Wednesday, October 24, 2012

documentary...NED WERT Painter

This documentary project has been gloriously fun and challenging.  I have a new appreciation for filmmakers, now that I've dipped my toe in this creative venue.  Thanks to Steve Witmer for patiently walking me through the process, and then allowing me to actually DO it!

I honestly thought it was all about going out and shooting lots of footage, piecing together the good parts, and improvising until a story emerged.  No.  It's more like writing a research paper, coming up with a damn good outline at the front end - then you need to meticulously follow it in order to get the footage and shoot the story you want.  Not that there isn't room for the unexpected - the elements that make you smile and laugh - but I can't get away with the same spontaneity you'll find in this blog!

So the whole thing started years ago, when Steve and I would chat about how much we'd enjoy working together, on the rare occasion we'd run into one another.  He was a gallery owner long before I was, and truth be told, I think we both loved the art and the artists more than making money - though such idealistic notions have been tempered over time with reality.  You don't make money, there is no gallery!

Steve sold his gallery and started Tape-to-disc Studios with his brother Josh back in 2001, and our discussions morphed into a mutual desire to capture artists on tape and tell their stories.  We finally settled on Gus Kermes, scheduled a time with Gus to come out to his studio - unfortunately, he passed away the week we were to come.  Having lost that opportunity, and between Steve's crazy schedule and mine, it took us this long to set our sights on another - Ned Wert.

Last spring we set a date for a visit to Ned's studio in Brush Valley, PA, and with much coaching from Steve, I started making lists, outlines, and doing research.  By the time we journeyed to western PA on July 23rd, I had a notebook full of interview questions, storyboard, and list of deliverables.  We worked the entire 3 1/2 hour trip out, Steve's questions making it increasingly apparent to me that I really didn't have a clue what lay ahead.

The day we arrived, we spent some time preparing Ned, as I furiously scribbled down more notes - this is nothing new - Ned always has stories to tell, and I love documenting them for the future.   We moved to the studio, got "the set" organized, and began to work through my carefully prepared and ordered  list of questions - Steve pointed out this was key to "finding" things later in hours and hours of tape.

Between a persistent bumble bee caught in the skylight, and the random motorcycle zooming by the window, the noise required the windows be closed during the shooting.  Keep in mind it's the end of July, and it's hot, but that didn't melt Ned's spirit or professionalism despite three hours of shooting.  And he didn't seem to mind being followed around his house, making dinner, feeding the cat, and entertaining us in front of an ever-present camera.  Of course by then, we had shared a couple bottles of red wine, al fresco, and were all feeling rather mellow.

We spent the following day at Indiana University, interviewing colleagues and students of Ned's, and learning more about his years there as a teacher, then gallery director.  Heading home afterward, we spent the entire trip previewing the film footage, stopping the video long enough to jot down time stamps and note quotes we thought we'd likely use.  I went through them all again back in my studio until I had transcribed highlights of the entire four reels as reference.

After going through the transcriptions and highlighting the parts I wanted to use, I transferred them to index cards for easy shuffling.  Spending a morning at the kitchen counter, putting cards into storyboard order, I began sorting through stacks of photographs and other scanned images in order to begin thinking it through visually.  Reading through the quotes I'd selected gave me some idea of the length - I had a little over 5 minutes worth, and we edited it down to 3 1/2.

I then made copies of cards and images in groups, noting time stamps on the footage, and sent the package off to Steve and Josh.  My job, according to Steve, was to make Josh's job as simple as possible - parsing out the selected pieces and parts, and weaving in scanned images, etc.  Unlike writing a paper, film making has three-dimensions, and though I think I'm rather good at visualizing things, this afforded me a new challenge.

 Steve and I then spent several hours working through the preliminary cuts from Josh, editing further, getting Ned's input, and finding the music to go with it.  After numerous sessions of back and forth, we were ready to premier the documentary clip at Ned's opening reception.  Ned hosted his collectors at the gallery two nights, despite a painful knee, scheduled to be replaced in a week.  Thursday evening was Collectors Only Preview, and Friday the Opening Artist's Reception.  Both evenings featured jazz by Ned's highschool friend, Barrie Spessler, and his jazz trio.  Ned and Barrie used to play in the band together - Ned played trombone.  I have a picture...

This is only the beginning, as we've begun work on a full-length version to release in April 2013.  We'll be interviewing more collectors, friends and family in order to capture not only the essence of this man, but the rich, full life he's led.  I've carved out hours (days!) to work on the script, determined this time to streamline the process with my new found experience.

We'll see.... Steve?

To view the NED WERT Painter, click here - to learn more about Ned Wert, his work, and the Lynden Gallery, visit our website,  And when you are in Elizabethtown, be sure to drop by.  Gallery hours are 10-5 Wednesday through Friday, 10-3 Saturday - or by chance or appointment.  717.367.9236

The documentary was written by Lisa Clemens and Steve Witmer, videography by Steve, editing by Josh Witmer, and music by The Reese Project.  Steve and Josh Witmer, Tape to disc Studios.