My First Documentary

I thought that the best way to learn how to shoot a documentary was to shoot a documentary. So with camera in hand, I tracked my subject, Heather Hendrie, in her attempt to build a electricity generating bike adapter. She thought she could build it in a day, and I naively thought I could finish a documentary short in a week.

A year and a half later, I’m finally releasing my first documentary short. I’m proud to say it will be premiering this Friday evening at an outdoor movie event during Cyclepalooza, a ten day celebration of bikes. Here’s the trailer:

It’s humbling to see the evolution of my camera abilities and how difficult it is get the right shot in changing outdoor lighting conditions. Nevertheless, the project has rewarded me with lessons in patience and persistence.

In life, I am quick to take action and impatient for results. In documentaries as in life, the meaningful things take its own time to grow and flourish. Strangely, through my computer screen I examine life more closely and fully than in real life. I can replay interviews and extract themes and nuance. I can observe the story of a year’s journey in seconds. Here on my editing suite, I am permitted the luxury of reflection.

Perhaps this says something about how I do tend to see things through a fog of ideas. Documentary video helps me crystalize some of those ideas in ways that feels practical. The ideas become real for me.

Editing is a process of reflection and meaning-making. Every cut is a decision that says “this is important” because it’s significant or it entertains or it simply moves the story along. One day, I’d like to reach this level of mastery where every cut is purpose made.

Like any meaning-making process though, I have to see the small moving pictures in the context of the larger stories. How am I able to see clearly in these moments of life if I don’t invest myself in experiencing and understanding life itself?

Sounds abstract I know, but it is eminently practical. On a small scale, Heather’s project is just a bike that generates electricity. But in the context of our collective dependency on energy, particularly fossil fuels, and its threat to the environment, the bike takes on greater significance.

So I remind myself. There are times to act and do your best. But there are more times where taking more time will lead to far better results.

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