June 21, 2012
By Mickey Friedman
I’m bringing it home. That’s what Bob calls finishing the song or the gig.
I’ve been doing what I said I wouldn’t ever do again. Making a film. When my friend Beth began her film about Bob Dorough, she wanted me to come down and shoot Bob singing in a small New York jazz club.
I couldn’t do it. I was burnt to the core. Making my film, “World On Fire,” the story of John F., one young soldier’s Iraq War, had sent me on an exhausting journey. His war was real, physical, three-dimensional. My war was internal. The willing suspension of disbelief times ten. The only way I could do justice to John was to do my all to understand.
I listened day and night to radio reports; spent hours looking at photographs. Iraq must have been the most photographed war ever fought: most soldiers had small video cameras. If they weren’t making videos they were blogging. The Defense Department couldn’t crack down on these soldiers fast enough.
The bottom line: if you wanted to know what was happening, you could find out. Most people didn’t and don’t want to know. Which has got to be one of the saddest things about the wars we fight these days.
While I couldn’t g down to the city, I did agree to put together a short promo for her to use in fundraising.
I became a full-time writer. Rather, a full-time student trying to learn how to write a novel. How to find the rhythm: the day in, day out discipline and joy to move from page one to page one hundred, from beginning to middle to end.
Along the way, Beth found some young filmmakers. They made a new promo, found some money and made a movie about Bob.
Two years later, Beth asked me to watch her film. I tried. I couldn’t make it past the fifteenth minute. I suggested that I wasn’t the one to ask. I told a truth: I had a completely different idea about filmmmaking and editing than her current director and editor. Beth didn’t talk to me for months.
That’s happened a lot along the way. Make a film. Write a column. Odds are someone is going to be offended enough to say goodbye. It’s not fun. It’s never fun. But as my father once told me: freedom is the recognition of necessity.
In this case, several months passed and Beth asked me in April if I would consider re-editing the film. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who had trouble watching. I remembered how much I enjoyed Bob. I said I would do it but that I would only do it if I started from scratch.
There are a lot of ways to make a documentary, just like there are a lot of ways to paint a painting or write a song. For me, it’s first and foremost a commitment. A commitment to tell someone’s story. Not your story, the story you may want, maybe even need to tell. But his or hers or their story.
In this case, I had to go through hundreds of hours of footage shot by other people, with their own ideas of what was important. Turns out I had no desire to use most of what they shot. Turns out my idea of Bob was very different from theirs.
So it’s not surprising that the movie I have crafted bears almost no resemblance to theirs.
Making a documentary is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Only there’s no picture on the front of the box. Only what you can make from the thousands upon thousands of little bits and pieces scattered before you.
My downstairs neighbor can tell you that I spent many an hour yelling out my computer monitors – cursing the many mistakes I saw. The sound boom in the frame. The far-too- many times the filmmakers interrupted Bob in the midst of a great he was telling. The times the cameraman didn’t see his own reflection in the many mirrors they were shooting into.
Editors are allowed to scream. Because they are the true filmmakers when it comes to documentaries. Almost no one knows this truth. Because directors and producers like to pretend they’re in control; and because audiences don’t know how films are really made. But documentaries are made in the editing room.
I’m allowed to scream because I scream at my own stupidities when I’m editing my own camerawork.
Bob is an inspiration. A poor kid from Depression Arkansas who became a singer, and songwriter; a working musician who gained the respect of the greatest jazzmen in the world. The only singer Miles ever put on an album. Famous for moments, Bob wrote, arranged or sang songs that just about every 40 year-old knows: “Three Is A Magic Number” and “Conjunction Junction.”
I’m bringing Bob home.