Best Feature Documentary Day 7 FFF 2013

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Mrs. LanceAround Chats With Jeremy at the Fountain Outside Enzian Theatre

Mrs. LanceAround Chats With Jeremy at the Enzian Theatre Fountain

For the hour long ride home from the FFF tonight I go over and over in my mind how I’m going to write about the documentary Mrs. LanceAround and I just saw.

Incredible…Tear jerker…Touching…Realistic…Emotional…Raw

None of the normal adjectives seem to find the right chord. In fact, it was a pretty straightforward, relatively simplistic film about a man–and a documentarian–that tells the story of the man’s compulsive need to create works of art and write collections of philosophical thoughts and fantastical dream-like worlds and store them in every single room of his home.

And yet, something about this film so touched Mrs. LanceAround and I that we almost find ourselves at a loss for words. This movie affected us.

But, alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me tell you about the preceding documentary.

Mr. Christmas

Lighting Up Christmas

Lighting Up Christmas

The afternoon began with a short documentary entitled Mr. Christmas. It’s about an older gentleman in Concord, CA, Bruce Mertz,  who has been putting up more and more Christmas lights at his home for the past several decades. Ironically, Bruce grew up on a farm in South Dakota with no electricity. In fact, the first time he had electricity was when he left home to study electrical engineering. He has wired his entire home with timers, switch boxes, loud speakers and homemade lights that put on quite a show every year from the day before Thanksgiving until January 2nd. He wears a specially made jacket and baseball cap that is also wired for lights.

It was a very well made documentary about a tender man with a big heart and a creative spirit. Simply a joy to watch!

MagicalUniverseBannerMagical Universe
As good as the short film was, up next was the main event.

It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. The documentarian took the unusual step of making himself part of the movie. In doing so, he created a bond with his subject that was as much a part of the movie as the main subject himself. The title is Magical Universe.

Albert at Work

Albert at Work

In 2000, Jeremy Workman, an accomplished film editor and filmmaker, was on vacation in Maine. A friend called and asked him to stop by the home of an elderly artist to shoot some video. The friend was writing a newspaper article about the artist. Jeremy and his girlfriend discovered Albert Nickerson Carbee (rhymes with Barbie–which is significant.) Albert has lived alone in his large house ever since his wife passed away.

Al was born and raised in Portland and Saco, ME where he lived when Jeremy met him. He studied art at the Portland School of Art (Now the Maine College of Art) and at his uncle’s Scott Carbee School of Art. After a stint in WWII, Al worked as a commercial artist, mural painter, photo-editor, portrait artist, GoKart Salesman and Photomat employee.

But his passion was creating art. And create it he did–for years. Most of his artwork consisted of photographs and collage art. Almost all of it featured part of his collection of hundreds and hundreds of Barbie Dolls. Al claimed that the best part of having a Barbie Doll as your model is that they never complained, even if you got up at 3am with an idea for a new photo shoot.

In addition to the artwork, Al constantly journaled about fantastical ideas he had such as new planets where everyone only said positive things. After Jeremy’s first meeting with Al when he took the video for his friend, Al would write letters and letters to Jeremy; probably over 1000 of them. Most of them contained long and rambling pieces of information, original artwork, collages–sometimes several sheets of paper were taped together creating a massive school of thoughts and ideas.

Albert Carbee Collage

Albert Carbee Collage

As this documentary progressed and the audience got to know Al, it became clear that this man was special. At first glance you think this is just an eccentric old man. But as the movie progresses you realize there is a great soul there. Yes he was kind of strange, he hoarded all his photos and artwork, he was a bit of a recluse and his ideas were somewhat disjointed and weird. But he was also, obviously, very tender and sincere. It was difficult, at times, to understand his thoughts. But as you watched him go from Barbie display to Barbie display and talk about each one, it became clear that he had an artistic eye, a good sense of composition and, somewhere in his mind, a concept he wanted to explore or express even if he couldn’t communicate it articulately.

Several times during the film he would say that he was creative–and that a creative person had to keep on creating. So that’s what he did…all day and all night…filling his home with his creativity and his personality.

As the documentary continued, unexpected things would happen for Al. He accepted them as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that were meant to come together.

To see just how that puzzle came together, you have to see this film. And Mrs. LanceAround and I mean that. You HAVE to see this film.

Q & A With Director Jeremy Workman

Jeremy During the Q&A

Jeremy During the Q&A

After the film, Jeremy took questions from the audience.

Q: At what point did it transition from “who is this?” to an appreciation of this man?

A: If you look at the movie, it represents a 10 year relationship. Like the movie, at first it was, “What the heck is going on.” It took three years, four years before it started softening.

Q: Did you look for the cave under the home?

A: I did. The man next door claimed he had been in the cave and I begged him to go on camera. I looked for it. I heard other people talk about it. I never found it.

Q: This film reminded me of two movies, Broadcast News and Adaptation, the reason is…

A: I can see Adaptation, but I don’t get Broadcast News

Q: Because a big part of that story had to do with “The Story” and “The Reporter” and whether or not it was okay for the reporter to put himself into the story. And, of course, Charlie Kaufman totally wrote himself into the movie for Adaptation. Other than Michael Moore, there aren’t a lot of documentarians who write themselves into the story. Can you tell us about why you made that choice? Do you do that often in your films? Tell us about the creative process that made you make yourself part of the story.

A: Great, I appreciate that question because people have been asking me that a lot. I’ve done other films and I’m working on films now. This is the first time I ever DARED put myself into. This is the first time I ever DARED even to narrate my film. The story of Al became so intertwined to my relationship with him and it became so much through the prism of me that I felt I was so hung up on, I can’t tell this story without putting myself into it. It was such a bond for me. Until I sort of accepted that I had trouble pursuing the filming. But, you know, besides Michael Moore there’s a lot of other filmmakers who don’t get a lot of recognition who put themselves in their films. One of my favorites is a filmmaker named Alan Berliner whose films sometimes pop up on PBS. He does some really interesting movies that might be the closest thing where he kind of puts himself in, he does narration, say about a quirky subject. He’s not the only one. Ross McElwee from Sherman’s March and there’s some experimental filmmakers that do put themselves into their films though it’s not necessarily mainstream. I thought that was the way to tell this story.

Q: I just thought the outfits were gorgeous and I know that Barbies don’t come in those outfits. I was wondering if he made them or did he have someone make them.

A: He made a lot of them. He has some that he got from older Barbies that are no longer around. He would sort of put them and change them. What he did a lot is he would take some existing stuff and he would cut it and dye it and change it and put it back and that kind of put his stamp on it. Sometimes he was adding cutesy stuff like sparkles and things like that. One of his inspirations was magazine art from the 50s. That was a big inspiration for Al. Beautiful women, beautiful clothes lots of stuff from the 50s.

Q: I found the way he viewed his life and the universe was more fascinating than his art itself. What impressed you the most?

A: Yea, that is a good question. His worldview was very much what I was trying to capture with the story. He was a guy who thought everything was for a reason. When I walked through his door, he thought there was a reason for that. Everything for him was connected. The universe, the magic of how the universe comes together and it will come together like a jigsaw puzzle. There was a reason that I knocked on his door that would maybe not materialize for a decade, but it was going to materialize. I loved the art, but I quickly saw there was a lot more to him than just the art, there was this very interesting world view and kinda hard to pin down and put your finger on him.

Responses From the Audience
Outside the theatre, several patrons stopped to express their opinion.

Harriet: I loved it. It was very surprising I heard some negative comments about it earlier, but I really enjoyed it.

Sybil: I thought it was a very inspirational film you can create with no money. Some of that artwork was unbelievably beautiful and who knew, just from a photograph of a Barbie Doll. It was a really good film. I almost was not going to see it and I’m really glad I came to see it. It turned out to be amazing.

Kate: I know a lot of people didn’t quite care for the movie and I don’t think those people understand that he’s a film editor. He’s an editor. He does trailers and everything else. He’s a very good editor. But I think the whole film itself, the reason people don’t like it is that they don’t realize it’s an homage to the artist himself and the way that he does it. The way he pieces it together. Little bits of everything–it’s a collage itself. I don’t think they realize it. The more times you watch it, this is the third time I’ve seen it. Each time I pick up more and more and that’s why I made that association. The second time I’m like, I get it now. The people who loved it l-o-o-o-o-v-v-e-e-d it!

Christopher: I loved the look of this film. It’s not pretty. It’s kind of rough edged. It’s real. I loved it. I think it’s fantastic. I love personal docs. I think it’s bold. It’s daring.

Private Interview With Documentarian Jeremy Workman

Jeremy Chats With The LanceArounds

Jeremy and Mrs. LanceAround

Outside the theatre, Mrs. LanceAround and I caught up with Jeremy. He graciously allowed us an interview herein transcribed:

LA: So is this the World Premier?

JW: It is.

LA: Tell us about yourself and your history.

JW: I’ve been making films for a long time and different kinds of documentaries; all different kinds but many of them about sort of obsessive personalities. I have kind of a demanding industry day job in that I edit movie trailers for indie movies.

LA: And you own the company?

JW: I do.

LA: How many editors do you have?

JW: I have around five and I’m the creative director as well. My background is actually in editing. I edited a number of fairly big Hollywood trailers and then I sort of left that world to do trailers for indies.

LA: Let’s go back a little further, how did you get involved in the film industry at all?

JW: I grew up in LA. My father’s a filmmaker. He’s a documentary filmmaker. He exposed me to a lot of really cool stuff. I started do stuff for him. I started helping him edit. I started going on shoots with him. I saw that world. Then I always knew I’d be going into film. Even when I went to college I didn’t feel a need to go to film school. I was already making films. I studied English, but I was making films all the time on the side, usually on my own.

LA: You went right from high school to college.

JW: Yea.

LA: Which college?

JW: I went to Columbia University.

LA: Wow, so you’ve got some game.

JW: I was an English major and I graduated in three years.

LA: Wow, you’ve got a lot of game. So when you were in Columbia, would you make films there about things going on around the campus?

JW: Yea, I was always making films. I made a film right out of college that I started when I was a junior in college and that ended up being on PBS that was a documentary on the filmmaker Henry Jaglom. I sorta did that while I was in college. I was making films all the time and also just writing and what not.

LA: Then from college did you get right into the editing business or did you start in the film business…I mean as a filmmaker?

JW: I was given a rare opportunity to edit trailers for Hollywood movies. I joined a trailer company and I edited the trailers for Life is Beautiful, Shakespeare in Love a number of big movies in the 90s. I was 25/26 I was very young…

LA: Orson Welles-ian

JW: Well, I wouldn’t say that. That’s going a little too far. I was very young and I was editing these big Hollywood trailers. Eventually I got burned out of that. That’s when I started doing my own thing and doing movies on the side.

LA: I’ve always thought that editing trailers is almost more of an art form than editing the actual movies.

JW: I’m not saying if I agree with them or not…but the trailer editors view themselves as the most elite editors, the Navy Seals of editing, that it is the highest level of editing is trailer editing. Again, I’m not claiming that, but I know many trailer editors that feel that and many people that support that.

LA: I would agree with that. It’s a phenomenal job. You’ve got 90 seconds or however long to convince someone to see this film without revealing any spoilers but show enough of the film to get people interested. I think it’s hugely difficult…

JW: Yea, you also need to tell the story, really define characters in a short time. But now my trailer work is different because I don’t do Hollywood anymore. I only do indie movies. But in the last couple years I’ve did the trailers to a lot of the films that won, like, Best Foreign Film. I did the trailer for Separation, Amour, The Secret in Their Eyes and a number of big documentaries.

LA: So you’re saying if I’m watching TV at nine O’clock at night and a trailer comes on for Amour, that was your work?

JW: Yes.

LA: Extrapolate on the statement, “I don’t do Hollywood anymore, I do independent,” and all that means.

JW: I really got burned out doing Hollywood trailers. It was really very difficult and it’s really just a situation where you’re cranking out trailers, you’re cranking out versions and there’s a lot of extra curricular stuff like focus grouping and testing…

LA: For the trailers…

JW: Yes, a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Very sort of challenging work…

LA:  All the things that filmmakers say they hate about Hollywood…

JW: Yea, exactly,  and I had sort of come up through the fire on that. I was doing trailers for Harvey Weinstein and Miramax in their heyday. It was definitely extremely difficult and it just kind of burnt me out and it made me forget why I like editing in the first place. I love editing. I love what editing can do.  Just in terms of talking about my movie here. With bad editing that would be just a mess of a home video movie. But with good editing you can sculpt it into something that’s kind of a neat movie. I love the power of editing. After doing a lot of Hollywood movies I’ve given that up a little bit so that’s when I went and starting doing indie movies. And now we only do indie movies. And with indie movies it’s a lot more interesting for me as an editor. I have much more authorship in terms of how I edit those trailers. My expertise is valued more.

LA: Tell me about the financial end of this business. When a filmmaker chooses to make a documentary like this or a short film, is there ever any money at the end of the rainbow.

JW: Most of the documentaries played at this festival will find a home. Will sell…

LA: When you say sell, sell to whom?

JW: Either to broadcast or they’ll sell to distributors. They’ll most likely get on Netflix. There’s now all these different venues for these movies: Amazon Instant, Hulu, direct sales…There’s a number of ways these movies can get out. A lot of them will get some money out of it. Not all. I think that a lot of people who are making film festival films are in it for the art and they’re not necessarily trying to sell it.

LA: Now, when a filmmaker sells a film to a distributor is that the end of the game as far as they got that money and that’s it or do they get paid every time it shows?

JW: It depends on the deal. A lot of the time it’s like a car. You’ve got this car and you’re carving up chunks of the car and you’re stripping it down and selling pieces. And there’s a lot of pieces. There’s domestic distribution, there’s TV, there’s video on demand, there’s foreign sales. It depends on the movie and the deal. It’s what they call the waterfall of money flows. There are scenarios where you get paid every time someone watches it. Every time it sells on iTunes you get a dime or whatever it is.

LA: How is it FFF became the world premier for this movie?

JW: There were a couple of festivals vying for it. I wanted it to be a festival that had a lot of quality, integrity, intimacy. It’s a strange, quirky offbeat movie. I didn’t necessarily want it to be a movie that would play at a giant festival  and just be like not really received. I was always angling for a smaller festival that would fit it right. Florida has a glowing reputation. You might not know it living down here in Florida, but outside, especially in the independent film industry FFF has a glowing reputation for quality, integrity, intimacy and all that. When I was offered the opportunity to show here it made a lot of sense for me.

LA: What else would you like for my readers to know?

JW: They could check out the trailer for the movie. They could go onto the website www.MagicalUniverseFilm.com. Maybe there’s a link to that…

LA: Did you edit the trailer?

JW: I did, of course I did. In the trailer I played up the strange, weird sickness a lot. I felt like that was the best way to go on the trailer to get people interested in looking at this weird guy with this weird story about Barbie Dolls and played down the personal side of it. So I’ll probably do a second trailer that plays up the relationship side of the movie as well.

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