To continue with my accounting of my Gravity From Above journey thus far we come to 2015, the first half of which was consumed with the declining health and finally the death of my mother. And that concluded with my building her coffin (our laws here in Alaska are probably different than yours) and holding a service for her after selling her furniture and belongings. It was as you might expect an emotionally draining period of my life. I didn’t think about anything else for about seven months. And I had a chance to see death up close and personal. And that has an effect upon a person. You either shrink back or gain wisdom while simultaneously understanding the impermanence of everything that surrounds you. And yet in the timing of this I could feel the presence of God. Not in a romantic spiritual way. But with a certainty I can’t or won’t explain in such a public forum.
And when it was over I found myself with a modest insurance claim and enough money to get back to Europe. And I was faced with a choice. I could take that insurance money and invest in my life in Alaska, to seek security and comfort. But I decided against that for several reasons. First: I had promised myself several years ago that when my mother died, I would go to Georgia. And I needed to go there to started something new. And second: I knew that I needed to get back out into the world. To begin working again to try to get Gravity From Above finished, to see my puppeteer friends, my friends in Switzerland and to meet people I didn’t know yet. And so I chose a three month journey.
In January of 2016 I embarked on this next Gravity From Above journey. I met new people like Dimitri Jageneau in Brussels, met guignolistes in Lyon, spent more time with the Quays and Buchty a Loutky. I was often accompanied by my good friend Paulette Caron. And then I ended up in Georgia, which had an incredibly strong effect upon me, being both completely outside of the realms of my experience and yet somehow deeply touching in an almost dreamlike and familiar way. And that has effected my life to this day. (You can scroll through the older entries on the right to follow the actually journey.)
And yet I still didn’t obtain the performance videos I needed to begin to assemble the my material into something like a documentary. I have dozens of hours of footage. I don’t yet have the images to bring it all together yet. But I think I know where most of these images are now. And enough time has gone by where I think I might be able to capture these images myself. Though I really would like a small film crew. (But I’m getting itchy to finish this and get it out in some manner.)
And then at the end of 2014 came another period of intense wrestling and self reflection leading up to my home of 20 years being sold by my landlords. This was something I wasn’t simply going to get around. And even if I had had that insurance money still it wouldn’t have helped. And as I thought about it I realized I could use this to get back to Europe by minimizing my expenses and putting everything into storage rather than paying more rent. And so once again I’m putting everything down on this project. And I’ll be spending 3 months in Georgia this time, which wouldn’t have happened had I not gone in 2016. All in all I’ll be in Europe for six months. And this both exciting and filled with unknowns that I’ll just have to deal with when I get there.
Someone talked with me recently having read about my journey in the local paper. They were happy for me of course. But then I realized that they thought I was essentially taking an extended vacation. It sounds so romantic! And yet for me there is much that is quite fraught with uncertainty. I explained that this is work. And it really is. More than once in 2012 I had to double back to meet an important puppeteer, who wasn’t available when I was. That meant returnihttps://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gravity-from-above-documentary-european-puppetry/x/17029105#/ng from one city to another by train, carry about 50 pounds (25 kg) on my back. Racing the clock all the way. Reading schedules in French or better yet Czech. That is not a pleasant restful holiday outing. And I’m not staying in four or even three or even two star hotels. Yes there is much of joy and wonder. But that comes from the satisfaction of having made the immense effort. And financially. I’m always counting euros, kroner and lari to make sure I get home.
And this trip is no different. I’m spending three months in Tbilisi again because I really want to, but also because that’s the only place in Europe where my money will stretch far enough to make my budget workable. And since most of my finances will come in during my last month here I only bought a one way ticket to Paris three weeks ago (under $600 from Juneau to Paris!), because I can’t yet afford the return ticket. And that’s why I’m doing this fundraiser and that’s why every $10, $50, $100, $1,000 matters. Right now I can’t even finalize my plans for three weeks in the middle of the journey until I see if I get enough money to even travel any further. (It’s iffy if the fundraiser doesn’t get the my minimum goal.)
So why do I do this? I can tell you that money has absolutely nothing to do with it. A truly prudent person would have saved as much money as possible. They would have prepared for inclement weather ahead. But I’ll tell you a little secret. I held my mother’s hand alone in her bedroom as the last breath escaped her body and her hands went ice cold. I’ve looked death in the face. And I’ll tell you what I know. Getting to the end of your life with a nice safe life and healthy bank account has nothing to do with meaning of life. Life is about trying to give something back to others. As the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky said:
“The artist is always the servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. Modern man, however, does not want to make any sacrifice, even though true affirmation of the self can only be expressed in sacrifice. We are gradually forgetting about this, and at the same time, inevitably, losing all sense of human calling.”
What does puppetry and a documentary about it got to do with this? Well you know what? You won’t know until you see the finished film. That’s why I need your support. This Indiegogo fundraiser may end soon. But you want to know something? While you are rest comfortably in your beds at home I will, in a very real sense, be in exile, all my possessions locked away, no home, trying to finish something that is very important, not so much for me, I already know the message I’m trying to communicate, but for you. If you read this after August 21st 2017 remember I’ll be out there until April 1st and would react with incredible gratitude for any PayPal contributions you might choose to make. (See button above on the right.) BUT UNTIL AUGUST 21st PLEASE HELP DONATE TO GRAVITY FROM ABOVE ON INDIEGOGO. (CLICK HERE.)
You have my deep thanks for actually reading this and for anything else you might choose to give.
(Loading up my storage room)
I decided to go back to Europe in 2005. I had been working at our local radio station steadily for years and I decided I needed a three month leave of absence. And so I thought “Let’s go back to Europe with a purpose.” Just going from country to country and town to town seeing cathedrals and museums gets a bit alienating and repetitious. I wanted to learn. I had two possible modes of interest. One idea was to do serious research on puppetry. The other was to visit World War II sites. The more I looked at the logistics, the more I realized that I could only pursue one of these courses. I chose puppetry. And though a few WW2 locations survived my planning (Auschwitz, Berlin) it was puppetry that spoke the loudest. In 2000 the burgeoning internet was fairly helpful in planning my journey. In 2005 it was essential. But by today’s (2017) standards it was still quite primitive. So much so that although I could tell that some kind of performance was occurring at the French puppet school (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette) in Charleville-Mézières, I couldn’t quite interpret exactly what it was. Much of my journey was laid out before me. But I really didn’t know what to expect. What I found would alter the direction of my life in many ways. (You can read a more complete version of the tale starting here.)
I was constantly surprised by what I was finding. The Guignol show at Parc Des Buttes Chaumont was much better than the show I had seen at the Luxembourg Gardens in 1996. The student performances at the International Puppetry Institute completely altered my notion of both puppetry and what could be a puppet. The mysterious beauty of shadow puppetry in Germany could not be denied. The stories I heard of puppetry behind the old Iron Curtain countries in East Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Chrudim were inspiring. Seeing Czech culture through the eyes of puppet theatre was a window from which I did not need to be defenestrated. The Buchty a Loutky troupe in Prague gave me the idea that we could make an attempt at puppetry ourselves in Alaska. And the marionettes in Salzburg demonstrated the complexity of the art. I broke my wrist the week before I embarked upon this journey. By the time it was over I discovered I had lost my job in Alaska due to nefarious scheming while I was gone. I stood at a bridge in Salzburg and asked myself, if I had to do it all over again, including the broken wrist and the lost employment, would I do it again? Absolutely. Sign me up. It was that crucial.
What was it that I saw? Puppet shows obviously. And yet that isn’t what I saw. Having followed 20th Century music history quite intently I knew that the power of music had diminished by the year 2001. And what steamrolled over everyone now was the computer, the internet, and in 2005 the cascade of social media was just beginning. Yet it was already clear that the 21st Century needed an art that could challenge the digital hegemony. An art that could possibly break through to the real. And what I was convinced of was this. Puppetry was one art form that could do that. Whether in the real interactivity of a Guignol show in Paris, the illumination of objects like stone or grape branches in France, or the full grammar of puppetry in Prague, I knew that here was an art that could point one back to the tactile, the true senses. Even Švankmajer’s puppet films were soaked in the textures of materiality. Puppets could remind us of the world that existed beyond the screen.
Back in Alaska I started work on a small ad hoc puppet entity called the Lilliputian Puppet Sideshow based partially on what I had seen in Europe.. My chief issue was how to expose my recruits to the kinds of puppetry I had witnessed. I realized very quickly that there was no documentary on the subject worth it’s name. I used bits and pieces from a variety of sources. I have collected over 70 puppetry related DVDs since then. I can speak with some authority. There is no good overview or introduction to the art. By 2006 I began to muse over the concept of a documentary and the title , Gravity From Above, had already come to me, inspired by Heinrich von Kleist’s Romantic Era essay on the marionette theatre. Little did I know how much commitment Gravity From Above would take from me. Had I found the resources and the funds right away I would have put this behind me long ago. But that was much easier said than done. Funding has dogged me every step. I think people hear that I’m going to Europe and assume that I must be living the life of a well-heeled roué. Far from it. I’m always counting my pennies. Always completely drained of resources when I come back. (And I will be this time too unless you help.)
In 2007 I attracted the attention of a young producer from Switzerland. I met him in Los Angeles in late 2007. We discussed the project. Ideas were exchanged. Not much happened in the next year or two. In 2009 I was given an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation in Alaska for my puppet work. I took that money and formed a new puppet troupe called Reckoning Motions and spent two months on the American road in October and November. My goal was to present this strange new/old puppetry to people who had never seen it before. Financially, we lost money. But in terms of reception? Everywhere we went we surprised and intrigued folks with our curious and difficult little entertainment It felt good. I had proved something to myself. Puppetry could indeed shoot past the virtual and hit the audience on a different level. And so with that under my belt I decided to start thinking about the documentary again.
In the summer of 2012 I made my first foray into crowdfunding. And with a bit of help from the Rasmuson Foundation and USAProjects I made it to $10,000, just enough to get me back to Europe and start the interviewing process. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems. That helped with transportation and lodging. But I didn’t have a good camera. I was essentially flying by faith on the seat of my pants. (How is that for mixed metaphors!) Re-enter the Swiss Producer. He had moved back to Switzerland and had some idea that the Swiss funding agencies might like my project. So he decided (along with his wife and producing partner) to help out a bit. They said they had a camera for me. And sound equipment. And that sounded right. And so in October of 2012 after a very long bout of transportation I arrived in Europe, Poland to be precise, again. Eventually they met me and passed me the camera. Alas! This was some archaic digital video camera that had pixels large enough to count. It would never work. But fortunately they sprung for a new Canon DSLR camera while I was visiting friends in Berlin, thus saving the trip.
Now I had another issue. I had to get up to speed on this device before I arrived in Prague to interview Jan Švankmajer. And I think I just barely got there. My footage was passable for a documentary as long as my skills kept improving and my final cut was poetic enough. The trip was both tiring (dragging heavy tripods and other unneeded equipment) and satisfying. By any stretch of the imagination this was work NOT a vacation. Finding myself several times doubling back on train trips to interview someone on their schedule rather than mine. (You can read about the whole journey in the early Gravity From Above posts.)
Upon arriving at home I lived on crumbs of hope coming from Switzerland: That soon they would submit the project. Fortunately I had made a good friend in puppeteer Paulette Caron who came to visit Alaska twice to help with Reckoning Motions puppet productions in 2013 & 2014. But the delays for continuing the project seemed endless. Finally I just decided to give up on waiting and get back to Europe on my own. In 2014 I made another campaign run through USA Projects, which had changed its name to Hatchfund in the meantime. I made several tactical errors, like starting in the autumn. Also their was no matching funds from any other source. And it was a lot of work and time (three months)and serious personal stress for just $5000. Not much, but enough to buy a new laptop and to get the Final Cut Pro X software to make my promotional images shine more. My mother passed away in 2015 and I was left with an insurance claim. I decided to to take that money and get back to Europe. And so I prepared to make the journey again. I knew this wouldn’t be the end. But I was determined to honor the faith put in me thus far by the people who had put in as little as $10 or as much as a $1000. It’s passion, yes. But more it’s about commitment. And just wanting to get this done.
Next time we finish our brief history of Gravity From Above with our 2016 trip bringing us up to the present moment. Come back. Better yet. Do you see yet that I’m really in need of your help to get this finished. Won’t you give today?
So if you’ve read this far please help us by giving before August 21st to help try to finish up Gravity From Above. Follow the link below.
And so we come to another one of those moments where real life and reel life collide into a fine kettle of fish. So let’s get a few things out of the way. First of all one way or another I will be back in Europe come fall. I will be at the International Puppetry Institute in Charleville-Mézières for a three week residency, where I will be officially presenting my work on the documentary. And I am now trying to see how much of this project I can wrap up. But it’s not going to be easy and it’ll take all of the good will I can find.
Let’s get this announcement out of the way. I’m raising money again. This time I’m going through Indiegogo. And I’m trying a different method of approach. I think the all or nothing mode was too much stress for me. So I thought that I would see if I could try it, if not actually casually, then more so than in the past. Those who know me and have followed me for a while know that I’d pretty much sworn off crowdfunding for the foreseeable future.
So what has changed? Or rather what has happened?
Well as I mentioned the real and reel have coincided. Back on the home home front the Quonset Hut where I have contently lived for twenty years is being sold. And I know I shouldn’t even seriously think of buying it, for a host of reasons that would be outside the purview of this website to explain. I was getting a very good deal and this abode served myself and our community here in Haines, Alaska, very well. But, given the size of my library and price of my rent, I seriously doubt I will find something to match my needs right away. So I have come to another conclusion. I’ve decided I should put my huge library of books, records and films into storage for a while and I go knock on doors to get this and other projects finished.
I’m looking into spending a more time in Europe than I was originally planning. I need to find the resources that elude me way up here in Alaska. I’m not thinking of moving, but I am for a while open to new possibilities.
So the Indiegogo Gravity From Above campaign is live now. I’ve purposely kept the amount low at a $3,500 goal, not that I don’t actually need $25,000 to $50,000 to get the documentary finished. But once I crest that goal I should be able to stay on Indiegogo’s InDemand radar for quite a while longer to continue bringing in funds. And if I can get the lower goal met soon then I might get noticed by the folks looking for investments. We’ll see. I’ve decided to do this with a no worry approach, especially since I’m on the keep whatever I raise ‘Flexible’ program.
I also just had a 60th Birthday Feast (2 years late), because two years ago it was impossible for me to even consider it. I had a huge 25lb. (11.33 kg.) pork leg that turned out quite tastily and 60 people joined in. Bringing food and playing games. It was also a farewell to the Quonset Hut and a fundraiser as well. $290 in cash came in, which did not go into Indiegogo, since I’m NOT doing the all-or-nothing version, thus saving me the ten percent fees. (It also makes it easier to accept cash from the good folks in Haines. But the point is this. By the many means necessary I will be going back to Europe and trying to get Gravity From Above finished if I can. Maybe begin more serious research on Georgian music and dance. Following whatever trail I need to to find the money to get this done or a Producer who will understand this project.
This Gravity From Above trailer is the best demonstration of this documentary project.
So I’m asking for your help once again. Whether a few dollars or something more extravagant everything adds up. Check out my new maybe final (that’s up to you) Gravity From Above fundraiser. And especially check out the perks. (I’ll explain more about them soon, as well as give you a short history of the project up till now.)
Links abound on this page. Follow one and let’s get this done together! If I can get close to $10,000 I can probably finish up all of Europe footage.
Thanks for the subscriptions and the support. My life is obviously at turning point. Will you help turn the wheel with me?
And just in case you didn’t see all of the links to my Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Here’s the link…
Time for a little disheartening news. After my long journey to Europe this year to gather more interviews I find myself at a serious temporary roadblock. It’s not the first it won’t be the last. But this time it’s particularly frustrating since I’m much closer to the finish line than I’ve ever been before. I can see it ahead. But that pesky old devil, money, stands in the way.
What happened? Well I heard from the Swiss folks that the Swiss funding sources liked the idea of a puppet documentary but would rather have it focused on one person or troupe trying to accomplish “something”. Now this is precisely what I haven’t wanted to do. The whole point of Gravity From Above has been to introduce people to puppetry by showing what it is through a cornucopia of European sources. There is no way a documentary about one person, group, stop motion animator, etc. can show the spectrum. And it is the spectrum of puppetry that most folks need to see. Now I’ve let the Swiss producers know that I will certainly help get this smaller idea accomplished as per our agreement. But I’ve also let them know that this isn’t Gravity From Above, which remains as a title and a concept fully in my control. So we’ll see.
The way I look at it, a documentary about one puppet troupe, while certainly a noble idea in the abstract, is like a documentary about Field Marshall Rommel, when nobody knows anything about World War II. I’m sure it would be fascinating, but what’s this larger war they keep alluding to? What’s that about? That sounds even more intriguing. Well there is no World At War for puppetry? There is no serious introduction to the breadth and depth of the subject. And THAT has always been my goal. Europe was my focus because it was compact. A documentary on Švankmajer, Toone Marionette Theatre, Buchty a Loutky, the Brothers Quay, Josef Krofta, etc are all quite worthy subjects. But I’m interested in what holds all of their work together. So I’m left with no choice but to go back a couple of paces and try to find another source of financing. I’m now looking at whatever I might do in relationship to my Swiss contract as a gun for hire. But I need to make Gravity From Above.
So what needs to happen next? First of all I need to find either a producer or financial backer who gets what I’ve been trying to do for the last ten years. Someone who will either comprehend the project enough to go to bat for me, or someone who will invest enough money to allow me hire the film crew to shoot the performances, to edit, to pay for film rights and commission the music. That’s still a sizable chunk. And I’m not releasing anything until I can get this done as it should be.
The problem with the film industry at any moment is that they get stuck on one model of how things should be done and won’t consider other ways. At the moment the only way to make a documentary is to focus on “someone” trying to accomplish “something”. With the drama being squeezed out of whether they succeed or not. Now good documentaries have been done in this mode. But to say that’s the only way to do a documentary is purest unrefined bullshit. Off the top of my head I can think of dozens of documentaries made in other ways. Some are pure research (Children Underground about Romanian street kids), or biographies (the list is endless here) or about a subject (Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, Les Blanc’s film about garlic) or about genres (only think of Martin Scorsese’s documentaries about film) or historical eras (does the name Ken Burns ring a bell).
Well Gravity From About is a documentary about European puppetry. Too big a subject? That’s what I’m told. Well it’s an introduction to the meaning of puppetry with enough examples from European puppetry and interviews to make the point. It’s exactly the documentary that I want to see. And I suspect I’m not alone. That’s what my readers here and fellow puppeteers want to see. That’s what people have been supporting.
So I’m asking you folks, whether puppeteers, filmmakers or interested readers, to see if you know anyone who can help get Gravity From Above finished. The interviews are pretty much done. Now I need a very small film crew and backing. Do you know producer who can help finish this thing? If you do get in touch. If you have any ideas get write me. Though I started this on my own, and 99% of the financing thus far has come from my own shallow pockets, I can’t finish it on my own. The two things I need right now are a producer who will believe in this project and backing or a backer or two. (Crowdfunding isn’t going to be an option again for quite a few years. See my older posts on that.)
Well I had an amazing journey last winter and spring. And I know that I will finish this, hopefully soon. Thanks to all of you have followed me on my journeys. And especially those who have dug a little deeper in one way or another. I do have a PayPal button here. Think about that. But more than anything help me to find the people I need to bring Gravity From Above to fruition.
From a pleasant sunny autumn day in Alaska
With gratitude and courage
Well it’s past time for a little update on Gravity From Above, especially since the fundraiser is officially over. Yes indeed, the project did indeed raise funds through Hatchfund, funds that we were able to keep. And that’s good news. Our final total, after the remaining stragglers had been tallied, was $5720.
As I have pointed out before, this amount in no way made it possible to get back to Europe for interviews, at least not this spring as I had hoped. But it did allow me to get a computer dedicated to film production, to get Final Cut Pro X and several other editing tools and to begin cleaning up the footage from 2102 journey to make them more presentable in the future. I have begun the process of learning the program and should have something to show for myself soon. Fortunately the iMovie system I’d been using before is close enough to allow me to skip many introductory steps.
So now what… Well here are my new thoughts.
I am applying to UNIMA, the international puppetry organization, to which I am a member, for special funds, and there are some legitimate hopes there. Next I have finally been given the connection information to the wing of the Henson organization that might be helpful for making a film. And I have also applied for another grant from another source which could be quite useful. And finally I will be discussing things with the Swiss again soon. And the good news on that front is that I may have a solid lead on a Swiss Director.
Another thing I will be doing very soon is attaching a PayPal button here for random contributions to the project. And if I find that someone wants to donate a sizable amount and really needs it to be tax deductible, we can work that out again on a convenient basis through a special quick Hatchfund campaign. (Why not Kickstarter? Not a nonprofit, plus I have a very good relationship with the Hatchfund folks.)
Meanwhile I have enough breathing space to work on my film projects. (So Byrne what’s the other project? Patience my friend.)
I am so glad that this fundraiser is over. These things really are draining, especially three months long with a dire family crisis in the middle. But, no matter what, it will be a long time before I dare attempt it again. You can only tap your base of support so much. I’ve done it successfully twice in three years.
I’m also extremely grateful the 59 folks thought enough of me or the project to kick in some cash. Sometimes the lesser amounts were just as inspiring as the larger, especially when I knew how cash strapped some folks were.
I am always astounded that anyone will donate to something I’m doing.
And so I will get back to the work a creative person should be doing. I really don’t believe selling one’s self should be a part of the job description, but the times militate against those ideals.
Thanks to all for the once and future support. I am not finished by a long sight. Keep an eye on this project.
Now let’s get back to talking about puppets!
PS. The little gifts should go out within a month.
Well there are just a few days left to try to get to my revised $5,000 goal. I fluctuate between moments of joy, when, as a couple of days ago, some anonymous soul donated $500 to Gravity From Above, and digit nibbling concern, when I realize I still have $700 dollars to raise in a 4 more days, by midnight January 14th Alaska Time.
This whole crowdfunding campaign (I still can’t stand the sound of the word “crowdfunding”.) has been a lot tougher than the first time I did this back in 2012. And longer! Nearly a full three months. I doubt I will ever do this again, unless my personal support base grows by huge leaps and bounds.
Some statistics… This time so far I have had 48 giving donors to Gravity From Above. Back in 2012 I had 78 official supporters and many more who gave to me in small increments on the streets of Haines. I sometimes wonder if some of the folks who gave back then simply wonder why I didn’t finish the first time, as if a complex documentary film could be finished with a mere $10,000. The truth is in 2012 I put in $5,000 more of my own money to get what I did get done, which is precisely why I originally tried to get $15,000 this time around. But that unfortunately wasn’t coming this time. I sent many, many emails to people who might give more. None did. Too many apologies. I was allowed to revise my goal down to $5,000 after stretching the time out to the 90 day max. More about that anon.
More interesting statistics… I evidently have had, to date, over 2,500 (!) viewers of my Hatchfund site. Out of those only 48 chose to give. Likewise on Facebook I have had 150 ‘Likers’ on my Gravity From Above page. I have over 300 ‘Friends’ connected through Facebook. I am connected to a couple of puppet pages on Facebook with easily 3,000 people connected to them. Then I have loads of viewers and followers on this Gravity From Above page and on my much larger site The Anadromous Life.And then there are the people on the Hatchfund site itself. That’s a fair number of folks to connect to. Still out of all those folks… 48 supporters. (Thus far.) And of all of those people; many, many puppet folks became ‘friends’, left good comments, were quite enthusiastic about the project, this documentary investigating puppetry in Europe. Well that’s wonderful. When I count up the number of folks who had a serious relationship to puppetry who gave thus far… generously, I’d say 8 puppet folks.
Why so few? Well theories can abound. But ultimately the reason boils down to this. You don’t really know people online. They receive too many updates, photos, memes, news stories, notices, invitations, solicitations, beggings, marketing and spam to really notice the depth of a heartfelt plea. The majority of the folks who gave knew me fairly well already, many gave last time, though even there I lost several serious contributors from last time. What I also missed from last time were the two substantial matching grants from nonprofit corporations which together totaled up to over $3,500. So the reason I probably won’t do this again is because unless I become successful at what I do I won’t have the tens of thousands of supporters as the foundation I would need to raise the funds I really need. (I’m still hoping for the phantom Swiss money someday.)
Here’s a little film I made for my darker friends who don’t believe puppets can do more than make you laugh.
Seeing the stark impossibility of getting to my original, and much needed, 15 to 20 thousand dollar goal I had to seriously ask myself what I could do with a substantially lesser amount. The answer getting better editing and filming tools to make something that might attract real cash. So I brought my minimum goal, that’s the amount I need to raise before I can keep the cash, down to a worthy, but not nearly as useful, $5,000. And I still don’t have that yet. But I’m within spitting distance. I think I’m going to make it I’m well over $4,200. But $700 plus dollars in 4 days is enough to cause more sleeplessness.
And finally if I don’t get it what happens. Well in the nonprofit world of Hatchfund, the money is then divvied up as a fund for other artists’ projects. (I missed getting some of that money myself because I didn’t get to a certain percentage in time.) So now it’s down to you friends, puppet folks, bystanders long lost acquaintances, internet surfers. It’s either you who read this or no one. I am so grateful for even the smallest amounts. And each one helps others decide to give.
Please give something today. Ease your conscience. And help validate the last three months of my labor trying to get something of value done. Something that you don’t fully understand because I haven’t made this documentary yet! And you haven’t seen what I’ve seen.
And to those who have worked with me on this and followed it carefully you have my undying thanks.
I was hoping to have finished my crowdfunding task by this time. And yet.
Fortunately I have one final date for a deadline: January 14th 2015. And that’s it. I either get my total by then (We do have money but not enough.) or I have to put down GRAVITY FROM ABOVE for the foreseeable future. It’s kind of stark. I suppose I could finally get money from someone to get this done, but at that point I will be completely exhausted. I won’t go into all of the setbacks I have had this year on this. There have been more than one. (And as I write my mother has had to be transported over a thousand miles for an unforeseen and serious operation.)
But until January 14th at midnight I am fighting!
I really feel this project, GRAVITY FROM ABOVE, a serious documentary film on the subject of puppetry in Europe, needs to be made to show a real alternative to so much of the virtual inanity that makes up the present time. Because of the cultural upheavals of late 20th Century people have been focused on changes in music or film as sources of societal renewal, revolution, change etc. But through 35+ years of cultural examinations of these fields I think I can fairly accurately state that nothing is coming from that direction. Yes there have been great musicians and films in recent years, but so what? They don’t effect the motions of society in any degree that matters anymore. The time of Elvis, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols and Nirvana is ancient history and is basically being continually repackaged for us as nostalgia to re-buy ad nauseum until we are choked with it. Likewise there is no Bunuel, Fellini, Bergman, Bresson, Kurosawa and certainly no Tarkovsky in our time. You can again purchase the BluRay Discs if you still care about deep thought provoking films. But if current trends have any relationship to your lives chances are you haven’t got time. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and your iPhone probably absorb too much of your schedule. Besides these great 20th Century art forms have created too many celebrities, superstars, messiahs. They are extremely weak at providing the cultural, let alone the spiritual, vitamins we lack.
And so I come back to puppets. Puppetry is no miracle cure. There are plenty of lousy puppet shows in America and elsewhere. Nevertheless with a bit more un-modern artistic ingenuity there are distinct possibilities remaining here that have been flushed out of many of the more obvious forms. A small puppet show can still communicate something that can barely be whispered in music or film. And that is why this documentary is so important to me.
I remember when I took my first really serious journey into European puppetry in 2005 (note that was nine years ago now), near the end of my remarkable and life changing tour I stood on a bridge over the Salzach River in Salzburg, Austria. In the dark, after having seen my last puppet show of the trip at the Salzburg Marionette Theater, I thought of everything I had seen: from Guignol in Paris to the students at ESNAM in Charleville-Meziérès, to shadow puppets and startling comedy in Berlin, artistic puppetry in Krakow and heroic puppetry in the Czech Republic, to the anarchic Buchty a loutky in Prague and the complex art of marionettes in Salzburg. I realized that I had seen something that few puppeteers had even seen. There were few on my trail from puppet theatre to puppet theatre if any. Did any other puppeteers see what I was seeing in puppetry? Even the most intelligent and clever? I’m not sure that even in the puppet school in France they were really putting the picture together. Time and more conversations have not changed my opinions. Puppeteers, as one can imagine, are not swimming in money. They move from one project to the next. The puppeteers in France don’t have much of an idea of what’s happening in the Czech Lands and vice versa. But here I was standing on a bridge in Austria looking up at the Salzburg Schloss in the night having just put a extraordinary picture together.
Puppetry has a potential that has evaporated from so many of the arts that dominated the 20th Century. It can still speak without being stale. And it naturally, as a form, has something to communicate to a world virtually baptized in a stream of undiluted technology. It is tangible and does not suffer the virtual world gladly. It does not naturally create stars (except on television which is really a devil’s bargain). As the Brothers Quay have pointed out, a good puppet creates a mask of otherness that we are forced to read. In other words one create something that raises questions in the mind of the attendees. And that in this age is a good thing. And I don’t mean the usual questions of politics, gender, ecology, economy, dream fulfillment, etc. All of that is usually just propaganda. And worse than pointless. I mean that puppets can still do what a great work of art can do. It can stop you in your tracks and make you reflect on things that need to be pondered. Yes of course it can make you laugh, you can make puppet shows for children, perform folk tradition, etc. But that’s obvious. I don’t need to point that out. But puppetry can indeed speak directly and, here’s the most important part, humbly into our present situation.
How long will this opportunity last? I don’t know. Maybe not long at all if the commercial powers that be find a way to exploit it. Maybe not long at all if the propagandists of the age gets ahold of it. Maybe not long at all if puppets become yet another aspect of what the French gadabout Guy Debord called the Society of the Spectacle. And yet at this moment in December of 2014 there is a small crack in the system that reveals a certain artistic open door.
If you want to see what I saw then join me. It doesn’t matter what continent you are on. Contribute something, anything, everything, to this modest project. GRAVITY FROM ABOVE isn’t merely a little documentary about cuddly little puppets it is ultimately a small torch winding its way through the catacombs of culture to find a way out. I can’t promise to succeed in my task. But follow along. Let me show you what I discovered. Let’s see where this open door takes us.
Please help with GRAVITY FROM ABOVE today. If not at this very instant, which would be the best time, then certainly before January 14th. After that??? I can’t think about it. This must be done.
Okay I have a confession. I’m stuck. I need help. I did this crowdfunding dance two years ago and it was so hard I swore I’d never do it again, but I made it. This time it’s much harder.
On the evidence of 75 percent of the people who contributed to my last attempt to raise funds, the world is in a global recession deeper than anything since the great depression. I thought the recession was supposed to be bad back in 2009 and 2010. But this time, with a few happy exceptions, the majority of folks who seemed so supportive back in 2012 are in some kind of financial straights so bad that all I’m getting is exactly the kind of ‘I-wish-I-could-help-but’ notes that make one look a little too long into the dark water down at the dock at midnight. Or in a more pleasant variation, ‘this-is-all-we-can-afford-now’, and I graciously receive about a quarter of what I might have been given before. And it’s not one or two people. And it’s not one kind of person or just Americans.
Now I believe my friends and begrudge no one a dime. This must be a weird time for quite a few people. And I wonder about my timing. But then again by all reckoning the autumn is the best time to fund raise. But actually in Alaska summer is usually better. But many of these people don’t live in Alaska. Or maybe this whole crowdfunding thing is just getting overplayed and people are just giving too much to too many people.
Or, and here’s another theory, maybe it’s just me. Maybe some people are saying something like ‘Well we gave you money a couple of years ago, why aren’t you done yet?’ (I hope someone remembers how much it costs to make films?) Or maybe people are thinking ‘How can my little contribution help to make a film?’ (It can! It can!)
Or maybe it’s the lack of me? (How’s this for a convoluted theory that might actually be closer to the truth.) I mean, actually all this social networking doesn’t make you closer to people. And the occasional ‘Like’ doesn’t mean anyone is all that involved in anything you do. And so you think maybe people will understand why puppets might be helpful in this weird world. But then I think how can they? They haven’t read any books or essays on the subject. They probably have never seen a decent puppet show. And they certainly haven’t seen my film, because I’m having trouble finding the resources to make it. So it’s probably not me personally, it’s the ‘not me’ which makes me just another cluster of digital pixels.
Now I’m not down and out on this project yet. I pushed the deadline back to December 18th. And I’m right on the edge of 15% of my total. (And if it gets really desperate I have one last January fallback position.) But I must say my plan to raise my money has been largely scuttled by these odd collective financial difficulties. I had planned to raise a certain amount through my friends and supporters from last time. Then to use that momentum to keep the ball rolling. There are also some other differences between then and now that I won’t burden you with, but they are differences that add up. But it’s also clear that I have to change my strategy. And I need help with ideas of how to do that.
One thing that I do have this time, that I didn’t have last time, is that more puppeteers and folks in general know about the project. Since I started doing this over 100 people have joined my Facebook page for Gravity From Above. Yet while I have received some very enthusiastic thumbs up, except for a few generous people, that hasn’t yet translated into anything financial. Maybe it’s because puppeteers are a fairly low rent breed and are also just scraping by. And yet I know also most anyone could make a 5 dollar, 5 Pound, 5 Peso, 5 Euro contribution and believe it or not little contributions add up and eventually inspire more money. So if each of those people gave $5 dollars I’d be up $500. Now that’s not likely to happen for the same reason that statistically most people will not give to anything. But wouldn’t it be great to buck the statistics! And this is a case where it should happen. (For the reasons I gave in my last essay.) Really.
But here’s a thought for my friends who truly are strapped for cash and can’t afford anything at all. Help me in other ways. Sharing on Facebook etc is an obvious way. But in the end that produces the same low return. It’s just the numbers. But here’s where it counts. I’ve got a temporarily tax deductible project that is wildly unique and visually arresting. Gravity From Above is the very opposite of dumbing down and adding to the chaos of the present. This isn’t more noise. This film is a bid for people to try to find a way through the virtual gunk that clogs us up at every turn. It’s about reality, and how to connect people to it. Surely somebody must know somebody who can help with financing?
This is where you can help. You have a friend here (me) and someone trying to get something done that needs to get done. It quite literally won’t get made if you don’t help. If you are a puppeteer you should really be starting to understand what this project is about. So think with me. Work with me. Whoever you are? Even if you’re broke as I am. Look around. Who do you know who does have money that can help? Do you know an organization that can help? Does anyone know anyone who is willing to take very little risk, since it’s tax deductible, to help get this made? I don’t need people who say things like, “Hey have you looked into the Henson organization or the NEA or ARTE etc etc.” Helpful, but ultimately obvious. I need people who will look into those things themselves on behalf of this project. (If anyone brings in a live fish they will get some kind of Producer credit.) Who are your relatives? Friends? Employers? Associations?
These are short samples edited on iMovie. Give a listen. (We do need pro editing tools.)
Or let me ask another question: I’ve been working on this project in varying degrees for something like eight years. I’ve got a start, but nowhere near where I need to be. Am I the only one who sees the need for this? (I might be, because few people, even in Europe, have seen what I have and put the larger picture together.) Does anyone else want to see this film besides me? Seriously? (If you’ve given this time or in 2012 you are excused and have proved yourself.) I believe there are people reading this who do? So even if you really and truly don’t even have a couple of dollars to help out, get creative and think with me. How can I seriously raise this money before December 18th?
I realize I’ve probably violated some rule for fundraising here. The rule that says you are always supposed to remain confident. Well I am confident. I am also realistic. I’d rather seek your help now than wait until five minutes to midnight. I can recognize that my own resources are starting to get thin. But I’m fully confident that someone out there has a piece of the puzzle that I need.
If you have ideas? Connections? Encouragement? Etc?
Write to me at reckoningmotions (at) yahoo (d ot) com or at my Facebook account or below in the comments section. Or heck! Just get your helpful soul over to Hatchfund and throw a few coins in the hat.
This is not surrender. This is a fight to preserve the meaning of this project.
By the way if anyone wants a kit with photos and narrative of the project to use let me know.
So as I find myself mid-ride on this strange crowdfunding roller coaster I ponder things. If I get the funds to continue. If I don’t. And then there is the deeper question: Why am I doing this? Why go through the obstacle course I have been treading for years to try to make this documentary? Does the world need another documentary? Does anyone need a serious documentary on puppetry in Europe? And given the shape of today’s technological entertainment and culture does anyone actually care? And to make a movie of puppets? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Aren’t I trying to communicate something to help us get out of the virtual chaos of the present? And then there folks who are going to use puppetry for exactly the wrong purposes: To indiscriminately make more cuddly cute things. To make purely visual spectacles. Or worse to add to the shrill scream of propaganda that is choking real dialogue and human contact. Why bother? Why make a documentary about puppetry? Why make Gravity From Above?
I wish I could tell you I’m just throwing these questions out there as straw men to blow over with a few optimistic clichés. I am not. Each of these questions has serious ramifications. And once the film is made I certainly can’t control how it is interpreted. I can try to include as much sanity and intelligence as is imaginable into the film. But given how things are grabbed by social networks, the media, politics, the taste makers, the trolls, commercial industry, other Procrustean forces and interpreted willy nilly, trying to throw anything against the wall of human culture these days is a potentially perilous, pointless, quite possibly ridiculous affair.
And yet if we give into the regnant dominions of our day we sign up for our place on that fun slide into the Brave New World that does indeed have such people in it. So maybe there is something in the effort. Although an awful lot of effort has been made by many no doubt sincere (and insincere) people since, say, World War 2: People wanting to change the world, make a difference, revolt against the masses, épater le bourgeois, liberate desire, do their own things, follow their dreams, the list is endless. I’m not interested in any of it.
For me what I saw in puppetry originally was something humbler. And it was small. It was also something tangible, something with complex texture, something with deep historical roots, with deep wellsprings of creative possibility. If you want to really understand puppetry go to some little dark theatre. Maybe someplace below ground level. Someplace with about 20 to 50 seats. Not a big theatrical space with all of the theatrical tropes. Something intimate. Then it really speaks.
Now I want to try to impart something of that experience through a film. Can it even be done? Maybe. If I’m good. A shard of it. But then again the ultimate point of the documentary is to get you to really start ferreting a pathway out of the infestations of screenal existence that have so derailed us in this age.
Music in the 20th Century was a pivotal art that led many into questioning their times, yet music is also quite strongly implicated in leading us exactly into the virtual mess of the 21st Century. Puppetry certainly has dark potentials as well. But at the moment it is still open with good possibilities. I know from personal experimentation and experience that puppetry can be used even across the media soaked landscape of North America to raise questions that need to be asked. To encourage thinking rather than the anti-intellectual mush that passes for discourse in our times. There was something about a certain kind of puppetry that struck a nerve. One girl came up to me after a Reckoning Motions show in North Carolina and said “That kind of disturbed me.” “Why?” I replied, a bit concerned. “Because I could tell you were trying to get us to think, but you weren’t telling us how.” “Exactly.” I said. She did indeed get the point. We weren’t trying to get them to nod in approval with a certain kind of message. We were indeed saying. “Wake up. You have a brain. This is what it feels like to use it again.”
And that’s one thing, among many, that serious puppetry can do. (When I say ‘serious puppetry’ I include comic and children’s performances, but not all of them by a long shot, especially in the USA.) Even the animated puppet films of people like Jan Švankmajer, Ladislas Starewich or the Brothers Quay are so important for their textures in the face of a flattened graphic landscape.
So then what can a documentary about puppetry do?
Well first of all it can’t be the puppet show itself?
If you watch Gravity From Above you won’t be able to say you’ve seen any puppet shows. But it is a finger pointing to this fascinating world that hides in plain sight.
Next it can be an introduction with some historical insight and respect for what is actually a separate and complete art in itself.
For puppeteers I hope the documentary will be something very different. Inspiration. Something to encourage more education and investigation. Something intellectual in the best sense of the word.
For my North American friends I hope to change much of our entire image of puppetry, if that’s at all possible. Instead of seeing only Muppets, children’s entertainment, or goofy postmodernism that appropriates images of bygone children’s television shows. To rouse at least a few curious folks to the more unlimited potentials of an art that still has room to grow.
And for the viewers of this film the ultimate point is to encourage them to turn off their screens for a while and to look for puppets. And if they can’t find any make some! To get back into a tangible reality with complex textures and to question the fictitious panorama that passes for 20th Century life.
November 9th 2014
There is something innately ridiculous about this whole crowdfunding hootenanny. I think every age has its patent absurdities. Once upon a time you had to go before the King or the Bishop to get some sort of patronage. You had to be good to get noticed. And antimonarchist or anticlerical tendencies wouldn’t get you through the door. I remember in the 1980s artists were required to learn the ropes of the granting process. Once upon a time, pre-internet, there was actually a big office, foundation, library, whatever in New York City (heaven help you if you lived in Texarcana) just to help you locate the names of foundations that would donate to your cause. The only problem with that system was that pursuing the illusive grant would then become a full time job. And it really helped if you were artistically (read politically) correct. Today one prepares for the fundraising battle online. And it really depends on how many contacts you have made. How many Facebook friends (over 300), how many Twitter followers (0) how many online groups you belong too (?). The quality of the work becomes less important than the quality of your schmooze.
Of course, there’s the Van Gogh option. Starve. Hope your brother Theo sends you a little more money. Suck on tubes of paint. I can imagine Van Gogh in today’s climate. He’d probably have an aging Mac and bad phone connections. He’d be trying to raise the funds for a few painting supplies and maybe a bit of rent money. Immediately he’d be stumped. He puts his little project notice up on a site. No one gives him anything. Eventually his brother Theo throws him a few kroners. He gets a few francs here or there. But he’s not getting any other nibbles. Gauguin’s still pissed at him. He doesn’t have many friends. Vincent has 16 Facebook friends. He’s not even going to make his measly goal. And worse! Theo’s money is going to disappear too if he doesn’t get it. Who talked him into this madness? Gauguin that bastard! Yeah he gets his Tahiti money alright. What do I get? Nada. Finally he does the only thing he can think of: He starts offering premiums. 20 francs for a Sunflower variation. 500 Francs for an ear. He gets really depressed… And well you know the rest. Finally someone down the road sells one of his Sunflower paintings for a 100 million dollars.
Well what’s this got to do with puppets??? And Gravity From Above? Well the observant soul might have noticed that we have until the 26th day of November to finish raising enough money to get back to Europe for round two of my interviews for Gravity From Above. And I’d just like to go on record as saying that this whole process is as crazy as anything that any other age has come up with to raise funds. But it seems like a model we’ll be using for a while.
The good news… We have accumulated something near 10% of the goal. We’ve had folks donating from far and wide. Last week I had my first French donation. This morning I had a generous gift from Le Théâtre Royal du Peruchet in Brussels, Belgium. So we’ve proved that anyone from any country can give to the project at Hatchfund. It is safe, quick, reputable and even tax deductible. So if you are reading this in Germany, Poland, Japan, Argentina, South Africa, Hawaii or Moscow give it a try. It doesn’t have to be a big gift. Give up some little luxury for a week or two. Gives us a few Euros, Swiss Francs, Pounds, Pesos, Yen. If puppetry matters to you then this documentary should matter too. It’s going to be your documentary as well as mine.
Have you watched this yet?
I think one of the biggest misapprehensions about crowdfunding is that you list your project on a website and it’s like you hit the jackpot. You just sit and wait for the funds to come flooding in. It really doesn’t happen like that. It’s more like a roller coaster that you hope doesn’t crash. An emotional roller coaster. One day you feel giddy because you got $500 from friends that day. A week later you’re depressed because the momentum has stopped. But you can’t give up. You have to contact everyone you’ve ever known since high school. You have to talk about it, remain up, for a month. Your friends who promised to give mean well. They are living in their own world. They don’t know that the sooner rather than later is crucial to the success of the project. Yet you can’t keep pestering them. But eventually you do have to go back and say um…excuse me… you remember… pleeeeeeeze.
Well you know this documentary might be mine for the moment. But if you want to see a serious documentary introduction and overview to puppetry then it’s up to you too. Help us out. Support us today. We’re nearly at the 10% mark. But it’s not a place I want to stay too long. But we still have until December 18th at midnight Alaska time. I really don’t want to offer an ear as a perk.
Above you’ll see a new video to look at… Watch it then go to the link below to learn more and to support Gravity From Above.
November 1st 2014
To support Gravity From Above click on this link: GRAVITY FROM ABOVE.
And watch our latest 2014 GRAVITY FROM ABOVE Teaser Trailer update.
So it has begun…
GRAVITY FROM ABOVE is officially live on the Hatchfund crowdfunding site. We have until the November 26th 2014 to raise our money. It occurred to me that a few of you might be interested in the process of raising money for a project this way. I’ve done this before back in 2012 and that is how I found the funds to get back to Europe to start this documentary. And that is even the reason for the existence of this site. So I thought I might give you some ideas about how to raise money through crowdfunding (What a clunky word!).
But before we get too far, STOP and check out our presentation at Hatchfund. WATCH the video. If you have a moment read the description. Or just bookmark it for later. Go ahead we’ll wait. (Click the blue letters.)
Okay now that you’re back…
The first question you might be asking is this: Why aren’t you using Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
Well that’s a very good question. And it raises the question of which system one should use to try to raise your funds? Kickstarter has the brand name recognition. That’s the primary reason why people use it. It’s almost like Muppets in America. You mention puppets people think Muppets. Likewise you mention crowdfunding and people think Kickstarter. And yes I will admit that there are some good reasons why using Kickstarter is tempting. Traffic is the main reason. They get a lot more of it. Indiegogo is attractive for a different reason. Whereas both Kickstarter and Hatchfund are all-or-nothing models, meaning either we hit our goal or we don’t get anything, Indiegogo will let you keep whatever you manage to raise. That’s especially good if you don’t really know if your project is going to find its supporters. And there are other many crowdfunding sites with names my spellchecker hates: Patreon, GoFundMe, RocketHub, teespring, Crowdrise, etc. So why did I go with Hatchfund?
You probably haven’t heard of Hatchfund. Hatchfund started life as USA Projects, which was the system I used back in 2012. Now one reason Hatchfund isn’t so well known is that it is more exclusive. Anyone can use Kickstarter. Which means you can see the most ridiculous projects being pushed by the dodgiest folks alongside truly worthy projects. There’s no serious vetting of the users. (Another drawback is that only US citizens can use it.) Hatchfund is only for artists who have some kind of reputation. (This isn’t to say that bonafide artists don’t sometimes come up with wacky projects.) In 2009 I received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award for puppetry. A year or so later I received an invitation to take part in USA Projects. I was invited to join because I had received a grant previously. In other words I was in some manner a proven artist. (Hey I’m an artist!!!) And each of the people on USA Projects, now Hatchfund, were the same.
Also Hatchfund is a nonprofit organization. They also have relationships with many official granting organizations, the kind you hear listed at the end of NPR programs. And what that means is that during the short period of my crowdfunding campaign I am officially nonprofit organization myself! And that means that unlike most other systems a donation to GRAVITY FROM ABOVE is tax deductible. (But only until November 26th.) Now the big issue is to find people who can to take advantage of that.
Beyond the nonprofit status Hatchfund has a 75% success rate. And I am proof of that. So in other words. There is a track record here. I’m not wasting any money and I can actually accomplish my goal. If you help out…
Now the next thing to discuss is one of the common misconceptions of what crowdfunding is and isn’t. It isn’t like winning the lottery. At all. You don’t just get free money. It is indeed some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Not physically. But in the emotional toll. What do I mean?
First of all you can’t just turn this on and walk away. If you do nothing you will get nothing. You have to keep the momentum flowing. Which means you have to give updates, offer perks, report the growing totals, write letters, write emails, write friends, tell everyone you meet, talk about it constantly. And there are many more things. You spend a month or so talking to everyone you know with your hand out. And some days are glorious. You get donations that really punch the score up. You get support from people you don’t know. (That’s a hint dear readers.) Or you hear from people who haven’t spoken to in years. Other days you languish waiting for a nibble. Or you get an email from a friend saying I really want to help but… (And you’re thinking to yourself “Can you sacrifice a little coffee money?”) You almost wish they would just keep silent. They mean well, but they don’t realize that every person who gives you a thin little excuse just demoralizes you. And this game is all about keeping your spirit up. But that’s nothing compared to the people who just look in your face and sort of chuckle then say “Well good luck with that.”
Last time I did this there was a point where I just thought I couldn’t take it anymore. I had raised quite a bit of money, nearly half of my goal of $20,000. I was getting close to $10,000. I really needed to get to $20,000, but hey I couldn’t let that money disappear and I knew I could still do something with it. But here’s where it wore down on me. What happens to that money if I don’t get my goal? USA Projects then would keep it to apply it to other worthy projects as matching grants. Wait!!! These people are mostly giving this money to me because they want to see me accomplish my project. They aren’t really supporters of the Arts in abstract. And if I don’t reach my goal and their money gets put to other, no doubt worthwhile, uses I will never be able to raise funds from them again!!! They will say Byrne didn’t you raise $10,000 and then it went nowhere. That kind of pressure was nerve-wracking. So one thing I did was to call up my worker and get a concession stipulating that if they really wanted their money back they could get it. But they had to personally request it. Okay that made me breathe easier. But still I had less than a week to go and was hovering below $10,000. Short of receiving the attention of an unexpected angel I knew I couldn’t get up to $20,000 in five days so… I called up again and was allowed to change the total on the basis of the fact that I could still accomplish many of my goals. And I did… on an extremely thin shoestring. The only mistake I made was that I shouldn’t have made my new goal $10,000. It should have been $11,000 or $12,000. Why? Because a day or two before the end I made the goal and then all of the pressure was off. I probably could have gotten more. And I really needed it. I felt it later while traveling.
Well that should do it for now. I’ll give you some practical tips for how to do this next week.
Why don’t you go over to the Hatchfund site now and check it out. Click this.
Better yet show you care about puppets! Or documentaries!
Donate to GRAVITY FROM ABOVE today!
You can donate €5 or $25 or ¥2000 or £10,000.
It’s quick, painless and safe.
Thanks for considering it.
Since I have decided to try with all of my energy to get back to Europa next spring to continue the filming of Gravity From Above it occurs to me that this would be a good moment to share with you folks what I actually need to accomplish. At least what I am hoping to get done.
What have I done so far…
First, and most important of all, has been the research. I have been reading puppet history in copious quantities. And more important than how much has been the quality of that understanding. I am nowhere near considering myself an expert on the subject, though I must say I have passed muster with Nina Malíková, editor of Loutkář Magazine, which has been in existence for over one hundred years, with Henryk Jurkowski, the foremost authority on European puppet history living today, and crucially, for my money, the Brothers Quay, with whom I spent a lively afternoon in discussion back in November of 2012. So I’ve learned enough about the homunculi by now to at least ask intelligent questions. And I understand enough to know that no really good and comprehensive documentary on European puppetry exists. So the research is there.
Secondly, I’ve been visiting European puppet theatres since 1996. (Has it really been that long ago?) In 2000 I began my discovery of Czech puppet theatres. 2005 was the first time I spent serious time, several months, investigating puppet theatres in France, Poland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. It was like a visionary experience that really shook up my conceptions of the possibilities of art in the 21st Century. I met puppeteers and other related folks who have remained friends to this day. And it was out of that journey that this project was eventually born, as well as three puppet troupes in Haines, Alaska.
And then in 2012 I raised a few dollars for a preliminary run through Europe with a camera to try to record a few interviews with various puppet folks, especially the aging ones. That is the journey that this site has born witness to. Looking back I am quite astounded by the interviews and the new connections I have made. I even interviewed the elusive Jan Švankmajer, who, along with the Brothers Quay, was in many ways the inspiration and impetus for much of my own explorations into the world of puppetry.
And yet there is so much I could not possibly accomplish in the 2012 trip. First of all my camera skills, which have improved since, were not good enough to film the actual performances. There are two interviews I feel I need to redo. (Fortunately Švankmajer’s was good enough.) And eventually I will need to go back with an actual cinematographer to capture the puppets in motion. But I feel confident enough of my skills now to go back to get more interviews, to redo the faulty ones, and to get more candid behind the scenes footage.
So what am I hoping to accomplish this spring?
Here is a grocery list: Go back to Wrocław, Poland and spend more with Jakub Krofta. Go back to Prague, of course, where there is much to do. Get to Brussels, record and interview Nicolas Géal and attempt to shoot performance footage of the Le Théâtre Royal de Toone. Go back to ESNAM to spend some serious time following the puppet students. Return to Lyon for interviews with guignolistes and Guignol historians and to finally capture a Lyonnaise Guignol show. Of course, more time Paris. Switzerland needs a bit of investigating. And crucially get back to London for a serious interview the Brothers Quay. And finally to get myself to the edge of Europe in Georgia to investigate their puppetry, particularly the work of Rezo Gabriadze in Tbilisi. Getting to Georgia is essential to me on several levels, and Gravity From Above will give me a good excuse to get there.
Now beyond that and seriously needing more funds I must get to Italy, Sicily in particular; Moscow, with hope the political situation doesn’t disintegrate; Spain, Catalonia calls out; Austria again to find the Teschner expert, Punch is smashing me over the head in England to get recorded and much more. And I need a film crew. But I can go on at least one more journey by myself if I have to. (I actually like traveling solo. It pops any cultural bubbles that often develop in groups.)
As I mentioned in my last update I have decided to kick off a campaign on the Hatchfund site to raise the funds to get back to Europe for more interviews and investigations. I thought about attaching a “Donate” button here for my PayPal page. But then I realized that it would actually interfere with the coming campaign. A few wonderfully generous souls would probably immediately donate to the cause, which is mighty swell. Except that I do need any contributions to Gravity From Above to be concentrated at the appropriate time and on the Hatchfund.org site specifically between October 15th and November 26th – the day before the American Thanksgiving holiday. (I’d like to be very grateful on that day.) So keep thinking about how you will help out THEN. And after that I will add the PayPal “Donate” button for any stragglers and further supporters.
But whatever I do, wherever I go, I will report in again as I have been doing to include any and all who have an interest in this strangely meaningful world of European puppets.
Come back soon for another update before the campaign.
Salut, Ahoj, Cześć, Hallo, გაუმარჯოს and Greetings from Alaska!
Well I suppose that those of you who have been following Gravity From Above with any sense of hope that one day this documentary project will be finished are curious to know when. You are not alone! As the creator, director and writer of this project I have been waiting for two years for the next financial infusion to get this shindig under way.
As you might have gleaned from reading past entries here on Gravity From Above, I have been fully hoping for funds to come from Switzerland. I still do. However I have just learned of a snag in that process that is going to delay access to the vaults for a bit longer. Evidently the Swiss have a strict rule about having a Swiss director attached to the project. Thus far we have had problems finding this person to come aboard. This is not an insurmountable problem, but every time my worthy Swiss producers have had a fish on the line they balk that they are not the originators of the project. Such a problem would not happen in the good ole USA because we have many more folks desperate to get anything made. Alas our American desperation doesn’t exist in the small world of Swiss filmmaking. But we are still fishing. But even if we had a director on the line tomorrow morning it would still take some time to go through the Swiss funding system.
And I’m not getting any younger!
Thus I have determined to get back to Europe one way or another by next March. And so I have decided make another crowdfunding campaign this coming October from the 15th till Mid-November. I will be using Hatchfund (formerly USA Projects) again. I used USA Projects in 2012 and was successful to the tune of $10,000. That was enough to get me back to Europe, but hardly enough to get the project anywhere near completion. Our Gravity From Above website was started after I had already received that money and the journey that I have detailed here is a direct result of that last crowdfunding effort.
Meanwhile I have been ripening on the vine waiting to get back to Europa. So before I rot (!) it’s time to kick this thing back into gear. (Let’s mix these metaphors!) This is not the actual announcement of the commencement of the fund drive. I’m just preparing the ground a bit now. If Gravity From Above has been at all interesting to you, then you will have a chance to show your support. How? I’ll tell more soon. But you will have a chance to follow the whole bloody campaign. And I can tell you from past experience, this crowdfunding thing is an emotional ordeal.
This time around I’m going to shoot for $15,000. That might sound like a goodly figure to some of you, but I can guarantee you that come May 15th 2015 I won’t have a dime of that money left. Every dollar/euro/pound/złoty/koruna/lari will be spent on traveling through Europe again to interview puppet folks from London to Georgia (not the one in America!). So look into your pockets now and ask what it might be worth to you to support a documentary that takes puppetry seriously for a change. (Yeah speaking of change I’ll take that too.)
If you want to see my previous effort on Hatchfund then follow the link here.
I need your help… Whoever you are. So think with me. Let’s get creative together on this. Soon I’ll give you some suggestions. But if you have any ideas of your own write them down below. Next time around, in a few days, I’ll let you in on my potential itinerary and what I hope to accomplish this time around.
Thanks for following the site thus far. I’m confident that this documentary will get done. So hang in there with me puppet people.