way as well. They are unbridled and there is no way to control them, so you just have to let them go. When they give you a chance, sneak in a question and get out of the way.

You’re the Boss

While some folks cannot be reined in, it’s important to remember that you are still the boss. Be confident. You did the work and deserve to be where you are. There’s nothing to fear.

This is not always easy to do, believe me, I know. When I had to interview Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, I was very aware that I was interviewing a man who not only had been interviewed many times, as all of the subjects of A Life’s Work had been, but also a journalist who conducted hundreds, maybe thousands of interviews.

Full disclosure: The first few interviews I conducted, I had this at the top of each page of questions.

Rephrase Questions When Necessary

Come up with a couple of different ways to ask the big questions. The big questions deserve being asked more than once, and sometimes a simple rephrasing will yield the answer you could only dream of. Do this, too, if you feel you were misunderstood or if the answer given wasn’t deep enough for you.

Take Your Time

Don’t rush it. And if you can, conduct interviews you think will be lengthy over two days. As I’ve said elsewhere, everyone gets tired after a couple of hours. Sometimes though, you are hard pressed for time. In that case, try to take a little break, go to the bathroom, get water, stretch your legs. Talk about something unrelated to the topic, joke around.

Don’t Be Selfish

Though you are the boss, there’s no reason to be selfish. Invite the interviewee to ask you questions. I always ask the cinematographer I’m working with if s/he has any questions they’d like to ask of the interviewee. Their questions, and the subsequent answers, have been very valuable.

This has been a public service from A Life’s Work.

Was it helpful? I’d love to add to it. If you have questions or tips, please send them my way.

How to Conduct an Interview, Part 1: Before the Questions

So, You Want to Conduct an On-Camera Interview…

I don’t usually do how-tos, but a few times in the past year I’ve been approached by people who want to make a documentary and they always ask me, among other things,  how to conduct an interview. This surprises me, because it seems like this is intuitive, but maybe not. So, for you future documentary filmmakers out there, here are some pointers.


In order to ask informed questions, you first have to be informed. So read up on your subject and their passion. If they’ve written books or articles, read them. If they’ve been on TV or been written about somewhere, track those down and watch and read. There is an irony here: when I interviewed Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project for A Life’s Work, I had to ask questions that elicited answers that would give all the relevant information to a viewer who had no knowledge of  gospel music, its importance, and why its recorded history is disappearing.

Be Prepared

Make the big decisions well before you even set up the interview. Will the subject be interviewed “portrait” style, that is, sitting in a chair opposite you in a controlled environment? Or will you conduct the interview while you both sit atop a mountain? Will you be seen asking the questions on camera? Will you be heard asking the questions? If not, make sure to tell your subject to restate the question in their answer. (People are more adept at this then they realize.) How will you light the subject? If you found the perfect spot on a Sunday afternoon, nice and quiet, say, and you’re interviewing on a Monday at 3 pm, go back on a Monday at 3 pm. The last thing you want is to discover that there’s a schoolyard beside that space and it’s swarming with screaming hyperactive kids right when you’ve scheduled the  interview.

Organize Your Questions

I like to start off with simple, biographical information, and I will often ask the subject to state his/her name and title. Then move on to how they became interested in the thing they do. This is the easiest ground to cover and it relaxes them and you. When it comes to the more complex stuff, start broad and get specific. Save the hard-hitting questions for last.

My Frank Zappa concert t-shirt from his 1978 tour.
My Frank Zappa concert t-shirt from his 1978 tour.

Dress so you don’t call attention to yourself. For example, don’t  wear your Frank Zappa concert T-shirt, complete with the cryptic lyric “zorch stroking fast n’ bulbous” and a lone baby doll’s leg. A plain solid shirt and jeans will do. The idea is to be as invisible as possible. You don’t want your clothes to distract the subject.

Also, greet your interviewee and make small talk, but don’t engage them in your interview topic until they are in front of the camera and you’re rolling. Often an interviewee will start talking about the topic before you’re ready. Politely ask them to save it for the camera, explaining that the first time they tell a story is usually the best. Everyone can relate to this, but we could all use reminding from time to time.


Make sure the subject has water nearby. Give them a comfortable chair to sit in, but one that doesn’t swivel and doesn’t invite slouching. (Unless you’re interviewing a rock star, in which case all the rules go out the window.) I tell them that I am inarticulate at times, and if they don’t understand a question, just say so and I’ll try again. Let them know that if they are unsatisfied with their answer, they can stop any time and start over. I’m not making an investigative film, so I don’t pry too much into the personal. I let my subjects know if they don’t want to answer a question, they should just say so.

 To Part 2, Asking the Questions

About the Clips

There are a bunch of original clips using footage shot for A Life’s Work on this blog. You can see a list of posts that contain clips by clicking here. If you visit the A Life’s Work Youtube Channel you can watch them without reading the text.

What’s With the Clips, Anyway?

Each time I put a clip up I have a little fear that someone will see it and think it’s part of the finished film. And then look at another clip and say, “Huh, what the hell are these two clips going to be in the same film?”

Editing at the MacDowell Colony, 2010.

Some are taken from the 36-minute sample editor Cabot Philbrick and/or I put together (“The Redwoods,” “Looking for Rare Gospel Vinyl,” “Jill Tarter on Growing Up in the 50s”), but most I edited especially for the blog. The film right now has a somewhat sturdy outline and many of those clips don’t fall within its parameters. Does that mean they won’t be in the finished film?

My Notebook

Some most definitely won’t be (“First Shots”)*, and others will most likely not be (“What’s My Favorite Tree,” though part of David Milarch’s answer and the archival footage might be). And the rest? Who knows? This blog has become a notebook for me, a way for me to focus what I’m working on and try some new things. Editing the clips makes me review footage and think of new possibilities. “Paolo Soleri Discusses Arcosanti Residents” is a good example of this. It’s quite possible that some of those shots and edits will make it in the final film, and that clip was really put together exclusively for here.

So, when you watch a clip, you might be seeing something like the birth of an idea that will be in the final film, or something that might make it to the DVD extras, or, in the case of something like “Ends,” just a favorite shot of mine that will only be seen here.

No matter where they wind up, it’s exciting for me to share them. Do you enjoy watching them? Let me know.

You can view most of the clips I mentioned and a LOT more by visiting the A Life’s Work Youtube Channel.


* “First Shots” and nine other clips are on Vimeo. These clips are mostly tangential, more like outtakes. They are usually just a series of shots or some weird little one offs such as this one: “Banter at the Allen Telescope Array.”



Top 10 Gospel Christmas Songs

I asked Robert Darden, author of  Nothing but Love in God’s Water: Volume I, Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music and founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, to list some of his favorite gospel Christmas songs. Enjoy!

The songs are in quotes and can be found on the CD (or LP) in italics.

Odetta: Christmas Spirituals
“Rise Up Shepherd and Follow”

Died  December 2008. Legendary folk/blues/spiritual singer. Active in the Civil Rights movement. Influenced many artists, including Bob Dylan. Music historian/performer, legend.

from Black Nativity

Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Mary, What You Gonna Call That Pretty Little Baby?”

With arrangements by Professor Alex Bradford, gospel re-telling of Christmas story. Electrifying performances on Broadway in 1962. Took to London for several tours and revivals. Considered one of the inspirations for Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Two powerful voices – Marion Williams’ lower, warmer voice and Princess Stewart’s higher, raspier voice.


The Harmonizing Four

“Sweet Little Jesus Boy”
Little known group from Richmond, Virginia but very popular during the Golden Age of Gospel Music. Very traditional – rarely with instruments, a cappella, flat-footed jubilee style. Wonderful arrangements of old spirituals and hymns. Sang at funeral of Franklin Delano Roosevelt… best known for their speaker-rumbling bass singers, although sadly not on their few Christmas releases.

A Gospel Christmas Celebration
“Silent Night” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy
One of my all-time favorite groups … one of the last of the best gospel quartets to be formed … singer Joe Ligon is one of gospel’s last great shouters … and is the model for Wilson Pickett, who used to guest with them occasionally … called the “Temptations of Gospel” … still hard on the road today!

The Texas Christmas Collection
“Christmas Hymn” by Karen Kraft
Know virtually nothing about Karen Kraft … this was recorded for a small Austin label in the 1980s, heard she lives in Bryan-College Station … interpretation of a song originally written by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith – but the original doesn’t sound much like this!

The Legendary Groups of Gospel
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy

From Black Nativity
Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Joy to the World”
My favorite gospel soloist is the late Marion Williams … rarely in better voice than on this recording in 1962 … Most adventuresome gospel vocalist, endlessly inventive, taking chances and probably drove her accompanists crazy …

A Gospel Family Christmas

“Hallelujah Chorus” by Pastor Donald Alford and the Progressive Radio Choir
Most recent track in collection. The Progressive Radio Choir has been based and recording in Chicago since the 1970s. For a time, recorded with Pastor (now Apostle) Donald L. Alford, including their hit “He’s Alive.” Alford is now head of the Progressive Life-Giving Word Cathedral near Chicago, but the choir continues and this may be the best legacy of their short collaboration.

You can find some of these songs and many more great gospel Christmas songs on my Youtube playlist.

Want more  Christmas gospel music suggestions? Check out  The Twelve Classic Gospel Songs of Christmas by Bob Marovich.

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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]

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.

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A Quote About Work

“If you lose yourself in your work, you find who you are. If you express the best you have in you in your work, it is more than just the best you have in you that you are expressing.”

Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian.

So, what exactly is this “more than just the best” that Buechner is talking about?


Apparently, it’s something called “Giving Tuesday.” You can give to A Life’s Work by clicking here. It’s easy to do and all amounts are welcome, $5 to $50,000. You can be sure to receive at the very least my eternal gratitude and an origami crane. And if that’s not enough, your donation is tax-deductible!

Documentary Dilemmas: The Neverending Stories

Before I shot a second of A Life’s Work, I grappled with the documentary dilemma. How do you end a film that doesn’t have an ending? (How do the Maysles end Grey Gardens? They show us a looming change of season.) I think I resolved that problem in a way that shows that the film may end, but the stories don’t. But that begs another question: how do I know when to stop filming, and telling, the stories? (Michael Apted’s remarkable Up series has solved this problem by filming his subjects every seven years, and he expects he’ll be doing this until he or they die.)

I was reminded of this last week when Eric Ames, Curator of Digital Collections for Baylor University Libraries, wrote about A Life’s Work (A Sisyphean Task, An Unending Passion: A Life’s Work and Its Connection to the BGMRP). The post concludes with this:

Stephen Bolech at Baylor University
BGMRP’s audio engineer, Stephen Bolech. Photo Courtesy Baylor University Photography.

One update for our readers regarding Darden’s concerns about keeping someone in the position of audio engineer is worth noting here. Since the interview with Darden was conducted in 2010, the Electronic Library has added a full time staff member – Stephen Bolech – to work with audio-visual materials, including materials from the BGMRP. In addition, we are contracting with Tony to continue his work digitizing materials from a major collector in the Chicago area (where Tony now lives and works). To answer Darden’s quote from the clip, “I need more faith,” we can respond with a hearty “praise the Lord and pass the reins to Stephen” – the BGMRP will go on, and Darden’s fears of the project languishing can be laid aside.

Since I declared production was over, a few major events have happened. Jill Tarter and Paolo Soleri retired from their official positions, the Milarch’s took the Champion Tree Project’s shingle down and reopened their project, with other principals, as the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

Events like these will happen until the day I die, and I don’t intend to keep shooting until then. But what A Life’s Work shows is that all these long-term projects go through times of smooth sailing and stormy weather. If I rushed out, camera in hand, every time a project encounters a shift in the wind, I’d never make it across the sea to finish this film.  (And now I will put the nautical metaphors away.)

However, I intend to interview Jeff Stein when he is in NYC, and I would like to catch up with the others as well. So …

Big giant thanks to Eric Ames, Curator of Digital Collections for Baylor University Libraries, adjunct lecturer in Department of Museum Studies, Baylor University.


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.