It started with a phone call two days before WPPI weekend. It was from none other than the “Thunder from Down Under” himself, Mr. Jerry Ghionis. He asked if I could come down to WPPI to follow him for the week, shoot some of his workshops, then put together a video. How could I say “no”? So with one day to plan, I was packed and headed to WPPI.
“Go Small or Go Home”
In 2007 I shot what I believe is the first ever WPPI recap video. I did it for three straight years. Since then, some amazing filmmakers have had their turn at capturing the magic of WPPI. And each year the WPPI recap videos get bigger and better. Last year was no different. I knew of at least two or three other film crews shooting at WPPI last year. From what I could see, they were all shooting with multiple people on their crews and top-of-the-line digital cameras. The official WPPI film sponsored by Triple Scoop Music was being shot by Hollywood director and cinematographer, Sion Michel, with timelapes and RED cameras. One of the lenses he was using was worth $80,000. You read that right. That’s an eight with five zeroes.
Always one to buck the trend and do something different, I posed a radical idea to Jerry. Where other crews were going big, I wanted to go small. Instead of a recap that was crisp, colorful and contemporary, I wanted something with a gritty, grungy and nostalgic look. In my email pitch to Jerry and Melissa I wrote:
If you would indulge my creativity, I would like to do something for you very special. Something unlike anyone at WPPI has seen. Something personal. Something inspirational. It would involve setting aside some time for me to actually interview Jerry this week. But it will be well worth it. As inspiration for this video I’m thinking of Oscar nominated and winning films like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” or “Searching for Sugar Man.” I’m also thinking of the works of Eliot Rausch.
Luckily for me, Jerry indulged my creativity. Where one crew was shooting with a RED (or two) and a gi-normous lens, my “crew” had a Canon T2i and a Nikon D700. (My partner in crime was Portland photographer Chippy Duong. I had called for volunteers on a Facebook group to help me on the shoot and Chippy stepped up to the plate.)
A Serendipitous Turn of Events
I had it all planned. I’d sit down with Jerry for about an hour or so in his room, set up some lights, and conduct a personal and poignant interview about his life, his work and the state of the industry. But, if this interview was going to happen, it would have to be that Saturday or Sunday before the main expo and classes started. Because once Monday hit, it was game over.
In case you haven’t figured it out, Jerry’s a popular guy. And a busy man. Ergo to wit: as Saturday came and went, and as Sunday started to pass away, it became obvious the interview was not going to happen.
Then serendipity hit. It was like one of those scenes in a movie where the heroes have given up all hope then a miracle happens that turns everything around.
Jerry was the featured speaker at the Thirst Relief banquet, so naturally I was going to film it. It was about a 2-hour presentation where he shared all these amazing stories and poignant thoughts. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was cinematic gold. A filmmaker’s jackpot. And it was better than I could ever have gotten in an interview as he shared stories I would’ve never even thought to ask (e.g. the story about the photographer to whom he asked the titular question, “What’s your perfect day?”)
The video idea transformed into one of those films comprised of imagery set to an inspirational speech. A few popular ones that come to mind are “What if Money Were No Object“, “This is Water” and “The Gap by Ira Glass“. Only, my goal was to make all the imagery WPPI footage. So that was the challenge. How do I take all these disparate shots of WPPI footage, and make them fit Jerry’s words.
The 10,000 Piece Puzzle Set
Someone on Facebook asked me if the presentation in the video was bits and pieces from Jerry’s presentation, or one long excerpt. My response was: “You know those 10,000 piece puzzle sets. Yeah. It was kinda like that.” I was taking little soundbites here and there. Moving them around. Auditioning them. Whittling that 2-hour presentation down to about 7.5 minutes (not including credits). Thank heaven for the amazing metadata features in Final Cut Pro X!
So the first month or so was spent just with the audio from the presentation. Once that was finalized I picked the music. I actually started picking the music while I was editing the audio because I started to get a feel for what I wanted. Since Jerry has one or two Triple Scoop Music collections, as always they came to bat and helped me out with whatever songs I needed.
With the music and audio soundbites in place, I started going through what I estimate to be about 12-15 hours of total footage (264 GB). It included master classes, booth presentations, behind the scenes, following Jerry as he walked from one location to another, Photographers Ignite, the awards ceremony and of course, Jerry’s big party.
I think my favorite part of the film is the middle, where Jerry’s talking about our obsession with notoriety. Normally I would use screen recordings of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., as b-roll. But I wanted to stick to the challenge of only using WPPI footage. FWIW, my thinking behind that scene was to visually contrast Jerry’s words about working too hard and neglecting our families with imagery of photographers partying, drinking and dancing. It seemed very “Roman Empire” to me. 🙂 I knew it could be provocative.
Irony, Confessions and Heeding Jerry’s Advice
So, I have a confession to make. One that I hope will serve as a reminder to me personally to heed the message of the film. I was doing exactly what Jerry warns about. As buzz about the film picked up, and views racked up, and likes racked up… guess what? I kept looking and judging my success based on how many likes it was getting. How freaking ironic is that? Here’s this film, warning you about the dangers of getting too caught up in notoriety, and I’m doing exactly what the film encourages you not to do. <Sigh>!
All that to say, we’re all human. As creatives, we love it when people love and appreciate our work. (And it doesn’t help that my love language is “Words of Affirmation.”) It’s okay to desire that; to be excited when you see a video cross a certain threshold of views. That’s normal. Just try to keep it all in perspective. Find something that brings you back down to earth. Something that grounds you.
I’ve written enough about this. Time to go have a “perfect day”. (Or rather, considering it’s past midnight, just time to go to bed.)
Interesting Behind the Scenes Tidbit
For the timelapse shot where Jerry’s looking into the camera as people go buzzing by, he stood there, unmoving and unflinching for about 7 minutes. Finally Melissa came over and made him laugh. That’s the kiss and hug you see right before the credits.