Why do I make documentaries? There is never quite enough money or time or support. The hours are long and brutal, the job physically taxing, the travel is draining and difficult and I'm often in scenarios that are extremely uncomfortable or dangerous. So why do it? Why not go work nice, easy 12 hour days with little sandwiches and fresh cappuccinos passed around every couple of hours? Because of films like this one and this series - Minority Reports. I become the eyes and ears of millions of viewers into entirely new perspectives and ideas and in that process my own comfort zone and knowledge is pushed, shattered and taxed. I become a better, more sensitive, more thoughtful person and in that process (on the best days) I can help to bring similar change to countless others. By and large, the process of mass media is flash-in-the-pan "content." "Snackable," "click-bait," and so forth. But if we can reach and activate even a couple of people, its worth the blood, sweat and tears.
I'll get the to technical side of how we made this series later, first I want to write about the moment I realized the depth and reality of my own white privilege and was finally able to drop the guilt and defensiveness about being white. During the shoot for episode 2 - Black Cowboys - I was riding the back of a car driven by Neil Homes. Lee was in the front seat. We were headed somewhere to get lunch - hood bbq as Neil called it (it was delicious). In a lull, Neil idly asked Lee if "y'all got cops" in NYC. Lee said yes and then they launched into comparing notes about the brutality and severity of police beatings in Houston vs. New York. I had nothing to say about it and later I asked Lee what was up with that. He said to me - "Yeah man - that's black guy talk."
Not only had I never heard anyone talk about police brutality so casually - I had no idea that it was such a given that it was a topic of casual conversation. Neil is a bull rider from the Houston, Lee is a producer from DC and yet this was a safe, common type of small talk. That was the first moment I truly started to understand the disparity in my own experience and the experience of people of color in America. It was also the first time I had no qualms about shutting the hell up about race for the rest of the series and just listening to people's experiences. From there, I feel that I was finally able to start asking (some) of the right questions and draw relevant comparisons for later reflection -- across all the episodes of this show, making it one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Also, I haven't done a ton of searching but I can't think of another documentary or non-scripted series that's tackling the conversation about race in such an earnest, sometimes funny, sometimes gut wrenching way.
I'm not about to write about some prescribed cure for racial disparity or suggest any solution but I do know that thanks to my experience with this medium, I was granted a tiny but real glimpse into a place that's really hard to look into honestly - the limitations of my own experience and the unconscious prejudice that I, as an American, carry. I will say that if you think you're above this, I don't know you personally but, you're probably mistaken.
Ok - how we did it. The series was shot on a mix of Sony and Canon cameras. Episode 1 - HBCUs was captured on Sony FS7s in slog3/sgamut3.cine using Metabones Speedboosters and Canon Zoom lenses. I also used a MoVi M5 gimbal rigged with a Canon C100mk2 as I've discussed in prior posts. The C100mk2 was set to capture in clog colorspace using the Canon CPLock setting. For that, I stuck to the Canon 10-22 zoom and the Canon 50mm f1.8 prime. Black Cowboys was shot on Canon C300mk2s using Canon L Series zoom lenses and a mixture of Canon and Rokinon Primes as they were available.
I wasn't able to shoot the KPop episode and so the brilliant, interminable Carrie Cheek took over and went with Lee and producer Erica Matson to Seoul. They used Sony FS7s with a blend of Canon zooms and primes.
One last note - I brought along a Digital Sputnik DS-1 light for these and used it as a bounce or fill light most of the time. It was light, versatile and ran for hours on two V-lock batteries. I don't ordinarily bring/use lights as modern high resolution cameras with fast primes seem to be able to get a solid exposure in near darkness but I felt there was a need to do some shaping and supplementing of the light. The DS-1 was ideal for a single-operator show because I could put it on a lightweight stand and place it anywhere in a room without cabling. Someday, I'll get the wifi controls to work on my Android phone and I'll be able to build light-cues into dramatic parts of the interview. #drama
Canon C300mk2, Canon C100mk2, Sony FS7, Canon L Series Zooms and Primes, Rokinon Primes, MoVi M5