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LR103104: Capturing Truth (Is Hard)

Shooting this “challenge” documentary has been a real experience: it’s a good mental challenge to work on non-fiction and find a compelling narrative; it’s great to be shooting something; and, again, it is a real eye-opener to how difficult it is to shoot the truth.

Over and over again (pretty much every day I can remember shooting), I’ve found that people consistently say the best, the funniest, the most compelling, the saddest, the most intriguing and the pithiest material as soon as the camera goes off.

My documentary subject is a currently homeless painter. Yesterday, after months of slogging through the system, he was shown a free apartment by the City. I filmed him in deep dismay over the unit and the prospect of living there among the denizens of the building. Incredibly, his social worker didn’t ever stop me from shooting, even during their discussion (and I endeavoured to keep him out of the frame whenever I could). Finally, after their discussion waned into a lot of silence and pausing, I turned the camera off. Immediately, the subject glumly voiced his doubt that he would even be alive in 5 or 7 years.

Reader, I would give much to have that moment available to me in the cutting room.

That social worker then took the subject to another social worker, one who focuses on housing, to explore any possible kinds of alternate options available. Incredibly, they never asked me to stop filming, and I again endeavoured to keep them out of the frame, recording their voices only. Again, once the rambling conversation died to a standstill, pregnant with pauses and silence, I stopped the camera, and immediately the housing worker said, flat-out and direct, “So, basically, you have two options, and one’s a gamble which means sacrificing the first option.” What a moment! For a documentary searching for a narrative, such a choice means drama and wrestling and wrangling. Choices and decisions are stories all on their own, but I missed that moment.

This happens constantly; these two anecdotes are only about one afternoon. It’s like a curse that seems to combine the punishments of Cassandra and Tantalus and Sisyphus: you get to view great moments, and know how wonderful they would make your movie, but you get only to view them, not capture them.

People say the solution is to never turn the camera off, to constantly maintain recording mode, however while that is the ideal option, resource management must also be considered. Every hour of footage takes up a block of mega-bytes, the camera runs on a battery which must be conserved, and realistically, I can only handle combing through so many hours of footage on my own.

Francis Ford Coppola said that film will be an art when a little girl on a farm can pick up a camera and make a movie. How right he was; I’ve always agreed with his sentiment, but never moreso than now. Oh, to have a crew! I am more Han Solo than Captain Kirk.

Do not think I despair completely; I have been blessed to be able to shoot many interesting things and moments, and Lawrence Richard Rutherford III is a very generous subject who provides open candor and frank honesty, even when the camera is rolling. Although his housing situation is getting interesting and will now be prolonged until September, I cannot keep filming indefinitely. I have to slow down and seriously begin cutting. I will never make my Ides of July deadline; this saddens and frustrates me, yet I must learn to accept it. I hope Reg Hartt will be impressed enough with the work when it is done. I will see in time.