“Salmon shield us from fear of death by showing us how to give of ourselves for things greater than ourselves.”
~ David James Duncan, My Story As Told By Water
Driving over Snoqualmie Pass two weeks ago, the larches shone gold on their Eastern slopes. Aspens and alders and vine maples shimmered red in the morning light. There’s no wonder the passing of things are marked in such a resplendent way. This march toward home – toward winter – toward death and the glint of new life beyond should be celebrated. It is The Way of things. We can no sooner stop the coming of winter than stop the colossal power of the river behind us by planting our feet stubbornly on the river-bottom.
Salmon show us the Way. As they always have. If they always will, remains in great part now, up to us. As David James Duncan writes, salmon give of themselves – until they have no more to give and by giving, bestow new life upon the Earth.
If ever there were a time to give, it is now. But how?
In The Breach, we had one call to action: Eat Wild Salmon. Eat Wild Save Wild. This seems counterintuitive at first blush. Why would you kill something you purport to love? But the contention has been and remains, if we demand wild salmon on our plates, we will demand the pristine habitat for them to continue coming back to us in perpetuity.
But what else is there? Love Something.
In our new film, The Wild, we focus solely on the issue of the ongoing threat of the proposed Pebble Mine potentially being built in the headwaters of the largest wild salmon run on Earth in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The central question in The Wild is:
How Do You Save What You Love?
Well, as implied, first of all you have to love something. Love slays fear. Love diffuses the minefield of chaos, fake news and corporate double-speak. Love needs nothing else. It is the soft, strong weapon of the heart. And it is enough by itself.
We humans have this other incredible organ, protected by armor, perched on our necks. It has reduced human suffering by eradicating disease, found more efficient ways to feed ourselves, move our physical bodies from place to place and communicate with each other in almost miraculous ways.
Our brains have also gotten us into a lot of trouble. And it almost always comes back to one arrogant thought. We can out-think nature. Especially in our relationship with wild salmon.
For hundreds of years we’ve dismantled the forests that cool and protect salmon spawning streams. We’ve vastly over-harvested salmon – shoving mountains of their bodies back into the water to rot when they couldn’t be processed fast enough. We’ve completely blocked their spawning rivers with dams and to this day are still thinking we’ve come up with better solutions than nature’s way of free-flowing rivers. The latest offering is to shoot salmon over these dams with a “Salmon Cannon.”
And when we sufficiently destroyed and disrupted wild salmon’s migration routes to the point of species collapse – we once again averted our gaze from the mirror and deferred to our thinking machine and decided “Hey! We don’t need to curtail any of this resource extraction business that makes a very few very wealthy for a very short time – we’ll just make fish instead! Then we won’t need those bothersome rivers at all!” Thus began the age of hatcheries and fish farms – making fish with our technology instead of simply taking care of the perfect system already in existence.
The question now is where do we go from here?
Right now, in Bristol Bay, the threat to its wild salmon runs is once again rising – and quickly. The folks at the Pebble Limited Partnership are back at it, emboldened now by a Trump Administration EPA who will stop at nothing to aid them in their quest to get permitted for their massive copper and gold mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay salmon country.
This last Wednesday, I interviewed Tom Collier, the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership for his perspective. One of the final questions I asked him was, “What do you say to all the pro-resource-development, Trump-voting Republican fishermen I’ve spoken with, on the record, who despite their social and political leanings still think this is the wrong mine in the wrong place?” His answer was short:
“I tell them…get ready…”
Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are still a few remnant salmon in our local streams in their brilliant spawning colors – the golds and reds of remnant autumn leaves in the trees above them coruscating in late-autumn light. I took a couple of my young nephews and nieces to see them last week and they were awed, the same way I was (way) back in the 1970s when I saw these big fish in small water for the first time.
Wealth beyond measure.
Those salmon and those trees don’t need to be told when it’s time to change color or how to find their way home – and they can’t, and won’t, find a way to bypass winter.
Because they accept The Way.
And because they are bound by a deep, mysterious love – a force far greater than themselves. That’s what happens when you sacrifice your immediate want for the need of harmony and wellness in the world for ages, stretching into millennia.
So now, I ask you what I’ve been asking myself for the last two years when trying to out-think the current situation we’ve put ourselves in.
How Do You Save What You Love?
Join me on this journey as we prepare to release The Wild into the world in 2018 – and let’s discover how to save what we love, together.
I imagine I’ve had 16 or so “perfect” days in my life. Gonna be honest – the last ten days didn’t feature one of them. I can only imagine the same for you.
We lost the path of Empathy in our Republic, my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my dearest Grandma Dot (96) forgot who I was for the first time – and clouds occluded the Starlight I’d just rediscovered in such a long time living inside the walls of the city.
All said, Mom’s doing pretty good and is in great care, Grandma still takes my calls even though she’s suspicious, and I know, somehow, the stars are still there, behind the clouds.
The Irish in me bears down on the sadness, heartbreak and ultimately however, the incredible potential for what can be as a human being and grits his teeth, knowing the work ahead. Yet I’ve seen what happens when love is at the center of things – of walking hand-in-hand in a forest at night with the Spirit from the Other Side. Of watching a Wild Salmon expire at my feet after a 10,000 mile journey to bring life back again to a tiny stream – of the fierce need to survive as a Family and a Species. This knowledge far exceeds any fear or anxiety – despite the chaos in this moment.
I have turned off the TV and most other sources of noise – re-listened to music long cherished and found new inspiration as well – and want to share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from that sometime. I’ve also re-read all the kind notes from the last while – and all the messages have been received. It’s inspired me to write something of value – not just a passing thought or giddy feeling in the moment.
The Universe is bigger than Us – but is still Us – and this moment will pass and eternity will carry on. We will shine again. It’s time to heal and (re)connect – stop the bleeding, hold on to whom we love, continue to lift each other up and find the way forward. We are built this way. The Salmon are built this way and if they can find their way home over millennia – despite earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and ice ages – so will we.
In this digital age, I feel the need to write a letter – scratched out on paper and send it to the Starlight. I don’t know the right address – but I’m going to keep writing anyway.
by Mark Titus
I have memories, somewhere around ten, of a King Salmon’s purple side arcing next to my dad’s boat at first light. And that night, the taste of the ocean in the glowing orange flesh.
Years later, I would spend three college summers in Bristol Bay, Alaska working at a salmon processing plant – and the better part of my 20s as a wilderness fishing-guide in Southeast Alaska. I was possessed in my love for and pursuit of this perfect food source – wild salmon.
And I thought I knew everything there was to know about them.
Until years later, when as a filmmaker I began to learn about wild salmons’ meteoric crash in the last 150 years. After the rapacious devastation of Europe’s salmon, the exact same human-induced practices spread to the Eastern shores of North America. The pattern followed to my home waters in the Pacific Northwest, where salmon populations are now a fraction of what they once were.
In creating The Breach I began to think of the symbiotic agreement Native Peoples had with salmon for millennia and how that has been compromised. There are hopeful restoration projects for repairing salmon runs – including the largest dam removal in US history on the Elwha River. But in thinking of what remains, my mind turned to Bristol Bay Alaska – where I’d spent those college summers 20 years before. Bristol Bay still has a perfect, healthy fishery, where 30-60 million wild salmon return each summer. They feed the land, animals and people of Bristol Bay, as they have for time immemorial.
And they feed the world. Half the world’s sockeye salmon supply comes from Bristol Bay.
In the middle of all this, a Canadian mining company is attempting to construct North America’s largest open-pit copper mine in the heart of Bristol Bay.
I sought out tribal leaders, scientists, policy makers, fishermen, artists, authors and chefs – all with a shared knowledge and passion for wild salmon as cultural treasure, mystery from the sea and food for the planet. Many spoke of salmon surviving ice ages and earthquakes for millennia. Our shared journey is in asking if wild salmon have a chance of surviving us.
by Mark Titus and Tom Douglas – published in The Seattle Times June 21st, 2015 – Link HERE: http://ow.ly/OKT05
IT’S time to save wild salmon — by eating them.
This seems counterintuitive. Why would we kill wild salmon if we are hoping to save them? The fact is, salmon are big business and consumers wield tremendous power through their purchasing decisions. When you buy and eat wild salmon, you are investing your dollars in our nation’s sustainable wild-salmon fisheries.
On June 4, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland released a ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Pebble Partnership against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pebble has plans to build North America’s largest open-pit copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in Alaska — home to North America’s largest remaining wild salmon runs. The EPA’s involvement in Bristol Bay came at the request of tribes, commercial fishermen, sportsmen and business owners, but the court ruling earlier this month temporarily keeps efforts to protect Bristol Bay through the Clean Water Act on hold.
So what can be done in the meantime to protect this world-class resource?
First, educate your family and friends about wild salmon. This spring, in partnership with commercial and sport fishermen, Alaska Native residents, chefs and conservationists, we completed a national tour of “The Breach,” a documentary film about the history and future of our last great wild-salmon runs. As a filmmaker and former Alaska salmon fishing guide, and a chef who serves wildsalmon, we are both motivated by wild salmon economically. But it’s more than that.
We, like most people living in this part of the world, revere salmon as the iconic keystone species they are. They’re not simply a product to be pumped out of a factory — they are the very lifeblood for 137 different creatures when they return to our rivers and streams with the ocean’s nutrients inside them. They are an irreplaceable part of our Northwest landscape — they’re even inside the trees. And yet their future here remains uncertain.
As “King of Fish” author David R. Montgomery says in the documentary film, “We haven’t done a particularly good job of protecting the resource when it comes to wild salmon.” That’s true.
Historically, European and American settlers overfished wild salmon until their numbers crashed. Worse, salmon spawning rivers were destroyed when they were dammed, polluted and scoured by rapacious logging and mining practices. Hatcheries and open-net-pen fish farms designed to mitigate this damage have in the long run actually caused more.
Thankfully, there are some healthy runs of wild salmon left — and great strides under way — such as the removal of the two Elwha River dams, which provide real hope for seeing wild salmon return. But of all the fully sustainable wild-salmon runs remaining in North America, none are as strong or as vital as the runs in Bristol Bay in Alaska.
Unfortunately, instead of listening to science and the opinions of 65 percent of Alaskans, the Pebble Limited Partnership decided to sue the EPA and delay the protection process that millions of Americans have asked for. Within weeks, more than 50 million wild sockeye salmon will return to Bristol Bay — the most in decades. Alaskan salmon are protected by the most stringent management practices in the world. In fact, protection of salmon was mandated by law in Alaska’s constitution in 1959.
When we purchase wild salmon, we’re purchasing a food source that is the same as it’s been for millennia — fed by the krill and currents of the open ocean. It’s nutritious and sustainable — and in Bristol Bay alone, provides 14,000 jobs on the West Coast, to the tune of $1.5 billion to the American economy. That simply can’t be said about other non-wild salmon options in the marketplace.
The choices we make with our forks and our dollars will affect what remains for future generations. If we demand wild salmon on our plates — we are demanding healthy habitat where wild salmon can thrive in perpetuity. And wild Bristol Bay sockeye can be purchased year-round, flash frozen or canned, with the same nutrients, quality and flavor as the day it was pulled out of the water — for a price affordable to most.
At the end of “The Breach,” Montgomery finishes his statement about human interaction with wild salmon by telling us, “If we don’t get Alaska right, we may have a clean sweep of getting it wrong.”
So what can else can we do?
Telling the Obama administration how we feel about wild salmon in Bristol Bay is the next best thing. But fundamentally, if we revere wild salmon — as 90 percent of us say we do here in the Pacific Northwest — we need to pick up our fork and insist they remain, by eating them.
A writer and director, Mark Titus recently directed “The Breach,” an award-winning documentary about wild
Pacific salmon. Tom Douglas, a chef and owner of a diverse group of Seattle restaurants, co-produced “The
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King’s words speak of a singular dedication toward a common goal of justice. Sacrifice. Suffering. Struggle.
Sounds kind of like making a film too, doesn’t it? Who endures struggle and tireless exertions if not for a cause greater than any one individual – a cause that with hope, leads to progress in the human condition.
Washington has made great strides toward progress in 2012. Our state approved landmark legislation for marriage equality and social justice in November. Of particular interest to us filmmakers – in June, Washington’s elected officials reapproved the Motion Picture Competitiveness program (i.e. Washington’s film incentive) – empowering our state to compete on a level playing field with our neighbors to the north and south of us. What it does, simply, is offer producers 30% cash back on production expenses incurred in Washington State. That’s crews, hotels, rental cars, restaurants, safety personnel, critter wranglers – you name it – 30% of a budget spent within Washington returned to the producer within 30 days. It means jobs for Washingtonians and exceptional value for filmmakers who want to take advantage of the stunning locations Washington State has to offer. Not to mention expert, seasoned crews. It’s a win-win for producers, filmmaking as a whole and Washington’s economy – and it progresses us forward toward a perpetual, totally sustainable industry here in the Great Northwest.
On a parting note of film, gorgeous locations and justice – Along with a super talented team, I’ve had the privilege of directing a feature documentary this year called The Breach that will chronicle several stories of hope vs. several stories of potential disaster for remaining wild Pacific salmon stocks. Our cornerstone story of hope is the beautiful Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula. For 100 years the Elwha people have sacrificed, suffered and struggled after two dams were built that blocked the wild salmon that fed them for millennia. 40 years of tireless exertions and passionate concern by scores of souls dedicated to seeing the Elwha run free once more, saw the light of justice when both dams were removed between September 2011 and November 2012. The human effort involved in achieving the largest dam removal in history has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. The return of salmon to the Elwha People after 100 years gives hope for justice and our progress as a species.
If you have a tireless cause – or a story you’d like to tell to move us, further – we’d love to have you join us, and tell it here in Washington.
Originally published in Washington Film Magazine – January, 2013
I landed my first paid directing gig in 2004. It was a green-screen spoof of The Wizard of Oz featuring sales executives from a pharmaceutical company. I was proud. Getting paid to direct anything was for me, a dream come true. I’ve gleaned a few things since then, and maybe the most important is for me, there’s a fundamental difference between surviving and living. Surviving is scrapping it out, paying the bills, getting it done, day after day. And that’s fine, and in today’s climate a very admirable feat in and of itself. Living, or making a living – making a life, involves working toward something. Finding a fixed point on the horizon to set a course to. In short, having a slate of creative projects you work on over time that feed your soul. Here are a few ideas to help keep your creative ship on course:
Put Your Art into It
No matter what the project is, find a way to hone your craft and expand your creativity. I’ve worked on many projects, (like most directors in Seattle,) involving screenshots, ‘mousing’ and talking heads. Finding new approaches to tried and true methods can be challenging, but rewarding. No matter what the project is, I always try to make my client happy, while finding a way to try something new out, creatively. Maybe it’s the way the image is framed – or a new way to bring motion to the camera. Maybe it’s approaching it through animation, or with a new composer to add some kick to the music. If you look at each project as an opportunity to expand your skill-set, it helps keep things fresh.
Know Why You’re Here
Why Seattle? Are the types of businesses and potential clients here enough to feed you, your family and your creative needs? My creative film projects are all intrinsically Northwest in one way or another. I can’t imagine not being part of this community and this landscape. I like the folks I work with – and my family is here. It works for me. If you are passionate about working your way up through the studio system to make blockbuster movies, episodic network TV, or reality TV, you may have more luck moving south. Be realistic about what you want.
Get out there. Go to the monthly Happy Hour Event hosted by the Seattle Office of Film + Music. Join Women in Film. Take advantage of all the great screenings, classes and events Northwest Film Forum has to offer. Enroll in the Film School. Meeting other directors and folks in the industry in Seattle will bring a sense of camaraderie and allow you to check in on what’s going on here in your community. In between creative projects, it can sometimes feel like you’re going it alone. Getting involved helps reinforce the reality that there are a lot of hard working filmmakers, right here in Seattle. You may find just the right creative partner to help you see your next project come to fruition.
Do Free Stuff
You can’t survive by giving away your talent and hard work. But you can’t live if you don’t feed your soul. Sometimes you need to do a project just for you. I’ve found that my friends in this industry are willing to lend their vision and hard work for an “Indie” rate if they believe in the project. I’ve certainly done my fair share of pro bono work and it’s led to great projects and great relationships in the community. That said, if it’s a project I’ve written and intend to direct, I always try to take care of peoples’ expenses, feed them, and pay them something for their day rate if at all possible. We Creatives can be kind, generous and looking for new, cool things to do, but nobody likes getting used, or repeatedly kicked in the teeth. If you’re willing to work pro bono for a peer and collaborator – chances are they’ll return the favor.
Once you set your course toward your own creative beacon on the horizon, keep the dream alive by feeding it whenever possible. If it’s a screenplay you’re working on and intend to direct – schedule time on your calendar, just as you would for a paying gig, to work on it regularly. It’s tough sometimes, jumping back and forth from the survival reality to your own creative reality – but it will keep your creative ship headed toward that light on the horizon.
First published in Washington Film Magazine, 2012.
“Here we are now, entertain us.”
OK. I’m consciously dating myself here. This refrain is of course the iconic mantra from Nirvana’s anthem, Smells Like Teen Spirit. The song came out in 1991, a year after I graduated from Prep – and has since been dubbed “An anthem for apathetic kids from Generation X” – of which, I am a member.
This idea – of being a faceless, apathetic drone in an endless sea of hapless consumers – flies in the face of what we learned at Prep – to hear the prophet Micah’s call to “Act justly, love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God, for the transformation of ourselves and the world.” It’s a distinct part of who we are as a community and is the furthest thing from wearing the sad mantle of apathy. Transformation is the antithesis of apathy.
I am by trade a storyteller. I write and direct screenplays for commercials, corporate brand films, documentaries and narrative films. Robert McKee, arguably the most revered guru on the art of writing screenplays says in his iconic book, Story: “A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling. When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo stories, it degenerates. We need true satires and tragedies, dramas and comedies that shine a clean light into the dingy corners of the human psyche and society. If not, as Yeats warned, ‘…the center cannot hold.’
Technology, in all forms of media these days, seems to be the focus of modern storytelling at times. So much so, it often eclipses the storytelling itself. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference from a beer commercial and a blockbuster movie. There’s obviously a lot of great, substantive material people are creating – it just seems like it gets harder and harder to find it.
Think about the last time you finished watching the latest mass-explosion, eye-popping CGI extravaganza. Did you ever, at any point during your viewing, ever reach the CGI saturation point and wonder, audibly or not: “Is there a story somewhere in here?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to date myself again, but I’m just as big a sucker for cinematic eye-candy as the next red-blooded American who grew up with films like Raiders of the Lost Ark. The difference is, that while Raiders was a hugely visual story with amazing, exotic images – at the core of it, there were developed, real, characters – with human flaws, failures, hopes and dreams. Of all the compelling images in that film, perhaps none was as arresting as the moment in the beginning of the film when Harrison Ford emerges from the shadows of the jungle to reveal…his face. A face full of human complexity and mystery. A face brought to life by an actor, driven by a carefully crafted screenplay, written to create a complex character. A character and a film that remains, (in my mind anyway) unforgettable. When this happens successfully, we empathize with that character, want to walk in his shoes, feel what he’s feeling and consequently invest in his life for two hours.
This can happen in our daily lives as well. To be a transformative, genuine human being of any faith or belief system, is in a way, to immerse ourselves in a form of fiction writing – of storytelling – a faith-formed act of fiction. When we allow our imagination to wonder what existence would be like for the woman we just drove by – in line for a bed at the shelter – we’re creating unwritten fiction. We imagine what her torn clothes would feel like on our skin, what the cold cement may feel like under our hip if the shelter were full. In that moment, whether written or filmed or not – we are a storyteller. And if we are to truly live up to our Jesuit education and training, our job as storyteller is to see the face of Christ in everyone around us. Even when faced with human disappointment, shady dealings and injustice, we are called as Mother Theresa said to “…see the face of Christ in every woman and man.”
So what does all this have to do with technology? Well, technology in general – and media-based technology in particular – has never been faster, more powerful or accessible. Anyone can go out and purchase a DSLR camera, a laptop, editing software and a hard-drive for under $10,000. Not too many years ago, the tools to make similar moving images would cost hundreds-of thousands of dollars. With resources like YouTube, some basic instruction and a gentle learning curve, a young person could be shooting, editing and distributing gorgeous media all over the world. Accessibility to media technology has democratized an industry and craft that was simply inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t in the Hollywood studio system – or had access to vast amounts of capital to fund independent film projects. The question is, “What are we going to do with it?”
At the core of utilizing all this technology is the story. And at the center of the story remains the human connection. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating a documentary, a corporate brand film, a project for school, or a presentation for a board room. Without a story that allows viewers to empathize with its characters as true human beings – the technology is meaningless.
Here’s a small example of technology working for story. Last summer I was asked to write and direct a 60-second commercial for the United Nations Development Programme. The spot was to star soccer stars, Didier Drogba and Zinedine Zidane and premiere at the World Cup in South Africa. Its intent was to raise global awareness of the UN Millennium goals to greatly ease poverty and suffering in third world nations by 2015. They asked if I’d be willing to do the piece pro bono, coordinate with collaborators in New York, Belgium, Switzerland, Brazil and the UK – and bring it all together in 4 weeks. I thought about the scope of the work a while and finally accepted after a gracious and talented Seattle crew agreed to collaborate with me. (Including talented acting services from a distinguished dad of several Prep alums.)
So I wrote a script centering on people of all sizes, colors and ages coming together through soccer, the world’s game, to join the fight to beat poverty. It focused on their faces. The folks at the UN liked it. So off we went. We shot the Seattle portion at Qwest Field. Drogba and Zidane were filmed in Europe and we edited all the footage here in Seattle. To be sure, there were moments of high tension – but in the end – we brought it all together and delivered on time. Here’s where the technology came in. Conference calls and real-time video chats looped in every collaborator from around the globe. The DSLR camera, laptop and hard drive system mentioned above produced rich images with shallow depth of field on a pro bono budget. Editing and subtitling in English, French and Arabic were done through all hours of the day and night – live over a video chat – while sharing the same editing screen over multiple laptops via the internet. I could literally make directorial decisions from my laptop at home – looking at the same screen my editor was sharing with me over the Internet from his studio – miles away. In the end, we came away with a story based on human connection. The technology available helped us pull it off in four weeks – and allowed the United Nations to distribute it all over the world.
So here we are, now. It’s 2011 and technological tools to tell stories through motion pictures are more available than any time in history. And that accessibility is only going to increase as technology gets faster and prices get cheaper. But media technology – and our ever-increasing access to it – is nothing without a real story at its core. Stories have the power to transform – but only if they’re rooted in empathizing with the human condition.
We’re not all bound to be filmmakers. But there’s no question that as future generations of Prep students emerge to transform the world, media-based technology will be crucial to their learning and lives in one way or another. The tools should (and I’m sure will) be made available to help Prep students thrive in a technologically evolving world. Using that technology to its potential will help them tell their stories. Prep’s unwavering devotion to Cura Personalis – Care for the Person – should (and I’m sure will) be at the core of these stories.
As David James Duncan notes in his book, God Laughs and Plays: “This (storytelling)…is Christ-like…not just to those practicing the art form known as fiction writing, but to anyone trying to live a faith, defend the weak, or sustain this world through love.” Stories aren’t simply to entertain – or be entertained. The stories we consume, write and create with our lives should transform us – and in turn, allow us to transform the world around us. When love for each other is at the core of these stories, the center may indeed hold.
First published in Seattle Prep Panther Tracks – Fall, 2011
My first year out of high school I left Seattle to attend college halfway across the country in Northfield, Minnesota. It was a beautiful place: The Autumn leaves – a fireworks show; the town – a Midwest jewel; the campus (otherwise know as “The Hill,”) – immaculate.
And something about it freaked me out. Standing on top of the campus hill – overlooking the flat farmland that stretched on forever – I was struck with a creeping sense of reverse vertigo. So much flat – so much sky. No mountains or mist or fog or colossal moss-laden old growth trees to insulate against the void. Standing there as the first wind-chilled kiss of winter grazed my cheek, I realized: I missed Washington. I missed home.
Fortunately, that Fall, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks was in full swing on network television and for an hour each week, I could return home by tuning in. The first reverberating chord of Angelo Badalamenti’s opening music started it. The subsequent images sealed the deal: A thrush in an evergreen tree; sawmills; Mt. Si looming in the mist; snowflakes drifting into the thunder of Snoqualmie Falls; the rain soaked, murky, coffee-colored river. Ahh… Washington… Home.
Motion pictures are powerful. They bring us to an immediate emotional place that in our everyday lives may take years or a lifetime to fully understand or express. Mr. Lynch’s show brought me to the starting point of an emotional understanding of my own. I’m not representing here that I fully understand all his work – (or any of it necessarily) – but man – the man can make a mood – and that’s powerful in and of itself. And the mood he made for me in that Twin Peaks opener was made in Washington. Any setting, mood or palette in a filmmaker’s imagination can be found inside this state: The soft rolling hills of the Palouse draped in a sunrise; the craggy spires of the North Cascades in crimson alpenglow; the metropolitan steel, smart neighborhood feel and impossibly gauzy light of Seattle.
That’s where I live now. Back home in Seattle, where I work as a writer and director. Today, it’s raining outside. Not the soft, misty rain we see for much of the winter – but a real, hard, clean rain. The wind is moving the dark Evergreens slowly in a January dance. The light is platinum in the west. My old black and white dog sleeps under the golden lamplight by this writing desk. On top of the desk sits a script I’ve worked on for some time. Inside the script are rivers full of salmon – and mist in the mountains and colossal moss-draped trees draped in gauzy light.
A mood is a powerful thing. Thank you Mr. Lynch.
First published in Washington Film Magazine, 2011.
Night comes early to Seattle in January. Seems like it’s been cold a long time now. Standing outside 911 Media Arts Center – waiting to get into the Seattle Women in Film DVD Release party (Available now at Amazon.com) – I couldn’t help but shiver. The news called for snow – and the flicker of a film projected through the front window made it feel like light refracted through ice.
Thankfully, it was warm inside – packed with twenty-one women directors, their supporters and friends and a whole lot of us who either work directly with them or would like to. We made our way through the crowd and stopped in front of the wall where Lynn Shelton’s Moral Centralia was being projected. As the flicker continued it occurred to me…we’ve all been working hard over the years toward a sustainable and collaborative film industry in Seattle – and looking at this film by an already accomplished filmmaker – and looking at fellow filmmakers throughout the room I realized…something’s happening.
I founded August Island Pictures in 2006 and found a physical home that year in Uptown – sharing studio space with red jet films. I’ve had the true good fortune to work with red jet’s Jeff Erwin and Sue Feil Erwin on most of the commercial and corporate projects I’ve produced in the last two years – learning from Jeff, an accomplished shooter, to tell stories by meticulous, well-crafted design. Part of the joy in working together has been the level of talent we consistently collaborate with. Looking around the party a good representation of that talent was peppered throughout the crowd: Editor Tracy Detlephs of Hullabaloo chatted with director John Jeffcoat. Cathy Wadley – editor, arrived with director/producer Kay D. Ray. Director Sue Corcoran of Von Piglet Productions walked through the door the same time as DP Sean Porter and Producer Laurie Hicks of Swingset films.
I’ve worked on projects with a lot of these folks for great clients like Microsoft, SeaMobile, T-Mobile, Weyerhaeuser, and World Vision. While crafting the docs and commercials and case studies and in-house training videos with all of them I’ve continuously stayed aware of one thing. We’re filmmakers – working together on our craft while simultaneously making our livings. But by definition, we need to make films. And films are being made. John Jeffcoat’s critically acclaimed feature directing debut, Outsourced, co-written by George Wing and produced by ShadowCatcher Entertainment, is currently in Theatres and on DVD. Lynn Shelton’s We Go Way Back won the Grand Jury Prize for best narrative feature at Slamdance 2006. Her latest feature, My Effortless Brilliance is set to premiere in March. Tracy Detlephs edited the Mega-Church feature doc God Awesome in 2007. Cathy Wadley edited Kay D. Ray’s doc, Lady Be Good that just finished post-production and is now seeking distribution. Director Sue Corcoran’s Circus of Infinity won Accolade’s 2007 Best in Show as well as the Nell Shipman award for Best Short 2006. Laurie Hicks just signed on to produce Dayna Hanson’s feature debut, Rainbow. Sean Porter just DP’d a 35mm music video for The Blakes and will also be the DP on Rainbow…..And in our own digs at red jet films; Jeff Erwin is editing his first feature doc about a maniacal genius in Everett.
Back at the party, CONTACT _Con-3D67C6DB13D \c \s \l Cheryl Slean and CONTACT _Con-3D67C6DBCC \c \s \l Susan Lasalle walked into the room just as Diggers, the film we all worked on lit up the wall. Cheryl wrote and directed, and Susan and I produced the 2005 IFP/Seattle Spotlight-Award-winning-short which is now making the festival rounds – premiering at SIFF 2006 and since then playing at festivals in India, Park City, Wisconsin, Portland and Los Angeles – and will make its European debut at The International Film Festival England this summer.
Also in 2006 was Knowing the Game – the short I produced with writer/director Justin Burris. Sean Porter worked on both – as First AC on Diggers – shot on 35 mm – and as DP on Knowing the Game which just got a distribution deal done with Mini-Movie, a new online distribution company based in Europe.
Back in 2004 I won the Washington State Screenplay Competition with a feature script called Dzonoqua – a supernatural thriller set in Alaska – now under the working title The Wild. John W. Comerford of Paradigm Studio optioned the script in 2005 and we’re continuing the development of the story in earnest, hoping to move into pre-production later this year.
I contacted Amy Lillard Dee, the Executive Director of Washington Film Works, a not-for-profit 501 (c) (6) organization that offers funding assistance to commercials, television and feature films shooting in Washington State. I knew about the $500,000 threshold for in state spending that must be met to qualify for assistance. What I didn’t know was how many local filmmakers have applied and received assistance. According to Amy, of the 25 applications their office has approved, eight have gone through to completion and they expect another four this quarter. Of the eight in production, one was a Seattle based feature: The Immaculate Conception of Little Drizzle (completed) written and directed by David Russo, produced by Peggy Case and executive produced by Michael Seiwerath. Amy and Washington Film Works expect another – (just approved) The Off Hours, written and directed by Megan Griffiths and Produced by Mischa Jakupcak, Lacey Leavitt and Joy Saez – to go into production shortly.
As I headed back out into the cold that night, I realized how many talented people were packed in that room. And I only crossed paths with a few of them. And that was just one room. There are more rooms around Seattle where talented filmmakers are visualizing amazing stories that one day will flicker with light on a big screen. Spring will be coming, and the warmth of summer after that – long days in Seattle – lots of light. For all of us here, it’s time to shine.
First published in Media Inc. Winter, 2008.