In the fourth episode of our Creative Nonfiction Film podcast season, Sam Green discusses his film 32 Sounds and the live documentary.
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On episode 4 of the creative nonfiction podcast season, Alex Heeney talks to Sam Green about 32 Sounds and his work exploring the possibilities of his work that he describes as “live documentaries”. These are part locked footage, part live performance, usually including a live band on stage performing the film’s music.
On this episode, we give some background on Sam Green’s work in live documentary, talk about how A Thousand Thoughts (2018), co-directed with Joe Bini, felt like a turning point for his work in the form, and discuss what makes 32 Sounds such a wonderful and innovative film. Finally, Alex talks to Sam Green about making 32 Sounds, and more broadly about how he thinks about live documentary and why this is a space he likes working in.
The episode features a conversation between Alex Heeney and Orla Smith about 32 Sounds and live documentary, recorded in January 2022 right after the world premiere of 32 Sounds. The interview with Sam Green was conducted via Zoom in January 2022 the day after 32 Sounds had its world (virtual) premiere at Sundance. This is an edited version of the complete conversation; the complete conversation is available on our website here.
About Sam Green’s live documentaries
Green’s first live documentary was Utopia in Four Movements (2010), which had its world premiere at Sundance 2010. He then did The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller (2012), which Alex Heeney saw at its world premiere in San Francisco. Director-editor Joe Bini, whom we interviewed about live documentary in our ebook Subjective realities: The art of creative nonfiction, also saw the film in SF. This led to Bini and Green collaborating on the Kronos Quartet live documentary A Thousand Thoughts (2018). 32 Sounds is Green’s first live documentary which was also designed for a home viewing experience.
About 32 Sounds, which we discuss on the podcast
On the Seventh Row podcast, Orla Smith described 32 Sounds as the “feel good film of the festival”. It’s an immersive deep-dive into how sound makes us feel and how we process sounds. It asks us to consider the sounds we encounter all the time and don’t notice, the sounds that mark our memories, and how we create sound. Its vignette structure was loosely inspired by 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (François Girard, 1993). 32 Sounds certainly contains more than thirty-two sounds, though the selected ones are occasionally tallied for us. It is alternately lighthearted — explaining sound waves with a whoopie cushion — and deeply contemplative, as when Green dreads listening to the answering machine recordings left by his late brother.
Listen to the whole Creative Nonfiction season
In this 5-episode podcast season, Alex Heeney interviews four creative nonfiction filmmakers about their latest films and how they are pushing the boundaries of what documentary and nonfiction film can be.
Listen to all the episodes to discover how filmmakers are pushing the bounds of documentary cinema in 2023.
Show Notes for Creative Nonfiction Podcast Season Ep. 4: Sam Green on 32 Sounds and live documentary
- Read Alex Heeney’s full interview with Sam Green on 32 Sounds
- Find screenings of Sam Green’s live documentaries
- Find screenings of 32 Sounds
- Read Sam Green’s introduction to live documentary and Utopia in Four Movements
- Read our chapters on live documentary in the ebook Subjective Realities.
- Listen to our full discussion of creative nonfiction film from Sundance 2022 (which is excerpted in this episode on 32 Sounds)
- Listen to the podcast on Subjective realities
Show Notes on creative nonfiction
- Watch our masterclass on Creative Nonfiction with Carol Nguyen and Penny Lane
- Get your copy of the ebook Subjective Realities
- Get your copy of the ebook In their own words: Documentary Masters vol. 1
- Discover more Seventh Row writing on creative nonfiction film
- Become a member to listen to our entire archive of podcasts, including our past episodes in which we discuss creative nonfiction films.
Get our ebooks on documentary filmmaking and creative nonfiction film
Subjective Realities contains interviews with filmmakers Joe Bini (Little Ethiopia) and Zia Anger (My First Film) on their work on live documentary. Joe Bini also co-directed A Thousand Thoughts with Sam Green, and then continued to make his own live documentaries with his wife, Maya Daisy Hawke.
Dive deep into the work of Frederick Wiseman and Gianfranco Rosi and read our initial interview with Penny Lane on creative nonfiction by getting Documentary Masters in a bundle with Subjective Realities: The art of creative nonfiction film.
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Related Episodes on creative nonfiction film
- Ep. 99 (FREE): Creative Nonfiction with Penny Lane and Carol Nguyen
- Sundance 2023 Ep. 7 (FREE): Best of the fest + documentaries Fantastic Machine, Is There Anybody Out There, and more
- Ep. 123 (FREE): Sundance 2022: Creative Nonfiction
- Ep. 67 (Members Only): Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris and City Hall
- Ep. 95 (Members Only): No Ordinary Man and John Ware Reclaimed: Reclaiming history in documentary
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All of our episodes that are more than six months old are only available to members. Additionally, we have many bonus episodes and in-between season episodes which are also only available to members.
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Host Alex Heeney is the Editor-in-Chief of Seventh Row. Find her on Twitter @bwestcineaste.
This episode was edited, produced, and recorded by Alex Heeney.
The transcript for the free excerpt of this episode was AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Alex Heeney 0:20
Hello and welcome to episode four of the creative nonfiction season of the seventh row podcast. I'm your host Alex Heeney, editor in chief of Seventh Row.
On today's episode, I will be interviewing Sam green about his documentary 32 sounds and his work more broadly in live documentaries. I will also be talking a bit about the film and Sam Green's work in live documentary and I will be talking to Orla Smith, about our thoughts on 32 sounds, which was actually recorded in early 2022, right after the film premiered at Sundance.
If you're just joining us now for the creative nonfiction season, this is a five episode season with new episodes dropping every Wednesday. The first episode is an introduction to the term creative nonfiction film and the framework for thinking about this genre that we at seven zero developed in our ebooks objective realities, the art of creative nonfiction film, you can get the book get subjective realities.com
Each of the four subsequent episodes features an interview with one of the best creative nonfiction filmmakers working today. There'll be discussing their latest film as well as how they approach making boundary pushing documentaries. If you want to go back and catch up in episode two I interviewed Sophie finds about her new film, Four Quartets, and documenting theater on film. In episode three, I interviewed Quebec qua filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, but his new four part documentary series luck, Megan antique. This is not an accident about the 2013 rail disaster in Quebec. He talked about subverting the conventions of the true crime dock and how his background as a fiction filmmaker helped him to make his first documentary. So while this episode is ostensibly about 32 sounds, it's really an excuse to talk about this new emerging form of documentary called Live documentary. And as Orla and I will talk about later that was something that we really started to explore in our ebooks objective realities, when we talk to Joe Bini about his film, little Ethiopia, and the anger about her film my first film, but Sam green actually got there before both of them and is one of the big inspirations for Joe beanies work because the two of them actually work together on the Kronos Quartet documentary 1000 thoughts.
But Sam Green has been making these live documentaries for over a decade. And they've evolved quite a lot. So in 2010, Sam green made his first live documentary called utopia in four movements. And in a way this is kind of like an encoded version of the documentaries, these live documentaries to come. And on his website, he describes a bit of what this was he basically says that what he means by live documentary here is I narrate the film in person and use Keynote, to cue images while Dave surf mixes a soundtrack on his laptop. And he says that it started out as a way to put all the material together and screen it for people sort of as a live rough cut. But over time, this has kind of become his primary approach. And he got really interested in this because he was partly responding to how do we get people to come out to cinemas still, and come out to enjoy a film with a live audience when it's cheaper to just do it at home and he was finding that you know, his students would just rent movies at home that going to a theater was expensive and a hassle. Sam Green's second live documentary, the love song of our Buckminster Fuller,
was in 2012, and I actually had the great pleasure of being at the world premiere screening of that in San Francisco at the SF MOMA. And I believe that's also where Joe Bini saw the film and ended up getting in touch with Sam green about working together in the future, which led to
1000 thoughts. But so the love song of our Buckminster Fuller was sort of like as a slight step up from his pre from utopia in this sense that this was composed Livescore
that Yo La Tengo performed and it was essentially kind of like, I mean, as Sam green describes it in our conversation, it's kind of like a PowerPoint presentation where he's giving this live narration and then behind him are is all this archival footage of Buckminster Fuller and my recollection is it was pretty much silent because all of the sound was either coming from Sam Green who was narrating or from the the the
band Yo la Tango who is playing this score. So I remember when I saw the love song for our Buckminster Fuller, I thought that the live element was really neat. And this was a really neat sort of hybrid of theater and film and the Live Score, that was something that was kind of starting to go into fashion and film, just sort of do live scores.
With film, sometimes original, sometimes not. And that was something that was happening quite a bit in the barrier at the time.
But I don't feel like I really understood the real potential of live documentary until I saw 32 sounds and perhaps even more so when I saw A Thousand Thoughts. In between, our book was the love song of our Buckminster Fuller and 1000 thoughts and greed made another live documentary, which I haven't seen called the measure of all things. And this was in 2014, and had its premiere at Sundance, which was also where his first live documentary premiered. And on Sam's website, he describes the film as a meditation on fate time and the outer contours of the human experience. Inspired very loosely by the Guinness Book of Records, the measure of all things will weave together a series of portraits of record holding people, places and things, including the tallest man, the oldest living thing, the man struck by lightning the most times, the oldest living person and the woman with the world's longest name, among others.
He describes it as drawing inspiration equally from old travelogues, the benci tradition and Ted Talks.
And it to screened with in person narration live and alive soundtrack. So live music and live narration were always really key components of Sam Green's live documentaries. And I think he really took this to another level with 1000 thoughts, which premiered at Sundance in 2018. And he's, you know, still performing around the world. It's actually the one that I saw most recently. I saw it in January 2023, in Toronto.
And I think this is really just an incredible piece of work. And you can see the seeds of 32 sounds in here, because it's a film about music, and it's a film about sound. And it's also a film, like, it feels like so much more than a PowerPoint presentation. Like you could watch the images on screen as a film in their own right, more or less. But it would feel like kind of a standard music documentary. It's got interviews with the members of the Kronos Quartet and interviews with various other people who are talking about the Kronos Quartet, and some archival footage and archival recordings and, and so to give you some context, and you know, if Sam green had recorded himself speaking as the soundtrack, then you could kind of watch it on its own.
But it has this kind of incredible impact when you see it in person. And I was just absolutely floored by it. Actually have a recording of I think the Sundance, the Sundance screening, and I remember watching, going through and like watching part of the recording,
after I had seen it live and I was like wow, like you just do not get how cool this thing is, if you watch the recording of the live performance, and you know, that's often true for when you try and record live theatre. And that's, you know, why I talk to Sophie finds this season because I feel like she's kind of cracked the code for, you know, one of the greatest approaches I've ever seen to recording
or maybe not recording live theatre, but capturing a theatre performance for a recording for film for posterity. So, I mean, what's really neat about 1000 thoughts is that because Kronos Quartet is there on stage, you actually have them sort of having a conversation with the images from the film which is projected behind them, which is also in conversation with Sam greens narration so they might be playing something and Sam green might be explaining something they're playing. And then you might also before or during or after hear them up on the big screen from an earlier interview where they're actually talking about, you know, the piece that they're playing and how they came to it and how they approached it, where they might just be talking about their process and something he uses a bunch is like a split screen of, of four people so you can see them and he lines them up in the order in which they sit on stage in a semicircle. So it's like you have this very meta element of them being right there playing the music for you while the they are also there on screen in the recording, too.
talking to you about their experience with the music and at the same time you have Sam green, giving sort of an outsider's perspective on on what they're doing and the significance of Kronos Quartet and, and you know what is interesting about what we're watching.
So it's kind of more so than I would say, you know the love song of R. Buckminster Fuller is it's kind of a concert film, in a sense that in away that it's really a concert like the Kronos Quartet is really there. And they and you know, Sam green pauses, and the film pauses long enough for them to play entire pieces.
And it's also sort of a, an education for the audience, I guess, about where Kronos Quartet came from and what their inspirations are. And, you know, one of the really cool parts is, you know, they've collaborated with the Inuk, throat singer, Tanya Tagaq. And there is a part in the performance where she shows up on the screen and she is singing, she is not there in in the concert hall with us or in the theater with us with the Kronos Quartet. But then we get to see the Kronos Quartet accompanying this recording of Tanya tagaq singing on screen, and that was kind of incredible.
Because now you actually have them playing in a very real way with the film like they the film is an accompaniment in more ways than one.
And so this was just like a way of getting inside the music in a way that I've never seen a music documentary do in a way that you couldn't get just from interviews in a way you couldn't get just from someone giving a talk on the film. It was all these different perspectives into it and, and it was like the
not just the performance and the Kronos Quartet were in conversation with the film. But the you know, the film is, it's in conversation with themselves in conversation about the culture with the cultural narrative about them. And then, of course, they actually get to accompany somebody who they've played with and recorded albums with before, who only appears on screen in a recorded form. So that was a film that Sam green made with Joe beanie, that they ended up CO directing. And if you've been following southern throw for a while, you might know that giovine Friend of the site is someone we've talked to many times who is mostly works as an editor, though he has started directing films, as of 1000 thoughts and also makes his own films and makes films with his his wife, Maya, Daisy hoch. They make live documentaries together, but he's somebody who's very, very thoughtful about sound and about editing, of course. And I think this is what Sam green told me that that really working with giovine really changed how he thought about sound and working on this sort of unconventional music documentary also changed how we thought about sound and listening and music. And that was sort of what led to 32 sounds because we went from this film that was about music in which sound is of course, an incredibly important component to a film that was really just about sound.
And some of those sounds are also are, are pieces of music.
And what's interesting about their YouTube sounds is that it's a film that is actually designed for two experiences. One is to see the live it, you know, the live experience where you go out and you see Sam green, and JD Sampson, who does the music, perform live with, like, accompanying what is essentially a video file that works as a standalone film.
Or you can watch it at home. And it's actually designed to be watched with headphones because they use this new technology called a binaural microphone. And it's something I first encountered with the complicite's Theatre production of
the encounter, which is this, like effectively a one man show that you wear headphones and he plays with his binaural mic which replicates what sound is actually sounds like to you, you know, because the way the microphone works is that it's it's like the in the shape of a head and so it capture sound, so that you can hear it will be the way you would hear it around your head and it will reproduce that when you hear that in your headphones. So I mean a lot of documentaries kind of started as this way of creating something that is an experience worth leaving the house for. And it's interesting that over a decade later 32 sounds is both and experiences designed to be watched. Live with a live audience live music live now
Question from Sam green, or what's been happening because the film is now out in cinemas is they're doing screenings in a theater where it's been mixed for theater sounds. surround sound. It's also been mixed for headphones and there are certain screenings where you can go there and you watch it in a room full of people where all of your wearing headphones and soon I imagine it will be available at home on VOD, where you can watch it the way I watched it because Sundance was virtual in 2022.
Where you're watching it at home by yourself with headphones or at home with other people where you're all wearing headphones. Before we start to dive deep into 32 Sounds here's the trailer.
Unknown Speaker 15:43
A rolling scene one take one. Hello. Hello and welcome. Welcome to 32 sounds
Unknown Speaker 16:04
I was sitting at my kitchen table late one night thinking about these tapes, voicemail messages that I saved over the years
Unknown Speaker 16:14
how does the little piece of tape hold the person make it seem like they're alive?
Unknown Speaker 16:20
I was wondering why sound has such a strange power
Unknown Speaker 16:34
Unknown Speaker 16:49
listening to a whole other world, aquatic insects, bugs, fish. I think of sound as being a channel of connection a
Unknown Speaker 17:00
lot of people asked me why sound all I could say is that something was driving me to make this movie even if I couldn't say exactly what.
Unknown Speaker 17:32
Hello, and welcome to 32 sound.
Sam Green 17:37
That's how you do it.
Alex Heeney 17:41
I am now going to play you my conversation with Orla Smith about 32 sounds which we actually recorded back in January 2022. Right after we'd seen the world premiere of the film, and we talked a bit about how we discovered live documentaries what a live documentary is and why we were so impressed with 32 sounds. This is an excerpt of a longer conversation that we had in our episode on creative nonfiction at Sundance 2022 and episode 123. So if you'd like to hear some of the context about documentaries at Sundance in 2022, and how we're looking at 32 sounds as it fits into Sundance's history of programming documentaries, you might want to go back and listen to that full episode. But I'm going to excerpt our conversation here because I think it's a great introduction to the film. And therefore a really good introduction to my conversation with Sam green. The first voice you'll hear is Orla introducing the film. And it was actually our number one film of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Orla Smith 18:49
It's a film that is creative nonfiction, but it's also like playing with interactive cinema and like cinema as live performance. So I feel like that's interesting that like, now that's what's considered experimental. And in five years time, we'll film like that via new frontiers. I don't know. I'd be curious to see. I mean, it might be just because you've rented your also seems to be it's about interactive, like that's where they put the VR stuff. And they've been programming Sam Green's films who directed 32 Sounds who does these, like live performance films that that has been in New Frontiers in the past as well, the film that would like the version of the film that we watched was a in the way that it's kind of presented. It is like a, like a 90 minute video file, you know, like, but film in a way also talks back to you. Like
Alex Heeney 19:43
it's de finitely more conventional than his or can be viewed in a more conventional way than his other films which have Well, I mean, this does have a design for a live component with like a musician on stage playing along live. But unlike the other films, it's not built around that.
Orla Smith 19:56
I mean, we so we had a section at the end of our creative nonfiction book that wasn't always meant to be there. When we set out to writing the book, we had a few interviews already. And we had a few ideas about themes we wanted to explore regarding creative nonfiction. So there was like films about reclaiming history, films that were portraits of a person or a place films that were like toying with a line between fiction and reality. We had a case study and animated documentaries, so all these like categories that are really interesting, but we had a bunch of examples of them. And then, as we were interviewing people, this like interesting things start to emerge where we entered two filmmakers who were talking about experimenting with, like, a mixture of live performance and cinema, which was the anger with my first film, which was like live streamed live performed cinema, open zoom. And then we had Joe Bini, who I originally contacted to interview about editing, Verner Hertzog films, but then learned about all this experimenting he's been doing lately as a director in live performance films, whether in like in person or live stream form, and he actually worked with sound green. I think that was the origin of his craft and why you saw that it's called 1000. Thoughts. It was like a live performance. No, he didn't. You saw sound greens, other projects. Yeah, he did a project before that, that had its world premiere in San Francisco called the love song for our Buckminster Fuller, which had a lie it was kind of like an archival film with a live on stage score by the band Yo La Tengo.
Alex Heeney 21:45
did some music for Kelly Reichardt film once. I think Sam Green was one of the big innovators of these live performances. And I think a lot of the innovation with like live performed cinema was happening or has been happening in San Francisco, the San Francisco Film Festival ever since I started going to it in 2011. They always have these live programs where they have some kind of live cinema hybrid like there was a film one year that like Miranda July did where she was narrating it live. They do new live scores on older films, sometimes silent films. And Sam Green was based in Bay Area for like 20 years. And of course, his film the love song for our Buckminster Fuller that I saw was also a world premiere at San Francisco. It was that was that the film faster just by the Film Society. And Joe Bini saw, I think was the story he saw that same performance. And and that is how he became aware of Sam Green's work in live performance and went then to work with him on a new project, which was about the Kronos Quartet called 1000. Thoughts, which is this live performance thing they did together and ever since he's been very interested in that, and he's done his own project with his partner who literally Ethiopia, which is like, it's as performed live, they each they're both editors, and they each and she actually Maya Daisy hook, not the actress might hook a different one, what she edited the film, or is it called Navalny, which one the overall festival audience award at Sundance this year, interestingly, but they both they're both editors, and they were both made like little homemade films about their relationship using like, old videos they had or like, whatever, using whatever. And then they would screen the short films to each other live in front of an audience and then have a discussion about each other's films, which they've not seen before. And so they're basically dissecting their relationship in front of a live audience. And they did Tabitha Jackson say something like that they were people thought they were about to witness a divorce. Well, yeah, I think that they won one of the screenings they did, but when they changed the films every time they added new films every time so each time they performed it, it was like a new thing. And he said it did like cause real tension in their relationship. And he proved they performed it for work, like Tabitha Jackson, who runs Sundance Film Festival, and is interviewed in our book and is interviewed. But she she watched his performance, he said, Did I just witness you guys breaking out?
Orla Smith 24:26
They are still together. So all is good. But they did like a live stream version too. So you can find that online or put a link in the show notes of literally Ethiopia. So it was sort of like a version they did over zoom during the pandemic, like transpire in that format online, but it was still performed live over zoom. And it's really, really interesting projects. And dirty sounds is another kind of project like that, where there's two versions of it, right? There's one that can be performed live in front of an audience. And then there's one that can be like sat down and watched as sort of a traditional film. But the film still talks back to you in this really interesting way. And it's designed to be watched like on the laptop with headphones on or on a desktop with headphones. You have to watch it with on your own basically is a key thing here. They do say at the beginning, I mean, if you're like, on the sofa with your friends, that's fine, too. But it is designed for headphones. Yeah. And I would really recommend you watch with headphones as the film went to, like, you'll open.
Alex Heeney 25:32
Like, they tell you to go get your headphones. And if you're like me, you're like, yeah, now. And then they're like, No, really, we're not kidding, get your headphones, it's like, Fine, I'll pause it and go find my headphones.
Orla Smith 25:44
But yeah, I don't know how to describe the film. It's kind of just probably, like, at least tell people vaguely what the premises all about sound. What is that? I did tech someone afterwards and say just watched a film about sound. And they said that's called an album.
But it's a show about sound. About 32 sounds, there are more than 32 sounds in the film as a disclaimer,
Alex Heeney 26:13
that number comes from he was inspired by 32 short films about Glenn Gould, which I just think is great, because it's just like big Canadian film that no one else has heard of, outside of Canada. But it was a big inspiration for Sam green. And that's like 32 vignettes about the pianist Glenn Gould and also relating to his work on on playing the works of
JS Bach, and in particular, the Goldberg Variations. So he kind of used that as inspiration to sort of try and build it around 32 ish vignettes. But as you say, like, it doesn't really count for you, as he says in the film, who's keeping who's keeping track. Yeah,
Orla Smith 26:53
he's like, this is sound number 12. But who's keeping track. But essentially, he's picked 32 instances of sound to explore in whatever way he chooses to. And along, that rarely gives you some of the science of sound, some of the history of how sound is recorded, explores some people's emotional experiences with sound, the idea of recording the sounds of people who are now dead and listening back to that, and the emotional experience of that. And I'd like just everything you could possibly think of to do sound that we get a scene that I really liked him like a foley artists doing her work, and creating the sound like a tree falling in the woods, or that it's a nice payoff for this montage earlier in the film of a bunch of different images. That ends I think, with just the image of a tree falling in the forest in an empty forest. And every other image in that montage had a sound and this one doesn't. And we find out later that it's because that it's created in the lab, as it were. Yeah, and one of the best parts is you are to get this like explanation of binaural sound, which I mean to explain, there's like mono sound, right, the sound coming from one place, and then you can have like surround sound, which is like the sound is everywhere. With binaural sound as a way of recording sound that's like they show like a dummy head with microphones in both of his ears. And then the film asks you to close your eyes, as this guy walks around the head with like, a box of matches that he's sort of rubbing. And with your eyes closed. It's amazing. Like I really felt like it was there walking around my head like he was I could hear his footsteps. And you can sense the idea of this way of recording is that you can like you can sense exactly where in the space around you the sound is coming from. It's amazing experience. I have like a film like, I mean, again, like when I say the film talks back to you, even though it's not live, it's like, sometimes it wants you to close your eyes. And they're sort of like, oh, you can do it. You can watch this film How you like but there'll be some instructions. At one point, there's like a five minute dance break where he's like, we're gonna play some music. And you know, like, they've like put the bass up so that you're supposed to feel it in your body. And he's like, if you want get up and like do a dance to like shake up some energy. It's like a little like, you know, an interlude in the film. That's why it's such a hard film to describe because it's doing so many little different things.
Alex Heeney 29:34
I think like its basic premise is to try to make you more aware of sound, how you experience it, how you process it, and how important it is emotionally, and it does that in a bunch of different ways. Part of that is it keeps trying to encourage you to do active listening because the danger with like a film without sound is it could become this kind of experimental thing where it's just like you're
There's one sound, here's another sound, here's another sound and then either you fall asleep or you walk out or, or you have an incredibly high tolerance for, I don't know, boredom, but experimental, I've uncovered an endurance test. And it's not an endurance test. So like, so the question is like, how do you get people to pay attention to sound because a lot of what it does is it's just making you aware of things that your brain does all the time that you just take for granted. You know, like, I was talking, I saw, I did an interview with Sam green, where he talked about the film and putting it all together. And we talked about that match sequence. And I was saying to him, you know, it's like, so cool. There's a point where the guy like, blows into the ear of the microphone, and you can feel the pressure. Yeah. Wait, yeah, exactly. Blowing you feel like he's blowing into your ear. And Sam Green was like, yes, it's like, basics.
Orla Smith 30:52
And that's it. Like, that's, yeah, I mean, that's literally how you experience sound everyday. But we're so used to sound being processed for us in a way that's not realistic. Like, somebody does talk about how surround sound is you know, how movies are produced. So how you actually experience sound in real life, like how you experience sound has to do with exactly how your brain processes it, right, which doesn't involve speakers in every direction. And so when you somehow, like the film makes fascinating, somebody's blowing into your ear. Because it's like, he's like, he's right there, I can feel his his breath. And you know, you've just been told about like, sound is pressure waves. And so you become aware of like, oh, like, I can feel my brain processing the sound, which is not something you usually think about, like sound is something that is like so constant, that you never really stop and think about it. And the film has kind of encouraged you to think about how magical it actually is. All these things are happening, like the way that sound works. Like it makes you kind of amazed about it. Even though these are like things that you there are things that the film is showing me that like I know, but like, I never thought about them that way, or I never like stuck to like, and it's asking you to hear things in so many different ways. Like, what if you heard this thing with your eyes closed? What does that do? What does it do when you're pairing, your eyes are open and you're pairing the sound with an image. There are points where the film tells you you should close your eyes out. But then there are points where like, after you've done that a few times, you're kind of I found myself choosing do I want to watch this image with the sound? Or do I want to experience the sound only and close my eyes and you're kind of making those choices throughout. And then you're seeing like, how the sound is made when you see the foley artist and that's a different way to kind of experience that sound like has it changed the way I hear the sound when I know that like the it's not leaves rustling, it's like someone like rubbing like bits of tape around or whatever that was, or when you see where the microphone actually is placed in space for the sound that you're hearing. And he also also, what does it do to watch someone listen, and then to listen to the sound with them. Like there's so many amazing shots of people listening, that are sometimes like quite emotional as well, because you hear the sound differently when you're watching how it emotionally affects someone. Two things I'll say about this film is I think it's probably the best edited film at the festival. The way it's put together is so like, playful, which I love. And it's edited by Nels Bangerter who edited camera person and is kind of this sort of like very popular documentary editor right now. This must have been such a puzzle to edit together. And again, it's it's it's done with such a playful pace. And then I also feel like it's like the feel good film of the festival.
It's funny, it's very again, like it's playful. There's there's jokes, it's fun, it's talking to you, you feel like you're in conversation with the with the film but it's also like so intent on showing you how amazing sound is. And obviously sound. Again, like sound is all around you. And so it does something amazing to like be shown to be to be made to think about how amazing sound is and how emotional sound can be. It really like affects how you go forward. After you've like finished the film, like he finished the film and then now I'm like okay, all these sounds are hearing is so cool. I felt really good after watching it. I really think it is a feel good film with a festival. I think it was also a really exciting film to watch at a virtual Film Festival. Which is funny because they hadn't actually intended to do this to screen this film. Virtually even when Sundance was good
Alex Heeney 35:00
Near hybrid, they are planning to like sell distribution rights. And at some point, you should be able to watch this like on VOD, at home, on your laptop with headphones. But it was pretty exciting to be able to watch this film where it felt like it was actually designed for the experience you're having.
It's designed, you know, when they when they travel with this, they they bring a bunch of headsets. And it's like the Broadway show the encounter, which was where I first heard slash saw binaural mic being used. And also, Sam green saw that show as well. And that was a big inspiration for this film. But I never experienced that in a film context or at home. And it's like, you think about all how, even before the pandemic, we were more and more watching films at home, partly because things were available, partly because the utricle experience was starting to suck. And even in, you know, a lot of tiny films, you couldn't even see theatrically if you wanted to, unless you lived in New York City. And we're free the one week that it was available to see in a cinema. And so it was kind of really wonderful that like, in a time when you know, at the height of the Omicron wave when it's like you're stuck at home, and when is this ever going to end? Here's an experience that actually feels designed for that as opposed to something that somehow a compromise like the like, I mean, more or less dissenters virtual experience was pretty okay. But like some things about it really sucked. And this just felt like no, this is this is the way you should be designing films that, you know, you should acknowledge the fact that they're gonna watch things at home and design the sound for that, not just like, do a kind of half assed job after the theatrical release in order to do the VOD. And it felt like this is a new way forward for filmmaking. It felt so refreshing to watch a film after like, I mean, there's so much discourse right now about like, how cinema is the most holy place to watch film? And like, I don't disagree that what's your film in the cinema is like a wonderful experience. When you're not going to die from it. Exactly. Yeah. Like it's, I would love to be watching films, and I can't. And also a good film should work outside of the cinema. Yeah, but there's so much of like, this being kind of feels like being like, told off by the film and the filmmaker, for like, not watching it in like the optimum, revered place that you should be watching the film, like, you have to kind of meet the film where it's at. And I love that this film is about like you as a viewer, your experience of the film is just as important as like the film itself. And it's such like a, a film that is very caring towards the viewer. And like it feels like you're choosing how you want to watch the film. And that changes the film almost from person to person basis. I mean, they want you to watch it with headphones on. But it's fun to watch, like the filmmaker be on screen at the beginning and be like, but if you don't, it's fine. This film is still like here, and it will be whatever you make of it on something Sam Green said to me in our interview is that, you know, the way they started thinking about it is that that there are two experiences, there's the experience you can have with the film at home by yourself. And then there's the sort of the live experience. And it's like, people will buy the album for a band they really like but they'll also still go see that band live when they come to their city. And like why don't we take this approach to cinema that we take to you know, music and the performing arts. Why make a film that can only work in a cinema when that means it can be viewed in only a limited timeframe and limited places. I'm not saying don't do that don't create that experience. But you should really be designing for both experiences. I think that's something we talked about a lot with recorded theater that we're so glad we have access to recorded theater, but if we had the option, we'd still see the thing live.
Next up, I'm going to play you my interview with Sam green. I actually talked to Sam via zoom in January 2022. And it was on the day after the film had its live
premiere at Sundance, which was technically the world premiere of the film. So his thoughts here are super fresh. They'd only just finished the film about a week before. Please do forgive the few audio quality issues when I recorded this hadn't planned to use it for a podcast. So it doesn't doesn't quite live up to our audio standards that we otherwise have.
This is an edited version of my full conversation with Sam green. I've essentially cut out the bits where we get into really specific details about the film 32 Sounds so the discussion is more focused on form and live documentary. An extended version of the conversation is published in written form on the seventh, our website. And I'll put a link to that in the show notes.
Sam Green 40:15
In general, almost all the time, once a month film, I have a film and then it leads to the next one. And so the last movie I made was a live cinema piece with the Kronos Quartet. Right? And we were actually supposed to do it in Toronto, on the 18th. Right, yeah, leave to go when it got cancelled. But um, that movie, I thought a lot about listening and sound in that movie, because I really wanted people to listen to the music and feel the music, which normally is movies, I think because it's mostly visual, or we think of movies as a visual medium, they are deceased. And the sound is always sort of second class citizen. And
also, especially with music, documentaries, almost always a music documentary is actually a story about the group with little bits and pieces of music in it to illustrate You very rarely get to fully hear and feel music and a music documentary, ironically. So I was really trying to figure out how to get people to, to listen and also with, with film now, because films, there's so much wonderful sound design. I mean, even the most terrible Hollywood movie has been millions of dollars on sound design, sound design is amazing. Yeah, you never have to work with your ears, it just washes over you. So people watch movies, and listen in a very passive way. So it made me think a lot. And in that film,
that film somehow sort of like an A lot of this was Joe kind of just like magically works, you know, it's hard to really know how it works. But people feel it. And it, it just works in a kind of explosive way. And one of the things I figured out that that is part of that is early on, this is a little bit of a roundabout way of answering your question. early on. In the movie, we have everybody you know, maybe five minutes in,
there's a little bit where I say everybody, let's just listen to the sound of the room for 30 seconds and the legs drop a little and John Cage is on the screen. And, you know, I say listen to the sound of the fans and the people shifting in their seats. And I know this is weird, because normally with the movie, you try to tune all that out. But
it's not a normal movie. And let's think of this as we're tuning up our ears. And it's 30 seconds. And it's a little awkward, you know, because it is sort of weird. But that moment of like, Ah, I hear I hear a projector I hear a fan or just this weird moment where suddenly your ears are engaged in a different way got me like very curious about how to how to really get people to listen, you know, in a powerful way. And that that was really the genesis of it. And there were a couple other things. But also during the pandemic early on, you know, like all my screenings were canceled, and I suddenly had a lot of time and I had sort of started this movie about sound. And so I was like, I'm just gonna get a huge stack of books and read a lot. And I read a book about a composer named Pauline Oliveros. And it mentioned somebody named Neha Lockwood, who I'd never heard of, and it said she'd recorded the sound reverse for 50 years. And I was totally intrigued. And I just Googled her found an email, wrote her an email and said, like, Could we talk on Skype, I was still using Skype in the early pandemic. And she wrote back immediately, I was like, Sure, and so we sort of became pandemic friends. And I found her such a wonderful muse. And that's why she's so central to the film.
I mean, one of the things I always love about filmmaking is that you have an idea. And you have material and you try to marshal the material into that idea and the world sort of like, and the material says, like, I kind of get what you're saying, but really more like this, you know, like you, you're, it's a dialogue between you and the material and sort of the world. And so with this, I had such a long list of, it's basically just sounds that resonated with me in for one reason or another. That's how I started and I had a long list there tons of different ones that came in, went in the editing and as you for a long time, I had a I sort of my early thought was that this would just be like, almost like a structuralist film where there was no explanation. And it would just be a series of sounds and stories around them and I sort of put them together and after 45 minutes, it would, it would fall apart. People would be like, you know, I don't get it.
or it's, it's too long or it's getting repetitive, you know, the long time we call that the 45 Minute problem, you know, we're just it, it couldn't hold together as a film. And slowly as you work with materials, things start to come out. It's almost like that cliche of a sculptor who sort of like, allows the sculpture to come out of the stone, you know, which sounds sort of corny, but there's something to it. And as you work the material, you start to realize, in some ways, why you're drawn to this, and what it is that getting you and that takes a lot of time and struggle this movie was hard to make. So it's kind of a dialectical process where I tried to impose some order on it and tried to put material into what would work for this film. And the film kind of like spoke back and other people's you know, that you show things to speak that spoke back. So in the end, it's sort of an assortment of things. And
what I hoped would be that these these different sounds would evoke a kind of tapestry of ideas that would add up to a bigger set of feelings and ideas. And, you know, it wouldn't just be like, sound as good or sound as interesting, or, you know, sort of a one word.
tagline in a way. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 46:22
I mean, you were talking before about, like, how do you get people to listen, and like, really listen, as like, I really thought a lot about during the film that that was really interesting, because like, you're very feel like while watching, I was aware of like my brain processing sound, which is not something I think about often, like, definitely, I watch movies, and oh, I like how the sound is looking here, but I don't think like, oh, it's like, near my ear. Yeah, or for my ear. And so I guess I'm wondering, like, how did you? It seems like there's sort of like activities placed throughout the film to kind of bring you back in to being more active, which is a neat idea.
Sam Green 46:55
Well, I mean, in some ways, it's funny, because some of my early cuts, there are two ways to make this film or two poles, one of you could have made, like I said, like a very almost structureless film, or was mostly just listening. And that would be interesting. But I think, you know, it'd be like, very experimental, it'd be like a James Benning film where half the people would walk out, you know, and if you really wanted to do that, you could do that. And then another version of this, and this is, I think my propensity is, like tons of me talking about why the sounds are significant or meaningful, and very little listening. You know, sliders and cuts were like that, where it's just like, you're just shut up, and let us listen more. So I'm finding a balance and allowing the film that open up. But still having it hold together as a, as a kind of narrative. Having something hold it together was the huge challenge with it. And so there's certain sections where there's like a section where it's the fog, horns, the cicadas, and when chimes, you know, words, maybe three minutes of nothing but sound and I hoped with a kind of repeating rhythm of those sorts of interludes to to get people back to just listening because a lot of it is me talking, which, frankly, is a different kinds of listening, when you're listening to somebody talk. It's, it's different than if you're just listening to sounds.
Alex Heeney 48:25
Yeah. I mean, I thought it was really neat the way I'm wondering about, like, how that opening began, because it does, like really, I mean, you literally say like, this is a different kind of documentary, but, and I like that you like repeatedly tell people to get their headphones?
Sam Green 48:41
Well, it's sort of weird, because that is, this is totally bizarre. You know, we have this forum where it's, I'm on stage, and JD is on stage. And everybody in the audience has headphones, we travel with 500 sets of headphones. So that was the way to like, really, make sure everybody has the same experience and parents, and then when you're doing something, so you know, when you're doing something virtually, which I was happy to do with Sundance, I love Sundance, and if they were pivoting, I would pivot. It's no question about it. But you know, people are like, listening in weird ways. And often, it's, you know, three people sitting on a couch, they're not wearing headphones. But you know, with the binaural stuff, you don't get it other you get like the hockey player hitting the puck, and you hear it over there. So it's still a good experience, but it's not the same experience. And you know, you got to sort of like really try to get people to do it. But I don't know. With this. I have no idea who did or who didn't.
Alex Heeney 49:46
I did, but it took me until the second reminder to get it. Because I was like, Oh, I know how binaural mic works. I get it. And then I was like, Oh, they're actually going to use this a lot. I've got a
Sam Green 49:58
good it works. And that intro was just something we filmed like, a week ago, just when we knew it was gonna be virtual, we sort of had to do something to start it out and you see us and I think that injects a different tone. If it just starts in this removed cold way, you never see us something much more impersonal about it. And with the films I make, I try to make them almost conversational, or at least I think the live form lends itself to I'm talking to you we're sitting in the same room together, there's something humble and human and, and generous about it in a way that form, I hope.
Alex Heeney 50:45
Yeah, I mean, the whole form of like live documentaries. It's like, very interesting, because it's sort of like, is it theater or is it film? It's kind of both? Yeah.
Sam Green 50:58
Although it's funny because I, they're, they're definitely one things I've realized. So I first made a live cinema piece in 2010. And I, it was at Sundance and I thought, you know, sort of like the Yola Tango Buckminster Fuller, besides sort of was like, Well, what do you do with a live documentary, I'll do the show. And that'll be it. And then we ended up traveling all over the world and showing it and it was really fun. And I realized there are all these different worlds that are right next to the film world, but very separate. So the performing arts world is a different world. Yeah, like very different with its own customs and its own budget, financial models. And, and so I realized, like, oh, there are different terms for this form, it's the exact same form. In the performing arts world, there's a term called lecture performance, you know, which is basically what I'm doing a fancy lecture performance. But in that world, I would sometimes let people call it a performance, you know, and I'm fine with that in that world, or we did some shows in libraries. And I'm all for that. But I just say it's a fancy PowerPoint presentation, you know, natural worked in that. Yeah, world. But for me, it's always been important. I'm in the film world. And I see this as pushing the film form. So I, I've always wanted to keep documentary in the name of this form, just so that people know this is this is a film even though it seems weird, and it could be considered other things. I think of it as a film and it's in, in dialogue with the film, form and film history. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 52:41
Um, but I mean, like, I guess my impression anyway, is that you do take some inspiration from some of those other formats,
Sam Green 52:49
for sure, totally. I mean, I, I, my partner is a choreographer. So I learned a lot about performing arts through her, but also, an early experience for me is, so I made this film about the Weather Underground many years ago. And at some point, after I'd made it a couple years after I'd made it,
I was sitting there doing email, and my partner was next to me or something. And I was like, Oh, I gotta delete this email from a choreographer. He, he's writing about the Weather Underground or something. And she said, Oh, let me see it. And like, he'd written me a bunch of times, and I just keep deleting it. And he, she said, Oh, that's this guy, David Dorfman, he's like a real person, like, you should talk to him. And I said, Well, it sounds so dumb, that make a dance piece about the Weather Underground. You know, like, I worked so hard to get the facts in the historical context. And you know, like, what dance like it couldn't do any of that, you know, and I talked to him and he ended up making this dance piece about the Weather Underground. And I went at your site at Yerba Buena in San Francisco. It was amazing. It was there were no facts and no historical context, but just through light and move, and music and mood and movement. It was deeply moving. And when that opened my eyes a lot to how with different forms. People have different expectations. They bring different expectations. So that really interested in you to play with people's expectations through playing with form.
Alex Heeney 54:28
I mean, what do you feel you can get from, I guess, film but also sort of combining film with this live component that doesn't exist elsewhere?
Sam Green 54:38
Well, you can get tons of things but what most importantly in a way, I think is people have no preconceived notions which they're like a blank slate. So when you make a music documentary, for example, a traditional music documentary, if you had somebody music playing for three minutes, it would be weird and experimental and your your to instantly be in, like the weird experimental movie world, you know, like, people's people's expectations of form are very rigid. And if you do something a little differently, you're in a different kind of, you know, your avant garde, and so, and nobody's gonna see it.
And so one of the things I've loved about live documentaries, like, since nobody's seen anything, like whatever their their game, you know, so you can, almost quartet I made this piece where they, there are many pieces where they'll play for three minutes, and people sit through it, and you're not like, Oh, my God, this is a long music break, you know, so that's one thing. And then also, there's just, it's using, in my mind, it's using the most powerful tools of cinema, huge images and sound that washes over you to their fullest.
You know, it's like, I sort of have always tried to come up with an analogy, where it's like, you go to a super fancy restaurant, and they make you this amazing meal. And then you go out to your car and eat it in the car. You know, it's like, that's sometimes how it feels for people to make an amazing movie and you watch it, laptop at home while you're doing your email. So you feel like it's kind of using the the magic and the power of cinema to its fullest. People turn off their phones, you buy a ticket, so you it's much more meaningful. When people spend 30 bucks. They are there. Yeah. So anyway, the other phones, as far as I'm aware, like, you can't just like watch them at home. Go to a performance. Yeah.
Well, this is the first live cinema piece I've made where it feels like it. It also could exist. Yeah, like piece. I mean, the piece I made about the Kronos Quartet. A great a big part of why that's a powerful piece is they're sitting right there. Yeah. And if it's just like a recording of it, it's like, okay, it's kind of it's like half as good. And this, I think, in some ways, me and JD are less central to it, and it can, you know, it works, what we showed last night, I feel like isn't
you know, I don't know if it's as strong as the live experience, but it certainly works as a film. So I'm not sure I, it's interesting. I don't know. I mean, it's, I'm a control freak, in some ways. And so part of doing live stuff is you can control people's experience. And so by doing a live version of this, we know people are gonna wear headphones, we know they're not going to be reading their email, you know, you can make people have a strong experience. Whereas, you know, if something's streaming or on TV, it's like, you just never know. Yeah.
But I, over the years of making live cinema toys paying me a little when people are like, I've never seen it, you know, I've never been able to see any of your stuff like wood, you know? And it's always like, but it's a trade off. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 58:07
Well, I guess I'm wondering, especially because like, when you make a film, you can sort of like edit every second, right? And then it goes, like you, you have controlled the experience, like, to the millisecond. But presumably, when you're planning to do on stage, like, you actually have to leave some space for yourself, because, you know, it'll be different tonight versus the way it is in a week versus, you know, if you do it in Toronto versus do it in Tokyo.
Sam Green 58:31
It's so interesting, because in a way, when you make a film, you are so rigorous, it's down to the frame that you're editing. And then you turn it over to people who can watch it in any way they want, and have their own experience with that. So there's an irony there because with you're exactly right with what we're doing. It's a little looser, in a way, like if music starts, you know, two seconds later, it's, you know, there's a lot of flow and a lot of kind of
there's a lot of sort of like looseness, no, it's they're very tightly choreographed. But they're in that there's a lot of looseness. And it's not edited down to the frame. You know, it's sort of like it's all it's like music playing music in a way where and even the Kronos Quartet plays things different every night, you know. So, it's a little bit like that and it but at the same time, you're really controlling people's experience in the theater. So there they both in some ways have their rigor and their looseness. It's just kind of like mirror inverse mirror image of each other the way that's controlled, but it's super interesting appointment. How do you think about the sound design for this film? Yeah, it's interesting. It's, um, one thing that really struck me like with the encounter, you know, it uses this like oral technology.
I say this in the film, that film has not been able to talk sort of incorporate any of this, even though VR and gaming has, because nobody can figure out how to do it, you know, it doesn't work very well in speakers. And, you know, making a movie where people have to wear headphones is sort of weird. So, film and especially documentary film is so primitive in terms of sound technology, it's really weird. It's embarrassing in a way that we, as a former just like, have not evolved from the 70s or, you know, it was like, decades behind music. Totally. So I am happy and I'm like, Why isn't anybody else done this, you know, to sort of figure out a way to take some of that and bring it to film because, like, even documentary sound people you talk to them, and they're like, they barely can know how to do stereo recordings. You know, it's like, I had to find a VR person, to really be that woman who's in the film film a lot is from VR. And she also studied architectural acoustics at our university so she's like smart about sound, which, you know, I love documentaries sound people, but not all of them are so um,
you know, so that was kind of one of the premises and then thinking about the sound design is, is interesting. And we have different mixes, I worked with this guy Markman genie who just did dune sound design for Dune, there was like, what, you know, I went and saw that in an Atmos theater was like being pummeled, you know, such you'd sound so I laughed with him, I was like, Mark, this is gonna be the tiniest movie compared Dune, but, um, we have different mixes. So there's a mix we did for last night for most people wearing normal headphones. And then we have a mix that for the live show that because we have our own headphones that we sort of mix for, but then they're
in that section, that's the kind of dance section and it's about low sound and vibrations. One of the fun things there is we put these huge subwoofers on the stage and just blast people with this low sound, you can feel it, it's totally weird. And during that dance interlude, what I say in a live show is you can get up and come down and put your hands on the subwoofers. And feel like in an intense way you can feel sound. And that's cool. So it's sort of like, we have many different kinds of sound approach for forms that the film will take.
I guess just as you edit, you know, I sort of wanted to with the JD music scene, and I just wanted to you know, in a normal movie, the music is always unacknowledged, you know, the movie music is just kind of there, but nobody ever says like, and here's the score, you know, it's like an invisible unacknowledged part of the film. And it just seemed crazy if this is about sound, not to have all this music and not say anything nuts, acknowledge it. So I want to do something with with JD that would be about music and about her playing music. So that sort of idea just came up. I love that song. And it's several parts. So in the live version of that she's on screen, playing two parts and down on the stage playing. Oh, it's a sort of like weirdly interactive duet.
Alex Heeney 1:03:43
Yeah, I mean, how did you think about how to use music in the film? Well,
Sam Green 1:03:50
it's funny because I love JD I love working with JD love JD his music in a way the film can only take it can't take that much music because music distracts from sounds or music can fight the sounds there's a lot of sounds that you don't want any music in there, you know, so it was a little hard to at some point JT was like, I'm not even playing much you know, so that should have tried to be good. But music on the other hand is really powerful for creating an emotional experience. So trying to figure out where and how much music to put in but not step on the sounds not get in the way of the sounds. There's still people probably people will be like there's too much music that got in the way of the sounds but you know, I like music and I don't mind. At some point when I was making the Kronos Quartet movie with Joe Bini. Somebody said there's there's too much music and
Joe said this quote that I love that always stuck with me said fuck that person. This is opera. And I just was like, yeah, Joe, this is opera, you know, because that's like, Okay, if you're thinking about is opera, it can be as much, you know, way too much music is great. So I like that anyway. Joe is awesome. Yeah, he's great. He's a magician. His life stuff I think is awesome because Joe is such a good writer. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 1:05:23
Okay, so have you performed this like, in person or you just have like, one show how it would be done?
Sam Green 1:05:29
No, we did one show at Mass MoCA. Okay, we did mess book is wonderful. I've done this before, we did a two week residency where we, Nelson I had edited it, you know, on Premiere and a computer just thinking like, Okay, this scene, I'll stand here, you know, kind of imagining what it would be like as a live piece. And at Mass MoCA, we spent two weeks doing that, sort of like figuring out how it could work with lights and the sound and as a live performance. And then at the end of that we did a show, we did a show for a couple 100 people, which was super interesting, because you don't know how things work that dance scene, for example, is long, it's like four minutes long.
You know, a lot of people when I showed them a video, were like, that dance scene goes on way too long. And in Atmos, and we had no idea what was gonna happen at Mass MoCA people got up and moved around and danced. It was like a dance party was great. So that's one of those things where you never know until you have an audience how things are going to work. So that's the only show we've done.
Alex Heeney 1:06:42
Wondering about like, because you mentioned before, that working with an editor was super important for like personal material. Obviously, you have like very personal material on the thumbs. Like, how do you navigate that?
Sam Green 1:06:54
Well, that was one of the biggest challenges in a way because my own feeling is there's so many ways to go wrong with a personal film. I mean, I've seen many personal films that made me cringe, you know, from like,the person who's making it coming off as self absorbed, or narcissistic or just boring, or, you know, yeah, a lot of that. I don't feel like I'm more interesting than anybody else. And most people pay every single person I think is fascinating. Yeah, level, but not always enough to make a film about.
In a way, it's sort of like I was trying to put in enough sort of personal stuff to make it to hold the film together, but not too much. So somebody told me, there's not enough and you never know what the balance is. But it's really weird. I, while we were making this film, I was constantly thinking to myself, like, this is such a weird form. It's like about an idea. And it's sort of portraits or scenes. And there's narration it's slightly personal. It's not super personal. I was just thinking to myself often like, I have no reference point for this. It's such a weird formally a weird movie, I thought. And then, like a week ago, or something that would just suddenly hit me like, one of my all time favorite movies is The Gleaners and I
love that movie. And I was like, wait a minute, that's a movie about an idea that has like portraits of people. And she goes back to the people sometimes, and it's, you know, there's some sort of like, autobiographical personal stuff in it, but it's not, you know, a memoir, like, I was like, this is, in some ways exactly like The Gleaners and I, you know, as a form, like, it's bizarre, but I never I actually laughed and was like, I wish I would have realized that like six months ago would be a lot easier. You can just say, I'm gonna make The Gleaners and I about sound. But anyway, so the personal stuff was hard to figure out how to calibrate.
Alex Heeney 1:09:10
And you talk to you about, like, not wanting to bore people or yeah, get people to and I mean, that's, I don't think that every filmmaker, like, as you mentioned, like people make experimental films, and they don't care that half of them are gonna walk out. But I mean, it sounds like you really care about people sort of being engaged, and sort of being able to reach lots of people. So I'm just wondering how you think about audience,
Sam Green 1:09:32
for sure. I mean, there are filmmakers who are like, I don't care what the audience thinks, you know, like, if people walk out, I don't care, you know, and I admire that but I'm not that I'm like somebody who cares deeply about what people think in both kind of, like insecure way in that like, I want you to like my film, but also, if somebody's going to pay 20 or 30 bucks and maybe even get a babysitter and you know, take the time to come. I want to give them an experience.
And, you know, I generally make films that I would want to see. And I want to be engaged and you know, I want to somebody to make something thatsits, you know, that does something to me or connects to me. Like, I get frustrated. If it's like, you're just making a film for yourself. You don't care what I think, like, Fuck you, I'm not gonna go see them. Why would I go see that movie then? So, you know, I'm somebody I just I do care about.
I saw Brian Eno talk once and he said something like, I make things that I hope people will love, you know, or something like unabashedly into making things that people like and Brian Eno is cool, you know, it's not like he's pandering and pander, but he cares, which I appreciate that.
Alex Heeney 1:11:06
Um, so what are the plans for the
Sam Green 1:11:08
thing with these live pieces with a film you're like, you show it for a year, and then it's done. There's new films and with things I love is
you just can keep going like the Chronos thing. I did a show last weekend with that. And Buckminster Fuller, we're going to do something in April. So we will do shows for years with this. And hopefully, wherever people were our will be somewhere nearby, but also with this one, as I mentioned, because it can exist as a film. And also because I've gotten this equity financing. We're hoping to sell it as a regular film. That may be somewhere and it's funny, because sometimes people been like, well, aren't they going to compete. And Josh Pena was the producer at a good analogy was like,
if there's a musical artists you like, you will buy the record. But then you'll also go see a concert. And they're not mutually exclusive. And until I hope this can be the same thing where it could be a film that you might see on TV or online. But then if there were a live show of it, you would see that too, because it's sort of like the same experience, but much more. So. So that's the way I'm thinking of it. Well, well, is there anything else that I should have asked you that I did not think of that the minute that we hang up? I'll be like, Oh, no, I've, I've gone on and on. So I hope some of this is useful. And I look forward to seeing what you come up with. But also, I just like, I really appreciate that you're interested in documentary form.
Because it's such an interesting thing, I think. And it's a moment of like, super possibility, I think in documentary, in terms of form, because, and this, I'm not going to go on and on. But just this one idea that for 70 years or something, the form was really prescribed by the technology. So there was like, a certain length of documentary that would show on TV or in a theater, you're on video, VHS or DVD, you know, and and like the distribution landscape, and everything was geared around that it's the way like pop songs are three minutes long, because that's, you know, how long the recording can take or you know, it's sort of like the form was determined by technology way back, and it's never changed.
And documentary form, in some ways is still that and it's so weird that we're using like 90 minute film with the beginning and an end and you know, just the sort of like, very conservative form that we just are using. Because it's always been like that at this moment when I think documentary can be so many different things that it couldn't be in the past. I mean, the touring I do with a laptop, I project, HD images that are fantastic from a laptop in Keynote. And 20 years ago, you never could have done that. I mean, do that projectors couldn't do that this form could not have existed. And now it can. And there's all this possibility, but it's like very rare that people are thinking about form. I mean, there's like the avant garde world that thinks about for a minute. I love the avant garde world but it's its own little tiny marginalized ghetto. And, you know, I think formal inquiry and formal experimentation can should be much more mainstream in a way so Yeah, appreciate your interest in it.
Alex Heeney 1:14:54
If you'd like to read the full interview with Sam green on 32 sounds you can do so.
On the seventh row website, I will put a link to the interview in the show notes. 32 sounds is currently doing a theatrical run in the US in some parts of Canada and it will eventually be available on VOD, Sam green and the musician JD Sampson will be continuing to tour the live version of the film for years to come. To find out if and when either version of the film is coming to a cinema or theater near you, you can check out their website at 32 sounds.com. I'll put a link to this in the show notes.
If you're interested in continuing to explore live documentary, our eBook subjective realities the art of creative nonfiction film has a whole section on live documentary. It features an interview with Joe Bini, who co directed 1000 thoughts with Sam green and an interview with Xia anger about her film my first film.
The book also delves deep into other types of documentary including portraits personal documentaries, documentaries that reframe history and documentaries that play with the line between fiction and nonfiction. It even includes a case study on animated documentary and get your copy at subjective realities.com That subjective realities.com a link for that will also be in the show notes.
If you're interested in exploring sound and documentary, that's something we discuss in subjective realities as well. But there are key interviews about sound and documentary in our other ebook on documentaries called in their own words, documentary masters volume one. That book features interviews I did with Joshua Oppenheimer, about creating a magic realist soundscape and the look of silence, as well as my multiple interviews with Frederick Wiseman on his films National Gallery in Jackson Heights and ex libris, the New York Public Library, he also talks about how he approaches sound in his films. Next week is the final episode of the creative nonfiction season. So it's only fitting that we end where our whole thinking about creative nonfiction film began with Penny Lane. Penny gave me the term creative nonfiction to describe nonfiction films that aren't your typical info dump documentary, but perhaps play with your perceptions, including about where the line is between fiction and nonfiction.
Our interview with Penny in 2020 formed the inspiration for the ebook subjective realities.
Next week, I will be talking to Penny about her new film, Confessions of a Good Samaritan, which had its world premiere at South by Southwest before screening at Hot Docs in Toronto where I saw it. The film is still seeking distribution, but it is actively on the festival circuit so keep an eye out for it at a festival near you.
Throughout her career, Penny has been exploring different forms of nonfiction and this film is no different.
It's part portrait, part desktop documentary, part personal documentary and part something entirely new, a chronicle of the inner workings of someone's brain as they go through existential crises. To prep for the episode, I recommend listening to that 2020 interview we did with Penny which is available as episode 99 of the podcast.
You can also read the first interview I ever did with Penny, where she first talked to me about creative nonfiction in our ebook in their own words, documentary masters volume one. It's in the section of the book on creative nonfiction film, which also includes an interview with our episode two guests, Sophie finds on her film, Grace Jones bloodline and Bambi as well as an interview with Joshua Oppenheimer on the look of silence.
I will put a link to the ebook in the show notes. And you can also find it on our website at seven-row.com/ebooks.
In the meantime, don't forget to catch up on the first three episodes of the podcast Season. Episode One is an introduction to creative nonfiction and this season. Episode two features an interview with Sophie finds on Four Quartets, which is a filmed version of her brother Ray finds play which is itself an adaptation of the TS Eliot poem Four Quartets. Sophie talks to me about documenting Theatre on screen.
Episode three features an interview with Philippe Falardeau on Lac-Megantic: This is not an accident, a four part miniseries, and he talks to me about reinventing the true crime dock and applying what he's learned from fiction filmmaking to nonfiction filmmaking. To find out more about the creative nonfiction season go to seven dash ro.com/creative nonfiction pod that's seven dash ro.com/creative nonfiction pod that's no spaces, no dashes, just creative nonfiction pod. You'll find links to all the episodes and show notes as well as info on all of our ebooks on documentary. If you'd like to get in touch with me, you can
Find me on Twitter and Instagram at BWESTCINEaSte you can find seven throw on Twitter and Instagram at seventhrow. You can also email me at contact at seventh-row.com. I would love to hear your thoughts on the season and if you've seen any of these films, and you know if any of these interviews you found sort of eye opening to how you think about documentary film, and specifically what we're talking about creative nonfiction.
If you enjoyed the episode, please rate and review the podcast. It helps other people find us. Thanks for listening
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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