Young Cuban ballerinas learning to dance
Experimental astrophysicists looking for gravity waves
Widows in Nova Scotia fishing for lobsters and snow crabs,
Children learning to sing
I film people who are good at what they do.
I love to watch how people move; how muscles flow. Movement only exists within time of course. This is why I focus on movement; It increases my chances of shooting something cinematic, as opposed to something cerebral, or something better told in written language.
Also, a person's actions can reveal sides of her personality that sometimes complements, sometimes contradicts, her words: the combination encourages character dimensionality.
My job is to honor my film subjects by finding a cinematic way for them to emerge as fully developed complex human beings.
Finally, Form matters as much as Content. In other words, there is no story without composition. And vice versa.
I worked this way unconsciously, for several decades, never bothering to articulate the process. I am not even sure I could. Then I read a manifesto by erstwhile Sundance Documentary Lab Director Tabitha Jackson's MANIFESTO. Read this! She explains the idea perfectly.
Unless a film is commissioned I approach each new project the same way - that is, to film without a plan or an agenda, and then to build a relationship with my film subjects through the process of filming itself.
If enough time passes something will happen. The challenge is to recognize when this Something occurs and then to figure how to shape the film accordingly.
The idea is to form a partnership with my film subjects made up of equal halves. My film subjects reflect the light rays and I scoop those rays up into my lens. Then, I relay this mutual attachment directly to my audience through technique. The cleaner the technique, the more my role as cameraperson disappears, clearing the way for the audience to commune directly with my film subjects.
An aside: This is theory schmeery. When I'm in the midst of filming I have no idea what is going on.
My partnership with my film subjects only works if I film alone, operating both camera and sound. And, as one of Ricky Leacock's protégés, it goes without saying that I film on the fly, without set-up or repeated actions.
John McPhee, Tracy Kidder, Ian Frazier
Kelly Reichardt, Wan Kar Wei, Jim Jarmusch, Agnès Varda, Paul Feig and Satyajit Ray