"There is a place where the rattlesnake bites in a good way..."
Those were the words that floated into my head a few months ago. They seemed to piece themselves together while I pedaled through a meadow in the Rattlesnake Recreational Space that borders Missoula, MT.
The sun was out; the tall, swaying stalks of wild grass were imbued with gold from the late afternoon light; sounds from the city were blocked off by the dense wall of forest surrounding the meadow; the peace of the moment sunk into me deeply like the teeth of the area's namesake and that's when the line came to me. In no other way could I picture a rattlesnake's bite being viewed in a positive manner but this... this was a bite I was happy to let linger.
That line stuck with me for the afternoon as I rode some of the single track trails on my own. I often enjoy biking or hiking solo because of the chance it offers my mind to run free with thoughts. New fragments of writing began to bounce around in my head as I jostled over roots and ruts. I took a quick moment to punch them into a note on my phone. But over the next weeks, as I continued to venture out into the hills and forests, more moments prompted more notes. Before long, something of a written piece was beginning to form.
My initial idea was to find moments to photograph over the coming months that could accompany the words. I've been on a hunt to find more ways to blend my words and photos and this seemed like a perfect personal project in which to do so. But a concurrent video project in school presented itself as a new opportunity to bring the words to life. I sat down to put the words onto paper for the first time and flesh out an actual script rather than a haphazard collection of sentences. With the words in hand, the next challenge was to figure out what visuals I needed to capture to accurately convey the scenes that helped form these strings of thought in the first place. After about three weeks of writing, planning, shooting, and editing, the final product is this:
Having my work read by others has never caused a whole lot of discomfort. There's definitely only a select few whom I will pass a very rough draft of something off to, but generally speaking it doesn't bother me. Reading it aloud, however -- particularly when it's read by myself, and even more particularly when the writing is more on the poetic side of the literature spectrum -- causes me some real nerves. Before this piece, I had only done so once before. I attended a very causal open mic poetry reading during college just to sit and listen to the work of others. A professor of mine was running the event and new of a piece I was working on at the time. Encouragement from him and the audience somehow moved me up to the microphone and I sweat my way through the reading of a draft without too many stutters and gaffs.
So I suppose it was ultimately a good thing that I didn't give much forethought to the fact that this film would have to be played in front of all my classmates and teachers at school with me in the room. Or that, eventually, this might be something I would release to the public. I just took the idea and ran with it. Had I done so, I probably would have talked myself out of the film and created something different. The original intent had actually been quite different -- it was supposed to be about Thanksgiving bike trip to Moab, UT. Mother Nature had other plans, however, the trip was scrapped, and this idea came to life. But while the screening process was slightly stressful, the brainstorming, filming, and editing process was an absolute joy.
One of the most satisfying moments was to have a finished product that came out a good bit different than my original vision yet still be very content with the final film. I have always struggled with the process of killing an idea. When presented with a new task or project, my mind has the annoying habit of jumping 50 miles ahead without ever letting my feet take the first few steps. With video projects, I often get picture lock in my brain of what my product will look like and inadvertently make those ideas precious.. untouchable. Unplanned details and processes now have to revolve around these locked in visuals when it should be the other way around. The product should adapt to the circumstances that come up and allow for new creativity to seep in.
There was one scene in particular I conjured up right away in my mind and decided that that was it; that was the perfect way to piece it together. For the lines that go "A place where the silence can hold you, in place/because any sound that might split that fragile silence seems impossibly loud/like a train whistle under and ink black sky," I was going to start with a wide angle shot of someone standing alone in a field. The scene would zoom in at an exponential rate (to help convey a feeling of building intensity) as the sound of a train approaching ramped up underneath the video. Just as the Doppler effect of the passing train hit it's climax, the zoom on the subject would be right in tight and cut to black. Instantly following the cut would be the piercing sound of a train whistle played over a black screen. The audience would then be left with silence, before my narration resumed with "like a train whistle under an ink black sky."
As you noticed, that sequence was not in the film.
I didn't have the equipment to smoothly zoom in on my subject in the field by physically moving closer to them. Trying to replicate the effect in editing by zooming in on the video frame itself wasn't working the way I wanted it to. I couldn't find footage/audio of the train that felt right. And, it would have been a completely jarring transition from the music I had picked to back the footage; there was no cohesive way to fit it in. So, out the window it went. I allowed myself to adapt the idea to the circumstances of the footage, and it felt damn good to do so! Moreover, I think the scene still ended up turning out okay. While out filming with Lex (the person in the scene), I happened to look over and notice her sitting on that grassy hillside. Her head was comfortably tucked into her arms and she stared at the view in front, perfectly content to sit their without moving, bound by the silence. I recognized my own experience that prompted the written line in the first place, so with a quick warning of "Lex, don't move!" I caught a few seconds on film.
As a whole, this project was very much a collaborative effort and I would be remiss to not thank all the people that allowed me to film them, bounce ideas off of them, and that gave feedback on my rough cuts. So: thank you!! Sydney Hannan, a classmate of mine, did a fantastic job of capturing the footage of the reading at the fire along with all the B-roll shots inter-spaced between the scenery shots. She does incredible work; check it out at sydneyblair.photography or @sydneyhannan95!
Hope you enjoyed the film! I urge you to go out and find that place where nature's bite takes hold of you and gives that dose of freedom and peace. Happy wanderings!