Episode 12

19 10 2010



NOTE: This is indeed the final episode of the series.  There was a previous blog post about what I’ve learned in doing the project and three more will follow over the next three days, the following though, is just the standard making of the episode piece.


The idea for this episode came from a combination of two sources.  The first was an article in the LA Times about Trona’s football team, (read it here).  The second was this poem by James Wright:


Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

In the Shreve High football stadium,

I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,

And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,

And the ruptured night watchmen of Wheeling Steel,

Dreaming of heroes.


All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.

Their women cluck like starved pullets,

Dying for love.



Their sons grow suicidally beautiful

At the beginning of October,

And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.


Now, this poem was written in 1963 back when there actually were steel factories in Eastern Ohio but the sentiment remains.  Clearly, high-school-football-as-expression-of-town’s-hope-and-pride is a shopworn cliché.  No argument here.


At the same time the visual draw of Trona, the notion that the very ground the team plays on is a reflection of the difficulty of living in the town, and the ability to root this truism in the modern American West were all too hard to pass up.


And, I think the viewing of the piece reflects our own experiencing in making it.  It begins with a sense of this eerie, forlorn town, then moves to an understanding of how extremely dire the economic situation in Trona  truly is and ends with an understanding that here football is not about sport, but rather about an expression of survival.  That’s very much how we came to understand the town in our time there.


Lastly, as devoted readers of these pieces know I usually offer some kind of comment on why this particular episode was tough.  And it’s been true, every episode has been really difficult to get done and each time it’s been for a unique reason.  Last night over celebratory beers my wife and I were remarking on the fact that this episode, episode 12 was actually not all that difficult.  There was a late night sure (stayed up until 5am) but that’s just par for the course in a project like this.  There wasn’t the endless gnashing of teeth on how to get the cut working, there wasn’t  a sense that this would be our worst outing yet, there was just the need to do the work.


It seems that after doing this eleven times before I had finally learned to trust not only the process and myself as well.



What Have I Learned, Part I

15 10 2010

I’m in the middle of cutting the final episode of Sparrow Songs and find it hard to gin up any of the reflection that completing a project like this would conceivably entail.  This is odd for me.  I tend to be a pretty reflective person, I know how to talk about my feelings to a fault and I tend to be honest enough with myself to generally know how I’m feeling about a given thing at a given time.


Not right now though, not about this.


If anything there’s simply a sublime sense of having completed it.  The goal was to make 1 film a month for 12 months and that goal’s in reach.  But I’m still too close to it – as I’m writing Final Cut Pro is the other open window on this computer for God’s sake – to have any kind of perspective.  When we began and started shooting I knew nothing more than that this project felt right.  Now, here, late at night I know nothing more than that it’s done.  I’m not purposely trying to be vague or reticent,  it’s just that the feeling that is there is layered and tinged with conflicting emotions and genuinely unlabelable.  Here’s what I can offer: I have a metallic taste in my mouth and when I post this last episode I’ll sit down, drink a beer and probably cry for about two hours.


Part of that is because I don’t have any real desire to stop making these films.  But that desire doesn’t have anything to do with the actual making of the films.


Let me explain.


Yes, when we began this whole thing I thought I would learn about filmmaking (and I did) but early on, somewhere around Porn Star Karaoke, I realized that anything I learned about filmmaking would be secondary to the act of getting out into the world and experiencing it.  The films then became an attempt to make sense of what we’d experienced and to replicate the feelings that the places and people we came in contact with inspired within us.


For example, the first time I went to the L’Arche house that would become the subject of our sixth episode I went with just my wife, no camera and only the intention of experiencing the place.  As is to be expected communicating with the core members was difficult, there were long pauses and stammering on both sides of all my interactions.  I felt ill-at-ease and couldn’t quite understand why the assistants had chosen a life in a house like this.   We sat with the core members and assistants, prepared dinner with them and then, after dinner, they asked us if we’d like to join in their Sunday prayer.  What followed was one of the more profound and moving moments in my life.  The core members felt no self-pity or shame at their disabilities and in measured and even tones one by one they expressed simple yearnings – for happiness, safety and friendship – common desires that rarely go spoken or acknowledged in the outside world.


The feelings then, as they are now, were layered and conflicting and genuinely unlabelable so the goal then becomes to communicate some semblance of it all, the little tugs in the heart and the little tastes on the tongue.


I think that’s why the word most often used to describe the films is ‘intimate.’ Chances are people watch them alone, on their laptops, in bed or at their computers at work, with headphones on.  And the stories — films rather — don’t labor to tell you what we experienced or to synthesize it down into some clear point, instead they merely ask that you experience them, that you meet these folks and see this place with us.


And when people watch the films, my sense is that they start to learn what I’m still coming to understand: that just about every person you come into contact with has a secret that would break your heart and that everyone — from people in a forgotten small town, to the disabled, to the former high school jocks grinding it out in Double A – has a wisdom about their own lives that can help you understand your own.