It isn’t every day that a TV award show inspires a whole new direction in one’s artistic life, but a few years ago, that’s what happened to me. I was watching the Independent Spirit Awards, that hip and laid-back paean to independent cinema celebrated annually the evening before the Oscars. During the program, several up-and-coming filmmakers won grants to finish their work and one of them, a woman, invited “anybody out there who has something to say” to embrace the medium of film to say it. Her words didn’t exactly send a lightning bolt to my brain, but a small, possibly 60-watt bulb did switch on. I’d always used photographs to tell the stories in my books, but should I explore using video?
Since I’d never even used a video or movie camera at that point, my first step was to determine how serious I was about this new outlet. After due consideration, I decided to buy a video camera, with some advice from people in the know. I choose a Canon that uses tapes, rather than one that stores everything on an internal hard drive, because it somehow felt better to have evidence of my movie shoots that I could hold in my hand and store as backup. With memories of my dad’s 8-millimeter camera from the 1950s in my head, I was astonished at the exquisite technology that’s now available to anyone with a few bucks. Skill, however, is another story.
I got my feet wet by shooting footage of a friend’s birthday party at a bowling alley, then did some video oral histories with my dad and the father of another friend. Concurrently, I started taking One-to-One lessons at the Apple store, learning how to use iMovie software to edit the footage I shot. Making movies in this way is hugely empowering—something that millions have discovered before me, as evidenced by the fact that people upload hundreds of thousands of videos onto YouTube daily, according to the site’s Fact Sheet. Well, better late than never.
As much as I enjoy the act of capturing movement and sound, I have a constant internal dialogue going on about whether to use my still or video camera. Sometimes video is an obvious choice. Still pictures of my once-in-a-lifetime attempt at karaoke in 2009 would not have the same entertainment value as the video footage that my friend and I shot. (Though those who watched the video might have appreciated the silence of a dramatic photograph of me at the mike.) But I like the ability of a still photo to communicate both information and mystery at the same time. When I look at a photograph, I wonder what happened just before and just after it was taken, even as I pore over the details of the moment that was frozen in time. I think at heart, I’ll always be a still photograph kind of gal.
In the interest of meeting a challenge head-on, however, I decided to make a trailer for my new book, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way), which is finally hitting the stores this Tuesday, January 11. The trailer mixes original footage that I shot (behind the opening titles) with still photographs and some dandy archival film of women awheel. The process of gathering and organizing the images and editing the video was maddening but fun—and so engrossing that I barely noticed the developing blizzard outside my window. (Not surprising, writing the script was the easy part.) It was exciting to think about subject matter I knew so well in, literally, a whole new light. While I don’t plan to give up my day job, I want to continue exploring this other medium. It is, indeed, another compelling way to tell a story.
Check out my book trailer here.