Saturday, March 24, 2012

Written Words and Moving Images

Earlier this month, I went back to the city of Minamisoma to film an update about how the people I filmed last year were doing, and Katsuyoshi Ueno, a writer for PAPERSKY, traveled with me.

It was both the first time for me to have someone watching me film and also the first time for me to see a writer working in the field. We each had our own interests and topics we wanted to focus on, and this added an interesting dynamic to the experience.

As Ueno-san and I worked, we interacted with the people we were interviewing on different and complementary levels, and it created a really interesting atmosphere. At first I was a little concerned that the people we interviewed might feel slightly overwhelmed having two of us asking them questions, but I needn't have worried. Ueno-san and I worked together, sometimes interviewing people separately and sometimes passing the "director baton" back and forth. It was not something we decided before we started working; it just sort of seemed to develop, and interestingly, our style naturally changed to suit each person we interviewed.

This also provided me the unusual opportunity to see and compare how Ueno-san, as a writer, and I, as a filmmaker, would approach the same subject. How would we each present the powerful, important and very personal story of a woman we had both interviewed?

What would each of us choose as the main focus of her story, and in what style would we choose to tell it? How would we edit her interview (nearly 50 minutes) into a story that could be read or a short documentary that could be watched in several minutes?

Alison Nemoto appeared at the end of the second part of my recent three-part documentary series, "In the Zone: One Year Later" (full series here and part two, in which Alison appears, here). Ueno-san's story about Alison was published yesterday in PAPERSKY under the title, "Alison Nemoto: Still in the Gloom" (picture below linked to the article).

When I am filming and editing, I am always aware of how a person's facial expressions and non-verbal cues add depth to an interview, and I wondered if I would miss that in a printed article. After reading and re-reading Ueno-san's article, I have been fascinated to find and examine how these also exist in writing; how the emphasis is changed as the topics are re-ordered, how the choice of words emphasizes certain ideas, how cues in the written word help us to conjure up images in our brains. Perhaps I always instinctively knew this, but it has been a wonderful learning experience to see it at work in a direct comparison.

If pictures are worth a thousand words, then I am certain that written words are worth a thousand moving images.

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