Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary?

Today marks the 7th anniversary to the start of the US-led war in Iraq.  My friend pointed it out, actually.  I  heard nothing in the news about it. 

When I went online to find more, there was very little available regarding the anniversary from any major news outlet--national or local.  In fact, the news that was easily accessible and readily available was mostly about Sandra Bullock's husband, March Madness and the debate over our healthcare policies. 

I recognize that a quick visit to a randomly select group of news sites is no scientific study, but it shows me that either (a) the news outlets don't see the war as important enough to give it a prominent spot or (b) Americans don't care about it enough to force the news outlets to give it a prominent spot.  Either way, the anniversary is likely to pass quietly without much attention paid to it.

As I have been studying what happened in history, I see a lot of eerie similarities to what's happening today.  I'm no war strategist, politician or historian, but you don't have to be an expert to see history repeating itself.  The realist in me tends to shout: we're just a small group, what difference can we make?  Then the optimist in me wins out with one of my favorite quotes:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that has.
-Margaret Meade
We may be doing a small, independent film in the making, but there's hope there.  Hope that this film can shed light on the respect and brotherhood shared by the U.S. Special Forces soldiers that served with the Montagnard people during the Vietnam War.  There's hope that this little film might cause the U.S. government to change it's foreign trade policies with Vietnam to improve human rights in that country.  There's hope in capturing this focused bit of history, culture, language and tradition so that it can be shared with future generations.  There's hope that broken promises can, in fact, be upheld even if it's 30 to 40 years late on the delivery. 

We face a lot of compassion fatigue.  We are asked to give time and money to so many organizations fighting different things: cancer, hunger, children's illnesses, the environment, etc.  There are thousands and hundreds of thousands of messages fighting for our attention every day.  We are brand loyalists, consumers, overachievers, in constant contact with the people in our world through a variety of instant messaging means.  We get so overwhelmed with the problems of the world that are so much bigger than us, we don't know how to handle taking any action at all, so ... we do nothing.

But this is our country.  And I want it to be a great one.  I want to seek the truth and find opportunities to make our nation, our home, our relationships with the world better.  I don't have the answers and I don't know what the future looks like from here, but I do know that it is definitely time for a season of positive change.  And it's up to us to be sure that happens.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Super 8 Adventures Continue, Part 2

In the war on digitizing this Super 8 footage, I have long felt like I was on the losing end.  But just like Col. Donlon said during his on camera interview, winning the battle is not about more than just the number of soldiers on the field or the equipment they use to fight.  It's also about the spirit of the warrior: what makes someone motivated to fight, keep fighting and carry on long after it seems impossible to win.  And let me tell you, friends, this warrior is far from giving up.

In fact, tonight marks one small victory at the Battle of the Elmo Projector!  Thanks to help from a great number of people, the Super 8 footage shot by Surry in Vietnam played in my living room tonight!  So many hands have helped make this happen.  

Josh Steadman tried to help me view the footage at his office once, even going so far as to take photos of it and then trying to scan it in.  That attempt helped us at least see some of the stills, which was at the time a huge step forward.  The projector wouldn't budge, though.  It refused to work.

More recently another new friend, Neil Grant, borrowed the projector for a while and fixed whatever ailed it.  I believe he actually took it apart and slaughtered something back together.  Huge pat on the back, Neil.  I don't have a clue what you fixed, but you did the trick!

The projector made its way back from Wilmington, N.C., to Raleigh, N.C., in the caring hands of my old Meredith College friend Sarah Barbee and Neil Grant.  We finally got a chance to meet up while they were in town, saw a show at ComedyWorx, and made the exchange after we caught up.  Neil, quite the gentleman, even carried the projector to my car for me because it's relatively heavy.

The projector came home with me that night, but quickly traveled to Goldsboro with me where I met up with my dad.  He took a look at the projector and showed me how to thread the film through it to make it work.  This photo at the left shows dad holding the projector, figuring out how the film threads through the inside so we didn't accidentally ruin any of the footage.

That day, for the first time, I finally got to see what was on one of the reels!  I thought I'd jump out of my skin when it finally started playing.  Surry has been very humble about the footage, trying to keep my expectations low because it's been so long since anyone's seen it.  But I think what I saw that day (and tonight), it's perfect for our film.

During that visit, dad even took the time to thread a piece of header film through the projector so I wouldn't forget how to do it by the time I got home (he knows me so well).  It helped a lot tonight when I sat down to start working on it again.  I took pictures of how it was threaded through so I didn't forget once it was no longer there.

Tonight, for the first time, I was able to view about three reels of film in the comfort of my own living room.  It took me about two hours from start to finish: threading the film, "rewinding" it (putting the film back on the right reel again), and figuring out how to thread the film through the projector so that it worked properly.  

You can see in some of these photos that most of the insides of the projector (on one side of it) is metal, but there's a way to thread it through properly.  After a while you figure out how to get it to thread right part of the way, and then let the projector thread it the rest of the way (while watching it to make sure nothing jams).  Every now and then something would go wrong, causing the reels to jump off the projector, film to get tangle up, threading of the film to go wrong...the list goes on.

I must have been muttering to myself for a while.  Chris Moore was in the other room editing video, and heard me making a racket.  He came out to check on me and tried lending a hand, too.  He watched the few minutes of film with me.  I don't think I've ever been so excited to see Super 8 footage!

After playing about three of the reels, the projector became coated in the white stuff that rests on the reels.  I'm guessing this is a mold of sorts.  It's white and flaky, so I doubt there's anything else it could be, right?  In this photo you can see a bit of the mold stuff on part of the projector.  It's pretty gnarly, and I wish there were a DIY way to clean the film safely but I'm a bit tentative about going down that route.  It'd be so great to have the help of a professional, but at the same time making a film on a limited budget makes you even more creative, no? 

Last week I talked with a guy who owns a conversion shop in Cary, N.C.  He will take your old media and convert it into your new media of choice: A tracks to CDs, Super 8 to MiniDVs, or what have you.  In December he quoted me about $200 for the conversion.  

In the scheme of things that isn't a bad deal, but when you've already invested a fair amount into a project, that small amount becomes a big one.  (Which was part of my decision in raising funds to go to the Full Frame Film Festival.  I felt that if I were going to spend a few hundred bucks on something, it should go towards converting the film, you know?)  I talked to him last week about perhaps bartering, but he didn't seem too keen on it.  I'll stop by again, per his request, to talk about it in person some time in the coming weeks.

Tonight, though, I shot some terrible (read: terrible lighting and handheld/shaky) footage of the Super 8 film playing with my Blackberry.  I was so excited about watching the footage, that my phone was the only thing I had within reach to capture footage of the footage.  I'll try to download that later, and perhaps put it online somewhere should anyone be curious about it.  The priority right now is getting the Super 8 film converted, though.

There are a number of online articles about how to do it.  You have to play the film on a solid white backdrop, preferably in a room that has no vibrations.  For example, you don't want the projector sitting on hard wood floors where co-inhabitants are walking around to make the projector jiggle.  It's better to do it on something super solid like a cement floor.  Also, you have to make sure the frame rate is right and you should film a reflection of what's playing from the projector.  I did a bit of research on how to do it, and will now have to start spinning those wheels once again--now that the projector works!

There are a few friends who have said they'll lend a hand with this part of the process, which is very comforting.  It's great to be surrounded by men who are just as curious and determined to get the thing to work as I am.

Until next time, the adventure continues...

Previous posts about the projector include:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thank you

Wow, in less than a weak, friends and acquaintances have helped me raise $215 towards attending the Full Frame Film Festival!  Thank you all so much for helping me go!!  I promise to take lots of photos, live Tweet during the festival (but not during films), and follow up with blog posts here so you can take the journey with me.

Making this film has been a life-altering experience.  By working on Abandoned Allies I have met some of this world's finest and bravest people.  They've permitted me the great honor of telling their story to the world, and this is not something I take lightly.  Attending this film festival, watching other documentaries, talking with filmmakers, learning new techniques and rules...all are vital to making sure this film as great as I can make it.  I truly believe that attending the festival will help because I feed off of that type of energy.

We are assembling a rough cut of Abandoned Allies, and are drawing very near to the end of post-production.  I am hustling to make sure it's ready by this summer for private viewings and eventually, perhaps, a public screening.  My family, friends, and acquaintances whom I don't know all that well yet: it will be a  pleasure showing this film to you.

Thank you all for making dreams come true.  I am so humbled and honored by your generosity.

Contributions can be made here: