Thursday, June 19, 2008


When Surry and I first started this project in March, he gave me great resources. I absorbed as much as I could, wanting to go into the interviews as well educated as possible so I could ask the right questions. But look back on it now, I realize that very little of that sank in while I was removed from it. This past weekend was such a milestone that I have revisited the material he shared with me from the get-go. And, it has such a greater impact now!

This week I rewatched two videos Surry loaned me, which are both Kay Reibold productions (one of which is from 1991). It has been very helpful to return to these so that I can compare and contrast our project. The videos are a great summary of things that I have learned since March, and seeing them on tape as a cohesive 30-minute program is valuable.

And my how the times have changed, too! So much of filmmaking, marketing, communications and media has changed; I'm excited about the potential this film can reach and the positive changes that might happen as a result.

For so long I have been wanting to work on a film project that will lead to positive change. It almost seems to easy to have had this one find me. Each step along the way has been ... destined? No, maybe not destined, but it feels choreographed because the journey has been so easy, I suppose.

Usually, one has to do much research. I have been so lucky that the people I am interviewing offer me gifts of research: books, photos, videos, letters, and more. I have been showered with the information I need to make this the best film possible with the resources we have available to make a documentary ourselves. It's incredible!!

And, I don't take for granted, not for a second, the importance of the way this journey has unfolded thus far. I recognize that, without Surry's leadership and encouragement, this would certainly not be a possibility. Everyone that finds out about this project says I am so lucky to have a mentor like him. I concur! The only reason this project is unfolding this way is because of the great strides he has taken for more than 7 or 8 months before I came along, not to mention the great passion he has for the Montagnard people.

When I awoke this morning, the gentle golden sunshine poured through my white blinds and cast the most beautiful shapes on the hard wood floor. It was as if I woke up again for the first time. Thankful to wake up in my own house, in my own bed, knowing that I have a great job to report to as soon as possible.

These past few days have been incredibly humbling, and I am looking forward to what is to come next. There is much work to be done, and I am anxious to keep moving full speed ahead! My mind jumps forward to screening events where fund raising might be possible. I have a lot of ideas in my head and can't wait to make them come to life.

Thanks to everyone who's reading this and sharing your support. If, family and friends, you prefer not to get this blog by email, just let me know and I'll remove your address from the subscription list! Your insights and support have been priceless thus far. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Keep the Momentum Going

Wow, I have so much to do! I'm feeling the pressure to keep the momentum going. It's been very exciting to work on this film. I have been educated on the Montagnards, learned details of technical documentary-making, and even refreshed my investigative journalism skills.

One of my coworkers has seen my excitement and commented,
"It's almost like coming in to work each day is an inconvenience because you have so much exciting stuff going on!"
She meant well, but the statement keeps ringing in my ears. I keep replaying it over and over, hoping that I'm able to keep all of these balls juggling well enough. I have noticed that I've been tired when coming to work, and my level of patience with a barrage of innocent questions from all directions has been significantly shortened. But then again, my level of stress at work is incredibly high as we transition, yet again. I have a lot to juggle all day while I'm here, and rarely get out to lunch (which makes my blood sugar drop, too). It's not a good combination.

But, we hope to have the film finished by October or earlier, so we don't have too much longer to keep this speed up. If I can keep the speed going, we can have the interviews wrapped in the next month or two. Then we can start on the post-production process.

I've already spoken with Wil Kazary of Guerrilla Productions, who gave me great advice last night. Wil and I met on a project back in 2005, where he was shooting a local reality show that's not too different from The Apprentice. I grew to appreciate his creativity, enthusiasm, and pursuit of excellent photography. He and his crew were very professional. Since that time Wil and I have brainstormed about creating feature-length films, from script writing to production and distribution. The conversation we had last night was incredibly helpful, and I hope that we might be able to work on another project in the near future. Ironically, he filmed my father once many years ago before we were ever introduced.

One of his suggestions was to digitize the footage ourselves. I had been thinking about this, and was curious about the process and cost associated with it. Having a G5 already, I think it would be pretty feasible. And back in 2003/2004, I spent a great deal of time working as a video editor for a local wedding photography shop. We used Macs and Final Cut Pro, so I learned a great deal about it then.

The only big concern I have with doing this ourselves is the amount of time I don't have to work on it. Right now I would like to stay focused on managing the entire project, and I fear that taking the time to digitize each of these tapes to get them to the transcription agency might take my focus in another direction. Always willing to weigh pros and cons, I do see the point that I will have to have these digitized for delivery when we start to edit the film down the road. Might be worth the time and money to do this now rather than later when we'll need to deliver them to the editor.

Wil also shared a great bit of detail about the editing process. I was curious about how to clearly communicate to the editor (whomever this ends up being) which shots we want. He walked me through delivering the footage to the editor all the way through to what is essentially a written storyboard. He shared how we can save time and money by writing all of this down so that the process is much more streamlined, and that was very good information to have.

My to do list has grown from one full page to two, as we distinguish best steps for moving forward. My introduction with the Montagnards on Saturday is still with me, and as a result of meeting them then I have been invited to High Point to hear them perform. I've still got to get more information on this and confirm that it is alright for me to (1) attend and (2) film.

Recently I also did some research on funding for documentaries. If I do more reading, I can confirm this, but so far I have found about $7,500 (potentially) from local groups supporting this type of work. Of course, grant writing and applying to festivals is a slow process, but I am hopeful that we could at least reimburse ourselves for all of our expenses incurred to date. If anyone reading this has ideas for funding, please let me know!

Oh, and the camera arrived this week! I have gotten two voice mails about it, but haven't been able to go pick it up yet. I won't have a lunch break to do that this week, so I will have to do that after work one day. Also, I have to remember to pick up the loaner camera from the house when I go pick up mouth is watering. This camera is bea-u-tiful! I am so anxious to review the footage from last weekend to see how it all turned out. Hearing my own voice is an incredibly painful experience (a reason I think I'm destined to be a producer, not actor), so if I can overcome that then I'll be set! Mike and Greg shared such great information; I'd like to hear it again to let it all sink in. Another (belated) reason I think that we might want to digitize the tapes ourselves. I just have to create a cost estimate so we can weigh that against having someone else finish it.

More details to come. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Breaking Bread

What an incredible weekend! I cannot express what a milestone this weekend has been for this project. Absolutely incredible.

Saturday was an unforgettable day. I woke up at 7:30 a.m., and if you know me, this is no small feat. I immediately packed the car with equipment waiting by the door. Around 8 a.m., I headed to a local store to pick up Mini-DV tapes. I left with 12 Sony Mini-DV tapes (each 60 minutes in length), and also picked up another tripod for the second camera. I grabbed some breakfast and immediately headed over to Surry’s for the interviews.

After what seemed like an eternity spent unloading the car / setting up equipment, we were on our way to the first interview of the day. Mike and I spent a little over two hours talking about his time in Vietnam, and his relationship with the Montagnard people. We broke for lunch at the fantastic farmer's market restaurant and I interviewed Greg upon our return. Just under two hours later, we concluded our interviews. It was just before 5 p.m. when we wrapped.

The interviews were quite enlightening. I feel that Surry's guidance in this entire process has been priceless. He has suggested where to start and how to stay focused, and has certainly kept me charged up about the project as a whole. It is wonderful to be a part of a team like that again--where one recognizes the other's strengths and weaknesses and does what he can to make his teammates stronger. Without Surry, none of this would be happening.

After the interviews concluded around 5 p.m., Surry, Mike and Greg gathered by the door to go meet some friends as I began breaking down the ‘set’ in Surry’s living room. Over the course of the day, I had grown anxious to meet some of the Montagnards I was learning about. After asking when I could start interviewing them, Surry invited me to join them for a quick visit with a man they knew well.

This was it! A chance to meet their Montagnard friends without the cameras interfering. A chance to bond with them and learn from them. And as much as I had already learned about the culture, traditions and reported kindness--nothing had really prepared me for the hours that lay ahead.

My First Visit with the Montagnards
We drove just a few minutes from Surry's and quickly arrived at a bend in the five-lane road where a new black mail box marked the driveway to his house. Down the drive way and through the lush greenery, a little white house sat in the midst of what seemed like another world. Perhaps I am romanticizing a bit, but turning off of a five-lane road and through such lush greenery made it feel like an entrance to another world.

We parked among several cars as the gentlemen remarked that there were quite a few people there, something I had not noticed as a first time visitor. We piled out of the car and walked up to the front door.

A knock on the door received no answer. Mike and Greg walked around the side of the house, one to the left side and the other to the right side. A moment after they disappeared, the front door opened and the happiest gentleman sprung from the little white house! With a grand smile, he took notice of his surroundings and without hesitation welcomed Surry warmly as “Doctor!”

We walked around the back of the house to retrieve Mike and Greg, and fairly quickly I noticed activity that seemed like people crouched in the woods. Later, I would learn they were cutting down bamboo that naturally grows on his property—bamboo that they would use to cook sticky rice and give to us as parting gifts. It is a way to cook in the jungle without a pot, I am told, and will usually keep for about a week if cared for properly. (Mine only lasted about a day when I shared it with a friend who wasn't quite sure what I had in my purse.)

We were invited in his house, and were introduced to everyone in the kitchen. I met our host’s wife and two other women (one of which I learned was a huge honor to meet, as she is rarely introduced to Americans). Over the course of the next hours, a continuous stream of people wondered through the front door. What started as a quiet visit quickly grew into a feast and a party! It was an unforgettable evening, so humbling and simultaneously encouraging.

Our host, I learned, speaks French. Oh, to finally have someone to speak with in French! One can never perfect something that is not used regularly, and dusting off my French on a Saturday evening while drinking rice wine with people who hold one another in such high regard was truly…there are no words. It was divine, I suppose. Yes, that’s the only word I can use to summarize it.

This morning, Surry shared an email that will help me explain why this weekend was so critical. I have listened and read and researched, but there is nothing quite like walking in this house with these gentlemen and sharing the experiences as Saturday night. About me, he wrote:

I think at first she was interested in the technical aspects of make the documentary but after meeting and ‘breaking bread’ with [the] crew she's now really interested in the subject matter even more than she was before. This is a good combination and will make the break through to move to the next level from a job to a calling.

His words are true. This weekend held such significant milestones and I feel everything is starting to sink in and connect. Not to mention meeting the Montagnards. OK, less like meeting them than being welcomed into their world. I am certain I was only welcomed in such fashion because of the kind gentlemen that brought me there. The love, respect and honor they all feel for one another is tangible. It is unlike anything I have witnessed.

It is one thing to take a picture of something. Truly another to be a part of it.