Monday, July 18, 2011

Screening For Charles

 On Saturday evening, July 16, 2011, at 8:00 P.M., I unveiled my new film for Charles Forsythe, Millie (his wife), and his daughter, Mina. This was my first screening of the film. Since the film was about Charles, I felt it was best he was given the opportunity to view the film in an intimate setting, one where he could speak freely about whether he was supportive of my work. I was nervous. Charles had not seen any of the footage. It was the first time he had participated in such a project and he basically agreed to it without really knowing me or my ability. Everything was in my hands and understandably, this caused a little anxiety.

We had shot footage over the course of seven months and accumulated over 16 hours of footage. I knew there was a real chance he might not like how I presented his story. But throughout the project, my confidence was high and I always felt Charles would like the results. I would have not pursued the issue if my instincts told me to walk away. This was my third cut of the film. My first cut started out just under an hour and now it was clocking in at 35 minutes and 59 seconds. I was pleased with this cut. The spirit I had originally envisioned was there, even though I wasn’t sure how it would work out. I hadn’t found the flow until late in the game. I just kept filming, collecting my colors to paint with later. It was time to unveil the film to Charles.

My wife, Nancy, and I greeted Charles and his family when they arrived and invited them in. We gathered around the dining room table and ate some snacks while I began talking about the last seven months. Our conversation had barely begun when Charles proposed a toast. We held our drinks in the air. Charles said something like: Here’s to the film, and no matter what the outcome, it was the experience we had together. This was worth celebrating, and it can’t be overshadowed, therefore, the film is already a success. Though I was very happy with his enthusiasm. I was still nervous.

When we first started the project, I explained to Charles that I had envisioned a film that would focus on him as an artist. Not long after shooting began, I decided to include more about his life and family. I think this more encompassing approach made Charles feel at ease with the project. But I soon realized that direction was not working. I decided my original idea was the way I needed to proceed. As we progressed, Charles’s faith grew in the project. I was relieved, as I knew there were plenty of opportunities for him to end his cooperation with me and pull out of the project. For me, the turning point came that indicated I knew Charles was on-board (and trusted my instincts), occurred when he told me about a conversation with one of his sisters. She wanted to know why anyone would want to make a film about him. His answer to her question was brilliant. He told her, “I’m just a prop”. When he told that to me, I burst out laughing. I knew at that moment he had a better understanding of what I was doing. Though he was still nervous, he realized that I, like him, was painting. But I was not using a brush.

It was show time!

We sat and watched the film. I tried to view with virgin eyes, but of course, that was impossible. All I could see were my flaws. As the end credits rolled, I looked over at Charles. He was smiling. I was relieved. From there, we laughed, joked, and began talking about scenes. 

Charles asked me about the music. He wanted to know for sure whether his son, Brian, had provided the music. Early on in the project, I asked Brian if he would provide the music, but in a vein outside his usual style playing. Brian was up for the challenge and readily agreed. Charles was unfamiliar with this style of music, what I call soundscapes, and most curious how it would fit in with the film. After the screening, Charles was impressed by Brian's work and felt the music fit well.

The screening had gone well. I was very pleased with Charles's reaction. My anxiety was gone. Well, not completely. I knew it was time to show a much bigger audience.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"The Flow Of Forsythe": The Beginning

Not long after my documentary, The Skeptics In A World Of Their Own, premiered at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, Maryland, on March 25, 2010 (See post February 23, 2011), I was busy trying to get my next project off the ground. I had a couple ideas in the works, but nothing was panning out. That changed in September of 2010. One of my ideas had finally sparked to life.

This particular idea actually started in late 2009 when I discovered the artwork of Charles Eugene Forsythe, an abstract artist. Mina, his daughter, had been one of the people interviewed for The Skeptics' documentary. It was on her Facebook page I noticed her father's artwork. Interested in taking a closer look, I went to his page and opened the photo album dedicated to his latest series of paintings. My initial reaction was quite unexpected. His work spoke to me. I immediately felt compelled to contact him. I sent him a small email message letting him know I admired his work and explained why I was attracted to his style painting. It wasn't long before he wrote back. I soon learned our thoughts and interests were quite similar. For one, we were both fans of David Lynch. In my email I had quoted from Lynch's book, Catching The Big Fish. Charles had the book and enjoyed it thoroughly. Lynch's book had inspired us. This short and simple book corroborated the way we both approached our projects. It really didn't take too many words for the book to describe its ideas, a very important factor that fueled our project. Charles and I practiced many of the same ideas and perspectives Lynch used to traverse the creative path. I was surprised. Charles and I became fast friends.

We were soon speaking on the telephone. During one of our early chats, I asked Charles if he was interested in allowing me to make a film about him and his art. Charles was flattered, but not too receptive to the idea. He actually found it more interesting that I was inspired to tackle such a project. My proposition was quite unexpected. The thought of someone making a film about him and his art had never crossed his mind. Though it seemed Charles was not game, his response was enough to make me feel there was still a chance he might change his mind. The idea needed time to develop.

In the weeks to come, we continued to correspond via email. As suspected, my film idea had certainly sparked Charles's interest. He emailed me and asked that I call him so he could further discuss his thoughts. Within a few days, we were on the telephone together. Charles suggested that instead of making a film about him, that I make one about his oldest son, Riley, who was living in California and was an established and respected mural painter, specializing in building size paintings. Charles explained that my film project idea was very synchronistic. My idea had come along at about the same time he had seen the film called Kick-Ass. I, too, had seen the film and was intrigued about how my idea and Kick-Ass had anything to do with each other. I listened.

Charles explained that the movie's main character, Kick-Ass, was exactly like a character Riley drew as child to make Charles laugh. The cartoon strip was something special he shared with Riley and he always looked forward to the next installment. Charles felt that if the movie - Kick-Ass - could make a splash, then why couldn't Riley's character, predating the Kick-Ass movie, also make a splash? Why couldn't Riley get a little acknowledgment for his original idea too? Charles suggested I speak with Riley, as he had already told him about me. I thought Charles's idea was interesting, but knew logistically that such a film was not possible for me, even if I pursued it, primarily because Riley and I were coasts apart. Besides, it was Charles's art that inspired me. But I took Riley's telephone number and contacted him several days later.

Riley and I had a fun conversation, but as expected, we both understood that making a film about his early crime fighting character was not going to get off the ground. I then pitched my idea about making a film about his dad's art. Riley agreed it was a good idea and said he would mention it to his father next time they spoke. I felt I was gaining ground.

Several months passed, but Charles and I had not communicated too often. I then discovered he was having a one-man show at the Blue Elephant Art Center in Frederick, Maryland. Frustrated that it was already Fall of 2010 and I had not launched another project, I contacted Mina and asked her if she would also say something to her dad about him giving some serious thought to my proposed film.

With Charles's one-man show approaching in the next couple weeks, I was getting nervous. I felt the show was a perfect event to capture and a great way to launch the making of the film. Apparently, the stars were in alignment. It seemed the prodding by Riley, Mina, and myself had paid off. Charles agreed to become involved. All was a go. The film was off the ground.

From September 2010  to June 2011, Charles and I met nearly every week. During our early film sessions, Charles, though wanting to make the film, was nonetheless anxious about how I was going to pull off the film. He had many concerns. And I certainly understood why. We barely knew each other and now I was filming him for hours as he spoke about his life. Would I make him look foolish? Would I embarrass him? Did anyone want to see him talk about his life? What were my intentions and motivations with the film? These were all good questions. But as each film session ended, Charles's understood what I was trying to achieve and his concerns dissipated. In fact, he found the experience invigorating, as did I, and his desire to keep going increased after each session. We were enjoying each others company and realized the experience was worth more than the outcome.

Though I had a strategy for the documentary, there were no story boards. Just a couple of images in my mind. Between each session I planned our next shoot. Once on location, armed with a list of questions, we improvised. Not necessarily the normal way to proceed with constructing a film, I decided that I would treat the project like a painting. The camera had become the canvas and our sessions had become the colors. When I got home from each session, I began mixing the colors. And as I laid down more colors, I knew that it could be no other way. I was painting.

David Lynch might say Charles and I were "deep sea fishing" together. With my approach to the film, I certainly had cast my line and was trolling deep waters. My idea about how I wanted to present Charles's story was cytsalizing, and by May of 2011, my, our, painting was coming alive.