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Documentary film festivals film shoot film update oklahoma film S8 straight 8 super 8 super 8 film

S8: 22 – 7 Take Care, Tar Creek (An Occurrence at Tar Creek)

An Occurrence at Tar Creek

Location of the rock dam incident.

Saturday, June 11 was quite a long day. We went from shooting at various film locations, to the interview, and then back to shooting more locations. The idea really was to complete the entire film shoot in a single day. After all, it’s only 200 feet of film in the cartridge and at 18 frames per second (fps) that’s just 3 minutes and 20 seconds! How long could it really take? My thinking was that I would have more than enough time to shoot two rolls of film. But turns out that I barely had enough time for even a single roll. Not because of any one thing, but because each shot takes time to set up and there’s travel time between locations, and then there’s waiting around time, so on and so forth.

Later in the day we were to meet Rebecca Jim and her son Dana at a location along Tar Creek near the Miami Nursing Home. An odd thing happened while we were there. At the time, my son and I were waiting in the car for our guests to arrive so we could film them. I’d noticed these two boys with loaded-down bikes ride by and head down towards the Creek. I thought it odd because knowing that the water is highly toxic it didn’t make sense to me that they’d be going down there to fish or play. I let my son know that I was going to walk down and scout it out, maybe get a shot or two of the water while we waited. When I walked down to the access point, just beyond the trees, in the center of the Creek, stripped down to their shorts and digging around for rocks in the water, were the two boys. What were they looking for, I wondered? Crawdads maybe. But it couldn’t be, there was very little, alive in this water. They didn’t see me and I didn’t really make myself known – I just went about my business. But it did strike me as odd and at the same time, thought maybe this would be good for the film, so I pointed the camera in their direction and pulled the trigger for a few seconds.

A few minutes later, one of them must have seen me. By then I’d decided to pack up and wander back to the car. They seemed quick to get out of the water and get dressed. It was one of those uncomfortable situations where I sort of felt like starting up a conversation but at the same time didn’t have a great vibe about the whole thing and decided not to ask any questions.

Back at the car parking area and Jim and Dana arrived. I shared the story about the boys and a surprised look came over Rebecca’s face. “Where are they, what did they look like, what were they doing?” she asked. Apparently I’d stumbled into an ongoing issue and caught two kids red-handed that were doing something they were not supposed to be doing – and I had it on film! As was explained, these same two boys had dammed up the Creek last season to create a swimming hole. On top of the toxic metal levels in the water, the water became stagnant and concentrated with dangerous levels of bacteria. In addition, all posted signage had suspiciously been removed by “somebody.” The authorities got involved including the Grand River Dam Authority and the Corp of Engineers because, among other things, it is illegal to dam up a flowing waterway – not to mention one that is already highly toxic and not to be swam in. It took the authorities and volunteers months to dismantle the make-shift dam. Rebecca later relayed that she’d encountered the same two boys some time ago, one of them had an axe on his bike, one of them was carrying a holster firearm of some kind.

It wasn’t but a few minutes before Rebecca was on the phone reporting the incident, her son was documenting the area where a few rocks had already been moved into place to create the beginnings of a new dam. And then Rebecca was wading into the water to topple the stones, and remove rocks from the river. “Aaron, come down here and take these,” she said. Immediately, I found myself following orders and helping to ferry stones from the Creek to the hillside.

In the distance was my son digitally recording the live action.

As things finally settled down we were able to re-focus and get back on track with filming. I captured the one or two shots and we moved on to the next location.

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Documentary Film film shoot film update oklahoma film principal photography S8 straight 8 super 8 super 8 film

S8: 22 – 4 Take Care, Tar Creek (Research & Planning)

Research

Screen capture from US EPA website.

Now that I had an idea, my next step would be research. I had a lot of history to cover, a lot of catching up to do on the history of Tar Creek. I spent time reading, discovering scientific articles, news stories, videos, and more. Most of all I’d hope to discover someone to speak to, I needed to have a voice and a perspective of someone who lived in the area. During this process I found LEAD Agency and Executive Director, Rebecca Jim. I reached out to Rebecca explaining what I wanted to do and expressing my interest in meeting with her. This step alone felt like a big one, to reach out and share a vision and to ask someone for their time. In that email I expressed:

I want to focus in an artistic meaningful way on the persistence of life in a region that has experienced so much environmental impact and hardship. This film is not intended as a commercial piece, rather as a personal project of interest with the possibility of exhibition at international film festivals.  

I was pleasantly surprised that she returned my email quickly and enthusiastically.

Story & Planning

Roughed out narration/script from my Notes app. (Didn’t end up using this.)

After making contact and receiving confirmation that I’d have someone to interview, I was anxious to get going. Maybe a little too anxious. At this point I felt like there were some major piece in place to create a production but didn’t really have a fully fleshed out story yet.

So much of “story” comes from exploration, brainstorming, testing ideas out loud, maybe talking through them, sharing them with others willing to listen – and sometimes, for me, writing my way through a concept. My writings these days often take place spontaneously through the Notes app on my phone. If something strikes me, even a fleeting spark of an idea, I will often make a note of it. Often times I’ve found, the ones I come back to more than once are the ones that have staying power, and end up in the film.

Through all of this, I’d been pondering the angle I wanted to take. i think of this style of film; these short Super 8 films, most akin to a poem in many ways. Knowing that I wouldn’t have time to introduce the entire spectrum and breadth of Tar Creek, this would not be an all encompassing documentary of the area – that’s not what I wanted. This was an opportunity for a singular perspective – and what better than the perspective of Tar Creek itself?

And so I began to think in this way, as if the Creek could speak. Then to begin thinking about titles, because the title could be the essence of the story. So many ideas came to mind, so many titles, but the one that kept coming back up, was “Take Care, Tar Creek.” It was as if the film would be an open-letter from Tar Creek to the world, and then at the end would be the salutation, Take Care, Tar Creek. And credit where credit is due, my wife helped me to solidify that concept when she suggested that the film could begin with “Dear…”

With that, I felt that the film, at least in my mind, presented a bookended concept with what could be a clear beginning, middle and end.

Then, to assemble the pieces in a meaningful way. I’d need music, I’d need some narration and of course, some moving pictures.

More to come on the shooting day, music and more in next posts…

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Documentary film shoot film update S8 straight 8 super 8 super 8 film

S8: 22 – 3 Take Care, Tar Creek (Backstory and Idea)

Colored pencil on brown paper. Illustration by me.

Lots of progress made in a fairly short amount of time. I have been keeping notes and have some information to share over the next few posts.

Backstory

First, a little bit of backstory on where the idea originated. It’s been over 20 years since I visited NE Oklahoma and Picher, OK. Last time I was there was as a student collecting soil samples for a scientific research project associated with my Masters thesis. In that work, I was investigating the relationship between particle size distribution and heavy metal concentrations in chat for extrapolation to potential exposures and health hazards. Even then, I remember feeling like the research I was doing, while useful in some respects, did not convey or communicate any real message, the way I wanted to. I recall having a discussion with my advisor once, about a documentary or story – but at that time it only felt like a pipe-dream, nothing more. Soon after achieving my degree I got my first career-level job, life took over and I moved on to other things. I never forgot about the place, kept up with the headlines, but always wondered if my work made any difference. I kept tabs on issues and followed stories about the area but it wasn’t until recently that I felt like maybe there’s something more to contribute.

Idea

Straight 8 is something I have entered a couple of times before. I’ve always embraced the opportunity to try and think of a concept from nothing, to something, to execution. This year I registered before ever having a real idea. I just felt like the pressure of knowing I’d committed to it would be a good driver of having to come up with something. Going into this one, my mind was actually headed in a completely different direction. I was thinking much more fictional and experimental. I went back to some old notes I’d made years ago and worked through the concept. But the more I thought about it the more I wanted to explore something in a documentary style. I started thinking out loud, talking through it, talking about ideas accessible to me, relevant to Oklahoma. And something that I thought an international audience might find unique or interesting about Oklahoma. This idea was in my wheelhouse – I’d known about Tar Creek, I’d known the challenges there, and the continuing struggles that the place has experienced. So the more I thought about the more it began to seem possible.

What I’ve found many times is that an idea that feels right seems to take on a life of its own. It grows legs and starts to move in a direction that wasn’t necessarily planned. It morphs and evolves into something more, something greater and sometimes, something different. Part of this feels like trying to bridle a mustang. It can get out of control. Trying to get my arms around something with so much weight, so much impact, and such a vast and storied past is difficult – and i felt that right away in approaching this idea for a mere 3 minute and 20 second film. My intent, from the beginning was to create a multi-part story, even a multi-film story. But I’ve since come to accept that I need to handle this one piece at a time. And while I could enter the Straight 8 festival multiple times and have multiple parts, I felt like I would be moving away from the intent of being able to tell a story with only one roll of Super 8 film. Arguably, an even harder task than knowing that I might have more time with multiple entires. The idea was then re-centered on keeping the focus on a single roll.

More to come on the idea in future posts…

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audio-technica ektachrome 64T film update HD TVs Lost in Light nizo 801 polaroid sam bayer shotgun mic

Some new gear

I guess I never wrote about it but I was able to locate and purchase a Nizo 801 Macro on ebay a while back. The camera shipped from Germany and I’m happy to say that it is in great condition.
Unfortunately, I haven’t shot any film with it yet. Though I have continued to use my Zeiss Ikon. I shot a couple more rolls with it and had them developed. They look so great. I’m just shooting the plain old Ektachrome 64T stuff – I haven’t dared to branch out yet into the other types of film – the negative stock and black and white. But I’d really like to – guess I’m just a little bit nervous about spending the money and then wrecking the film. Nothing worse than messing up a perfectly good roll of film by being out of focus or not having the aperture set right.

I’m planning on getting a bunch of film transferred to digital pretty soon here so I can edit it and throw it up on the site.

I’ve also got a couple of other new tools for the arsenal. I bought a Canon HV30 HDV camera. Yes, I know it’s not film. But the fact is that a digital camera can be great for practice shooting and test runs. Plus, for everyday use, it’s way cheaper the shooting a bunch of film. Haven’t shot anything with it yet but I’ll start playing around with it pretty soon.

I also purchased an Audio-Technica shotgun mic. Finally. I say finally because it’s been something that I’ve been trying to talk myself into buying for a while. The idea is to capture the audio on my digital recorder with the shotgun mic while shooting with the Super 8 camera. Then I will sync the sound and image in the editing process. There are all kinds of issues you run into when trying to sync sound with film – especially super 8 film – but as long as I don’t have long runs of dialogue that have to be matched up I should be okay. Much of the speaking in the film I’m gearing up for is done in voice overs.

So, except for the lighting, I pretty much have what I need to shoot this thing. As for the lighting, I will either make due with whatever I can scrounge up and buy from the hardware store or maybe I’ll decide to rent a light package. Not sure yet.

At this point I need to take the pages of notes I have and random sections of character lines and hash out a script. I’m looking at doing a 12 -15 minute film. Though the more I get into the story the more I realize that this really could be a full-blown feature film. I just have to remember everything I’ve ever learned about short film vs. feature films and not try to pack too much in. Keep it concise, to the point, don’t expound too much. Maybe I’ll write the feature version later.

***
On a rather sad note – I learned that Polaroid film is ending their production of instant film. Damn, just another film breed dying. In honor of the death of Polariod instant film – I give you this link – perhaps the only way we’ll be able to remember what Polaroid was.

On another sad note – Lost in Light closed up shop in August – they are no longer doing film transfers. I thought that was a really great project and I was looking forward to sending them some more film. But I would imagine that such a project would be very time intensive so I understand the need to close. Luckily, the site will remain as an archive of the films that are there. I highly recommend checking some of them out.

That brings me to my final point: HD and HD TVs.
After years of having an old Sony TV my wife and I finally broke down and got a beautiful Samsung LCD TV. I was so anxious to pop in a movie and see how wonderful it would look. But I was shocked to find that the resolution seemed TOO HIGH! It completely destroyed the film appearance. I felt more like I was watching a soap-opera. It was as if I were looking through the eyepiece of a video camera and capturing the action myself. It was so distracting that I could not get involved in the movie. The images were flat, one dimensional, lifeless, fake, plastic. Where was the texture, the motion, the fluidity? It was gone, resolved into millions of pixels until the medium appeared non-existent. What a disappointment. Now I’ve got this damn TV and I have to find a way to make the best of it. Maybe I’ll mess with the settings some and see if I can “fix” the image. Seeing this only heightens my commitment to using film.

I found this link about Sam Bayer recently that made me feel better about shooting film. Here’s one of the videos he did.