Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Production Background 2: Finding the Ingredients

These days, when I’m teaching an “intro to documentary production” class, I tell students that before embarking on a feature-length doc, they should have a number of “ingredients” firmly in place:
1. a topic in need of exploration
2. an “emotional core” to that topic
3. compelling characters
4. a story-arc that will carry you through an hour+ of viewing
5. a stylistic approach that brings the story to life visually, and
6. some realistic hope of funding.

In a scrapyard in Crown Heights almost five years ago, in the moment I committed myself to making this film, I had exactly one of these in place: a topic. Rara in New York.

I knew enough to know it wasn't quite enough, but sometimes you do what you feel you need to do.

Fortunately for me, pieces of the second ingredient appeared within minutes: characters. First Pe Yves approached us and started talking. Immediately I was swept into his charisma, his passion for rara music (or “the movement” as he put it), the effortless poetry of his speech, and his genuine sweetness as a human being. I felt: this is a guy I could follow for a long time and not get bored. The second character - Max – also caught our eye. He arrived looking like he’d come from a corporate job, speaking flawed Kréyol and unaccented English. He seemed like a perfect “outsider/insider” who could help an audience member enter this complex and unfamiliar land.

(Pé Yves, the Visionary)


(Max [left] who works in corporate America, and Joujou [right] who's
main job was playing for basement vodou ceremonies.)

In terms of the other ingredients? A visual style we basically made up along the way. A story arc got worked out in the edit room 3 years later [a future post on that]. The “emotional core” really only emerged as we were listening to test-audiences at early rough-cut screenings, and started focusing some of the character development around what we were hearing. And funding? Well, a few grants, a few fundraising parties, shameless begging to friends, relatives and people with access to equipment. If you have a laptop and 5 years to kill, what else do you need?

22 comments:

Maxima said...

Good words.

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