Why Make Movies?
A podcast about movie making and the scifi featurette, Daughter of God, with Director Shri Fugi Spilt, (Dan Kelly). A new why clarifies the podcast, why make movies?
Greetings wide world, we're deep into the Daughter of Godcast, with me Dan Kelly, writer director and maybe much more, this is the story of the making of the featurette Daughter of God, all about making movies generally and becoming magic and digging this wild ride around the sun and into the future aboard this beautiful Earth, together. Most of us have no idea we're wandering in the deep empty, destination unknown. Probably better that way, bigger surprise when we arrive.
Episode 014 Why Make Movies?
I am lucky to have very strong and servicable feet, I've walked up canyons and down mountains. swam across lakes and danced for hours in the moonlight. How silly I might be to think of my feet as components, like the shoes I wear, for I am my feet. That which I am feels like feet.
I am feeling the blood moving in my feet. Not a booming, throbbing like I have in my abdomen or chest, more like easy waves on a beach, a gentle surge and then receding.
This would make sense, as the feet and hands are extremities, at the end of the long hoses connected to the heart, that steady drum in my personal percussive ensemble.
Just take a moment and check out the feelings of your feet. Pull off your shoes and socks and have a look at your feet, or if your driving, then keep your eyes on the road while noticing you're feet on the pedals, their weight and how sweetly your connected to the vehicle you're in, through your feet and hands on the steering wheel. How is it that we can extend our awareness into steel and rubber and be one with a car? These are all clues should we dare follow them.
I'm telling a little story now about feet. I can't help myself. Is there a plot? A hero? A quest? Maybe just inviting you the audience to think about feet is enough. Hey, imagine... that's the smallest story we can tell.
Feet are incredible, and forgotten. I run barefoot on trails and so I know something about excellent feet and what they are capable of. I think the most I've run barefoot is 18 miles, on a combination of trails and beaches. So I didn't get this next bit from Wikipedia. Unless I'm lying and I might not be.
Feet are optimized to make the most of terrain. If step up on a tree branch across a trail, the shape of my foot changes, wrapping around the cylindrical shape of the branch. If the branch is thin, I receive how much energy the branch absorbs from my weight and I adjust to leverage the branch's rebound when I push off.
There are roots on the trail, and rocks. I was worried about these when I first tried running barefoot, but it turns out feet are smart and know where to go. They just know. Yes I have tripped and stepped on pointy things over the 30 years of running barefoot, but that's been rare. Again, I'm talking about running here, not jogging. Things are whipping by rather quickly. Is it possible to even see all the tiny details of happy foot placement on the trail? My sense is that I'm not so much seeing with my eyes as a I am seeing with my feet.
Running barefoot was my first clue that there might be senses beyond the five I was told about in school.
A couple years into Daughter of God's production, I solo camped on North Manitou Island for about a week, which I've done many times around my birthday. There's a five mile hike from the dock to my favorite camp sites, and along with my tent, sleeping bag, clothes and yummy food, I had brought a camera, tripod and like gear to get footage for the post apocalyptic universe.
One day I had taken a day hike with just some water, snacks and the camera. I was deep in the forest heading back to my camp and the sun was setting. I decided to play a game. I told myself, "These woods are full of trolls! They don't come out until after sunset. Of course, the woods get dark sooner but as long as I am out of the forest by sunset, I'll be fine."
What an epic hike, psyching myself up with the idea of trolls and time running out, the enchanted forest full of danger. I started making contingency plans for what might happen if I was still traveling in the forest at dusk - climb a tree, or quick, fashion some sort of weapon, all the while striding mightily along the path toward the sparkling glow of the departing sun. I emerged from the woods with a little light left and across the wide fields to my camp by the big lake, not a moment to spare.
What's funny is, this little fantasy colored the rest of my stay. Playing in and around the forest, I noticed I was more vigilant and often thought about the trolls, careful to be clear of the shadowed trees before sunset.
By the end of the trip, I'd eaten almost all the food, but my pack was still rather heavy, I'd guess upwards of 70 lbs. The ferry back to the mainland was due in at 10 am the next morning and I set my alarm to be up and out at dawn for the 5 mile hike back.
I awoke at 2 am and couldn't fall back to sleep. I decided, what the heck, I'll just pack and head out, and nap by the boat dock. Up and packed, across the fields with flashlight bobbing and as I approached the forest I remembered, oh no, the trolls! I had forgotten about the trolls. The forest must be full of trolls right now.
I wasn't about to sit at the edge of the forest for hours waiting for first light. There must be another way.
I reckoned that I might be able to sneak by the trolls if I didn't attract attention to myself. I mean what kind of damn fool human would be walking through a forest full of trolls in the middle of the night? That's the last thing they'd expect. As long as I wasn't shining a flashlight all over the place and I kept quiet, I would be invisible. Trolls sense of smell is notoriously poor, but they are drawn to light like bugs. The night was also moonless so the forest would be pitch black.
I played with clenching my fist around my little Maglite so I could completely block the beam, and then spread my fingers slightly to allow a faint red glow of light through flesh. Once I could carefully control the light, I stealthily entered the forest.
After a while, I realized i could navigate by the starlight through the trees and the feel of the ground. I switched off the Maglite and kept a steady pace, slightly elated at the easy flow of hiking blind. Then I stumbled slightly and gently went down, turning to land on the heavy pack. I lay still, listening for trolls. Nothing. Evidently, I hadn't been heard, so I got back to my feet and moved on. My senses were heightened, this little stumble had raised the stakes. I couldn't fall again, a big tumble with a heavy pack would certainly be a noisy affair that trolls would not miss, and I might get hurt and be unable to defend myself.
I cruised along, steady for another 20 minutes and then without any decision, my pace started to slow and then... I stopped. I didn't know why. Wasn't tired, wasn't needing water, I just stopped.
I'm like, OK. Keep in mind the forest is totally dark all around me, I can see stars through the canopy but the trail isn't visible. I know where to put my feet because the earth feels different on the center of the trail than it does on the edges.
I edged forward very gradually, an inch, two and at three inches I felt a thick horizontal barrier pressing against my thighs. A fallen tree. This hadn't been here the last time I'd passed. There had been no big trees across the trail before, this must have just fallen in the last day or two. And my body knew it was there.
Had I hit the tree at speed, the momentum of the backpack would have certainly carried me right over and I probably would have done myself damage.
My feelings at this moment were of awe. How did I know that tree was there? This was a new sense, a proximity sense. Real as taste, smell, sight... Alan Watts opines that all senses are extensions of the sense of touch, photons impact the retina, sound waves vibrate the eardrums, molecules make contact with the tongue and olfactory epithelium. What sort of touch is this? Was there a cloud of tree smell, does the skin's receptivity extend several feet beyond the cells? This is only anecdotal, I'm not suggesting this is proof of anything. My experience suggests that our limited elementary school concept of human senses is only a starting point.
I was pretending and I found something important. I was being weird. Curious. Playful. I discovered more of myself.
I went shopping yesterday and walked through big box stores, across parking lots and the most unusual surface my feet encountered was a 4 inch curb. That's the world we've created, a comfortable box where everything is flat. There's nothing for the feet to wrap around, or rebound off of and everything is starkly lit with glaring florescent light. I mean that's fine, there's games to play there too.
Once, I tried to walk from the Bed, Bath and Beyond in Traverse City to the YMCA, across wetlands and a huge field, in the snow. This wasn't easy. Nature is waiting for her chance to make the straight ways crooked and the flat places hilly. We can thrive amidst a lovely chaos, yet the prominent culture tries so hard to scrub away the mystery and miracles and replace everything with plastic.
In episode 013, I upgraded the why behind this podcast. My original why was to grow an audience for Daughter of God, but that's not very compelling reason for an audience to show up and pretty abstract for me. Trying to be something an audience wants, that's the road to mediocrity.
When I was on my juried art show tour, I met a woman who was a very talented painter and savvy business person. We got to talking and she invited me back to her booth. Inside were literally hundreds of nearly identical paintings of a palm tree. She had found an image that sold, and so she painted this image over and over and over, with slight variations. I was appalled, flabbergasted. I flashed on myself, glued to one popular idea, the perfect consumer bungee pit that would end my career as an artist, as an explorer.
So a big audience is not a helpful objective but rather the natural result of a why that I feel inspired by. Well, how about having fun? I was a little overwhelmed with episode 012 trying to populate the video version with out takes and whatnot, and I woke up one morning and said to myself, this is too stressful. We can always flesh out the video later, let's just call it good and keep moving. So fun is crucial, but that's also a natural result of inspiration and keeping things chill. So what is the why?
Why did I want to make Daughter of God? After seeing all those other movies at Palm Springs Shorts Festival, I wanted to make movies too. I had held myself back for years and now I was ready. As Daughter of God has progressed, more reasons for movie making have emerged.
So, why make movies? Answering this question drives this podcast. In the episodes to come, I'm going to discuss the why of movie making and the nuts and bolts of making them MY way. Sure, I'm going to borrow from what's been done before, but I am definitely innovating, doing things that are unique to me, and freaking genius. As my first featurette, Daughter of God is a proof of concept, a way to demonstrate my ideas and approach.
So let's get started right away. Why make movies?
I want to do it all, easy for me to find almost anything interesting. I now know this is a way more common feeling than I first realized, but tough for folks to admit. We often feel discouraged from diversity. You can talk about that in terms of skin color, religion and culture but what I mean is just what we let ourselves be interested in and what we decide is boring.
I think curiosity is powerful. Curiosity also killed the cat. Is that Schrödinger's Cat? Wikipedia says yes, and that this modern maxim didn't appear until the late 1870s, which says something about changing attitudes. Before Curiosity was care, Care killed the cat, or worry, first use in the 1500s. Two very different ideas. Why did curiosity become problematic in the late 1800s?
How about this one - jack of all trades, master of none? This also has an intriguing history. Jack of all trades came first and was complimentary. Master of none was added later. A disparaging quasi-latin phrase Johannes factotum or Johnny do it all was applied to Shakespeare in 1592 by Robert Greene. A pillar of western culture chastised for trying to do too many things. Love that.
This is a superficial Wikipedia research, and who knows what Wikipedia's slant is, what axe they are grinding, if any.
Other cultures have this notion of too many trades too. Arabic "Who does several trades, is incapable of managing any," and Chinese "Equipped with knives all over, yet none is sharp." Chinese have encouraging versions too.
There's the western concept of the Renaissance man, who could paint, sculpt, engineer, write and design like Da Vinci and Michelangelo. These guys were geniuses supposedly, uncommon.
Maybe they just didn't hold themselves back. Maybe the special sauce that distinguishes a supposed genius from a lathe operator is just expectation of what is possible. Lathe operation looks like a lot of fun btw, but that's just me.
Why make movies? What intrigues me most about movie making is that I am required to use every freaking resource and talent I have. I not only get to apply my curiosity, I have to.
Painting, acting, writing, storytelling, narration, construction, sculpting, music making, props, design, distribution, investment, book keeping, archives, direction, management, problem solving...
The resources and chutzpah required to make movies is vast, so if there's any possibility of going beyond accepted limits, that's not only intriguing, but pretty much imperative. Marvel makes movies about superheros, I want to make movies that demonstrate how to be fully alive.
The log incident in the troll forest was a clear indication that there is way more available to every human being. The experiences I describe aren't reserved for elite gurus. We can all shine. Magic is real, specifically, if you are human being, you are walking around AS the highest technological achievement on the planet. You generate more energy than a wind tower, you can persist just by eating leaves. You are the most efficient solar collector yet developed. Your presence is an utter mystery, science has only just begun to hint at what we are. There are avenues of exploration into your power that science is as yet not allowed to take, but no one is stopping you. Science can be your starting place. Einstein again, Imagination is more important than knowledge. They are both fabulous but one flows from the other.
I am making movies to discover our nature, trusting the fuzzy experiences like intuition and inspiration which are the signatures of our full presence. A celebration of both inner nature and outer nature too. The earth is a global life support system, the untouched wilds are fundamental to operations. I want to make movies that restore and expand our outer nature.
Why make movies? Not for propaganda, influencing people to think this way or that. I want to remind audiences of what they already know but might have forgotten. How to be alive.
One last story about that night in the forest full of trolls. After swinging my legs over the big log, I moved through the pitch black, trusting my body and the cosmos. Ever wary for trolls, I caught a faint glow. Almost hallucinatory, a fuzzy purple cloud hovering. As I moved forward I blinked and yet the odd color persisted, not quite solid. I was like, fuck. My imagination is so powerful, I've manifested an actuality, I've brought forth who knows what, perhaps a phantom or will-o-wisp.
The Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual (4th edition 1979) has this to say about will-o-wisps.
A will-o-wisp is a glowing sphere, looking like a lantern, torch or even dancing light... they glow blue, violet or pale green.
Will-o-wisps commonly haunt deserted, dangerous places such as bogs, fens and swamps or catacombs where mires, quicksand, pit traps and the like are plentiful. Will-o-wisps seek to lure prey to their doom.
I approached the hazy violet light. There was definitely light, no question. My eyes were totally dark adapted, my irises fully dilated to grab every last photon. I turned my head to look sidelong and bring my sensitive rods in play. Some... thing... glowing.
Close now, a scattering of purple streaks and dots. I reached out and my hand touched a log, roughly textured. Clenching the Maglite in my fist once again, I spread my fingers slightly and played a bit of white light on the log. Mushrooms. I was seeing bio-luminescent fungus. I turned off the light and there they were, eerily sending out their mysterious signal. For who or what I wonder were they shining in the night? For me? What a gift.
Had I passed this way armed to the teeth against trolls, with a phalanx of men at arms and blazing torches, I would have totally missed this wonder. How many others would see what I've seen in my lifetime. How many understand the power of play?
You've been listening to Daughter of Godcast podcast, episode 014 with Dan Kelly, writer and director. All about the whys. We've been rubbing two sticks together and at last a little plume of smokes curling up from the tinder. Ready for a crackling blaze? We're going to burn down preconceptions and awaken the tribe's deep knowing. Sure glad you're circled up for the ceremony, ready to sweat and see with me for the very first time. What happens next is anyone's guess, but it's going to be so fine.