I am a documentary film director. Subjects of my films have included love, sex, 9/11, indigenous fisheries, hurricanes, refugees, HIV/AIDS orphans, and visualization of God. I am best known for the Real People, Real Life, Real Sex series of documentaries that simultaneously explore the vital role of sexual pleasure in committed relationships and the problematic place of explicit sexuality in cinema. This is my "Safe" blog.

The last film I made that wasn’t about sex.

Posted: September 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

My first erotic documentary, MARIE AND JACK: A HARDCORE LOVE STORY, was shot in July of 2001, in the bedroom of our Hell’s Kitchen apartment.

It turned out to be a pretty good little movie, but the truth is at the time I thought the shoot was a near miss, and I didn’t think I had a movie. I thought their lovemaking was very nice, but I was disappointed with the interview. It had way too much material there was no way I could illustrate, and I just didn’t see how it would cut into a movie. I took the footage to the studio, cut the sex footage into a very crisp 5 minute vignette, figuring that after 5 years of experimenting with couples in private, at least I now had a model-released, shot to be seen by the public demonstration of my vision of how sex could be photographed and edited.

How I would use interview to create character and story and then wed that to the lovemaking would have to wait for another day.

Then nine years ago, on a morning very much like this one, the world turned upside down.

Two weeks earlier, my wife had flown to Oregon to take my mother up on the offer to give us her Mustang convertible (a crappy late 80s one, not a classic) and Peggy had only arrived home the night before. There was a beautiful swell running, and after two weeks of sitting on the beach with our baby, I was out the door early.

The waves were big and clean. The wind was lightly offshore. The sky was, as it is this morning, clear early Autumn bright. It was a perfect day.

Then strange and confusing rumors started coming out with fellows paddling into the line up. An airplane had hit one of the Trade Center towers.

How could that be? I knew that a plane once hit the Empire State Building, but that was years ago, at night, in a fog. How could a plane hit the Trade Center on a bright clear morning? Anyway, the waves were good, and I kept surfing.

Then more rumors that made less sense.

I kept surfing.

Then one of the regulars paddled out. There had been an attack and towers were on the ground. He was a recently retired Manhattan fireman, so I figured if he said it, it must be true. Immediately I thought of my uncle and my sister-in-law and figured they must be dead.

But it was a perfect day, so I kept surfing until I couldn’t take the anxiety anymore. I caught a wave, rode it to the beach, and drove home.

Contrary to her habit, my wife was up early that morning. When she checked her e-mail there were a bunch of “Are you alright?” notes from her online friends. She turned on the television just in time to see the second tower collapse, and when I got home she was collapsed in front of the TV, sobbing.

“They’re okay!” she burst out as I came through the door. Family members had called to let us know that my uncle hadn’t gone to work that day, and that my wife’s sister, although she had been thrown from her chair by the impact of the plane, had been able to escape without injury.

We spend the next three days watching the TV and crying.

Our business came to a complete standstill.

In October I finished MARIE AND JACK in one non-stop 4 week editing session, and although it was not the movie I had set out to make, it wasn’t as bad as I had first feared. In fact, some people were telling me it was the best integration of character, story, and explicit sexuality they had ever seen.

Unfortunately, those people were not festival curators or film distributors.

In January we sublet our apartment, in February we let the lease run out on our studio, and in March I sold my rapidly devaluing AVID editing system.

Then in early May the phone rang. I was asked if I would be interested in producing a film about pastoral counseling and 9/11. Of course I said yes, (please don’t misunderstand, I had produced many explicitly religious films, for this client and others.)

There was one condition: would I agree not to put my company’s name in the credits for the film. There was some concern that in this context “Crumbling Empire Productions” might upset people. Of course I said yes.

SUDDEN SHOCK: SPIRITUAL DOUBT AND RENEWAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11 was produced in three days of principle interview photography and one day of second unit photography.

From the outset I made the decision not to show any footage from the day of the attack, feeling that it was a waste of resources to show people images that were already well-known, and the intensity of the images risked overwhelming the smaller, personal stories that would comprise my film. The film was edited against a September 1 deadline so that it would be ready for the 1st anniversary, a relatively short amount of time to turn 25+ hours of testimony from more than 20 subjects, and 2 hours of second unit photography into a 25 minute film. The film was well received by the client, by my friends and colleagues, and by its audience.

But for me, the aftermath of SUDDEN SHOCK was mixed.

Unbeknownst to me, SUDDEN SHOCK was tangled up in a larger power struggle within the organization that commissioned it. Outwardly the film was a tremendous success, and I was asked to begin work on a larger piece for the same organization. But when I found I myself sitting at the very first meeting of stakeholders with a woman screaming at me that SHOCK was a waste of money and that I was “taking food out of babies’ mouths, I knew that project wasn’t going to go well. That next film took more than a year to finish, contradictory agendas born of the above power struggle caused delays and waste, and while the resulting film was perfectly fine, it did not realize the investment that had been made in the project. It was the first time I had had a project spin so completely out of control, and I was bitterly disappointed; both by the fact that I hadn’t been able to make the film I knew was “in the can” and by the pettiness that had prevented me from doing so.

The disappointment faded, but the above project gave me a more lasting gift.

The project took me to Kenya for a month, and upon my return home I had a terrible stomach ache, and was generally lethargic. I underwent a series of tests to see what sort of nasty African bush bug had taken up residency in my guts, but all the tests came back negative. But my stomach ache got worse, and it was finally determined that it was a psychosomatic stress response, and I was in fact suffering from a bout of depression. (The unmowed lawn and disinterest in anything else should have been a clue.)

Later, when I was recounting my mental misadventures with Souha Nikowitz (the Lebanonese psychotheripist in SUDDEN SHOCK) she said, “Well think of what you do. You go to all these terrible places and hear people tell you all these terrible things. Then you come home and lock yourself in a dark room and listen to it over and over and over again. This is not behavior that is conducive to good mental health!”

The day before yesterday I noticed my stomach hurt. In fact it hurt enough that I went to bed early.

When I woke up yesterday it still hurt, and it hurt throughout the day, becoming particularly bad last night. Then I thought about what an exciting and productive week it had been, with essays about Lower Manhattan and Google Instant, and a lot of e-mails back and forth with friends and colleagues about “Big Ideas”. And then I looked at the calendar, and knew that in a few days my stomach ache would likely pass.

The blurb on the DLR Films website reads as follows:

Sudden Shock: Spiritual Struggle and Renewal in the Wake of 9/11 is a documentary focusing on the work clergy, chaplains, and other faith-based caregivers have been doing in and around New York City since 9/11. The work takes an emotional and spiritual toll on these men and women, but it has also given them renewed hope and reinvigorated their faith. It’s a small film about a big idea: that love is more powerful than fear.

I wanted to embed it here at the bottom of this post, but WordPress is being cranky. If you’re so inclined, you can watch SUDDEN SHOCK online at the DLR Films website. As I said before, there are no images from that day in the film. Just testimony and some footage of life “getting back to normal” a few months later, and a beautiful score.



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