After about 20 hours at play rehearsals, over two and half hours of interview footage and probably nearly 15 hours of editing, my video is finally done. Now, if you are intimidated by the half hour-long video that lies above these lines, never fear. I also broke down my video into a nine-part playlist which you can view here.
So, a few days ago in a journalism class, a guest speaker mentioned a behind-the-scenes article he did for another article. He had some sort of term for it... something with "nerd" in the title. I liked the idea, and decided to go with it. If you couldn't guess, I am a big fan of the behind the scenes stuff.
I first heard about the play back in April, when the production was cast. I had known Chris, who plays Charlie, since last year, and knew he was auditioning for the show. When I asked him what the show was about, all I got out of him was "It was an off-Broadway play that starred Matthew Broderick." Fast forward about two months, when I was hired to work for Student Media Interactive. All summer, I brainstormed ideas to work on for the upcoming school year. I came up with the idea to do a behind-the-scenes of Diederich's student film festival, which takes place in the spring. I really liked the idea, so I started to get antsy. Then, I remembered "The Foreigner" coming up in the fall.
I started pursuing this story about a week before this semester began. I got in touch with the original director of the production, who put me in touch with the costume designer for the show. She and I began trading emails about the logistics of the story: copyright laws, the aim of my story, etc... Eventually, this woman's assistant became my main contact. She asked if I could send along a proposal for my story. This became the biggest hurdle, yet biggest turning point of my story.
I had never written a proposal before. So, I just assumed it was a really basic plan of attack. Turns out that's not what they were looking for. They wanted a detailed outline of my plan. I was frustrated, mainly because I honestly did not have a full plan yet. So, I looked back on some of my old DVDs to find making of documentaries. I came across my "Lord of the Rings" DVDs. I was taken back to my days of being a nerdy 10 year-old watching these movies over and over and over...and over. I also watched the DVD extras plenty of times. I cannot remember a thing about the technical process of the movie production, but I do remember all the stories the cast told about each other and their own experience. Something about the cast's connection with each other drew me to those movies, and continues to do so. Ahhh, inspiration.
I had found my story. I was going to profile the cast of the show. I aimed to create a story where audiences were drawn to the play because they had fallen in love with its cast. To do this, I needed to observe multiple rehearsals. For the first rehearsal, I just observed. I told my contacts that I wanted to do that to get a feel for how rehearsals ran, before I started to film. Now that was partially true. The other reason being I was sort of intimidated by this project. Great way to start off, right?
First thing first, I was super intimidated by the copyright laws. Due to laws the cast and crew had to follow, I could not include more than small bytes of scenes or shots with no dialogue in my video. I agreed to these terms, obviously, but I was very worried this could affect my story. So, I spent that first rehearsal taking notes and just watching. Honestly, I am still intimidated by those laws. I hope I followed them okay...
Eventually, I got into the swing of things. I saw scenes repeated enough and the stage manager was kind enough to give me a script, so I knew the story pretty well. I got to the point where I knew exactly when to have a closeup on what actor and what scene will produce great improvised reactions from the characters. As of now, I think I am up to four full views of the show, and will be seeing the show one last time on Saturday night. Needless to say, I think I know the play well enough to be an understudy for any character. The offer stands through the end of the run. Filming rehearsals became natural for me.
In the beginning, it was suggested that I catch the cast in between scenes to use for my video. The first few rehearsals, I did not concern myself with this. I wanted to get enough footage of the play itself to give myself a solid foundation to work with. Eventually, I became really concerned with finding time to interact with the cast. I never found the right time. When the cast wasn't on stage, odds are they were in the green room, relaxing or working on homework. I didn't want to be in their faces during a much needed break. If they weren't in the green room, they were most likely silently sitting in the theatre, watching the current scenes or quietly running through lines. I started to freak myself out that lack of candid video with them would ruin my video. I came to the realization that this is just not how the story would be. It would basically just be interviews. I worried that I lost my chance for a great story. Would this be a completely dry documentary? An utter waste of time?
I began to interview the cast two weeks ago. I went into the interviews really worried, once again. My story was riding on the fact that I needed good interviews. I had to make their personalities shine through a few minutes of interview. I actually had pretty much the same set of interview questions for each of the seven cast members. I'm not sure if that was the best strategy, but that was just kind of how it happened. On my first day of interviews, I interviewed one cast member. It was my shortest interview, as I expected. The next day I had two interviews – from arguably two of the chattiest members of the cast. On my last day of interviews, I talked with the remaining 4 cast members.
It actually was not until my second to last interview that I realized I had a good thing going. When I asked Ben, who plays Froggy, about fellow cast member Armando, who plays Owen, he told me a story about Miranda Sings. Ben also gave me an imitation of Armando impersonating Miranda's falsetto. Armando was my next interview. I kept thinking: "please bring up Miranda Sings..." Sure, I could have asked him about it, but I wanted it to be natural. Lo and behold, when I asked Armando what happens in between scenes, he mentioned Miranda Sings. But then he said, "it's really boring, you don't want to hear about that..." I quickly stopped him and said that I did. So, Armando gave me a taste of his own singing chops and did a little Miranda for me. It was at this moment I realized that I was actually capable of pulling this thing off.
I knew had developed a good story. That sort of became a problem. When I get into something, I tend to go a little overboard. For example, videos for Student Media Interactive are supposed to be about two and a half minutes long. My initial cut of this video was 41 minutes long. I hesitantly brought the video to my editors on Monday. They knew the video would be long, but I'm not sure they realized it would be this long. After some thought, they rightfully told me I needed to cut it down. They also suggested to break it up into segments, for a simpler Youtube upload and viewing experience.
At first, it broke my heart a little bit to edit the story. I become way too attached to my stories. But then, I realized my editors were right. It was much better shorter. Last night at work, I spent my whole shift uploading videos, and finished when I was covering another story. After about a month and a half of living with this story in my head, it was finally a real thing. And I'm not going to lie. It was a beautiful thing to see my nearly 3 month-old idea become an actual documentary.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
I put my nine-part documentary into a playlist on YouTube. I quietly promoted it by putting each piece on Facebook. Yeah, putting nine videos on Facebook and tagging each cast member is actually quiet promotion for me. Just wait until I finish this blog post. I was met with positive feedback from the cast. I was really relieved. Since I have become so obsessive with editing, I was worried that the fact that I could not fix every minor detail within the videos would ruin them completely.
Overall, this has been an awesome experience. I feel like I say that after every major project I do, but it's true. The specific field of journalism I have chosen allows me work closely with processes I find to be fascinating and fun, and meet some great people in the process. As I have said before, I think this story is the closest I have gotten to real-world journalism. I was only around for about half of rehearsals, but seeing the cast grow and the set slowly come to life was awesome. Completely true and embarrassing fact: I almost got a little choked up during the first and final scenes of dress rehearsal, when everything was finally in place. Yeah, it's true, I become way too invested in these stories. But there was something completely magical in watching this production come together before my eyes.
If you can't tell, I highly recommend the play. Only a couple more days left in its run! And I hope you give at least part of my video of view before you check it out.