ruminations on a series of unrelated events
January 21, 2019
For the last 10 months or so, I have been shooting material for a series of films about the opioid crisis in Indiana. My collaborator, Kyle Minor, and I received a small university grant last year and we have been shooting ever since. You can read about the narrative films in my continuously updated entry The Making of the Scott County Stories. All the work we have been doing to make docs is in my entry Opioids in Indiana. Very shortly our website will be launching that will host all the films. I’ll be sure to announce that here, when it finally goes live.
I wanted to break today’s topic out of Opioids in Indiana and dedicate its own entry to it. That topic is a film we are now calling The Long Run: Wes Doty’s Next Life. I have previously written a bit about shooting Wes’s story, but from now on it will be updated here. Wes is a former injection drug user living in Indianapolis who is in long term recovery. And running has played a major part in his recovery. Of all the docs we have struggled to get off the ground this past year, this is the one that has come the furthest. Which isn’t to say it has come all that far.
Kyle informed me about 10 days ago that Tribeca Midwest is offering a 25K grant and that the application deadline is today at 5. Well, that was awesome news! And that the application requires a 3-min trailer. Hmmm…that wasn’t such great news. We haven’t started editing this film yet, having been too consumed with editing the narrative film and 35+ interviews for the website.
Let me back up…
Each semester I have a new crop of my video students who take an independent study to work on the various films we are making. This semester we have three new students including a new editor on the job, senior Emily Owensby. I asked Emily to consider taking on the editor role because she has proven herself to be an extremely competent and dependable student in several of my classes and I would not hesitate to rely on her. So no sooner does Emily sign on, than I get to tell her she has to cut a trailer in a week for a film that doesn’t yet exist. Welcome to the team! I’m sure you won’t regret this. She met with me last Monday morning so I could go over the approach I had in mind. The rest of that day, as I worked on another project in the editing lab, I nervously looked over at her empty seat. Where had she gone? The answer to the question, I came to find, was her full-time job. It’ll be OK, Thomas.
On Tuesday evening, four of us (Hannah, Anna, Kyle and I) took a cold car ride to Muncie to shoot an interview with Diana Goodwin, a friend of Wes’s. I wanted to get more footage for Emily to work with. Shortly before the interview, Diana had to change the shooting location from her house to a place called The Serenity Club, where a lot of recovery meetings are held. I cringed just a little because since starting this project I have come to realize that a lot of these meeting places are not the most photogenic locations. We got there and sure enough it was a bit of a challenge. Diana chuckled as searched the place over and over for a good angle to make it work. Thankfully, I came up with something, then the crew worked well together and we made short order of it.
Due to Emily’s work schedule, most of her editing was going to take place over the weekend which of course made me nervous. Who even knew if there was a trailer in all that footage. I met with her on Sunday afternoon, yesterday, the day before it was due. She had a lot of A-roll cut, but it was a long way from resembling a trailer. I gave her some organizing strategies and helped eliminate some shots. Since she is a night owl, we decided we would tag team it. She would edit as late as she could, then I would come in very early the next day and finish it up and upload it. I left feeling certain that my Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was going to be spent editing.
The next morning I arrived at 7:30 prepared to edit for the next 12 hours. I watched her cut and was blown away. I was moved to tears. (It takes a bit to choke up this old buzzard. Just don’t watch Big Fish with me.) It was really powerful. With such little footage to really work with, she managed to find all the right moments. Wow! Had she just left 2 minutes before I arrived? because she had transformed this thing overnight. Dang. I was impressed. A+ for Emily. And thankfully I wasn’t going to have to spend all day there after all. I was going to be there a while though, because as it was it was 30 seconds too long. There was a hard 3-min limit. I also had to come up with an idea for more footage to cover the edits in the story of Wes overdosing in a gas station restroom. So I called my daughter, who is currently in Indy, and asked a favor: Please go to the gas station and shoot some photos approaching the restroom door and send them to me. It might not be the most ideal solution, but it got the job done. So 6 1/2 hours later, I had slightly restructured, tightened, polished, mixed, graded and slapped a title on that thing (I have to say I am a little proud of that title) and it was finally ready to go. Tag teaming is awesome. Now Kyle had to do all the writing for the application. Which he completed just as I typed this. Application is in! Way to go team. The three finalists go to Chicago in March to duke it out in front of a live audience. The winners walk away $25,000 richer. My fingers are crossed.
I have to confess: After nearly a year of doing these films and so many leads running into dead ends and so many phone calls and emails not getting responses, I had been feeling lately like I have just been running into a brick wall over and over again, and it has been wearing me out and taking a toll on my enthusiasm. But thankfully this breathes some new energy into my filmmaking efforts!
But let’s see how I feel in a week.
Next Sunday, we shoot b-roll and drone footage of Wes running in the snow. Please check back for that story.
So here is the trailer for The Long Run: Wes Doty’s Next Life.
January 30, 2019
On Sunday and Monday, we had two shoots with Wes that helped move the project along substantially and put us in a position where we can start editing in earnest now. On Sunday, I wanted to do a very informal second interview with Wes. The big camera and bright lights often produce rather formal if not stilted interviews. His first interview was fine, but now I wanted to see if we could go deeper on some more personal and more recent matters. I frame it in my mind as the first interview providing the plot points and this one potentially adding more emotional texture. We went over to Wes’s on Sunday morning and shot with a smaller camera and available light. It was just me and my daughter, Amalia, who has been in town from Philadelphia since Thanksgiving recovering from surgery. A small crew of two and a tiny Sony A7s kept things extremely light and simple. And I think it worked. Amalia asked the questions and I shot a handheld close-up. We were done in 3 hours. It was also a great opportunity to get to know Wes a bit better.
On Monday morning, we returned to Wes’s to shoot b-roll of him warming up for a run and then running through the cemetery. That morning it snowed lightly which was what I was hoping to have for the b-roll. We arrived fairly early and shot some slo-mo of Wes warming up in the apartment. With just the window light it looked great. Then it was time to go try to shoot the running footage from a moving car. This time we are shooting with a very large Blackmagic Ursa Pro. It does not lend itself to holding on your lap and trying to shoot out the passenger window. But somehow, I managed to get a shot alongside Wes as he ran to the cemetery. I have a strong hunch that shot will be the opening title shot of the film. In the cemetery, I opened the back hatch of the car and shot from the back as my daughter drove, Hannah ran sound and Wes ran behind the car. We got some very beautiful slo-mo as we led Wes all over the cemetery. Sorry Wes. Next up was the drone. One of the students on the project, Devon, owns a Mavick Pro 2 and he showed up right on time. We did a handful of amazing shots that tracked Wes on the various roads of the cemetery and then up to crown hill itself. It looks phenomenal, no small part because the snow adds such a beautiful element to the shots.
May 1, 2019
I haven’t been keeping up with this entry as earnestly as hoped. So fast forward a few months. Leading up to the Carmel Marathon on March 30th, I shot a bit of Wes training: We got some cool drone stuff, I got him running at the IUPUI track, and I shot him running on a treadmill. All that went really well, but when the race day finally arrived it was a miserable day. Rain, rain and more pouring rain. While things went well for Wes despite the rain, just about everything that could have gone wrong for us went wrong. We were plagued with not being able to find Wes before the start of the race, camera gear and lenses getting soaked, losing my crew after finding Wes at the start line, and then at the finish we were misinformed about which lane he would finish in. But despite all that, I think we managed to get enough to make it work. It might not be ideal, but the magic of editing will make it come together.
A week or so after the race, we tagged along with Wes as he did a running podcast in Broadripple. Running on Indy is hosted by a couple of local runners, one of whom won the Carmel Marathon. That was an opportunity to shoot some run and gun with Wes and see him in a new context. We also shot a third interview with Wes a couple of days after the marathon.
Over spring break in March, I edited like an obsessive man. The first 3 days of break, I edited for about 36 hours. I was able to get a pretty good handle on the first 20-minutes of the doc. How to b-roll Wes’s interview was always going to present a challenge. He doesn’t have any home movies and wasn’t forthcoming with any childhood photos. He has been in the news a bit for his remarkable recovery, but news footage isn’t free and it is a bit of a cliche. So I devised an approach that would use long tracking shots of the various locations Wes talks about in his interview. This would tie his story to the specific locations where they took place, while avoiding a lot of documentary cliches. But in that first 15-minutes or so of the 20-minute edit there are 25 such shots.
Sometime in March, I don’t quite remember when, I also agreed to screen the film (or at least part of it) at University High School in Carmel–to about 350 students. My daughter graduated from there in 2012, and one of her former teachers, who we know quite well, invited me to show some of my opioid work as part of an effort to confront the issue at the school. This meant the race was on for getting all the 25 needed shots before the screening on April 29th. What a perfect way to light a major fire under my butt.
So a master list was created and trips to Muncie, Anderson, Elkhart, and La Porte, (a town 137 miles north) were undertaken along with shooting at several locations around Indianapolis. April is basically a blur of a hectically undertaken schedule to get all the needed shots. It was all a little crazy actually. On one of the crazier days, we drove the 50 miles north and shot in Muncie, only to return to IUPUI and head 85 miles south to shoot some scenes for our narrative film in Scott county. Ok, that was the craziest day.
On Saturday March 27th, I got the last shot I needed and I spent a few hours editing and finally exporting the first 20-minutes of The Long Run. I am pretty happy with it, I have to say.
For the presentation at University, I invited Lesly Wymer to attend with me. You can find Lesly’s interview in the Recovery stories section of the opioidstories.org website. Lesly is a co-worker of mine and has a powerful story that I thought high school students would be able to relate to.
The screening and Q&A went very well. And the students seemed to really connect with the presentation.
July 4th, 2019
Every summer, I go to Greece for almost a month to teach a study abroad course where I work with our students to make documentaries about the Cycladic island of Paros. After I returned this year in early June, I moved the editing rig from school to my house so I could better concentrate on all the editing I have to accomplish this summer. It is a rather daunting array of projects that need cutting. These last few days, I have been trying to concentrate on the Wes edit and getting the final act done. It has been going in fits and starts as I try to wrestle with the best order and the fact that our Carmel footage is less than stellar.
Nearly every morning these days, I get up at 4:45 and ride my bike to Carmel on a Rails-to-Trials called the Monon that goes right near my house. It is 2 hours of calm and tranquility, most of it before the sun rises. Virtually every morning, I can ride the first 10 miles or longer without seeing another soul on the trail. Anyway, I take this alone time on the bike to think about the edit, to essentially edit in my head. And two days ago, I figured out what was undermining the closing scene and I was able to solve that problem. So biking isn’t just good for the body.
I am happy to say that the Wes doc is currently in a pretty good place. It is absolutely nothing like I originally thought it would be back in January. Literally nothing. But I think it is engaging, inspiring and emotionally charged and that is all good. I anticipate a final edit by August. It will no doubt be the first film of this ongoing saga of a project to reach completion.