Friday, August 15, 2008

All Those Hours Rolling Tape on Their Yammering Just Might Pay Off

This documentary that I worked on -- gosh, must have started in 2004 and run through 2005, 2006, to spring of 2007, and then editing seriously began -- finally is coming out. Go to and check it out. You’ll have to paste that link in your browser’s address bar. Can’t be leaving a link trail, see. Do watch the preview linked off that page, it’s good.

I happen to know that the first couple of edited versions sucked balls. All this brew-ha-ha about moving this house was about as exciting as watching its paint peel naturally, over years, like the skin on my rash-striken foot, down to the original layers laid well before our nation’s birth. Also, I was always upset that they wouldn’t let me hide the body mics. So, I apologize to you, a potential viewer, for the visibility of the microphones. Everyone was too uptight to let me fool with their shirts much. They said they speak in front of people all the time and wear those things, so they could put them on themselves. I didn’t really let them do it themselves, but I did have to slap the mics on them quickly and call it art.

One day, probably summer of ‘07, I was driving home from some other hot outdoor gig, oozing sweat into the cloth seats of my car, and my phone rang. It was the producer, and he said, “I’ve got news. Are you sitting down?”

“Are we gonna get paid?” I said.

“We’ve redone Midway. And it’s good," he said.

And it is pretty darn good, if I may say so. Even if it doesn’t tell the real story about the strife in the family; the reputed failed attempts to farm the land; the need to sell the land and move the house just to stay solvent; the fact that a bypass was being built that would relieve the traffic troubles on the road and reduce the need to move the house anyway; the old jealousies and bitterness that kept the brothers and other family members away on the actual moving day . . .

. . . the intrinsic desire on the part of the homeowner to fire people. One of the main carpenters slated to work on reconstruction after the house was moved, and shown in the movie before the move, was fired and did not actually work on reconstruction.

. . . and one of our production assistants was blamed for the drive shaft on the primary towing truck shearing apart because it was said that he hollered something that sounded like “Ho.” Coming from the boss-man, “Ho” meant “Stop,”which is what the drivers of the two winch trucks which provide auxiliary pulling-power via stranded steel cables did, though nobody knows whether “Ho” was spoken or not, or who said it if it was. When they stopped pulling, the entire weight of the house was left to be born by the main towing truck, causing its drive shaft to shear and a production assistant to be fired, whether it was his fault or not.

But little pity goes to the drive shaft and the folks who paid for extra working time. I had to dive under the house while it was moving because my cameraman did and I was tethered to him by audio cable. We got those awesome shots of its underside moving overhead, like a close encounter with a blue whale. The moving workers were accustomed to all this and spent whole days walking along underneath the house watching the various clusters of wheels to be sure that the hydraulics were working properly. Each set of wheels supported the house on a hydraulic piston, and the pistons were linked by hoses which distributed the fluid among them. The way I understood it, if the ground rose under one set of wheels, it pushed these wheels upward against the piston supporting the house. This pushed hydraulic fluid to other pistons -- or maybe just the opposite corner piston -- which extended to keep equal force on all portions of the house.

Those guys walking under the house also had big levers and ratchets and chains. They would watch all the wheels very carefully to see if any were being pulled out of alignment. The house moved so slowly that they had time to do this as it moved. If some wheels strayed, they worked the levers and tightened chains on the ratchets and pulled the wheels back into line.

When the house first started to move, with us under it, it let out a groan like some monster in a Tolkien movie, and I wished like hell that we had ordered a stereo mic to capture a better sound field. Even so, with only the shotgun mic capturing house noises, I was told that the folks at the answer print screening asked if the house noises had been Foleyed. “No,” the producer told them. “It was [Elrond Hubbard] who got those sounds on the day.”

I had to remind the producer that I did not work on any house moving days after it reached the halfway point which was a holding area in a field. Indeed, really, I only worked on about a third of all the footage that made it into the movie. Other sound guys did the other days -- and, lots of days, 2 or 3 of us worked simultaneously. I think all of us can be glimpsed in the movie at various times. My appearance is near the end, when the elderly Black man is brought to the house by his son for the party to celebrate the house on its new ground. He enters the house and, beyond him down the hall, you can see me cross in the background. Exciting, I know. That’s worth the price of your ticket.

On one of the moving days that I did not work, the audio guy in my place disconnected himself from the cameraman when he dove under the house. That audio guy wasn’t going under there -- not on his pay scale. I should have been that smart. But going under the house was not the most dangerous thing.

The most dangerous place to be was what should have been a no-man’s land, the area right in front of the main towing truck between the stranded steel winch cables going to the auxiliary trucks. That same fearless cameraman was hanging out in that space, getting exciting shots of the slowly turning wheels, the taught cables. The audio guy saw a steel cable making little jumps like a self-vibrating guitar string, dust popping out of the little grooves between strands. He hollered for everyone to look out just as that cable broke and flew BAM into the metal shield on the back of its winch truck. No one was hurt. But remember how that drive shaft was broken? When one towing vehicle stops towing, the weight goes to the others. Right away, the other winch started jumping in the same manner. It too broke and went BAM against the back of its winch truck.

I wasn’t there that day. Someone’s head could have been ripped off by that flying cable, but no one was hurt. Nobody talks about this, and the incident did not make it into the movie.

Other things I did not work on were the sit-down interviews with the filmmaker’s mom. But I did do the audio where she’s riding in the SUV past the shopping center that has been built on the former plantation. I was actually driving and running audio at the same time, looking down at the mixer on the floor between seats, maybe wearing headphones on one ear. Bully for me.

I worked on very little of any scenes or interviews with the NYU professor, though I did do one near Washington Square which I don’t think made it into the movie.

I did work on countless interviews with the house owners in their living room, before the house was moved, much of which never made it into the movie.

I worked on the interview with the owner/husband’s brother who said, “It’s dumb as shit.” He had a lot of good lines. His kids play with lawnmower engines and make go-carts that go 40 mph. A third brother dumps old lawnmowers in their yard for the kids to play with, and he wishes he wouldn’t. We spent two days at the coast shooting him and his artwork and looking for the third brother to shoot but not finding him. We stayed at the family beach house and shot the filmmaker there, but that footage was never used. Someone else had to go back on a different tripo and do the interview with the third brother, the one wearing the paper crown in the movie.

I worked on an interview with Lee Smith and Hal Crowther which did not make it into the movie.

Some stuff in there I don’t remember whether I worked on.

Oh, that conversation between the filmmaker and the owner/husband in the front yard, before the house was moved, talking about the traffic and how the house would be moved, I did work on. That plays pretty well in the movie, after editing.

But you know, you can’t really tell the truth in a documentary because someone’s feelings will be hurt. This is why we have fiction. Tell the truth but change the names and the hair color and nobody gets hurt.

So if you want to see this piece of narrative partial truth and fiction, please come to the Raleigh premiere on September 19 at the Rialto.

1 comment:

Jessica T. said...

Thanks for leaving a comment on my Blog. I read of your involvement in Moving Midway ... and I do love it how you say you can't really tell the truth in a documentary ... because that is SO true!
Proud to shop at the same template store as you -- I'm sure I do not know anything about templates yet -- and proud to receive a comment from you, Elrond.
Peace Out -- Jessie