Working on a strategy to continue the storytelling at Tar Creek. Looking to produce a 4-6 episode series that could be picked up by one of the big streaming services. Looking for interested parties and/or producers that might be able help me see this through.
Working on the script for this concept, based on my recently completed short film of the same title.
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.
Back at the LEAD Agency office at 12:00pm to meet with Executive Director, Rebecca Jim. She gave us a full tour of the home-office, which felt like a combination library, history center, and art studio. We shared some stories and I handed her a copy of my decades old thesis work. (As a side note, was nice of her to ask about it, it’s rare that anyone has any interest in my old scientific research.)
My son and I worked together to set up the audio recording device (used an H1n Zoom portable recorder device) – just propped up on a tape dispenser. I’ve done a few interviews but this one was already going to be different than ones before. Through previous correspondence, both email and over the phone, I’d expressed that, if possible, I’d like to use her voice, her words, as the narration. I’d written a script – or at least pieces of one – as a guide but I didn’t necessarily want her to read from a script. I wanted this to be an interview. But an interview as if I was speaking with Tar Creek. In other words, I was essentially asking if she could be the voice of Tar Creek. A tall order in some sense, and something that might make someone uncomfortable, or even unsure about how to approach such a request. Was this acting or was this an interview?
Rebecca then asked me a question, “Do I have your permission to speak for her?” I wasn’t sure how to answer. Who was I to give permission? But then I supposed that the question was posed to put me in a similar position as she felt, that we were in agreement that this would be the arrangement, and so I answered that, yes, she had my permission.
Her voice softened, her mood changed, and she spoke from the creek’s perspective. The best I can describe it is that she was channeling what she felt the area and the creek would have felt – not just at one point in time but at different points in time along the way. We were time traveling through history and Tar Creek, as spoken through Rebecca, was guiding us. It was meaningful, and powerful, and heartfelt. And sometimes I felt like the questions I was asking were disjointed, and unclear, and messy. And I was wishing that I was doing a better job in asking the questions but still, we were moving forward and carried along, as if by the current of the Creek itself. At the conclusion she said that the whole experience was very touching for her, and that it was difficult. And I could tell that it difficult. And listening back over the audio the intensity comes through. In total the interview was about 38 minutes long.
To sidestep just a bit, in terms of the technical aspects of the recording I was worried. The room was not great for sound quality. There was loud truck traffic right outside, her voice was very quiet at times, and all the while I was worrying that the recording just wasn’t going to turn out.
After we left the interview and went back to filming the rest of scenes I expressed to my son that I was nervous about the sound quality. He insisted I take a moment and listen back to it, just to check, otherwise I would be worried about it the rest of the day. It was good advice because once I heard the recording I realized that, while there would be some editing, and filtering, it was going to be useable.
I was excited to get going with shooting the film. I coordinated, at a moment’s notice, to drive to the site the following weekend. But as the day neared closer part of me realized I wasn’t fully prepared. Then as the weather forecast materialized it became apparent that this chosen weekend wasn’t going to work anyway. In retrospect, it was a good thing that the shoot got delayed a week. It gave me time for more preparation, more planning, and additional clarity.
When the time came, I was able to talk my son into coming with me. it’s about a 3-4 hour drive from my home up to NE Oklahoma. Along the way we talked about the plan, the film, and all the possible scenarios.
The thing about shooting a film “the Straight 8 way” is that, no matter how much planning you do, there is always the possibility for error. Unlike other films/videos where you can go in “in post” and fix it, there is no possibility of that with this type of film. If it is in frame when you are pulling the trigger, it’s on the film. No matter what. If it’s out of focus, if it’s too dark or too bright, if the lens cap is on, if your “talent” misses the take – that’s it! No retakes.
That feeling, knowing that the opportunity for error is always present, and yet you still have to proceed, to the best of your ability, to capture what you want, how you want it, and get to a watchable end product…well, that is both nerve wracking and incredibly exciting at the same time.
You can have the entire film in your head, or you can have your mind clear and shoot on-the-fly. I have to admit, I do a bit of both.
It was good to have my son there and fun to work with him. In spite of the long drive, the hot Oklahoma summer conditions, and all the little nit-picky details of setting up each shot, timing it, and document it, he was steadfast. I’d go so far as to say, he might have been having fun, at least for a little while. His was there to record me filming each shot – for timing purposes. He was there as a chemical element character in some scenes. He was there for the audio interview recording session. Overall, he did a great job and I was happy and thankful to have him there.
Shooting of the film took place on June 11, 2022. On the way into town, a funny thing; we passed an onion semi-truck that had some kind of malfunction with its trailer and lost its entire load of onions on the two lane blacktop. Traffic was backed up in both directions and the local fire department was spraying the remnants of squished and smeared onions from the asphalt. The pungent sulfuric odor of onion lingered in the air.
We arrived in the town of Cardin at about 11:20am after the long drive. We drove to an area I’d previously located on Google maps days before – I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but had in mind all the elements of the shot. It didn’t take long and we were setting up along the side of the road, chat pile in the background, a barbed wire fence, and an old relic of a sign. So began this non-stop day. Following is the shot list I wrote down – in order of appearance. Times are an estimate based on my own count as I recorded.
Shot list - in order of appearance
Started at 11:20am - Cardin, OK
5 sec - First shot S8 ID# on barbed wire fence
5 sec - Barbed wire, chat hill background
5 sec - U.S. No Trespassing sign
(*At this point went back the LEAD Agency bldg to meet Rebecca for the interview. Picked up these following shots later, after interview and lunch.)
8 sec - Pan shot of chat pile
5 sec - Concrete mine structure 1
5 sec - Another concrete mine structure 2
5 sec - Active mining equipment
>>May be 2-3 individual random frames captured here.
8 sec - Close up of chat material
5 sec - Picher water tower
5 sec - Picher-Cardin memorial sign
5 sec - Picher Gorilla mascot memorial
5 sec - Close up - Summit in Yellow (Pb) shirt
5 sec - Summit - same shirt - at abandoned gas station at State Line
6 sec - Summit in Orange (Cd) shirt - abandoned structure/pillars
5 sec - Long shot of abandoned bldg - “Keep Out
5 sec - Close up of same bldg. with Keep Out more visible
5 sec - Close up of water in foreground - fish?
5 sec - Summit on chat pile (shirt color?)
5 sec - Long shot of chat pile
5 sec - Quapaw sign on fence
5 sec - Tar Creek - water flowing at E Street/Miami Nursing Home access
5 sec - 2 kids in the water moving large concrete/rocks
5 sec - Rebecca at Tar Creek in pink (As) shirt
5 sec - Daniel at tar Creek in red (Pb) shirt
5 sec - Summit at Tar Creek in Yellow (Pb) shirt
5 sec - Aaron at Tar Creek in Orange (Cd) shirt - filmed by Summit
10 sec - Bridge over Tar Creek at Rockdale location
?? - Rebecca downstream shot
?? - Rebecca and Daniel facing camera together in shirts
?? - Water barrel close up at LEAD Agency garden
?? - Rebecca watering garden
?? - Summit back of shirt with title “Take Care, Tar Creek on shirt” follow-shot past a Lead Free Yard sign into the garden
As noted in the shot list, we’d only just begun the film shoot portion when the time came that we needed to go back to Miami to the LEAD Agency office to meet for the interview.
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 was pleasantly surprised that she returned my email quickly and enthusiastically.
Story & Planning
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…
I recently attended the ‘friends, family, and movie-people’ premiere of This May Be The Last Time, a documentary produced by Matt Leach, Sterlin Harjo, and Christina D. King and directed by Harjo. This was the first feature-length film backed by This Land Films a section of This Land Press based in Tulsa, OK. The premiere took place at Circle Cinema in Tulsa on the heels of a successful debut at Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. Here is the posting about the film on the Sundance site.
I was hired to work on the film last year. I worked with the director and producer and other members of the cast and crew to capture re-created historical events that took place decades. Though, there was some original home movie footage of other stuff they could not unearth any archived footage from this particular significant event. So the goal was to re-create several scenes in a manner that might pass for film footage captured in the early 1960s. Super 8 film shot in a hand-held ‘man-on-the-scene’ type way was used to create a stylized, authentic appearance.
Coming into the picture I had seen a rough cut of the film and I understood the scenes and what they wanted to capture.
The shoot was a memorable one for me as many of the shots took place with me standing in the North Canadian River with a camera in my hand. All told we shot 7 rolls of film that day at 24 fps which amounted to about 17 minutes of film. The film stock was Agfachrome 200D Color Reversal film and shot on a Canon 814 XLS.
The intention was to use about 5 minutes of the footage. I was happy to see that every roll of film turned out wonderfully; good light, good focus, and framing. Plenty of the footage made it into the final film and the trailer.
I was happy to have been given the opportunity to share in this experience. The documentary is beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting, all at the same time…it’s a story worth watching.
Posted below is the official trailer for the film:
I added a new film to my Vimeo channel last night. This one is from the Oklahoma State Fair this year and features my fam at the livestock barns and at the midway. This was the first time I used my “nicer” camera at the fair. I used my Canon 814 XLS to shoot the footage. I shot on Kodak 500T Color Negative film. The soundtrack is from live recording at the fair using my Edirol R-09.
Taking my Super 8 camera and filming a roll or two has become a new tradition for me. I have been doing this for 7 or 8 years now and it makes me wish that I’d been doing it since my first visit there. I think the color and movement of film really captures the authenticity of being there.
This was also the first footage I’ve edited using Final Cut Pro X. I just downloaded the trial version yesterday and was able to quickly cut together the footage and the soundtrack without any real problems – which was great. I was a little hesitant about the interface to begin with but it turns out it was more intuitive than I originally thought. I didn’t search any help documents, just went right to work. Granted, there were no real edits within the film as I like to keep the film “whole” and as uncut as possible. But I did add titles, credits, and a layered audio track. Looking froward to playing around with FCP-X some more. Migration from FCP-7 looks imminent.
I received word that a film that I did some Super 8 film work for has been accepted to Sundance. The documentary film This May Be the Last Time, directed by Sterlin Harjo and Produced by Matt Leach, both of This Land Films, will be shown at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 16-26.
Here is the announcement on the This Land Films website:
Here is the short description of the film on the Sundance website:
“This May Be the Last Time / U.S.A. (Director: Sterlin Harjo) — Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s Grandfather disappeared mysteriously in 1962. The community searching for him sang songs of encouragement that were passed down for generations. Harjo explores the origins of these songs as well as the violent history of his people.”
My contribution to the film was minimal in terms of the overall production but I had a fun experience working with these guys, the talent and other crew. I was hired to shoot several rolls of film as a part of the film that re-created a specific historical event. I shot the film using a Canon 814 XLS and Agfachrome 200D Reversal film stock. The film was then digitally transferred and scanned at HD resolution.
I have seen the raw footage but not the final cut of the film – so I’m excited to see how the footage was integrated into the story.
Congratulations to all those involved! We’ll be watching the progress of this film to see the progress it makes.
Looking back over my production notes going back to 2004 I’ve found an evolution of this project. Seems it began as just a “climbing video,” then it made it’s way to something more historical and became a “documentary.” Over those years it has also changed in scope, style and attitude.
Part of the challenge of a project such as this is coming up with the story but at the same time not really knowing where the story is going to take me.
The title changes when I began to branch out and include the entire scope of Oklahoma climbing and bring in multiple types of climbing and people from all over the state. In some cases the thread that binds the climbing community together is very fine – some people climb in relative secrecy without many other knowing exactly what is going on where. Sometimes it’s not until months or years later that word makes it out about so-and-so’s new area or a new route. In terms of the early days of climbing in Oklahoma I think the history ties together a bit better than it does now – there’s just so many more climbers now and the number of opportunities for substantial advances seems more narrow. Then again, I suppose if a 5.15 trad climb was discovered somewhere deep in confines of Charons Gardens, word would spread like wildfire across the prairie.
I’ve dabbled with a number of possible titles, many of which I’ve run by my wife, and some of which I’ve tried out on friends. My brain-storming session on this is never-ending. I’ll think of something in the middle of the night and jolt awake – at the time it sounds like the perfect title. Then I fall back asleep. In the morning I muddle it over and “x” it off the list.
Thematically, there’s so many ways to go and each has its own goods and bads. Problem is I don’t want to slant the picture too far one way or the other. The title needs to speak holistically to a number of elements.
I’ve looked to titles of other documentaries that I admire – The Fog of War, The Bridge, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Vertical Frontier, American Movie – none of them speak entirely about the subject matter but tend to be more representative of a greater agenda.
So this is it! It’s been a long road to get to this point but the premiere of The Good Soldier is Friday, June 11 at 10 pm at the IAO Gallery in Oklahoma City, OK. It is part of the deadCenter Film Festival.
If you can make it please come on down and check it out.
If you wish to buy a complete festival pass they are $75. Or you can by a single ticket the day of the show for $10 at the door.
Go to the deadCenter schedule and scroll to Friday, June 11th at 10 pm. The Good Soldier is showing as part of “The X-Files” program. Here you can click on the film link, create an account for a calendar, and rate the film after you see it.