If you set out to do 12 pushups, chances are the first one won’t be the hard, neither will the last one, I mean, you’re almost done. But numbers 7 and 8 will be pretty tough. So it goes with Sparrow Songs. I don’t want to raise the specter of burnout, but it’s a real phenomenon and there’s certainly been some of that at play in the last couple of months.
Making a film a month is hard, that’s all there is to it. Doing it while working 50 hours a week on another film only complicates things further. None of this is meant to be taken as a complaint. I love doing this. At times though it’s difficult to connect into that love and I’m resistant and hesitant and procrastinate and struggle. There was a lot of that this month.
All of that led to a couple of different approaches used in this episode, one good, one bad.
First, the bad: I’m learning an enormous amount through this project and learning things about American life, about filmmaking and about myself. Often times I’m learning about all three in the same moment. Those moments usually happen during the interviews.
As far as technique is concerned, something I learned during L’Arche was that if you are asking questions in the hope of getting a specific answer, not only are you not going to get that answer but you’re going to close yourself off to allowing something far more interesting, something you haven’t considered, to emerge. There’s an element of Zen to this: you want (and need) to draw out something interesting from the subject but the moment you pursue that response is the moment you condemn yourself to losing it.
Despite knowing this, it is exactly what I did – on a larger scale – as I approached the Circus piece. I decided that this piece would be about community and how a community works when it has no physical place. Instead of letting the subjects dictate what the piece was really about I came to it with my own idea and looked for pieces that would support this idea.
Stubborn and determined, I brought this agenda to the cutting of the piece and spent about three night fruitlessly trying to make it work. It wasn’t until really late one night when I found Oliver (the first interview) saying, “People forget what the circus is” that I realized this film was about a once-thriving family tradition and the timelessness and allure of that tradition.
Now the good: being so exhausted coming into this piece I found myself really resistant to working on it, to sitting at my desk and diving in. In order to get around this I decided I would begin cutting using the B Roll only, not going through any of the interviews. I would just string together the most interesting visuals that moved the story forward.
There was something liberating in this approach and I think this combined with Michael’s superb work makes this I think the most visually appealing piece we’ve done.
Lastly, already I’ve gotten a slew of emails about this piece. I really appreciate the feedback, so thanks to everyone who’s written.