A Man’s Gotta Leave His Traces

28 Apr

That’s what the camera man at SWR Television always said to me with the wink of an eye, back when I still worked for regional television. The quote itself was many years old and had travelled long distances before it finally made its way to the hours when he and I would stand around waiting for the perfect shot, poke at the ground with our toes, and tell each other anecdotes to pass the time.

He’d heard the quote for the first time when he was young and green, beginning his career as a camera man while filming full-length movies in Russia. He overflowed with charming anecdotes from those days: how they’d learnt to be inventive because there was no high-tech film equipment in Russia in those days. “Take the pipe out of a white sink and stick a light bulb through the hole. There’s your flood light. It was as good as any modern-day Arri, and much cheaper!” Nostalgia filled his voice as he’d add: “You young people and your fancy equipment. Russia taught me all about filmmaking, because she taught me how to make use of everything around me.”

He had a driver back in those days, a vodka-swigging man whom I always pictured to look like a stereotype of lorry-truck drivers. “We’d drive for hours through the countryside to get from the filming location to my hotel. My driver knew a woman in every town we passed. He’d stop the car in a different town every day, say, I’ll be right back and jump out of the car without any explanation. I waited for him for hours. When he came back and I asked him where the hell he had been, he always laughed off my anger and said: a man’s gotta leave his traces.”

These words started swirling in my mind a few days ago. I think I know why. My last few months have been all about filmmaking. Mark and I are working on our latest film project The Tailorettes of Ulm: a puppet-documentary dedicated to the famous Tailor of Ulm, an aviation pioneer.

Now I should tell you that filmmaking is one of the most aggressively emotional endeavours out there. If you ever find a profession that is just as emotionally challenging, you let me know. In the beginning, everything goes well and you’re pleased with your genius. Then the computer won’t turn on anymore. The editing program can’t find your files all of a sudden and reports Media Offline. Your last edits vanish. The sound goes off-snyc. Everything looks out of focus.

All very technical, abstract problems that can’t be solved by inviting a repairman into the apartment and peacefully sipping coffee while he fastens the loose screws on your brain. These are also problems, I have found, that can’t be understood by anyone outside of the film branch. It all sounds like hysterical, theoretical gibberish, as I stand before Mark waving my arms in blind panic, trying to explain to him that everything I had edited over the past few weeks is gone. GONE.

We’re one month away from the pre-screening and two months away from the premiere. We still have scenes to film and I have 10 hours of film material to go through and edit into a coherent 20 minute documentary. Hear that? That’s the sound of panic.

My brain has an emergency exit for just such an occasion. As all systems shut down and the flashing red light paralyses the stampede of brain cells… I slip out of my own head. The emergency exit leads to a backdoor alley: a place of bricks and nothing more.

Well, what did you expect? Women stripping in the sun and some rum and coke? You can’t have paradise scenarios in your backdoor alley, goddamn you! This isn’t a recreation center! It’s the soul’s last hope, the world’s last mystery!

It’s where we go when sanity is no longer an option. Neither is sleep, the evasive bastard.

My visits to the backdoor alley were becoming increasingly frequent when I noticed I was no longer alone. The Quote was there. Leaning against my brick wall, casually smoking a cigarette, it looked up at me with a slow smile. With the sashay hips of a stripper, it walked in on me and murmured in my ear: “What’s wrong, baby? You surprised to see me?”

It circled me slowly, and cast a glance over its shimmering shoulder. It purred huskily, “You don’t come here to calm down, you come here to search for reasons. Why do you do chase a puppet with a camera. Why do you lock yourself in an editing room, watching digital colours on a computer screen until the cold of the room has seeped into your bones and your neck and shoulders are stiff. Why do you make a film you’re not getting paid to make, and handle the stress of filming, editing and post-production in less than three months.” It looked me straight in the eye. “So, why do you do it?”

I listened, fascinated by the summarised madness of my life.

The Quote smirked. “Get used to seeing me in your alley, baby.”

If you live in Germany, watch SWR Televison on Friday the 29th April, Landesschau at 6:45 pm, for a short report on our film “The Tailorettes of Ulm”! With interviews and excerpts from the film…


One Response to “A Man’s Gotta Leave His Traces”

  1. Paul May 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    I believe as soon as you’ve finished the film you’ll be VERY relieved. All the effort that has gone into the making and all the problems that aroused even though you haven’t been the source of them… and that’s most probably the most frustrating part you’ve described there 😉
    But some weeks later, or even earlier, there will be moments that catch you when you’re slowly stepping away from the project and you’ll be filled by proud on the one hand and by ambition on the other hand: “This was just the beginning. The next project will be different, better and even more genius! I’ve learned so much. I’ve discovered so much! And i will use my gained experience to awe the world!!”
    Yeah… sorry to interrupt you, but you’ll end up in chaos once again anyways 😉
    But isn’t that what it’s all about?

    Great read!

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