Pastoralia

23 02 2010

We knew there’d be months like this.

Right now our latest Episode, number four, about puppet maker Bob Baker is languishing, not receiving anywhere near the views or attention that Porn Star Karaoke did.

Not all that surprising when you think about it.

Still, when you get wrapped up in vimeo views and website analytics, when you find yourself checking them on an hourly basis — this can feel a little deflating.  At the same time obsessing over audience numbers — or any type of exposure — is also a sure-sign that I’m on the wrong path with this project.  Lately in conversations I’ve found myself saying that Sparrow Songs “is giving me more than I’ve given to it. “ That’s trite and a little too easy, but there’s some truth there.

Making these films feels good.  The act of constructing them feels good.  Each month is a journey from chaos – “we have no plans, we have no idea” – then into action and effort – the arranging, the shooting — and then into a system and an ordering – through editing – that makes some kind of sense out of the whole initial mess.  To be honest, there’s not a whole lot that’s unsatisfying about the process.

Of course, there’s one more step in the process: uploading the films to vimeo and to our website so that they can be seen and enjoyed and shared.  This act alone says enough.  We make these films to be seen. If they were simply exercises in filmmaking or if this whole project was some odd, earnest attempt to see a few more corners of the world and the people in it, then we’d keep the films to ourselves.  The films are meant to be seen — by you, by others – and when they’re not, they are not.

That’s all a part of this project too, like a lot of folks toiling in the arts we’re always working under the spectre of obscurity and poverty. It’s a little less scary when you recognize it and understand that part of the challenege is to stay focused in spite of it all.

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False Starts or How We Ended Up Making a Piece About a Puppeteer

5 02 2010

False starts come with the territory.

False starts are inevitably part of the creative process.

My guess is I’m not alone in this.

False starts – the inevitable moment between the flicker of inspiration and it’s snuffing by the hands of reality, fate or your own standards – are unavoidable.  I know several people who’ve gotten knee-deep in projects only to have funding pulled or have a subject unexpectedly pull out or — even worse — come to understand that some one else had taken on a similar project and knocked it deep out of the park.

All of this is normal.  But, when you’ve set out to make a short film a month, a nonfiction film at that, these flame-outs and witherings are unmerciful.

Our portrait of Bob Baker in Episode Four was not our first attempt this month, nor was it our second, it was our third.  Early on in the month we were working to go as far from Porn Star Karaoke as possible to tell the story of a community that cultivates compassion on a daily basis both as a service to the world and as a spiritual exercise.  We still hope to do this piece (possibly, next month) but two days before we were set to travel and shoot we got word that due to some hesitation, shooting this month would not be possible, that was on January 21st.

Scrambling to come up with something else we landed on the idea of shooting my friend and extraordinary musician Emily Lacy’s site-specific residency at LACMA.  From the jump this posed a couple of problems for me: 1) We already did a piece about a musician and about a musician in the same Eastside / Machine Projects milieu and while that is a truly great world, for this project to take the shape that we’re hoping it does our world needs to be broader than that.

We actually shot a beautiful small segment with Emily — which we’ll post at some point – but all in all we knew it wasn’t there.

So feeling a little hungover, and more than a little defeated we drove down Wilshire Blvd.  At the point where Glendale crosses underneath the 110 we saw Bob’s theater and I pointed to it, looked to Michael and said ‘What about that?’

A week later we were shooting in the space.  The story we found there is – to me – well worth telling.

The beauty of the whole thing is that in making a piece about lessons learned from frustrations and disappointments we were learning lessons from frustrations and disappointments.

It helps to be reminded of that, to know that in making these films — month in and month out – there’s more to be learned than how to generate views or drive web-traffic, there’s something else at work too.