Everything Happens for a Reason, Part 2
(Part 1 can be read here.)
In July of 2003 I went to Kenya on a commissioned promotional documentary project.
Earlier that year I had been convinced to buy a Krasnogorsk K3 16mm camera, a “Russian Bolex”, and the results we had been getting shooting film instead of video made me decide is was worth spending about $3,000 of my own money on film stock to bring the K-3 Kenya and have my cinematographer Luis Marin shoot film for our b-roll.
$3,000 was enough to buy, process and transfer about 30 daylight spools, or about 90 minutes of footage total. Compare that to the $4 it would cost for an equivilent running time in video tape and you can imagine how anxious this decision made me.
Compound that by the tens of thousands of dollars it was going to cost to drag a crew around Kenya for three weeks, the success of which was hanging on on being able to get the footage we needed on a budget of about 5 minutes a day, and it’s no surprise that when I finally got home and could finally relax, I suffered a brief, but surprisingly severe depression.
I had never experienced anything like it.
I lost interest in surfing, sailing, or any of the other things that I love about Summer. I didn’t mow the lawn. I didn’t eat. I had pronounced psychosomatic gastro-intestinal symptoms. (This psychosomatic reaction to stress lingers to this day, and often helps alert me to rising anxiety even before I am conscious of it. When I have a “gut feeling” it’s a gut feeling.)
But it was worth it.
I still remember being in the telecine session. Because of our extremely tight film budget we did short-takes of everything: 10 second shots; 5 second shots; 3 second shots. We couldn’t waste a frame.
And even though I had negotiated a flat by-the-foot rate with the post house, the colorist was going through the material shot by shot, setting the color just so for each one, getting the most out of every shot. I remember at one point the phone rang and it was a bean counter, complaining about how long the session was taking, and I still remember the colorist saying, “I don’t care. This footage needs what it needs.” and then hanging up the phone.
I think maybe it was in that moment that I was born as a filmmaker.
Up till that moment I had made some good videos. I had come up with some very clever tricks to get a lot out of video cameras. But in focusing on what video cameras could do well and avoiding what they did poorly, I was leaving a lot unsaid. I was leaving a lot unseen. Once I start shooting film my world looked different. Once I started shooting film I saw the world differently.
The short embedded above, Fair Winds/Uncertain Future is what I did with the seven days and 5 cans of film (15 minutes) I had left after Luis went home. He left me the K3, Bob Wise, and some 500T we didn’t end up using. It’s not really a stock you’d expect to need shooting outdoors near the equator, and not really the best choice for this subject matter/lighting conditions, and I had brought it “just in case”.
But bringing it home without a latent image seemed like a silly thing to do, so Bob and I caught a plane from Nairobi to Kisumu and then hiked out to a little fishing village called Dunga beach.
The film is best regarded as an etude; an experiment in how much movie can be wrung out of how little film and how little money. I purposely chose a first-person narrative conceit to cover the fact I had no money for professional voice talent. I stole the music off a collection of African folk recordings I bought on the street. Considering the scale of the investment I think it’s remarkably effective.
Emboldened by the above experiement, two years later I made a $12,000 cash exchange curbside at the corner of Broadway and 20th street. In exchange for my $12,000 I got several boxes of second-hand Kodak 250T, which I used on my best known and most profitable work.
I’m reminded of it today because like raw film-stock, a stack of uncut plywood feels like possibilities. And who doesn’t like the feeling that anything is possible.