Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Week & A Day

Leaving MN/WI
How does a week go by so quickly?! It is hard to believe that just a week and a day ago, I was in the air returning from my MN/WI trip to interview John Plaster. The trip was just...unforgettable. In every way that a trip can be unforgettable: ease of flight/travel, kind people everywhere you go, delicious food, and of course two of the kindest hosts/tour guides to show you around.

I'm still on quite a natural high from the trip, and have been overjoyed when people ask me to tell them about it. It's probably impossible for me to hide my enthusiasm over such a successful filmmaking adventure. And I don't just mean the travel or the experience, I mean that the interview and the subsequent scanning of images were incredibly impressive. John has written a book about the SOG history, and has an amazing library of images that he so kindly shared with me. If you're interested in war history, go pick up a copy SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars. You won't regret it, and I'll thank you for supporting someone who's been so kind to me.

During my first few days up north, I kept thinking, "This weather isn't that bad, actually. I psyched myself up for it, and I haven't even needed a hat!" But, of course, I spoke too soon. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were the most frigid temperatures I have ever experienced in my entire life!

I woke up that Saturday morning to -16F, with a wind chill that made it feel like -36F. YIKES! By the time I got to the airport around 1pm, it had warmed up to a cool zero degrees. While John and Gail have a lovely haven to call home in the MN/WI area, I do believe I headed South just in time. How lucky I was to have such great weather during my trip, though. John and his wife have convinced me to return after spring so that I can see even more of the beauty there. I do hope to make that happen.

Back in Raleigh, The Debrief
The Sunday following my departure was quite exciting, too. I got to catch up with my improv community over practice, and that evening filled Surry in on details of the trip. We talked about our next steps, and created a few action items for ourselves. It was incredibly exciting to talk about the coming months of work, and recognize that we had reached a significant milestone. We have concluded the interview process, now totaling 15 interviews!

Monday: Footage
On Monday, Surry did some searching and found some 8mm of archived footage from his time in Vietnam (as well as an 8mm film projector). That same day, I found a way to *finally* scan in the 35mm slides he shared with me so many months ago. While I haven't proven that this method of scanning the 35mm slides will work, I at least have a positive lead and that feels really great. What an exciting day!

Tuesday: Career Coach
Tuesday was equally thrilling, as I checked in with my career coach and told her about all of the exciting things happening at work and on my film. She's been instrumental in helping me stay balanced, focused and energized. The phone call with her was enough of a reason to be totally thrilled with the entire day.

She's giving me the tools I need to work more efficiently, something I really appreciate because I am trying to accomplish too much in too little time. (At least that is how it feels because I'm anxious to finish the film to share it, but I work full time as well) So, the more efficient I become, the more I can do, right? (OK, to a certain extent. You don't want to become too focused on efficient behavior because then you just work too much and have no time for important conversations and fun.)

One of the lessons she's helping me understand is how to more effectively deal with paper work. I've always been terrible about paper work. Mail piles up, and I can never find what I need because books are always stacked too high and falling over everywhere. Tax season makes me nauseous because I have to collect all of my paperwork I should have been organizing for a year. It's embarrasing to admit, so I'm dubmfounded as to why I'm writing about it openly. It's such an incredibly annoying habit of mine. But no more! Just like taking one's coat off and hanging it in the coat closet immediately, I am learning to touch paper only once and be done with it. Don't even let that task get on your to do list--just deal with it right then and there.

It's the same with Surry, I have noticed. When we chatted on Sunday about calling a few folks he knew, he immediately went to get the phone. Immediate action! Today, when we talked about looking for more prints and 35mm slides, he immediately went to go pick them up for me. Immediate action! It helps you become more efficient, and everyone loves to work with a person that can react so quickly. It's delightful, and I think I'm getting better at it.

Triangle Tweetup
Thursday was the Triangle Tweetup, where I met lots of my fellow Twitter folks (also known as Tweeps) in person. It was a packed house, with an estimated 100+ people there. There were presentations on what some of those in the Triangle Twitter community are working on, and I'm absolutely fascinated. So many great entrepreneurial projects are thriving here, even in a down economy. The Triangle Twitter community is absolutely amazing--so energetic, enthusiastic, intelligent and supportive--and I'm so lucky to keep meeting these impressive folks.

For the Twitter/social media doubters, I just wish you could have experienced it. The entire evening was like being surrounded by family, where everyone was curious about what you do and wants to help. I could harldy take one step without someone else introducing themselves! It was wonderful!

This part of the filmmaking process has often felt solitary because it requires a lot of reading, writing and research. It was rewarding to learn that people in the Triangle have been enjoying my writing about the filmmaking process, and are exciting to see the finished product. I feel like I've learned a lot from them. There was a lot of love in the room, for sure.

Here's a picture taking by Jeff Cohen, who is also on Twitter (@dgtlpapercuts, Edge Office was so packed! While I don't know the folks at Edge Office, I do most certainly appreciate their support by providing a place for us to gather--especially such a stylish place as theirs.

Meeting with Matthew
On Saturday, I met with one of my editors, Matthew. We had a long conversation about the film, creating the story, the filmmaking process, and what to expect in these next months. It was really great to sit with someone and tell the story: what do I want the audience to take away at the end of it? How do I want them to feel? It was unexpected, but not surprising, that I felt a rush of emotion wash over me as I talked about the Montagnards and how I want each person to feel a sense of honor and pride when they leave.

Matthew allowed me to explore this through comparison to other films, and I immediately thought of Braveheart. A story about a man who loves a woman he looses, but he stays incredibly strong in the face of adversity, and he leads his people to stand and fight for what's right. Although that film is quite long, you leave it feeling stronger and prouder. You feel the honor he felt in fighting for freedom.

Each time Matthew and I sit down to talk, I feel a sense of relief. He's been editing for about 10 years now, he said, and so he knows the process (both technically and emotionally) and gave me some serious insight and advice. I hold his words in such high regard, as he seems like a kindred spirit--someone willing to work on something because of the potential in the project. He helped me remember that I'm now entering uncharted territory again, and that it's OK to take small steps in order to learn how to walk again. We spent about 2.5 hours talking, and at the end of it I felt like a great weight had lifted. It was more therapeutic than he probably knows!

More Archived Footage
Today, Surry and I met to talk some more about where we are in the project, and where we need to go next. I filled him in on the things I had been doing all week, and he did the same. It's delighftul to have a partner in crime, someone there to help you work in the right direction. I feel like we make a pretty damn fine team, if ya don't mind me sayin' so!

Here's a picture of all the archived footage he has shared with me (both 35mm slides, printed images and 8mm films). Quite a collection!

I am overwhelmingly inundated with exactly the visuals I need--and from so many sources: Mike, Charlie, John, Surry and his contacts. Ask and you shall receive! There are still avenues to pursue for more archived visuals, and Surry and I are working on those diligently. I would much rather have too many images now, than get three or more months down the road and have to start the hunting process all over again. 'Tis better, in my opinion, to have too much good stuff from which to choose than not enough. The last thing anyone wants to watch is talking heads (improv taught me that).

The Website
We also talked about the website today. I've noticed that interest is growing in our project, and I have spent a fair amount of time explaining it to various folks in face to face conversations. That leads me to question how many others want to know more of this overview? And how many others are scanning the blog to hunt for information I should be putting on display?

The website, to me, was going to be a part of the post-production process--something to be completed when the film is finished so that the visuals are consistent with the branding of the movie. I'm quite a branding geek, and love to have all visuals consistent (DVD lables, cases, posters, website, and so on).

However, I now recognize the need for a website to pick up where this blog leaves off, something that can help introduce people to the movie even before it is completed. And now that I sit down to think on this, it seems like a natural step in Hollywood to build excitement about a film that has not yet been finished. So, it seems, we will have that project to work on while simultaneously writing the script (a blueprint for all volunteers to help build the same movie). The website may not look like the final brand, but I think that's alright. Right now, if we focus on creating the content and navigational architecture, that will make the work at the end of the project run so smoothly.

There is still much work to be done. All of it is exciting--never a dull moment!

This week has been one of the most amazing by far, though. I even went running on Saturday--for the first time in months because I was so sick with bronchitis. It feels amazing to be healthy and hustling towards our goal of completing the film in the coming months. I finally feel like the old Camden again. Ohhhh, and for that, I am so thankful!

In short, I feel like I am soaring--not because of what I have done, but because of the talent, passion, intelligence and dedication of those that surround me. Building a power team like this helps one be a true mover and a shaker, and I am starting to really understand that now. I always knew it, but had not really experienced it until now. I'm surrounded by greatness.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Interview with John Plaster

Friday was the big day. I woke up too early. It's hard to sleep the night before an interview, I have found. I get so worked up about it, that I can hardly rest. Remember what it was like to wait for Santa to come? How can you sleep when you know what excitement will come in the morning!?

Because I was using my cell phone as a watch, I almost showed up for the interview an hour early. Thankfully I remembered that my phone was still on EST, but managed to still show up 10 minutes too early. I was used to leaving 20 minutes early to get anywhere, and forgot how conveniently close the Inn was to our film location.

It was, again, an important lesson. When a Special Forces guy tells you a meeting time, they keep their word. Ironically enough, I had been watching the Military Channel the previous day while working. A show about training for the Marines was on, and one of the exercises was about detonating explosives at a specific time. They were four minutes late. And got into some serious trouble because they didn't follow directions. Mistakes like that lead to casualties in the field. It's important to know you can rely on that soldier to do what is asked of him (or her), like detonating or showing up on time.

So, needless to say, I felt pretty terrible about showing up 10 minutes early. And since the filming location was a quiet little area, I couldn't very well sit in the car and look like a stalker waiting for those 10 minutes to pass. By the time I got out of the car, the door opened and they were there to greet me. And did so with a smile, I might add.

Setting Up
About half an hour later, we were set up for the interview. Actually, I could have been a full hour. I am very meticulous in framing the shot now, and have no misgivings about making the world stop until I have it set up the way I want it to look. It's taken me a while to get there, but I finally make no excuses for taking my time to do it as great as I possibly can. Hopefully that will pay off in the end.

Finally, we sat and turned on the camera. John began to answer my first question, and as I listened with the headphones on I realized that I missed a connection. The wireless mic wasn't being picked up by the receiver. No, wait, the receiver was picking it up because I had a green light. Aha, I had missed a very important cable--the one that connects the wireless mic receiver to the camera itself. We paused to look for it.

It was nowhere to be found.

I looked inside every piece of luggage. Inside every pocket, every corner, every place I had touched since I walked into the room. It was nowhere. Nowhere!

I flashed back to the moments at RDU, fumbling to shift the weight of my luggage around so that I could check my bags. Had it fallen out then? I always look over my shoulder as I walk away to make sure nothing fell. Nope, didn't remember seeing it there when I looked back. Was it resting comfortably in the camera bag I left in Raleigh to make the suit case lighter? Nope, I had checked that twice before leaving.

If there's one thing I had done, it was pack and repack and then check everything again. When you leave your house, you'd better have everything you need for that shoot. Otherwise, you'll miss your flight or later waste precious time trying to buy the thing you've forgotten. I still couldn't find it. And by this time, I was starting to break a sweat, angry at myself for letting something so silly as a connection cable like that waste my precious interviewing time.

Oh, my kingdom for a cable!

I surrendered. And took off the wool sweater that was helping me turn red with anger over such a silly missed detail. We sat down to start again, and John was ever so patient with me. We started rolling the tape.

The Interview
Having read his books, I was prepared for our interview. But, I confess, reading the stories and hearing them in person quite different. I found myself struggling to restrain against sitting back to listen with undivided attention. Like a kid at story time, I wanted to sit with my legs crossed and my chin resting on my knuckles and stare in fascination at what would be shared next.

Acting as the director and interviewer, though, I did my best to listen, zoom out when he used his hands, and still be prepared with my next questions so the transition from one answer to another would be logical and seamless for him.

It's been really interesting to compare each interviewee against one another. Some of them are slow to answer, others are very succinct and eloquent, and most of them are well versed in giving interviews. I feel so lucky to be speaking with them, and appreciative of their patience with a new filmmaker.

In two short hours, we wrapped the interview. My legs were restless, but I could have sat and listened to him talk for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped the tape, and he left me to strike what had become our set as he prepared our lunch.

John and Gail served me one of the best roast beef sandwhiches I have ever tasted (or probably will ever taste). John had made them, and--wow--was it delicious. I learned that John was a cook at age 17. I can hardly remember what I was doing at 17. Perhaps life guarding? I was very impressed, needless to say.

The rest of the afternoon we spent looking through photographs and scanning in the ones we thought would be most helpful. I came home with a striking collection, and really look forward to using them in the film.

What a relief it is to start collecting visuals! I have been quite anxious about how to collect these, knowing that I would need them, but not able to focus on that effort just yet. While in the midst of filming, it is tough to start working on post-production efforts like collecting images. I recognize that now we have wrapped filming, and collecting those has become quite easier with the help from many key folks (more on that later).

After we wrapped those efforts, we took my equipment back to the Inn and headed to The Flying Eagle for a fish fry. It was delightful! We stepped out of the vehicle into the frigid air, and the view of such a clear starry night sky was unforgettable. I have not seen stars like that since I lived in my hometown in Eastern N.C. Not a cloud in the sky, just a big blanket of twinkling stars above.

In short, the entire day was one dream come true after the next. The interview, scanning the images and the delicious food made for one amazing day. This, my friends, is the type of thing you only see in movies because it's almost too good to be true!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thursday Recap (Part II)

Well, I'm safely back in Raleigh, N.C., now. It's delightful to blog from the comfort of my own home! Little Louie is asleep and cozy, and I'm tucked in tight under an electric blanket. The city is fairly cold, but compared to yesterday's temps in Wisconsin it feels delightfully warm! (Here is a picture of the picnic table just outside my Inn. Look at all of that snow on it. Beautiful, hey?)

It feels like so much happened over the past few days that capturing it here doesn't do it any justice.

Yesterday I tried to use my time wisely and write while in the airport, which thankfully had free wi-fi. However, I sat down to start writing and before I could get my thoughts out, that guy walked into the ladie's room, and I didn't stop him because I couldn't very well go in after him. (That would be wierd.) Then I kept writing since the airport wasn't busy, but the little old lady went in after him! I tried to focus, but over heard her kicking him out and then as he exited he giggled a little. By the time I had typed anything, they then called us through security. Oh well! You win some, you loose some. I gave up and put away my laptop as a US Air Force soldier nodded and smiled at me, "That's us! You better go through security."

So, without further ado, here is a recap of the rest of Thursday since it was tough to capture during the first attempt.

Thursday's activities weren't terribly exciting. I worked from the hotel so I didn't have to take another vacation day, and was really grateful to be able to do that. My job has taught my so many skills that I have used while making this film: prioritizing, schedule coordination, anticipating someone's reaction, looking into the future to ensure everything runs smoothly. Yes, my full time job is not something I take for granted. I really enjoy the work, flexibility and environment. It's tough to have a full time job I enjoy so much, and then have such a fun project like this to work on as well! So, I did my best to work remotely and be as available as possible even though I wasn't in the office.

Thursday night, the Plaster's took me out to show me their bowling alley and then we ate some incredibly tasty pizza. Once again, the conversation was delightful. They are such an inspiring couple, tackling so many fun projects together. It seems they champion and challenge one another very well. John called Gail beautiful at one point over the past few days, and she grinned back at him. "Can you elaborate?" she smiled. I told her I was definitely stealing that line!

When I got back to the Inn, I checked the sanner to be sure it came with everything I needed. It was missing a USB cord, and of course I didn't have an extra one on me. I semi-panicked at the thought of having to drive two hours to get the cord (one hour each way to Duluth). I spoke with a kind woman named Pat at the front desk, who helped me look through what they had on hand. No USB cords available. "We don't do much on computers at the front desk," she said.

But Wal-Mart should be open, and it was only 30-40 miles away. She thought it was 24/7, and called them to be absolutely certain. It would be about a 1/2 hour drive in each direction. And now it was after 9:30pm. I didn't want to call the Plasters that late to see if they had the cord, plus it's my responsibility to show up with everything I need to work.

I made the treck in the dark, a little nervous that should anything go wrong I wouldn't know who to call. There were few gas stations on the road, miles apart from one another and only frozen wilderness separated them. I wasn't sure anyone could come to my rescue if anything happened.

Pat, at the front desk, also confessed she was worried about me being out on the road so late at night. But, our worries were for naught. I made it to Wal-Mart, picked up the USB cord, and made it back to the Inn before 11pm. I let her know I was back, and she sighed with relief. It was a good feeling to know someone was looking out for me.

Now having everything I needed for the next day's work, I settled in for some rest. Anxious, restless, and nervous about the next day (I always get nervous before the interviews), I found myself tossing and turning. So I pulled out John's book, Secret Commandoes: Behind Enemy Lines with the Elite Warriors of SOG. I felt like I had much of it fresh in my memory, but reviewing it made me sleep easier. He's a great writer, and shares details of operations that happen behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War. Having read it, I almost feel like I was there with him, knew the people he served with, and suffered through the losses with him. It's interesting to think that reading someone's writing makes you feel like you know the person.

There was no time to think about that in depth, though. I had to get some rest so I would be able to show up on time, ready to work. There would be no way I could pack the car, drive to his home, unload the 100+ lbs of equipment, set everything up, conduct the interview, and then spend hours scanning images if I didn't have a full night's rest. That meant falling asleep, and immediately. I put the book down, turned off the lights and sighed. Thankfully it wasn't long before I peacefully drifted off to sleep.

Friday was the big day.