August 25th, 2009:
Today, Beth Pielert, my personal filmmaker, and her crew came over to shoot the video to be shown at my memorial service. I had worked on the script for five or six weeks, drafting and enlarging the text until it seemed comprehensive. The intention of the film is to tell people what I feel that I've learned in this life. Also, why I wanted to learn it. What old habits and beliefs I wanted to unlearn, and new connections that I wanted to make.
I could not have written this material a year ago, nor would it have occurred to me to launch such a project. A year ago, my only problem was getting through my upcoming right hip replacement. But in the past few months, I've taken a radically different view of my mortality as well as my understanding of who I am and what I incarnated to accomplish. Given this shift in identity, the script for the video seemed easy to write.
However, once the script was on the page, it was still written narrative; meaning, people don't talk that way, at least I don't. Then the task became to convert the writing into spoken sound. This involved reading the sentences out loud. When text sounded clunky and awkward, I'd rewrite it to accommodate the voice. After a few passes, the new script had a vocal life that carried the context but didn't sound like I was reading from a book.
Three weeks ago, Beth came to my apartment and explained how the filming would proceed. She suggested that I read my material from a teleprompter which would be a new experience for me. I quickly agreed since another option was to memorize three plus pages. Another option was to free-form my talk based on key concepts; that didn't feel like it had enough structure for me. With the teleprompter, I agreed to read the material from start to finish, twice. One reading in close-up and the second reading at a distance. Additionally, she'd take the camera through my apartment, filming the rooms with their glass, textiles, rugs, etc. Being a novice to film, it came as a surprise to me to realize that shooting the raw film was step one. In step two, she'd edit the film to do voice over, selecting the best angle and the most compelling reading voice and other techniques that make her a talented filmmaker.
At 9:00 a.m. this morning, the crew arrived and lugged up the cables, lights, monitors, voice equipment, cameras etc. The set up took longer than the actual filming, but that's because Beth had a very clear idea of what she wanted for sound, clarity of image and other details that I don't even know about. It was fun to hear the crew speaking the in foreign language of film; so many terms, expressions, jargon.
Then, time to start rolling. Laura who ran the teleprompter did a very fine job of making sure that I had plenty of text to see on the screen. My task was to avoid reading the text as if it was a book. Instead, I had to learn in a flash how to make the text sound as if I was speaking conversationally. Here's how that was accomplished. In front of me was the teleprompter screen with the scrolling script. Behind the teleprompter was Beth, working the camera. But I couldn't see Beth. All I could see was the teleprompter screen. "Talk directly to your friends," Beth and Laura advised. "Imagine that you're speaking directly to people you know and love. You wrote this text from your heart. Connect your heart to their hearts."
And it worked! As I started to read, I sensed people on the other side of the teleprompter. I didn't consciously select them, but there they'd appear for a while, then they'd fade and someone else would take their place for me to tell my story to. There was never a crowd, usually no more than two or three at once. It amazed me. Some of my listeners had died years ago, others were at the Maitri dinner last week. And so it went, a slowly moving parade of people I love who stopped in to listen as I told my story. As I connected with my deepest friends, my voice calmed, the words became clearer and easier to understand. The delivery worked. After two passes through the text, Beth announced that she was not only satisfied, she was happy with the results. "You got me toward the end, George," she said. "I had tears."
So, almost an hour of raw footage now sits in the camera. Next stop: editing, the cutting room floor and the integrated video. What an exciting project this has become.