Friday, January 25, 2008

Text Journal Entry #4 (Travis)

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Entry from 12.26.07 - Wednesday

So, the other night I watched the footage from our interviews of 12.19.07 with Alex. I haven’t watched the footage of the performances yet...perhaps I will do that tonight....

Anyway, Torben was right about the lighting. However, there are some really incredible moments in the footage. If the rule of thumb for making a documentary really is to extract 1 minute of 'usable' footage from every hour we shoot...then we are way way way ahead of the game.

About the lighting...the very first minute, when Alex was sitting over by his painting stuff...there is a PERFECT SHOT!!!...the natural light is coming in from the window and it looks SOOOOOOOOOOO good, which makes the rest of the lighting seem really poor throughout the rest of the conversation. :( We only hang out in that spot for like 45 seconds and then we go into the other room where there is a slight orange tint/hue that just gets really annoying. And then we went back into the other room and hung out right by the door where there is a pretty annoying pink/red tint that is really bad after awhile...then we look at the paintings and stuff and the lighting is from OK to bad...and then we make our way back into the smaller room which seems relieving to the pink/red...but still isn't all that great.

But...(I'm putting my optimistic hat now)...I don't think that we will be using that many extended clips from our conversations (at most maybe a minute...or two...???) and I think that the content/conversation is so good that the visual annoyance won't matter as much as we think, especially in short segments. We also might be able to treat it with color correction in Final Cut (and even switch it to B&W??? if that is possible and/or appropriate).

Having said that...we do need to make every effort to make the lighting down in Alex’s basement workshop as good as we possibly can from now on. We will just have to set aside some time to play around until we get something we are happy with...and then leave the lighting set up that way in each room every time we film. For starters...I am thinking to open the blinds on the windows as much as we can. In the smaller room I think if we shoot during the day/morning, open the blinds and turn off the overhead light the problem might be solved. In the larger room we should open the blinds all the way, and then figure out a way to make the rest of the room light up better...those overheard bulbs suck for filming... We will figure it out.

Like I said, the content is AMAZING, which in my mind is the most important thing, especially in a documentary. The audio sounds great! There are a few moments when I think the mic is a bit to close to Alex, so when he gets really excited and loud there is a slight scratchy sound at the peaks. This is very rare, something we just need to be conscious of. Keeping 3-6 foot distance seems about right. That, and if we are closer to him we can just turn down those levels on the camera a touch. But yeah...the audio is great.

So the point is, I think we are in good shape. We have to figure something out with the lighting down there. Whatever we have to do, even if it means going over there for an hour or two to shoot B-roll stuff and experiment with different possibilities of lighting. And then hopefully Alex will be OK with us leaving that set-up there until we are done shooting down there. The problem is that there is no down time with Alex (which is at the same time a great thing for the documentary)...the minute we get there we are in a fascinating conversation, and to monkey around with equipment feels awkward. But we will have to demand the time it takes to get the lighting right because if we fix the lighting we are in perfect shape.

Oh yes, one last thing, I have a really bad habit of saying 'mmmhhmmm' after everything everybody says. Well, of course not everything, but after every time I view a complete thought/section/paragraph, I will say 'mmhhmm', which is totally inappropriate in the filming. We have to be silent/invisible characters in the film. UNLESS, there is a really good and direct response to one of our thoughts questions, one that needs the context of the question in order to make sense.

I won't let my 'mmmhhmm' habit happen again. It is a habit I have from normal conversation, on that sort of makes me listen while letting people know that I'm listening. But it has to stop when we are filming! Also, there are 2 or 3 times when I try to finish Alex's sentence...another awful habit that I have while conversing...and that bugs the hell out of me!!! Not only for conversation does it seem kind of rude, but it cannot happen in the film!!! Torben did a great job of letting Alex talk and coming in at appropriate moments to enrich and further the conversation. I need to take a lesson from Scott Carrier and learn how to let the person being interviewed/filmed/talked-to know that I'm listening...while being quiet, and just popping in at appropriate moments to ask a question or make a comment to keep 'the subject' talking...or to take them onto a new path...

The conversation was so great. We talked a lot about Alex’s concept of the ‘bio-text’, its purposes, its processes, what it looks like in Alex’s poetry and writing, a little bit about how it applies to our film, and how it really applies to everything! It is huge...it is the processes of all of nature. As John Cage said, which is how a portion of the bio-text concept was inspired by/derived from...(something like) ‘the purpose is to mimic nature NOT in its manifestations, but in its processes!’ We are nature, we are created by nature and we are creators in nature...we’ve gotta learn our place in nature because it will move on with out us...creating/doing art is a way of approaching that. If we are rigid in our approach we will break. We must be willing to change and to move into a direction that is accommodating to us and our place in nature. I just realized that I already talked a lot about our conversation above in the previous entry. So I’ll end here...the point is that we are all still trying to figure it all out. It is constantly changing. This bio-text concept is really at the very heart of our project.

To end the entry I must say that this is not bad for the first round. I think I've said too much. Is that possible in a journal? I think this is a decent criticism of our filming...and constructive too. I’m going to go watch the performance footage and I’ll make a journal entry about that soon. I can’t wait to do another interview session with Alex...with better light...new conversations...and perhaps filming his creative processes while figuring out our own process for the film and how the concepts can be applied to everything else.
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Monday, January 14, 2008

Text Journal Entry #3 (Travis)

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Entry from 12.20.07 - Thursday

Yesterday we went to Alex’s house, into his basement, his workshop. Wow. His life’s work is down there. It is beyond description. There is stuff down there that he has been working on for decades...and he is still working on most of it. Everything he works on is a constant process. There are more books than you could read in 20 years if you stayed down there and read every day...and almost everything is interesting to me. The whole basement is packed full of interesting stuff. All organized in a very chaotic way that I don’t understand, but Alex does in one way or another. Everything has a story and everything is interrelated somehow. I could literally spend years down there discovering new things.

Torben, Alex and I had an amazing conversation and got most of it on tape. I feel like we are documenting really important ideas. When Alex speaks and tells stories I feel like he is retrieving knowledge from a very ancient source. He has an ability to relate every issue, principle, thought, problem, or dilemma to what seems like timeless myths, legends, stories, etc. I suspect that comes from knowing the old Sicilian language, all the other languages he knows, the books he has read, the experiences he has had. The conversation was a constant process of discovery and rediscovery. We are exploring his idea about what he calls “biotexts”; a method he came up with for writing/doing poetry. Nothing he writes is wasted, everything is recorded, archived and explored. His edits become interesting visual pieces, show one step in the process of creating a poem, and take on a life of their own. This idea was inspired by many things...writing himself...seeing other writer’s and poet’s working process...we looked at published edits of Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” and Alex says that there are endless possibilities of endless versions of other Finnegan’s Wake’s. We looked at Coleridge’s poetry (or maybe it was Wordsworth...can’t remember) with similar edits...showing a process in the poet’s mind, based on certain choices, possibilities for different poems. Alex says that these editorial choices are completely based on taste and preference, which is completely arbitrary, what is a good choice one day may be a horrible choice the next day. He is interested in preserving that process rather than merely showing the very fruit of the laborious process. In that laborious process is something that transcends preference and taste. One specific influence on this idea is John Cage’s idea that doing art and engaging in creative processes needed to focus on and mimic nature NOT in it’s manifestations...but in it’s processes. Alex says (roughly) ‘look at a tree...a leaf falls of and becomes something else...seeds sprout new trees...when a tree dies it returns to the earth and becomes other plants...eaten by other animals...etc.’ Alex is not interested in capturing or completely focusing on a frozen image in time of that tree, but all of the processes that the tree goes through.

Alex brought up the very first portion of Nietzsche’s essay “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” (also translated as “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”), where Nietzsche helps us realize that:

“In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history"—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it. But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that he floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world. There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees on the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.”


Reading this is a humbling experience to say the least, and this is only the first two paragraphs of a nearly 20 page essay...an amazing essay. In light of this Alex talked about how nature will move on without, nature will be fine without us, it has been for billions upon billions of years, so we had better learn how to live in harmony with nature...because it will prevail.

The ‘bio-text’ concept is an attempt to work in a harmonious way with the nature of things. So, in his ‘biotexts’, every iteration and every edit still shows, they can be ‘independant’ or ‘co-dependant’ of the larger body of the work. All of the work on one poem becomes several other poems, or several possibilities of other, different poems. They can take on lives of their own, they can map out the process of creating, they can show the thought process of the poet deciding among many words, forms, etc. Each little iteration in the process can stand alone as a single work, or work in conjunction with any number of the other iterations in the process to show and become something else. Everything has a process and everything is a work in progress. Every once in awhile something will come out and won’t be worked on or edited again...but in time the poem changes and is always changing and growing by itself. This ‘biotexts’ concept can be applied to life and all other art forms. We are attempting creating a biotext while making this film...maybe a bio-project...bio-film? The project is to document Alex’s work, so the actual film documentary we create is only a portion of the whole bio-project. Everything Alex has created is part of it. These notes are part of it. All of my thoughts are part of it. The blogs are a part of it. Alex’s Wikipedia page is part of it, and it is all a work in progress. How can we organize it all?

At some point I asked Alex why he thought this way of doing things has been sort of abandoned or not explored before. Was it because artists are to self-conscious about the process they engage in, the dead ends we come to, the possibility of failure or rejection? Alex’s response was interesting...he said this approach was part of a new attempt at understanding a more holistic worldview, as opposed to a specific/specialized world-view. The specialized worldview is not worthless and to be put down, it has its advantages and use, but we are now at a time where it is not useful anymore...we are in need of a more holistic way of viewing and engaging with the world. This movement towards a more holistic world-view is a breath in our time and space within a breath within a breath within a breath within a breath within a breath of the vast breath of all of nature that Nietzsche is talking in the quote above. I’m not doing the idea of “biotexts” any justice... Above and beyond this, the concept of the‘biotext’ is an attempt or a way of documenting processes and movements of both specialization and holistic-ism...maybe. It is huge.

I’m going to be looking at the footage that we captured on 12.13.07 of Alex’s performance at Gallery 110 in Provo and on 12.19.07 of our footage of our conversation with him at his house/workshop sometime this weekend. I’ve already seen portions of the footage that we captured at the Gallery 110 performance and it looks great. I think we are capturing Alex’s performance in an interesting way...we’ve talked with him, and amongst ourselves about ways to do this. Gallery 110 was our first attempt at it and so far I think we succeeded in some ways. Now, we’ve got to hone in on what works and try to get rid of what isn’t working when filming performances. We’ll see how our filming session of yesterday’s conversation went. I feel like we did a great job filming and mic-ing Alex actively while carrying an intense conversation.

Torben was a bit concerned about the lighting, but I feel like it is going to be just fine. We’ll see, and we’ll also work on better lighting next time we go down there. We are going to get some flood lights for the dark corners to create a lighter environment that will really bring the rich visual qualities and colors out of his workspace. Well they are already there...the camera was just having a hard time capturing that yesterday because of the minimal lighting from just single conventional overhead light bulb. Or maybe I should say that we were having a hard time getting the camera to capture that, while talking with Alex. I still feel like it was great as it was, but we can always improve. We are learning! I hope the audio is as good as it sounded on the headphones that we had. I only listened for one second and the levels seemed great. We were using a standard shotgun mic plugged straight into the camera by way of the XLR connection...which recorded audio straight onto the digital video cassette tape in the camera. I can’t wait to see how it turned out.
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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Text Journal Entry #2 (Travis)

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Entry from 12.16.07 - Sunday

On Wednesday we are going into Alex’s workspace. A place I really want to see and am kind of scared to go to. I’ve thought of this place now and again since Alex spoke of it to me. I’ve probably thought it up to be something that it is not and surely I am doing it no justice. We will be entering a space much closer to Alex than I’ve been to before. What will I see? What will we capture? We’ve got to be receptive enough and careful enough to capture what is there. I think we are going to film a conversation with him. Maybe get into filming his process of creating, whatever/however it is. This will be one part of many ongoing discussions...filmed like ‘interviews’. We will also be interviewing many people Alex has known over the years. It’s weird this whole project is sort of completely conceptualized in my brain, but nothing really ‘exists’ of it yet, besides about 2 hours of filming a performance and a million notes and ideas and discussions about it. It is an experience. I’m content with the experience that this project will give to me, it will be amazing. Something that nobody else will experience, has ever experienced, completely unique. Taking a shape, that with no effort could be copied because of all the factors that make it up...time, place, space, complexion, etc.

I also feel like we have another mission, aside from the experience, a mission of documenting/archiving Alex’s works, ideas, processes, etc. Also, a mission of creating a piece of work called a documentary. What is that like? What will it look like in the end? Hopefully we don’t get buried in the millions of possibilities. How will we swim in the ocean, and how far will we have to sink before we can swim? I want this thing to surface. I want to pass it on for people to see and know. Even though most will see it only as the very tip of the iceberg that made it. We will show selections we see appropriate to make a cohesive, acceptable, digestible film ‘documentary’. I suppose the greater project is to archive and make some kind of a historical reference to Alex’s wide range of ideas and work. We need money to do certain things. Where are we going to get it? We will do it anyway, money or no money. Money will make it less painful and laborious. Less taxing our minds and bodies. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Maybe we should do it the harder/hardest way. We have to go to Sicily. I really hope we can go to New York. Those experiences will be invaluable and treasured forever...and for the doc, it will inform it and build it in a way that will make it even better than I can imagine. Wow, we are stepping into the waters...I’m not used to the temperature...I’ve felt water before, but it’s never felt like this. What am I getting into? We’ll see! I’m trying to look at a bunch of other films and documentaries to learn how these things are made and built. I like them. I respect them. I'm taking down some notes about them...while watching and observing, I might also share some of those. But they are so far away and so different than what I imagine our film being/becoming. We just have to make it, we have to do it. There is no other way. These other films can help spark ideas and can give advice and guidelines...which is very valuable...but in the end we have to do it! We are doing it, even if it has just started. How are we doing I wonder...?
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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Claymation and Animation

I really want to find someone who can do claymation to do a little clay version of Alex. Also, I hope we can find an animator to help us out as well. That would be amazing. I like the idea of fluidly passing through a series of different mediums throughout the film, blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction.

Audio Journal #1 - 12.27.07







Video Journal #1 - 01.02.08

video

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First Night of Filming - Gallery 110 (12.13.07)

Travis and I filming Alex at Gallery 110 in Provo (courtesy of Ashley Thalman). Check out more information here and more pictures here.

Text Journal Entry #1 (Travis)

This is the first entry of a journal that I have been keeping of our general process of documenting Alex's work and also for a project that many of us are working on; a documentary about Alex, his history, his art and poetry, and his process, concepts and ideas. I will frequently add successive journal entries (I have several already) in due time. I feel like some of these definitely need to be shared and need to be a part of this blog. I hope that they add to the overall project while sparking ideas/discussions.
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Entry from 12.13.2007 - Thursday

First day shooting for the doc on Alex. We filmed his performance at Gallery 110 in Provo, UT. An awesome place. An old seminary building turned into an art gallery/performance space/venue... I shot with a cheap 3 ccd camera. Torben used the Comm. Dept.’s DVX100A. Cade [Thalman] was separately recording audio on his laptop computer with some sort of mic. He assured us that it sounded great...I believe him. We will sync it to the video later on, which is a pretty simple and straight forward process. Editing this thing is going to be so insane...so much to do.

It was our first dive into filming, really trying to explore filming his performances. A trial so to speak. We might end up using something from this trial. Either way it is on the road to the destination. Having a camera in my hand makes me feel different. Vulnerable. Not vulnerable as a person, that is to say...not self-conscious, but it makes me feel like I’ve got to be careful. I’m responsible for capturing certain moments that will never happen again. Did I do that? Holding a camera is such a new thing for me. A video camera. Shooting stills is different. You have all the time in the world with one of those. I’m not saying I’m necessarily good at shooting stills. I’m just saying you have more time to make choices. With a video camera you’ve always got to be on the edge. Every second you are capturing things. Every millisecond. Everything you film is there and will be there. You’ve got to notice everything and react to it and capture it. Is the camera really just an extension of the eye and the memory? I think it kind of is...but it is definitely something else too. It is not a part of my body. I don’t feel like deleting or recording over anything. If there is anything valuable or usable in there it came into being along with and because of the stuff that we won’t use in the end. It is all part of this process of creating a documentary about the process of creating, focusing on Alex’s creations.

My friend Joey told me that focusing on what he calls ‘the creative process’ is plain boring, but what else is there? Doesn’t it all inform, isn’t it all the process of creating things? I think so. The ‘process’ is usually viewed as...‘ok, here we are, painting/drawing...whatever’, but I think that the process extends into every single thought and every single moment. I will make errors. I will make more errors than I will make successes...??? Those errors are what interest me. What differentiates an error from not an error? How will we put all of these errors together? What is the process of making errors going to look like? What are we going to come up with in the end? A better question might be “how are we going to document our process?”.
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