Dear Readers -
Apologies for dropping the ball here on the blog the past few weeks. Between wrapping up shooting on my new film and prepping and planning for this year's Cinema Eye Honors, I've been procrastinating my return to somewhat regular blogging.
Here's a piece I started writing as I was en route to Branson, Missouri just after Christmas. I'll be posting a couple more looks back at the year we just concluded in the coming days/weeks. Pardon the delay.
There’s a story to what happened to me this decade and it starts in the spring of the year 2000. I was then an Executive Producer at a production company that specialized in music videos, working with a bunch of talented filmmakers, routinely awarded budgets of $350K to make a 3 ½ minute clip that would – hopefully for the band, the label and their hangers-on – be awarded a coveted slot on the Carson Daly-hosted "Total Request Live".
The clips had to be of a certain high production value, the labels seemed to believe, or there would be no possibility of landing on the afternoon countdown show, one of the few venues remaining on MTV for music videos. So the budgets, even for bands that you and I would never hear from again, had to be mid-six figures. Or else said band might slip into the ether.
By the spring we’d surfed this wave for almost a year and I was starting to feel restless. More and more of my own creative ideas were being poured into the work that was coming out of our company, but the execution of these ideas – and the ownership of same – fell, quite naturally, to the director.
I remember sitting in the color correct of one particular video, a video whose concept I had proposed (and one that would later become such a hit on said MTV countdown program that it would help launch the band and the director’s career) and feeling like I had well and truly reached the end of my ability to stand in the shadows.
Simultaneously, there was a very real sense that the status quo in that industry could not sustain itself. MTV was continually cutting back on the number of videos it was playing and the labels were under attack from digital downloads. And how could labels keep spending that kind of money on bands with little hope of recouping the costs of such extravagant vanity videos?
Just prior to this – at the end of the previous decade – I started to direct my own projects – a friend’s music video here, a public service announcement there, and finally, a short film. And by the end of the year 2000, there was a merger.
My short was out on the festival circuit. I felt – for the first time – not like an Executive Producer (which was a job I loved and, if I do say so myself, was pretty good at) but like a filmmaker. I remember flying to London to oversee the shoot a video in the fall of 2000 and writing “Filmmaker” on the occupation line of my landing card and being strangely, wonderfully proud of this new designation.
By that point I had already, mentally, turned my back on music videos. For a decade I’d worked on more than 100 – respected indie bands and big pop artists – but now I was increasingly ready to go my own way.
And within three months, I’d be in New York shooting footage for what would become GIGANTIC, my first documentary feature.
The how and the why of GIGANTIC’s birth is less important than the fact that the arrival of this decade – one that has been castigated and bemoaned for its acts of terror, war, political combat and natural decay – signaled a significant shift in my life.
My documentary decade.
I couldn’t have known as I was running around New York with my Sony PD-150 following Johns Flansburgh and Linnell in the spring of 2001 what would happen in the decade that followed.
I could not have imagined KURT COBAIN ABOUT A SON or CONVENTION.
I had no notion that I would start a blog (blog? What’s a blog?) or an award for nonfiction filmmaking.
I would never think that I’d end the decade in the Ozark Mountain town of Branson, Missouri celebrating the arrival of a new decade with a camera in my hand.
I never dreamed that I would take it all so seriously, so personally, so occasionally obsessively.
I fell into documentary almost by chance and – in some kind of Faustian bargain – documentary has run away with me.