Choosing a Topic
Acupuncture has always been a peripheral presence in my life. My dad fell in love with the practice when I was about five. Still, I didn’t really understand how it worked, so I decided to bring it into focus and make a MiND program.
Pre-Production and Shooting
This was not my first time picking up a camera, but this was my first time doing something documentary-like. Most of my experience has been doing things like this (http://vimeo.com/10729943), more traditional narrative shorts, and goofier stuff.
Starting with pre-production and continuing through editing, the amount of overlap between this 5-minute piece and the narratives I’ve done was surprising. Both require planning (about twice as much as I end up doing)—technical, creative, and logistic.
The unpredictability, however, is really where these two storytelling methods intersected for me. In the planning stages, the project drifts and swirls like cumulus ideal, pretty and exciting but not solid. It’s not until the camera comes out and the people start talking and moving in front of it that the project becomes concrete. Mistakes and obstacles (some stupid, some inevitable) surface and yank that shiny blueprint back to reality. I “filmed” an entire acupuncture treatment for B-roll but didn’t realize that I had neglected to press “record.” One patient didn’t show up for an interview. These events necessitate heightened levels of creativity and flexibility. Since I don’t have that treatment footage, what else can I use for B-roll? How can I keep it interesting and varied? It’s not that I enjoy mistakes or obstacles or have any sort of perspective while they’re occurring, but in retrospect, they end up shaping the project in sometimes not-all-that-bad ways.
Other than the unforeseeable potholes that sneak into every project, the production stage leads to a more enjoyable form of unpredictability: the little organic moments that only real people can produce. With a script on narrative projects, I never know what line or conversation will really jive with the actors and create something much better than what I imagined or actually wrote. During this project, those gems occurred when the interviews felt more like conversations.
After shooting, it is clear that the project will not be its imagined origin, but it’s concrete.
This part starts with a digression, but bear with me.
My mom started her orthodontic journey when she was eight years old. Her 1960s braces were probably more like Lil Wayne Grills than current day braces—only less diamond-studded and nerdier. Eight years later, when she was sixteen, the braces came off. It’s not as if her mouth started as a chipped village of fallen dominos. Really, her problems were within normal limits—nothing a slightly skilled orthodontist couldn’t handle. Unfortunately for her, her orthodontist was not slightly skilled, but he was a family friend. His dental recipe: push teeth too far in and close together. Pull teeth out and apart. Repeat. A lot. The emotional and physical pain of eight years of braces was a small price to pay for not offending a peripheral acquaintance.
At times, during the making of this five-minute program, I have felt like that unskilled orthodontist, yanking back and forth in pursuit of that five-minute smile. Luckily, my program did not have to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with a mouth full of metal. During the editing process, each minute change I made created the need for three more changes. I went over the five-minute mark then with my figurative red pen, I crossed everything out. If I were not a child of the digital era and I had to use the ol’ Steenbeck to physically cut film, editing would just be a very expensive and artsy way to make confetti. The figurative eight years of editing orthodontia transformed the project to watch-ability.
What kept the cutting interesting was that it was a sort of dynamic puzzle that I had created for myself. I had gone out and sought the pieces, and now I had to put them together. Every decision I made—from adjusting the volume to selecting a clip—affected the program in some way. At the last minute, I cut a 30-second anecdote about a nun on dialysis that had been one of my favorite parts and replaced it with a clip about acupuncture in animals. I hadn’t planned to use the second clip at all, but realized it worked much better in the context.
If you can swing it, I recommend making your own five-minute program. It’s a great way to learn by doing.
MiND TV Intern