Monday, November 13, 2006

I'm starting to feel some momentum again

A little over a month ago, I received an e-mail from Chris Weaver, who ended up on the Aimless web site via some web surfing. Chris was kind enough to provide some feedback about Aimless, which I appreciate immensely. Some of his feedback is actually very similar to some of the discussions I've had with Jay on this blog. (You are a guy, right, Chris?) But he also said some things that I haven't heard from anyone else, some things that really impressed me.

Chris's letter follows:

I just stumbled upon your website. I have had very similar ideas for making a documentary. I'd be happy to help out. But I must say after reading the whole site, you are putting way too much emphasis on the gear. You can shoot a film like this with a 200 dollar dv camera and get the exact same impact from the story as you would if the pixilation was a tad better. Its a story you are after not production values, plus I can tell you from years of experiance dragging gear all over the world that you will get so sick of all that stuff after the first week. That is, if it is not stolen from you or you end up having to pawn it for survival funds.

Anyhow I'd be happy to work with you on the project if you need it. I would make sure you really want to do it and are not just putting up walls (in the form of unnessisary expensive gear) to prevent it from happening. Also you might think about going at it half=way. Just spend a week or two documenting your city or state via the methods you propose. See if it yields something worthy of editing. I find that these sorts of stories are a million times easier to cover when you are in a completely foreign culture because people are much more willing to invite you into their lives but if it is in your own culture you are much less of a novelty and people are eager to pass you buy. Have you thought of maybe going to an english speaking country like Belize or Guyana and trying this?


The thing that really impressed me was his comment about putting up walls. I even replied specifically to that comment, saying, "I like your psychological insight about putting up walls. The question here is: Could a psychologist or psychiatrist have seen so deep? (That is, assuming you are not a psychologist or psychiatrist.)"

But here's what really impressed me about the comment: He was right. Not completely right, but very close to dead center. Even before receiving Chris's e-mail, I knew something was holding me back, keeping me from going out and making Aimless. But I also knew exactly what was holding me back. It was Pinky.

Even though Pinky seemed pretty healthy this past summer when I launched the web site, I still would have had a very difficult time leaving home for who knows how long, had I received adequate sponsorship. Even though it seemed that Pinky might end up living for several more years, I don't think I would have been able to leave him behind, because I've too often witnessed how quickly feline leukemia takes them away.

I didn't feel any kind of obligation to Pinky; I just loved him so much that I couldn't have left him, knowing I may never see him again. That may sound kind of corny, but I know that cat loved me way the hell more than any person has ever loved me. And I'm not worried if anyone thinks I'm some kind of weirdo for loving a cat so much. The fact is that Pinky's love helped me through some of the toughest times of my life. That kind of love is more important than what people think of me.

Anyway, Pinky is gone now, and there is nothing else holding me back.

Well, winter is holding me back right now. I know I could do it in winter just as well as I could do it in spring or summer, but I don't want to start in winter because I don't want the opening scenes of Aimless to be colorless and lifeless. I don't want to start in winter because that would require heavier clothes, thus more stuff to carry. I don't want to start in winter because I haven't learned to beg yet; I haven't learned how to convince people to open up their homes to me and feed me. And if I can't go out and consistently find warm places to spend my nights, then Aimless might just kill me. So I plan to wait until perhaps March or April. And once that time of year comes around, there will be nothing holding me back because Pinky now lives in my heart and my mind.

Getting back to what Chris said...

Both Chris and Jay have said that I should just go out there with a cheapo digital camera instead of holding out for someone to donate funding or a $2,000 to $3,000 camcorder. (Betty, did you say I should do it that way, too?) While I've certainly considered using a cheap camera, both before this web site existed and during its existence, I have been very hesitant to commit to that idea.

Not anymore. I think I've made up my mind to go ahead and use a cheap camera. I honestly don't know if Jay or Chris or Betty influenced this decision, but y'all may have. I really can't identify what has turned me in this direction, other than the emotional and intellectual roller coaster called life. If there is any particular thing I can point to as a catalyst for this decision, I think it's that I feel much simpler right now. Maybe Aimless is supposed to be made on a cheapo camcorder. Maybe that's what will ultimately make it attractive to viewers.

So I guess my budget has shrunk quite a bit now. Let's see what I'll need:

A cheapo camcorder;
At least 200 hours' worth of videotape;
Maybe a laptop;
A good hikers' backpack;
Good walking shoes;
Sleeping bag?
Compact tent?
A few changes of clothes.

I've surely omitted some important stuff, but probably nothing very expensive. Besides, I already have some of the things on the list. So basically what I'll need is a camera, the tape, and maybe $500 worth of other stuff. The laptop probably is not a necessity, but it would be nice to have one. So I guess I'm looking at about $2,000 to $2,500 worth of stuff (including the laptop).

I'm no longer worried about sponsorship. If people don't want to sponsor Aimless right now, then fuck 'em; that's their loss. I can easily get what I need. But when sponsors come knocking on my door after I hit the road or begin post-production, like I know they will, I won't be shy about demanding big money. I won't be in a rush to make deals with anyone, either. OK, I'm digressing in a direction I don't want to go right now.

Chris, I'm curious to know which Chris Weaver you are. Are you the Chris Weaver who works for a television station in North Carolina? Are you the Chris Weaver who had something to do with Independence Day (aka ID4)? Neither? Both?

Hey, if you're actually someone important, I respect that. I won't start nagging you or anything. All I know is that you seem to know a lot about some of the stuff I need to know about. If so, I hope you maintain an interest in Aimless. And I hope that if I ever require your expertise, I'll be able to provide something equally valuable in return for that expertise.

I think I intended to say a whole bunch of other stuff, but it's not coming to me right now, so I gues I'll sign off for now and write about the other stuff whenever it comes back to me. I wish I could let y'all plug into my brain and experience my thoughts and stuff. The thoughts just never stop, and I have such a hard time keeping up with them.

OK, I may be back soon.


Mai's America

I just finished watching an awesome documentary called Mai's America on Free Speech TV (which is only available on Dish Network). It's about a Vietnamese girl named Mai who came to the United States to spend her final year of high school as an exchange student in (or near) Meridian, Mississippi.

Mai begins her American experience with a host family you might call, uhh, rednecks. (That's what they call themselves, anyway.) Both of the parents are unemployed and the teenage daughter seems to have raised herself. The home is not a happy place to be; it just blows my mind that this family could have been deemed worthy of hosting an exchange student. Not that the hosts are bad people or anything; the household is just clearly not a healthy environment for anyone, let alone an exchange student. Mai agrees.

Before I get in very deep, let me describe Mai a little bit.

Mai is a beautiful person. I'm not just talking about her physical appearance; I'm mostly talking about her energy and the gleam in her eyes and her heartwarming smile and the empathy she shows for all varieties of people. She is caring and curious. She sees the world through everyone's eyes, while those around her seem only capable of seeing through their own eyes. She is the kind of person you just want to be near.

In the beginning of the film, it's easy for the viewer to think of Mai as naive or uneducated because she has just dived head first into an alien culture. But right away, as she is shown interacting with her host family and at school and with new acquaintances, it is clear that Mai possesses a simple wisdom that somehow eludes almost all Americans. All the people she meets are so narrow-minded and judgmental, but Mai is genuinely friendly to everyone. She treats everyone with so much respect, and she is such a positive soul, yet it seems like everyone makes her feel like a misfit.

Except for one person. Early in her American experience, Mai begins a friendship with a gay drag queen named Chris, I believe. He adores her and treats her very well. I think they can both relate to each other because they both know how it feels to be a total outsider.

After several months of living with the redneck family, Mai decides she needs a change, so she moves in with a new host family. Her new host family is a young black couple who immediately provide a much more positive environment. But even though she has found a much better place to live, she ends up frustrated once again after the couple's relationship tenses and the wife starts preaching about how Mai's gay friend made the decision to be gay. It was not a preachy kind of preaching, but Mai was clearly frustrated by the host mother's refusal to step into the shoes of a gay person.

Mai also becomes frustrated when her school friends, who don't know she has a gay friend, begin speaking judgmentally about gay people. So even though she had already asked her gay friend Chris to be her prom date, she ends up going to prom with a Spanish exchange student instead. Although the film does not show her breaking the news to Chris, I think he understood why she changed her mind. Interestingly, though, Chris later reveals that he has torched all his drag queen gear and may have chosen to stop being gay. (Don't ask me how that's possible.)

Eventually Mai gets accepted to Tulane University and earns a scholarship that takes care of about half of her expenses. To help pay her tuition, she busts her ass as a waitress, yet she still feels like she's not living up to her end of "the deal." Soon enough she has to drop out of school because she can't afford it. Then her mother lets her know she can't come home to Vietnam because she has shamed her family or something.


In time Mai ends up in Detroit, painting fingernails and toenails, being a genius slave for stupid people, before going back to Vietnam.

I wish I could explain clearly how this film made me feel. For an hour and twenty minutes I had a smile on my face because Mai is such an amazing person. She's pure goodness in every way. She's so insightful and thoughtful and amazing, but no one seems to recognize how much she has to offer her world and the world.

But it damn near breaks my heart, too, for a couple reasons. First of all, I can't understand how people fail to see the incredible person in Mai. Second, I guess I know how it feels. I believe that I, like Mai, have so much to offer the world, but no one else sees it. And I'm just puzzled for both of us.

I want to give Mai a big hug, the kind of hug that really lets someone know you care. I sincerely hope she has found a place where she can fit in, and I hope she's doing well. And if she ever happens to stumble upon this entry, I hope she contacts me because I really feel the need to know her.