Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Moving Midway

Last Saturday, after I returned from Fayetteville I came home to unpack my equipment. Fairly immediately I went to Durham to watch the movie Moving Midway, where the filmmakers were in attendance for a question and answer session. How divine that I could come back from interviewing Col. Donlon and immediately go to such an event.

It was a good, locally shot film. I'm excited to see that it's gotten reviews from publications like The New York Post. It was odd to see a place I had visited years go now there in front of me on the big screen, and even stranger to see people I know interviewed for the movie. I can only imagine what excitement I'll feel to see my own film in a theater. (Gasp! What excitement!)

When my friend, Chris Moore, showed his short film Hard Stapled at the All American Film Festival, it was so incredible to see it in a theater full of people and hear them laughing in unison. What a great feeling to see my friends on the screen and hearing a chorus of laughs, knowing each of the people involved in the project. You almost have to pinch yourself to believe that it's real. And then, if you're the filmmaker, celebrate because you got the reaction you'd been hoping for while working on it. You sit there working in a semi-vaccuum and it's hard to know until you screen that film if you'll get the reaction you want.

On Saturday night, I sat in the audience as Godfrey Cheshire, the writer/director/producer, and Robert Hinton, chief historian/associate producer, sat before us to answer questions. Many people asked about the race relations, the house, and why it had to be moved. They asked questions until our time was cut off, and the conversations moved into the lobby for the next screening. I felt a tinge of disappointment, mostly at myself for not asking the questions I wanted to hear answered.

Immediately I flashed back to my experience at the Kilowatt Ours second debut in Durham, where everyone wanted to talk about anything but the filmmaking process. In front of us stood Jeff Barrie, a filmmaker showing his piece of work, and not a single person asked about the process. I wanted to stand and shout, "Tell me how you did it!?"

On Saturday night, I had to remind myself that these are people there to see the film because they care about the subject matter. It's not a room full of filmmakers, or geeks like me who want to full behind-the-sceens story. And, that's a good thing. That means the film and marketing have done their jobs--brought people out to the theater to watch movie about something they want to see.

Last Saturday I didn't chat with Cheshire (people were swarming around him), but I overheard some of my questions asked by others. You can learn a lot when you listen to conversations. I heard his answers. Throughout the film, I kept wondering about the timeline. When did he start the project? How long did it take to get to this point, here, tonight, in front of this audience? Then someone asked and I heard his answer.

He started filming it in 2003. Released it in 2007. And started screenings in 2008.

Five years?! Oh, my heart sank! I know that we've only been working on our project since March 2008 (now 8 months), but I cannot fathom it being released in 2013! Already, the number of interviewees has tripled, and we are well beyond our original deadline of completing it by September. Yes, we set these deadlines ourselves, and we went beyond the original scope of work--but the thought of having to wait that long to finish this project is painful.

I know I put too much pressure on myself. That's a given. But I have this fear that--because I'm working full time--the project is going to take a lot longer to finish. And, I'm notoriously terrible at finishing anything anyway, so I also have this fear that something will keep me from wrapping it all up the way I have envisioned it. I suppose we all have this buzz of "what-if" thoughts, like annoying mosquitos flying around screaming our fears at us constantly. We are much more fragile than we appear.

My heart sank in that moment because I'm so anxious to finish our project. Everyone is asking me about the film, how it's going, and when it'll be finished. Maybe that's just small talk, or maybe they genuinely care. Either way, I am doing my best to be patient so that we have a final product that is as excellent as it can possibly be with our given constraints. That's the most important thing to remember. Not these fears and doubts.

Oh, fear. Fear is a killer. Improv has taught me that fear is a silly, silly thing. A waste of time, really. We must face our fears and get on with life if we ever wish to accomplish anything. Doubt is the same way. We cannot fear and doubt ourselves, or we shall never cross the finish line. You cannot get on stage with nothing more than trusted teammates and an audience's suggestion, if you don't move with confidence and energy. It's impossible to have a good show if you're not making bold moves, casting fear and doubt aside like the infectious waste that they are.

Visualization. There is a powerful tool. That's something you want in your back pocket, like a fly swatter when those pesky thoughts just won't stop. "I think I can,...I think I can,...I think I can." A silly children's story, or a life lesson?

It is of the utmost importance that we finish this thing with integrity and honor because the subject matter demands it--and we demand it. We want it to be as great as we can possibly make it. But I think I will explode if it takes us five years to finish!

Seeing Moving Midway on Saturday sent me through a whirlwind of emotions. Some of them I was very familiar with, and others I was not prepared to feel. For example, Jay Spain, producer/cinematographer, and I shook hands and spoke for a while. I asked him a bunch of questions. He was very kind, which is one of the reasons I really like local events like this in North Carolina. Everyone's so kind and generous with their time and attention, something that's rare these days.

Then he turned the tables. He asked me if I was a filmmaker and I fumbled. A simple "yes" would have done, but I struggled to say it for some reason. I think I'd gotten so caught up in seeking answers that I didn't have my networking mindset on. Just as I have formed an elevator speech for the film's subject matter, I will now have to grow accustomed to identifying myself as a filmmaker. What a joy!

Pinch me! I am becoming a filmmaker.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Airborne & Special Ops Museum

After dropping Col. Donlon off just down the street from our interview on Saturday, I returned to the Moore Exposure office to pack up the equipment. With everything packed and order restored to Jean's office, I shook her hand and thanked her again for being such a kind hostess. She was absolutely amazing and accomodating. In my packed little red car, I was on the road back to Raleigh. But as I drove off, I remembered how close I was to the Airborn & Special Operations Museum and felt it would be ashame to return to Raleigh without visiting it.

And I am so glad that I detoured to visit the museum. It was well worth the time! The musuem walks you through history, and the development of the Special Forces. It was incredibly appropriate, and really helped me by visually confirming so much of my research. I'm the type of person who needs all three types of learning to make the information really stick. By reading, hearing and doing I can lock that information in and later share it with others. Being in the business of learning all of this history to share it with others, I feel the pressure of memorizing as much as possible so that I can state it with confidence (knowing it as fact) when asked. So walking through the history was pretty exciting!

Research, as I have previously stated, is part of the joy that I find in this process. It probably comes from my family, for which I am incredibly thankful. So much of my research has been focused on the Montagnard culture (with special thanks to Dr. Hickey's anthropological published work), the Vietnam War, and the history of the Special Forces. Before meeting Surry, I knew so little about the Special Forces. And now, I find myself obsessed with learning more about them so that I can speak intelligibly with others about the Special Forces. I find myself cursing the short amount of time to cover such details, too. I would love to spend all day swimming in this information. There is still so much to learn, but the museum definitely helped me solidify what I have been absorbing.

As I walked through the museum, I was taken back to the summer of my 18th birthday. It's one that will stick with me as a favorite for the rest of my life, as I was lucky enough to join my father in Bermuda and then again in France. Oh, what a summer! I look back on it with great joy, as I was so care free at the time. While in France, we traveled up the coast of Normandy and visited many important historical sites. And while at the museum yesterday, I felt like I was revisiting them all over again. How divine that I should already be introduced (much less have visited) the historical locations that were now in front of me?

I remember meeting a soldier who was unloaded on the beaches on D-Day. He was there standing in front of me, revisiting the land that once was a mission. He shared those moments before they landed and they started unloading on the beach; he said he was terrified. He talked about how he started smoking that day because there wasn't much else to do for nerves in those moments, and everyone around him was smoking anyway. They were passing out cigarettes to everyone. I wonder if I wrote down that man's name; I should look through my journals again. He has always stuck with me.

For years my sister and I groaned at the thought of looking at another bronze statue, or visiting another empty field simply because they were historical landmarks. As kids, we felt we were dragged from landmark to landmark, and forced to listen to lectures from our parents about how important each place was in history. And now, as an adult, how my opinion has changed! I recognize the importance now, and would give up so much to revisit those trips as a family. What cherished memories they are, and how saddened I am that I cannot remember each detail with clarity. This, I think, is one of the reasons I journal so much. One cannot remember those details forever.

Anyway, for anyone interested in military history, this museum is dynamite. It could take you a while to walk through the entire museum if you stop to read everything, but as I was close to starving by the time I got there I only spent about an hour enjoying the entire museum (from start to shop). The building is modern and bright when you walk in, and the displays are well designed and organized. And, did I mention, the entire thing is FREE? In today's economy, that's pretty amazing to me. It's only an hour from Raleigh, so head down there if you have a free Saturday.

By the time I left the museum, I was blissfully exhausted and hungry. I attempted to see some more historical sites, but instead headed back to Raleigh in order to see Moving Midway in Durham at 7:15 that night. Having been to Midway a few times with friends, and knowing some of the family members, it was interesting to see them on the big screen. But more on the screening later.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Col. and Mrs. Donlon

Well, yesterday will certainly go down in the history of this project as another one of the coolest ones yet. I spent all week hustling to get everything in order: coordinating details, studying history, packing equipment, charging batteries, restocking miniDV tapes, and reading the Colonel's book.

One thing I've recognized is the number of authors that we have been lucky enough to meet through this project. It has been so helpful to read their stories in great detail, each one is so unique and full of Hollywood-like action and romance. By the time I shook hands with Colonel and Mrs. Donlon, I felt as if I had sat with them for hours learning their stories.

Nevertheless, I was still nervous when it came time to sit down across from one another, and reach over to turn on the camera. Before each interview begins, I always have this wave of panic wash over me, "Will everything operate properly? Are the batteries going to die? What if the camera fails or some loud noise happens while he is saying something incredibly pertinent?" This is my first documentary, and a relatively small project in the grand scheme of things (it's all relative, as my dad says). But to me, this project is HUGE.

I want it to be the best it can be, given our restrictions. I don't want to start editing it together later, only to discover something went wrong. And, to be certain, I am sharing these details so that I will remember them later to better appreciate all of the little nagging thoughts I experience along the way. After all, this blog is titled "Diary of a Documentary" and it is very easy to forget these details once a project is wrapped up neatly. So much happens in each day, that it's tough to capture it all. (Plus, I highly doubt anyone wants to read all of that minutia anyway.)

Saturday morning, up until my arrival in Fayetteville, was full of minutia in waking up, packing the car, filling up my gas tank, etc. When I arrived, I was greeted by a warm smile and hand shake from Jean Moore, a friend of Surry and owner of Moore Exposure. She grew up in Fayetteville and works in promotions. Jean helped me carry in the many bags full of equipment, and showed me to a large room in the center of her office. She even had hot coffee, which was perfect for me during the 8am hour!

By a few minutes before 10am, I had everything set up the way I wanted it and tested the lighting and equipment. Everything seemed to be in order. So, with Jean's reminder, I drove to Haymont Grill and Steak House to pick up Col. Roger Donlon. As soon as I walked in, I recognized Norma and Roger from the picture in his book. Norma's eyes met mine, and I saw her lean over to tell him I was there. Everyone at the table stood, and all eight of us exchanged introductions and hand shakes. Instantly I could see how mesmerized Col. Donlon's audience was with his words. We walked out of (what I would learn later) was one of Col. Donlon's favorite places to eat in Fayetteville.

Not familiar with the area, I relied on my GPS heavily and was very thankful for the directions it provided once Roger was in my car so I could focus on the conversation instead of directions. We talked about the bail out, and the state of our country on the way to Moore Exposure. I've debated about recording the state of my car, but feel that it's one of those silly details I'll purposefully forget later. Let me tell you, it's so dusty! I like to ride with the windows down, which makes it pretty dusty and it's fairly embarrasing to have someone you just meet get into your dirty car. *Sigh.* These are the details of life, I suppose. I would much rather have a dirty car and be better prepared for the interview. Perhaps one day when I have a paid, dedicated crew (oh, I delight in the thought of it), I will be able to pick up VIPs in much cleaner vehicles!

Anyway, we headed back to the Moore Exposure office and reviewed the purpose of our project which are to explore the (1) strong bonds between the Montagnards and Americans, (2) U.S. government's abandonment of the Montagnards after the war, and (3) prevention of repeating this treatment of our allies again in the future, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. After reviewing the questions again, Col. Donlon phoned Dr. Gerald Hickey to ask a quick question and we sat down to get started immediately after that.

Our interview lasted about an hour and a half, and before I knew it our time was at and end. I truly enjoyed the interview, and was saddened to see the hours pass so quickly. I returned him to his kind wife Norma, where she disclosed that he had his Medal of Honor in his pocket. Like a little kid, I asked if I might see it. He took it out of his pocket and unfolded the ribbon, turning the medal over to show the inscription "from Congress" as we walked.

It occured to me, once again, that I am priveledged to meet these heroes by working on this project. And while we, as Americans, fawn over celebutantes and reality TV stars, there are people out there quietly and devotedly serving our country. These are the people who give and give and give, making sure that we have the right to do what we want with our time. And, here in this moment, I walked down the streets of Fayetteville in the presence of real heroes. Two people who have earned the right to shine in the spotlight, and instead continue to serve with dignity and honor.

It is almost too much. Too overwhelming. Too great an honor to serve in recording and investigating this story. I often feel too small, young and poorly prepared to do it justice. But there's the thing. I think we're often faced with great opportunities, and it is up to us to stand up and lead with integrity--no matter how small or out numbered we may be.