A podcast about movie making and the scifi featurette, Daughter of God, with Director Shri Fugi Spilt, (Dan Kelly). Giving up and getting out on the Water.
Welcome to Daughter of Godcast, stories about the making of the longest little movie ever, Dan Kelly’s first featurette, 11 years in the making, now 22 weeks into the gentle release. Episode 022, Water.
Many first features are never finished. They are abandoned, the writer / producer / director just gives up, maybe they start a new project or else stop making movies entirely.
At the beginning of 2009, I said I was taking a sabbatical from Daughter of God, handing over the project to trusted allies, redirecting my energy towards higher priorities. Simpler to say, I gave up.
Episode 020 and 021 detailed 2008’s abrupt ending of treasured friendships, the heartbreak out my back window, loss of performance clients, the dip in the economy. Bitter resentments building in the Prospect Heights Community Farm. Discouraging mojo was seeping into my Brooklyn life.
DOG’s post production process seemed endless. I wanted to make the movie I set out to make, not some amateurish blob of slag. The distance between where Daughter of God was and what I envisioned completion looking like was still hundreds of hours away. Perhaps thousands.
The temptation is to get all introspective and reveal a monumental epiphany, an introspective insight, but basically I lost heart. I had come smack up against a sort of internal void, a dearth of self worth. The attempt to complete DOG had defined the frontiers of my fortitude and gumption. I had exhausted the exploit of conjuring external reasons to feel good.
Out of gas and coasting to a stop. In late 2008, I got the call.
My friend Kai had an idea. In 2001, he had sailed his little 26′ Westerly Centaur sloop Desire from San Diego to Hawaii, solo. A monumental achievement. After 3 years, Kai had left Desire on top of a lava flow on the Big Island and flown back to the mainland. Now, 8 years later, he wanted to get Desire seaworthy again, and then take her on a cruise around the islands before sailing her back to Seattle. Was I interested in sailing with him around the Hawaiian islands and collaborating on a documentary about sustainability?
Was I… what?!
I didn’t want to only engage, I wanted to awaken. That was the jist of the why make movies rant in Episode 021. Movies were my direct connection to hundred of thousands, millions maybe even billions of humans, all discovering the exhilaration and freedom of being fully alive. I was only just beginning to know this exhilaration and freedom. I knew I could know, I fully expected I was on the path of discovering or creating (pick one) an ecstatic presence.
What’s great about telling this story is I imagine you, the listener, you’ve got to be asking yourself the question, what does Dan Kelly actually know, now? He’s telling these stories as if he’s Paramahansa Yogananda, writing his autobiography. Like he’s leading up to something big, but he’s hasn’t done any TED talks, he’s not a famous teacher like the Dali Lama or even Tony Robbins. Is this all some sort of elaborate bluff? On and on with these stories, where’s it all going?
These are just supposed to be fun stories about deciding to really live. Well, of course, there’s the movie Daughter of God. That’s on the menu. I’m telling these stories, as raw and real as I can not to emphasize my exceptional achievements and character, nor impart my lofty wisdom upon you, nor offer advice about life or even movie making. I am just a guy and DOG is obscure, unknown.
What I choosing to do here on the Daughter of Godcast is have a superlative experience right now and share this with whoever wants to come along. The specifics of my crazy path may or may not be relevant to you, my experiment here is to show that the path appears when we decide to walk it. And how everything then betters. I offer myself as the prototype, the proof of concept.
I’m having such fabulous adventures. Feeling more and more. Getting access to incredible assets and capabilities. In the right nows, from 2004 to the present. Yes, there’s a grand finale, there’s the screening of this kooky little cult movie I and a few dozen others made. There’s also our grand Earth epic, all of us riding around on a giant self aware starship, so big we don’t even know she’s a ship or even alive. Some of us have forgotten that we are riding through the cosmos on the back of a mother whale.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Here’s how I become me. That’s every autobiography ever written. I set out making Daughter of God to have a phenomenal life, to live my dreams. This is the story of what happened after I made that decision. And maybe you can ask yourself, “Have I made that decision too?” I recommend you do. “Come on in, the water’s fine.” That’s what this podcast is all about.
So walking away from Daughter of God, from 4 years of work, 10s of thousands of dollars invested, my own hopes and aspirations and maybe everyone else who helped, back burnered. A new movie – traveling the Hawaiian Islands on a Mad Max sailboat, searching for sustainability.
I was admitting that I wasn’t enough yet, that I didn’t have enough power to finish Daughter of God. I wanted to finish, but more to the point, I wanted to be the kind of person who could finish. I wanted to be more, fiercely. I’d do anything to be more.
After making Some Almonds Are Harder to Skin than Others, I knew I wanted to be outside, in the wilds. I wanted Earth to speak to me directly. I could feel the Earth calling. The planet was becoming ever more prominent in my awareness. Wilderness has always been a source of inspiration and awakening.
I knew somehow, that my more was outside.
Kai and I began to correspond and build a project blog, On Desire.
Move a tiny island and call it a boat. Wrap a world with water and call it an island. Sprout a colossal starship from rock and sunshine and call it Earth. Boat as island, island as planet, planet as boat.
I had decided not to take a jet plane to Hawaii, or maybe anywhere ever again, thanks to Jeff Gibbs. The plan was Amtrak to California and then hitch a ride on a boat from the mainland to the islands. Any boat. First though, I needed to either sublet my apartment or failing that, to give it up entirely. A sublet means having a person or persons to live in the apartment and pay the rent while you’re away. I could easily be done with New York City, done with Brooklyn. If the city wanted me back, then a trust worthy sublet would have to be provided.
I also needed to fund the production of the Hawaii expedition. I put my car and extra production gear on Craigslist.
I made trips to Beulah in January and March, laying the ground work for my Brooklyn exodus. In late May I still didn’t have a sublet but I had sold my Odyssey and lots of hard drives. I was transferring the entirety of my Brooklyn life to a rented Penske box truck. While carrying boxes down to the street, I got a call from the twenty something Belarussian badass Anastasia from episode 017 asking if she could sublet for the summer. Talk about last minute. The city wanted me back after all.
My one remaining cat, Kitty Boy and I struck out for Michigan on May 25. Cat two, Tordie was on permanent loan to friend Cynthia who had relocated to Brooklyn.
Through June, my efforts to find a boat ride across the Pacific Ocean were enthusiastic and resourceful. I had asked Steve Jobs to give the project a laptop, and he had. How hard could hitching a boat ride be? I reached out to the Transpac sailing race from San Diego to Hawaii, Greenpeace, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, sailing forums and the container ship company Horizon.
Kai had found his way back to the Big Island. His report on the condition of Desire wasn’t encouraging.
12:25 PM 6/20/09 hst – Kona dry dock (again) [snip] here I am back in the same relative place again. Desire is a shambles bordering on a disaster. The three years of dry heat, volcanic sand storms, intense UV, salt, ozone, acid rain from the volcano and, (don’t forget) the bees, have not been kind to her. Rubber is melting, turning to tar. The other day I picked up a graduated plastic cup that I use to mix paint and epoxy. It shattered in my hand like glass. The bilges were full of rain water and diesel: rain water from all of the leaky deck fittings and diesel from a fuel hose somewhere between the engine and fuel tank. The whole outside of the boat is coated with a chalky white UV ray oxidation of the paints and fiberglass, metal corrosion from the salt and acid rain and a fine black grit everywhere from the volcanic soil blowing around. [snip] Sans transport, I do what I can with the boat. More bad news – the entire battery system is essentially fucked. I can’t get any of the radios to power up even with the charger on full blast. I need to replace all 5 batteries in the 3 separate banks I have set up on ‘Desire’. At this rate she’s sinking faster than I can bail her out. Thank the powers that be that she’s sitting solidly on her keels on a relatively stable concrete pad here in the Kona boat yard
Meanwhile, back in Benzie County, Michigan.
Alan Vigland in Benzonia was selling his family’s 16′ Hobie Catamaran. I had sailed my family’s 14′ Hobie my entire life, but I’d only been on a 16′ a couple of times. 16s are much more robust boats, with 2 sails, a main and a jib and a trapeze that allow the crew to use thier bodies as a counter weight to keep the boat from flipping in high winds by . When in harness and “on the wire” a sailor’s only contact with the Hobie would be through their feet on the edge of the trampoline and their hands on tiller (for steering) and the main and jib lines (for trim / speed), the rest of their body would hang out over the open water. Being on the wire is a wild rush. On June 30, my nephew Patrick and I bought the Hobie 16 for $400 as a fun restoration project.
I told Jeff Gibbs about my trouble getting to Hawaii, and the decrepit state of Desire. Jeff’s response was, why are you going all the way to Hawaii, do something locally.
I had already told the entire world I was going to sail the Hawaiian Islands to make a movie about sustainability. Shit. What could I do locally that was even nearly as epic? I remember looking out in the driveway, and noticing I had a 16 foot Hobie Cat sitting on a trailer there.
On 07/01, I announced Around Lake Michigan via the ondesire.com blog.
Dan Kelly is an artist, bon vivant and filmmaker. In 2007, Dan solo camped for 5 days on Lake Michigan’s North Manitou Island and shot ‘Some Almonds Are Harder to Skin that Others’, a poetic manifesto for nature worshipping tricksters. Dan has watercolored his way around India, developed software for kids and made a slew of brilliant short films you’ve never heard of. His semi hilarious blog Holy Boners chronicles his process. In September 2009, Dan will launch his one man sustainability circus, sailing solo Around Lake Michigan aboard the $400 Hobie Cat, Hello World.
Lake Michigan is an inland sea, standing on the shores of Elberta or Point Betsie, there’s no chance of seeing the western shore 80 miles across, the curvature of the earth takes Wisconsin below the horizon. The storms on Lake Michigan can be very intense. There are many ship wrecks around the coasts, dating from 1800’s to the present. Massive 600 foot ore carriers still ply her waters, often on auto pilot. I would be sailing the Big Lake on a 16′ catamaran.
I named her Hello World, a nod to my days of writing code. A novice programmer’s first program is to print “Hello World” to the screen. This would be her and my first long journey on open water.
Patrick and I had two months to ready Hello World for the Big Lake. She was 30 years old and the Viglands had sailed her hard. She had sustained damage from what we assumed was a trailer accident. The stern of her starboard hull was stove in and one of the trampoline’s aluminum corner brackets was cracked. She had dings and dents on her hulls and needed new sails. She was in fact, in pretty rough shape.
We knew very little about fiberglass repair and Hobie restoration, but we learned, oh yes. Much respect to West Systems, West Marine, along with members of the Hobie Forums, YouTube and Murrays Sports.
Around Lake Michigan
The mini-movie Evolution squeezes two months into 3 minutes – the frenetic efforts by Dan and Patrick to restore Hello World and prepare for a September launch. This included organizing navigation, camping, maintenance and production kits. With the help of the Barnes family we trailered her to Elberta’s public access, where I half sailed and half paddled her out of Betsie Bay and then over to the launch party on Elberta Beach.
The awesome rendition of Holst’s the Planets was performed by the Traverse Symphony Orchestra
A plucky band of party professionals spent the night on the beach. The next morning while prepping for launch, Larry Kinney illustrated Around Lake Michigan’s central premise with a story about an American Astronaut aboard the Mir space station.
Over the next couple of days, I sailed north to Pyramid Point, ready for the crossing to my sweet goddess, North Manitou Islandand her western shore, just south of Crescent City.
Then further north to the tip of the island, in an bid to cut west to Traverse City, where Jeff Gibbs was waiting to shelter me for a couple of days. Here I would iron out the last remaining wrinkles, and then strike out for Beaver Island and the Upper Penninsula, passing the point of no return.
You’ve been listening to the Daughter of Godcast, episode 022, Water. I am having so much fun reviving the Around Lake Michigan project for this podcast. There’s a lot of latent magic here, which was demonstrated when Kai called me tonight as I was about to record this episode, after not talking for 6 or so years. I had sent him a question on Facebook and he just decided to call. We talked for about an hour.