Goin' Deep with 'Dick Johnson Is Dead' Creator Kirsten Johnson
Have you ever thought about how you wanna die. Weird question and one that today's podcast guest. Kirsten asked me in the middle of our interview. This interview with documentarian camera person. Filmmaker karston johnson goes places that most interviews about moviemaking. And filmmaking don't but that's because of the movie schmidt dick johnson is dead. Which is an incredible doc. If you haven't seen it available on netflix. It is about her father and about her father dying and about death in ways that go beyond the expectations because it specifically about preserving someone through cinema and what you can do with a memory or person or a moment in time or an experience how you can capture it. She asks me a lot about my own life and my own experiences with death and my own ideas about it. Which is not something that i saw coming but makes perfect sense because she's an incredible documentary filmmaker and the lesson. You might learn listening to her is. What is the hallmark of a great documentary. Filmmaker how did you become interested in the people around you in a way that leads you to great stories and also leads you to becoming a great leader or becoming a great director or becoming a great human being all of these things and more in. Today's interview with chris johnson. So much about your career. That i wanna talk about but i have to start just talking about dick. Johnson is dead and what feels like a movie. That is assaulting the idea of mortality almost or intimidating to create cinematic immortality and. I'm just fascinated by that on so many levels emotionally but psychologically spiritually what I know it's a deeply personal film. I guess. I'm just curious. Was that part of the the inspiration. This idea that you wanted to try to fight against the temporary nature of existence with cinema added lily. Absolutely like why not give it. Bri i think every one of us struggles with the concept of immortality throughout the course of our lives. And there's sort of this like who wonderful thought to like you live on in the people you have loved right but i think as someone who loves cinema. It's this wild thing of getting to meet people who are already dead through cinema and so that some of the people who have changed my life made life worth living. Were already dead when i met them for the first time right i actually Was reading in the guardian. This morning. there was this article about a an artist i had never heard of. Whose name is maggie ham wayne and she's just you know force of nature but she was quoting outta and she said i just was looking at it so good The basically are is The way the sort of the most possible way to break bread with the dead. Yeah that's i. I'm so taken with this idea. It never occurred to me that it was a way to relate to people that were already gone. You just think of like well get to know this filmmaker or i'll get to know this performer or the subject of a dock. And that just is the. They happen to be on caught on cinema. And that's how i know them. You know like you say. It never occurred to me that we could do that with the people in our lives I don't know that it occurred to anyone before you have to be on his fascinating idea. i mean i've lost people you know i think so. Many of us have lost ritual for many different reasons. Right neighbor we do or don't have religion in our lives. Certainly in the time of this pandemic we cannot gather. Many of us would say like being in a movie. Theater was our form of ritual. But this idea that we can co create with the people we love some form of ritual or some way of having conversation and the thing. That's just trippy for me with that. It has brought my mother back to me with such a force. And i'm talking. You know sort of every different level mother died in two thousand seven about timers and you to look at the way she Enters this movie like you know the movie is doing one thing until you see the footage of my mother and then you're like oh. This is kind of like beasts rising from the dead sneering as gut punch you in that moment but you know to like yesterday. I got an email from someone i knew childhood earns until for forty years and they wrote me this whole long paragraph about an afternoon they spent with my mother. And you know and that's happening to me like almost every day since i made this film so that so that it's not just like an idea that the film is bringing my mother back to life and my father like him in life. It's actually happening. It's actually to remitting relationships that had fallen away. Yeah i'm Kind of at a loss for words. When i think about it. I think i've always thought. And i think many people do cinema is a bit of a time portal You can experience another time in in. Its all its fullness You can experience other ideas and other people. But i've never thought of it as it relates to mortality at least the mortality of people who aren't cinema legends. What i mean right right legend right right. You've active into cinema in this way. I mean i had a. i had a late grandfather. Who was part of the great generation and he lived into his nineties and people in the family kept talking. Oh we should record him audio recorder interviews and i long for those things. Because we didn't do it. You know nobody got around to it but it never occurred to me that it was it was more like the idea was posterity. You know oh well. He did such in world war two such and such but the seeing your film reminded me that that there's so much more that is possible and capturing the essence not just recording. Well this is what my father was like this. I'm so glad any new. What's what's like one of the thing. So i think you bring up such interesting language for posterity right like sort of who is that four and this notion that it's too late we didn't record. I grandmother my grandfather announced too late fact. There are some people alive who knew your grandfather. There are photos of your grandfather. You have never seen like there is a way for you in this present moment to find things out about your grandfather. You didn't know and you don't know what the nature of those things will be. His death meant the end to the imagining of how he might come back to life and yet like he's here this conversation right jack jack and like when you think of jack what age do you think of him at the end. The nineties nineties s. He's nineties. He made it into his mind so he was the twentieth century I always used to say. He sought charlie chaplin movies in the theaters but he ever was pulp fiction expand for me as a cinema fan. It always felt like this man lived the twentieth century in cinema uncanny pulp fiction and john travolta coming back to life is part of version for me for spring. My mother back to life in camera person for making this film in which we resurrect right like these your time. Loops around. So like your. Your grandfather had a sense of humor. Jack had a sense of humor into. So where is it located you know. What did he need. Who are the people who remember it. You know and and just like the that you could get off of this conversation and send an email or call someone who knew jack and ask them some. You don't know about jack and like that's the thing for me that so exciting about how alive is process is because you and i and jack share a love of cinema we encountered movies at different points in our lives but we we have a language that comes from it right and and we have exactly what you're talking about this sort of experience like stepping into the portal But what. I think about that so exciting to me having made this film is like i don't know how time functions rate like i don't know where this conversation takes us. I don't know where. Jack will lead us so excited like you may get off this conversation. Make that call and come back and say jack led me to this right then you somewhere else and like that possibility was such an animating force with this movie but on a certain level what we all have to struggle with is sort of like. Why didn't we do it sooner. Or what prevented you all from recording. Jack and part of my thing is that you know we camera brings the future into the room and also brings death into the room so that to film a person in their nineties or to record a person in their nineties is to be explicit about ending death and embrace that with your father that notion obviously he does like how much more fun to fully embrace me like. We're gonna die actually going to kill you today. Then you can sort of that sort of incredibly intense high stakes. I'm afraid to have this conversation. Because i'm afraid one of us is gonna cry. You know all of that. Fear and shame that prevents us from making things with each other from asking each other questions or having conversations. And i'm not saying any of this is easy run out. We have eight year old kids and it's just like you know. What moment do you tell them about the terrible things of the world. You're constantly in this position. Like i really wanna talk about that and they also don't wanna hear certain things nevada. I know having done it with my own kids. They hear their own version or interpreted their own way. I'll know your. I can tell part of what your amazing filmmaker and it's it's apparent in this conversation because you almost in a way you turn the the lens that i'm the interview but you turn the lens at me and suddenly i felt like you. Were you start creating a narrative. The great idea of documentarian to me is somebody who can follow the story and understand that where they point the camera things change but then see what happens and then explore it. And it's like. I'm watching you do that in real time. It's will thank you for seeing me. And i am seeing you and that's what i feel like. Is this work that we do right. It's like it's these. Relationships and relationships are back and forth. Like by learning about jack. I had like i can go to new places about why cinema matters to you right and i think that you know the fact i see this red button going and twelve minutes have passed. It's like paid. Time is of essence. So let's go there. Why not go there as opposed to pretending that you don't exist and you don't have a past you bring to this conversation. I don't have a pass that i bring to this conversation. You know i'm thinking about jack. Made me think about my grandfather elmer. Johnson who is my dad's father and was serving in the military in san francisco in one thousand nine hundred eighteen. And i was just listening to a podcast about the spanish influenza. And and how basically like that. It was called the spanish influenza because no countries that were battling enrolled war. One wanted to admit that their soldiers were getting sick and i was the only one who would admit. And so this sort of thing about how things get covered up and not spoken about and denied that for me is part of the project that i'm involved in and it's like see the other person be a documentary like changed perspective acknowledged that we collectively make things together. We make them in moments in history and that also there's like sort of collective efforts to hide things it fascinating how quickly we think we matter so much. We do in the context of our moments in our people around us. But it's so fast that things become obscured and hidden and facts become warped and distorted. And i had no idea. I had no idea that that was the truth behind. Spent why it's called spanish influence because it's called that i just walked around this earth assuming it had. It was one hundred percent associated with spain and spanish nece incorrect. And how it doesn't that long for that kind of mythology to grow which changes everything changes everything. It changes everything that your role is a filmmaker again. It's that pointing the camera or being journalistic which got which certainly need more of. But it's like saying well. What is it really and then saying for all of us like see like this is what it really is illuminated. Something for us. Yeah and and i think arthur miller said like the job of artists is to reveal what has been hidden and i think that can be like you know sort of terrible things corruption and abuse and violence and racism. You've done and also it can be like sort of weird uncanny like miraculously strange connections so for example in the making of this film My father went to visit lolita hearst. Who was an old question is And when we feel after we filmed it you know we set is said to hit her children like can you send me a picture of bud. Who was her husband and with the children without knowing anything about the story line in the movie that my father was born with no toes. What do they send me. But a picture of bud who's a. It was a well respected doctor sitting at his desk with his bare feet up on his desk. And i pulled that photo out on the envelope and like started laughing hysterically. Like how is that audible. How was that operable. It's not like everybody's pictures of their father in their bare feet like and in it's just magical so there's like a magical connections that are hidden and i love. It's leg that jack love pulp fiction. You wanted jack through that. Like how fun is that an answer the delight and the humor and the absurdity is also hidden to us when we try to be so literal explaining and serious about everything right. I think you mentioned earlier. You don't you said quickly you don't understand the nature of time. We have a false sense of security. That time is works a certain way that we can manage it. A certain way and that outcomes are somewhat predictable in. It's all predicated on nothing because anything can happen. And we don't understand truly how time works or what are connections are to the past and to me things like a film like this or ruminating on people from the past or dreams about them they feel is alive in a way as they ever did in thought or in what is essentially a a flashback. You made a movie that feels kind of like a time portal or freezing something in time even in the short time since you've made it how does it feel. Does it feel like captured things about your children at that age. Does it feel like. I mean how does it feel as a human being. It's very alive. And it's i mean in some ways it's like more like more powerful than i even can understand right now. You know there was a double feature drive in that rooftop films hosted in queens in the fall and they showed Dick johnson's dead back to back with camera person. And of course my kid's facetime me while it was in the car and they're like eight years old facetime me while i'm watching them onscreen at two years old and it was too much for me as whoa because because i realized the humor that is built into dick johnson like protects against some of the trauma and pain. That is in camera person. And so i was like i was kind of like roll in with dick johnson and i slammed into camera person like like slamming into a brick wall and i was just like oh all like all of this is my life like what and sort of being transported to it going through the portals was such a powerful mashups for me that it kind of you know stopped me in my tracks. I don't think we can freeze time like i think. Cinema lake allows time to be as fluid as it is And and we built this into the process of making dick johnson. Where we edit rooms a place where you can move time around on the timeline. The idea that we could like move time around on the time line create a scene and then imagine something that could cut into that and then once that cut into that and that would give us a new idea of how to change the time line so we were just like constantly stirring the experienced and the imagined against each other. All these things are unimaginable. Like who a person becomes as dementia creeps into them. It creates an a self that was unimaginable to everyone who knew the south that existed the dementia. That's a whole other layer of this also fascinates me because we're taking jack. For example. my grandfather. I feel like the version i know is only one piece of of the whole person. You are certain person you find out when you have children or really at any point in life but you are a certain person to to those who come after you. You are a certain person to those. Come before you in the family align you don't always show all the sides right you try not to. Or maybe you think you don't but you do or maybe so many facets to how we appear in who's interpreting us That that also. I have this. Lingering question are we always the same person really like are we. Are we constantly changing and in your film. He is undergoing a change. That's traumatic to all in in his in in experiencing dementia. But i wonder you know. Sometimes you feel like you could wake up. Dan like am i new person. Did i just reboot and i just loaded up these memories and now i functioned like what is the. How much do we change ourselves. Turnover like we look back at our actions and we think who is that guy or girl just had such a like hilarious. Discussion was deepak. Chopra about this and you know he believes that doesn't this too but he believes that we are dying every moment and he meditates on death daily and the question is what is the south right and the ways in which we are transformed through time both our bodies are transformed but sort of our brains are transformed the trippie things of learning. You know when you're pregnant the cells from your fetus. Make their way into your brain. And like i am now them great. Wow so anything you know. We're sort of out that at the edges of what science tries to understand consciousness time with cinema. Have we're like get to play in the toolbox of all those things right it. We need of these pieces right. It's made the pieces that allow consciousness right. It's like images around and we experienced interational way when watching a movie and we feel things which is sort of what consciousness is right only. That was what was so fun with this. Like i mean. I can call the movie and it's definitely a movie but it was truly like an experiment like can't live forever canley rebuild him can the dementia like tone apart and we can put them back together again. Can we capture his essence. All of those are like those are very open questions for me. But obviously like i named dick johnson is dead and that is false right now but someday true jess is that why you need it. Yeah i mean you know. My dad was so cute. I like woke up in a cold sweat. When i realized that's what i wanted to name the movie and i was like a can't do that to my taste. I wouldn't and i asked him and he's like oh no it's great because then i'll have reaction formation stay alive forever and that's a demented man like. That's what's so cool about this. Whole project is to be able to have the most profound conversations with my dad despite his dementia so Dementia care facility near my brother. Bethesda and i talked to him yesterday. He's like so. I'm going to start out walking towards you tonight and i was like dad. I dunno it's cold outside. It's nighttime but i just want to get one step closer to. He says these gutted happen but like how like gorgeous and terrible is that that he's hours away from me in this dementia care facility in. He's like scheming. About how is just gonna start walking towards me. He doesn't know where i am. I wonder if there's some way in which the brands rewiring to speak emotional state not just a like beyond the logical state. I mean it's all very interesting unknown. I there's something about what you've done and what you do particularly like with this film but the way you talk about it as you said it was hard at one point. He said it's not easy. It's not easy to approach these things with one parent dealing with the things they're dealing with. I guess it does depend to some extent on the relationship. You know and you two are close or you felt comfortable or at least a little comfortable doing this but also within yourself i mean bearing your soul and your frailty and your emotions and your humanity. We often talk about you. Know we talked to young filmmakers or we hope to help young filmmakers figure out how they tell stories that will resonate right movies that will get made etc and it always comes down to this idea of personal nissen and voice. How do you access it. is it something. You've always been able to be bold enough. I mean you're doing it at a level that i don't think many are bold enough to do. I'm not certainly. How do you get to the place where you're like. I'm just gonna kill but it's like yes so you're putting on screen that so human you know i mean can i tell you it has absolutely been a long struggle and you know i think but a joyful struggle to full of pleasure passionate like quest but i you know lots of people say camera person is the first film i made which is not true but i think why people say that in some ways is because it's the first film in which i'm truly speaking with my own voice. No one could've made these films right and you know i made films about mass incarceration about racism within the justice system. I made crazy a science fiction film about a pandemic in one thousand nine seven always were attempts to make films and to find my voice. But i was. I was afraid while making them. I was pretending to know things. I was struggling and train. And it's a process. It's such a process which is sort of obvious thing to say for young filmmakers. Just till like question. What do you need when you need from this film in my case like i need my father to stay alive forever. I to make something that that allows me to never forget him. Because i have forgotten my mother the alzheimer's so brutal that it wiped out my capacity to remember how she was before it. I see the way in which this is part of the linear. This is part of that experience. That's in the needed. So clear for me like i mean. I was ashamed to be making this film. In two thousand sixteen. The current president had just been elected. There was so much. Social justice need in the world and also i had worked for twenty five years on social justice films and i i was ashamed to say i'm making film just about my own father. Like nice old white. American man like who needs. I mean that's but here's the crazy thing like and where we don't have the ability to predict it did become amazingly in step with our time so when coming and that's why i decided to make this movie not in twenty sixteen when you started this particular journey it may be felt out of step with what was happening in the world but by the time it's released oddly enough is very in step with an experience particularly dealing with saying goodbye. And it's all. I could think of not just my own. Personal is happened in the last few years but i think about all the time right now. How many people may in this country are saying goodbye. Without being able to say goodbye visit brain it's astounding beyond what i can comprehend like and and you made this film. That's this beautiful way of handling and or trying to handle that so krayzelburg. The timing is right. So maybe there's the lesson is just follow that path you know. We don't control the moment in history into which we are born. We don't control whose family were born into. We don't control. What will be the landscape when our films emerged. So why are we trying to control our movies. That was like from me. The most joyful discovery in making this film came when we were working on the heaven hell sequences and through the process of getting to them knowing that my father was advanced enough in his dementia that he was completely unpredictable. I then with the help of marine ryan who's the incredible producer and who is a very like organized future oriented deal with the details person because she respects the craft and because she was crafts craftspeople so somehow together from the two edges. Like me saying like we won't be able to know anything and her saying listen. We need to know many things in order for us respectful of the crew with this process back and forth between us and it was really like you know it was really fun and we had. We had blown it a couple of times earlier in the film. Making of like me. Like missing her deadlines are me like me but this time we got into the sweet spot where i'd be like. Tell me the last possible moment when i need to choose the core. Tell me the last possible moment. When i need to tell you how many sag actors they're going to be in this. Tell me the last possible moment. do we decide. Are we shooting heaven outside or inside. And i met all those deadlines so somehow miraculously there. We had sixty people all understand the that my father might do at any moment and yet it was lit we had all of the you know fluffy clouds were there and the halos were there and you know down to the focus. Polar didn't know what my father was going to do. So we had this whole labyrinth set and it could have all been out of focus but we were where it was like. It's a cave on focus. It might be beautiful so on focus. It was so cool because it was like doing a documentary. It's like here's the world. And all i'm trying to figure out. What do i film. It was so far it was so fun. I mean you've shot you've been you have prolific career shooting docs and you've been all around the world doing it as your films have shown. How did you had to communicate that spirit. I suppose to accrue that was not necessarily like you. See you mentioned a focus. Puller which is such a specific task. How did you imbue everybody with that. spirit like we're going to capture a moment. Whatever question. okay so one. I spoke to everyone and ask them questions. I asked them how they wish to die so georgetti which today. Wow i've not. I haven't thought about that before. I guess i wish to die. Very old Peacefully in my sleep not sick at home with plenty of people. I love still around. Is that how. Jack died pretty much pretty much at so. I'm so happy for him. It was a tough loss but he. I don't think he was happy at the time. But i think he's not generally a happy guy but i think that he was. He was ready in a lot of ways he'd lost his wife and that sent him healthwise into spiral and i think that he's still pretty healthy. He was at home. He was in his sleep and he was very sick in a lot of people in his family loved him around so a good way to go. So the next question. Like for you and your life was like. Could you die happy like that would be like maybe like. Could you add to that to the wish right. Because ray like that's such an interesting. That's what i would do with crew. People just amazing how many people have a connection to someone with dementia or have someone that they've lost someone that worrying about losing so like having those conversations and then just like just seeing people. Because i've worked as crew person long enough to understand. Some directors are so consumed by their own anxieties their own fear about not being able to control everything that they don't live the literally. Don't see you or for example. They're so consumed with their excitement about filming. They forget that they need to eat. And forget the crew needs to eat the crew. Our bodies it's amazing that you got your way. Your answer to my question is i. Try to humanize every single person there. Right and that in and find out who they are on the deepest level. I can't wins. And i don't have any. They have voices telling that that's the way it is like you make an effort to turn these people in the that's why we are honest At you don't feel humanized often right to your car your gear in some ways. You have to do so. Little like people have been so mistreated so unseen so taken for granted that simply the act of seeing them. People are appreciative of the act of being seen. And and to a point that. Like like i oversaw to give credit where credit is due like jp the cima tiger who did the lighting for the heavens stuff at a certain point. He said caja. I don't think you realize how complicated this is for chris to be doing the focus plane like given the focal lengths given. What your dad's doing given the slow motion as you're right like i had only triangulating. My dad not moving where he's supposed to. But i forgot to triangulate the slow mo plus the f. Stop and. I'm like he can't get in focused interviews like what he is and and but but it's fleeting right and i was like rats. Perfect for dementia. But then i started. I started like cheering chris after. Get a shot. And then chris like certain point just like please don't don't please don't put put so much attention to me like i. I can't focus you know. Some people are enrolls. come to a sound. Person is often notoriously a silent person. But i always love what i'm a dp on a shoot to say to the director in an interview Session would it be okay if i ask a question at the end of your interview. And then they might say. Yeah and i said and you might want ask the sound person also and sort of like invariably at the end of like you know four hour interview. It'll be the sound person at the very very end. That the killer question make rectors will forget this person even there. It's amazing or even listening right. It is the person tasked with listening most intently. We ask nothing of you know. It's like my frustration around the ways we don't see people is led me to this like thinking about stunned people and they risk their lives to be invisible in a movie in which another person who is now an actor like get seen right. It's like the most but you know my father took it to another level when michaelo comes into his office and my dad immediately saw like. Are there a lot of people who are suicidal. Like i had never taken it to that level. I was like go dead. That's a wish. Wish there Yeah there's something that's like seeing what is unseen and other people that's also a great job of a of a great documentary. Filmmaker though is like i is identifying in looking behind seeing a human being and seeing a story and seeing many stories. I think that idea of turning a film set into a place where i'm so happy i stumbled into that because i did not expect to ask a question that would lead us to talking about that but because i was just thinking well how do you help them. Make you know what is a narrative moment. when it's or a documentary slash narrative experience happening but To talk about how crews become invisible and just a piece of a machine Sort of astound. Just in the news. There is you know this release of tom. Cruise behaving a cruise. Someone didn't wear masks. Which i am very sensitive to the idea of. It's important to wear masks. But the rant made me so uncomfortable in angry because i was so triggered because i don't think it's okay to talk to people like that like i don't think it's okay to treat it that way and it makes me uncomfortable that it's ego self aggrandizing but it's also like it's it's you're just making a movie like and i think that there's a way to you know it was just you talking about seeing those people. I just think that that came from a place of them. Not being people not seeing them at all really. Yeah well i mean. It's i've experienced it as a crew member and i i'm interested in it like as a human you know we we've project so much onto other people we think we're seeing them but in fact is what people are revealing to us of what is inside of them is quite allusive and you know so. I can look into someone's eyes and the magic. I'm seeing lots of things. But often i have no idea what's going on inside there and and and you know and that's the primary relationship to my father you know like he one of the humans on this planet. I know the best but have no idea what's going on inside of his mind at all anymore with the dementia. And did i ever have any idea what's going his mind right. And so the sort of whenever like the mystery in the fun of that of trying to look and see that. I guess the to go back to your earlier question. Like how do you do you expose yourself in cinema thing you say like. I'm glad i stumbled right. You stumbled and and i. And i think that's where like i have become glad for all of my mistakes. Misspoken moments the ways in which. I fail while filming and i think the that like can we simultaneously say like words matter and and then also be gentle about making mistakes about them. So like how it that we've spent you know two hundred years saying the word slave when we should have been saying people who are enslaved rate and it is these shifts of language make you realize like how language is doing the action it is turning people into slaves literally as opposed to saying people were enslaved by other people who did that to them right and camera person for me. It's like what do i call this movie. you know. well it started with the funny thing like any day. I'm out in the streets with cameras. We'll call me a cameraman and it's like we're looking at me in. It's like hilarious now. Have still people who call camera person cameraman and you're just like how and yet the like we're taught blindness so we can only sort of like bumble our way into you know like bumble and communicate back and forth to getting at like what is this complexity of being human in each of us like you know what our ourselves. What is it death. What is time we gotta bungle into it. Because it's not. There's no string quartet in. I think the greatest wisdom at least i i believe the greatest wisdom is the accepting the more mystery than knowledge of the universe in the world. It just like you don't know like you say you don't know what's going on behind his is now and maybe you never did is just opens up so much. It makes the world if feels closer to truth to me to embrace that unknown I have really enjoyed this. It's been amazing. Maybe even enlightening. But i wanna. I wanna make sure that before we end. I wrap up asking you. You've talked about this movie. Is an experiment is experiment done. And what if you're scientist and this was an experiment. What like what are the results like. How do you measure what it's been you know so many times. We talked about a movie. Tell ongoing experiment. Like what does it mean to my relationship with my own children. What does it really mean to to. What cinema is and the relationships that we have as audience members In this moment in time where we're all engaged with questioning our own futures were all like grappling with anticipatory grief. Were all in denial about what's happening to ourselves in this moment. Like have no idea. We are in the middle of this experiment. And i don't know how long this experiment is gonna go on. You know i don't know is going to see this movie in the future. I don't know if i die before my father does. I don't know if my children are gonna kill me someday but but that's so fun to me. It's so fun. And i mean you know people say these things like an audience is continuing to make the movie with me. I really believe that like you're the way you have looked at. The film allows you to ask me questions that then pushed me to think in new ways and i push you to go bring jack back to life right and i ask you to die happy and i requested like what would it mean. What what what. How if i were to die like how what would that mean. What how could i happy. What would that be look like and to all of that happening just in the last forty six minutes which is which is insane. I mean you you know in filmmaking in the world of creating movies television docs everything. Everybody always comes back to. These ideas like story matters or character matters. And i always want to say why you're explain more like tell me more about why it matters. It always the primary thing. But i feel like in a way again to say stumbled. I feel like you've sort of hit on it. It matters because it's how we make meaning of our world is through narrative like it's how we construct the universe And the events and the experiment being ongoing like you say it's sort of like why started telling this story this way but the story is not like it it's an unfolding story may have a new chapter added when certain events that we can't predict take place and then how people view this film right or maybe somebody like you say changes. How may decide to make film because you approached telling a human story this way. Maybe there's so many places it can go. That's you also mentioned like in the editing room. You guys would chop it up and recreate a timeline. You create meaning in their. That's such a crazy idea. You create meaning out of an actual life right. Oh yes anthony. Yes like oh yes and and we can say like ok. We decided i originally set going to make this movie into my dad. Really dies for real and i didn't do that stopped. I may not be done. You know like and and that's the decision that i have ahead of me right. What do i make next what needs to be made next and you know sort of the the there are many things that are spectacular about youth many but but what is spectacular about eight gene is like the narrative threads that knit together are just like in the ways you can look back at them and look a new at them and so you know this whole experience of putting the film out into the world has just been like this. Is your life. Like i was in. Before like i'm just having rank the woodwork. People from elementary school college. You know senegal. Where i was when i was twenty one and i am getting to see visions of who i was but it's like oh i lost that relationship with that person. I haven't talked to that person thirty years to. I wanna keep talking to that person. What i think this happened on the like you know world scale with facebook for example right there mechanisms that sort of bring our lives in and out of time like this and then what do we do with that because we're all deciding like how does our life have meaning you know. How do i spend my time. Do i spend with. And i think the pandemic is also just like this cute slow pot pressure cooker of a reevaluation. What are my priorities. What is the meaning. I care the most about it. It's like were. It's like the process of making a film. It's like okay. what do i god here. I'm going to examine it. Or i'm gonna avoid examining it. I mean i think this is. This is a really spectacular historical moment to be alive in and it's in. It's not unlike the process of making a movie where it's like. You don't know when it's going to end and you feel like you're failing and you feel the anxiety and loss of it but there's also like sort of a giddy exhilaration have the unknown parts of it and also just out of your control. It's exciting to talk to you because you make it sound like whatever the future is. There's so much there's so much possibility. I think that the pandemic has also served to make people feel locked in literally but also like locked in place like we're stuck stuck here. You presented it as like a what an amazing time to witness to be alive and what comes next. And what are we going to do with it yet. Radical perspective on what matters to us and all the things that you know things that have been impossible have shifted said. Oh what what. What can that allow us to reimagine. Yeah obviously it no film school. Our community is extremely interested in cinematography. Which is your job. Be your natural fit for the world of our audience but also what gear people used to shoot on and why You've probably shot on all kinds of cameras Like i can't imagine your list of being a camera person as long as you've been You know what lead you to choose what you choose but also on this particular project. Why did you make the choice. You did so you know. The question is often asked. What cameron did you shoot. This on as if the camera itself creates the phone. And i want people to remember. You're in history. And so when i came into the history of filmmaking. Unfortunately i arrived just as shooting documentaries was on sixteen millimeter and we were starting to shoot on v. h. s. formats with lenses integrating into cameras in standard definition. And i probably not on the worst cameras in the history of cinema for about fifteen years and you are those people walk. That look now look has that look is a history that is his the technology that is available to you and this can be you know the technology of to a person who has new funds and lives in a place where there is no gear to rent. That might be a cellphone right. The technology that is available to a wealthy person in place where they can rent a phantom has a different technology available to them. So think about you have access to certain technologies because of where you are in history because of your relationship to money because of your relationship to other people and since none of us know what the future looks like none of us can imagine like oh we look back at standard def and say like ooh. That's beautiful it's none of these. Technologies are beautiful in and of themselves. They are only in combination with a human eye. And that's about to change because is can artificial intelligence will be filming beautiful things your machine you know. I think i question like i'm searching for language. Like mis cyborg while at one point. I was like. I shot all the time with a panasonic devi x one hundred and i would work and then for a while. I was a canon c. Three hundred years in years. I was a canon c three hundred and then for the first time in my life i was able to afford cannon cine lenses and i could change lenses and how these just like seeing the world to this beautiful glass instead of basically seen it through plastic right and i think of myself as sort of like intertwined with the historical moment intertwined with the technology available to me in that moment because of many factors in my relationship to how i can handle that technology i took the above. I shot this teeny tiny h one hundred could fit in the in the palm of my hand like a camera so small i couldn't even see the blimp that i was filming in the sky but i want safe. I didn't want anyone to see that. I had a camera so you. There's all kinds of reasons why people choose the cameras that they choose or cameras forced upon them by circumstances but this limits us it is only like it's a part of the way that we fumble and stumble and fail our way into expressing who we are at a moment in history so use any technology that is available to you which allows you to express who you are in that moment and what you need in that moment and i'm telling you if you really go far people are going to look back and say wow that cameras incredible. What did you shoot. That are such a good answer. I love that. It's like saying to an honest like look. Maybe you don't have a brush. Maybe you can only scratch with iraq on the side of a wall but you can still use that to tell thousands of years now your cave and freak out and say. Isn't this beautiful. that's right. So what about the dick johnson camera and the circumstances in history and time and monetarist. I was started. You know so. Much of some footage from dick johnson comes from before i knew i was making dick johnson. Yes so right. So that's the footage of my mother when she had alzheimer's which i shot on the panasonic one hundred and then shot in four three right. I'm shooting in a square rectangle and that matters in the film. You see that. That is the past right. You see that footage is different from the footage that comes after it and then in that c. Three hundred period film things with my father. My father driving in his car across the bridge. You film that not knowing that someday my father would be unsafe to put my father behind the wheel of his own car. Right and so. It's like that footage. It looks different than it is different. It's already the past and mail is by being different. Yes in in the things in this happens all the time documentary. Where film something in. You don't know what's going to disappear you know. So many of us found the world trade center in the background of shots or we see it in the background of movies. And it's like we didn't know it would disappear right and people to and now when i see that footage i mean i remember looking at footage in thinking. Oh it looks terrible. You know that good. And now when i see they just like i could cry looking at it. It's so fun to see my father. Driving the things we understand retrospectively about footage and i think about like kelly reichardt making meek's cutoff and shooting in that little square and change in our relationship to how we looked at the american west and from whose perspective were seen and so i think we use can sort of us cinema language. Do these things and when you look at the ambulance section of the film in which we were trying to think like how can we talk the audience right into really thinking. Dad really died or really took that ambulance ride well. Kirsten johnson is camera person so she knows she's we know she knows she's making a movie which he really bring her her. You know panasonic eva with her into the ambulance her heart attack. No she wouldn't do that but she would have her cell phone and then maybe she put herself on out and like but then if you know something serious happened. She wouldn't care about filming anymore. She on would have dropped on the floor and it would stay there and so we thought about all of that. We thought about the cinema language of all of that not not in terms of style or the look of it but in terms of cinema language. What would kirsten johnson do in the future. If her father was having a heart attack in an ambulance came and she was making a movie. It's amazing to think. Yeah you made the camera. The user of the camera character. A writer of the story essentially. That's great and then we created the dishes like we like hired real. Emt guys and explain to us what would happen. What wouldn't happen. And i wrote in the ambulance. Phone dropped it on the floor. That is very cool. Yeah well thank you so much again. It's like every question. Get such a thorough and fascinating answer. It's been really fun. My rainy everything. George i jack today and i would love it. If you would send me a picture of him i can do that. Yeah absolutely actually. I can say he. Yeah i can send you one when he was enrolled war to. He met mao station china. Yeah that's sort of his thing. That was his like his favorite thing about his. Take him. I think he was like overwhelmed. I think he was young. He was twenty. He'd but you know it's funny. We didn't have the kind of relationship where i would ask him. And that's that goes into the story of like. I never asked him things like that. Like what did you think now what he would have answered. He probably would have shrugged. But that's right you know but it's that was his thing. So maybe i'll find that picture and to you. I would love to see jack him together. Thanks everybody for listening this. Definitely one of the most fun interviews. I've done simply because it got into stuff that goes into the meaning of existence and how we handle and process the most challenging in central questions to our lives. If we're not doing stuff like that what are we doing. Why are we making movies. Telling stories We could do a lot of things to make money that are easier. We don't have to try and make it in this industry. Certainly it's not the easy choice and if you're interested in things like fame or money there are other things you could try making movies that answer the central questions of existence in telling stories that cover them in the way that kirsten approaches life is fascinating and worthwhile and It was a joy to have her on the show. And thank all of you for listening. the no film school podcast exists. Because you want it to so. Don't forget to email us questions for our weekly podcast at ask at no film school dot com if you want us to talk about things like we talked about on this episode or if you want us to check into different kinds of guests or cover different topics let us know and if you have specific questions about how to do things gear. You should buy remember to let us know. I hope you're having a great twenty twenty one as it has started strange as it has been and will hope to hear from you said.