Saturday, March 20, 2010

What About Mister Rogers & You?

Last week, Chris and my email accounts both lit up like Christmas trees when our friends and neighbors all sent us this recent New York Times report, "Mister Rogers Still Looms Large In Pittsburgh." The article begins:

Nationally, it may seem that in the seven years since Fred Rogers's death, the legacy of America’s favorite neighbor has waned.

True as the author's thesis may be, it made me a bit sad. Despite his increased absence on public television stations, Mister Rogers still looms large in the hearts and minds of many all over the world, from media to academia to grass-roots organizations like Brian Linder and his Save 'Mister Rogers Neighborhood'.

Today would have been Fred Rogers' 82d birthday. In his hometown of Latrobe, PA, the Fred Rogers Center is hosting a conference of academics to discuss his legacy, and its path forward.

I'm in Pawley's Island, SC, with my dad. Ironically, the last time I was here was the day after Mister Rogers passed away in 2003. Last night, I jogged by the hotel parking lot in which I was interviewed by The Nantucket Inquirer-Mirror.

This year, we celebrate his legacy with our ongoing "Mister Rogers & Me," efforts. Just yesterday, we launched "Mister Rogers & Me" on Facebook.

Before leaving Friday morning, Chris and I raced to get this brand-new, never-before-seen clip from the film uploaded. It's from the first third of the film, when we visit Mister Rogers' sweater in The Smithsonian, then stand out front and asked people about Mister Rogers and them.

Mister Rogers said, "There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person." He certainly left a lot with me. What did Mister Rogers leave with you?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mister Rogers, The Supertease & Me

Thankfully, indie film isn't baseball; Chris and I swung at our third strike last night when the following slipped into my inbox.

Thank you for allowing us to consider your film for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. We were grateful to receive so many outstanding shorts and features and enjoyed the chance to see your film.

We regret to inform you that we are unable to include Mister Rogers & Me in this year’s program. We hope though that you keep us in mind for your next project.

I didn't expect that we'd get into the Top Five (Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, Tribeca and SXSW), but I did fantasize about it. So it's obviously disappointing. Extra disappointing after a week of editing 'til two o'clock in the morning. And disconcerting given a week's-worth of anxiety that -- after everything -- maybe our film's not tough enough, not focussed enough, not, well, documentary enough.

Lemme' explain.

When Chis and I set out to start shooting "Mister Rogers & Me" way back on the summer of 2006, we didn't know what we'd find, or how it would end. Our objective was simply to hit the road, ask as many people as possible what they thought Mister Rogers meant when he told me, "Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex," and see where we ended up.

Just about four years later, the documentary is nearly done (or at least as done as time and resources allow), which is kind of a miracle. I'll be the first to admit that -- from Virginia to North Carolina to Cambridge to Boston -- the story rambles a bit. It's not "Food, Inc." or "Fog Of War." Our enemy -- a shallow, substanceless life-- is faceless and pervasive. The stakes are significant; they're everything. All week long, though, as we've dropped in new voice over, soundtrack, and titles, and shaved, rearranged, and nudged scenes frame-by-frame, we've wondered: do we make our points clearly enough?

Thursday night around one o'clock in the morning, I said to Chris, "You know we need? A supertease."

"Supertease" is a television word for the first few minutes of a show that hook the viewer. Typically bombastic, fast-paced and high-stakes, the supertease is the set-up, the hype-machine, the sugar-rush.

We shipped our Nantucket Film Festival submission about an hour before the deadline Friday night. I dashed from Chris office to mine to grab a postcard of Beverly Hall's iconic photo of Mister Rogers and Nantucket legend, Madaket Mille, to slip in the envelope. On the back I wrote:

Dear Neighbors,

Our film, "Mister Rogers & Me," was born of this island, nurtured by this picture, and made possible by countless walks on the beach there. Please help it find its way home.

Tribeca emailed last night. Chris called today. I told him the news. A few seconds after his brief, two-word response, he said, "I've been thinking. Mister Rogers wouldn't supertease. We shouldn't either. Our movie's a journey. People will take it. And it will take us wherever its supposed to, even if that means we make our second documentary about driving this one from coast to coast."

And so we soldier on, one step and one frame at a time. The SilverDocs Film Festival deadline is this Friday. I can't tell you what we'll accomplish between now and then: maybe some better music beds to cover the interstitial quotes, maybe some new v.o. that better establishes the stakes. Not sure; time is tough to come by. But I can promise you, though, that there will be no supertease.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mister Rogers, Tuning & Me

I emailed our Family Communications contact yesterday for one, last piece of footage.

"I appreciate that it may seem as if we've been 'almost finished' with 'Mister Rogers & Me' for months now," I wrote. "In fact we've been making numerous revisions as we submit to numerous festivals, fine-tuning seemingly non-stop."

Right now, we're fine tuning the Tim Russert segment. We just eliminated a sound bite about how his first "Meet The Press" question ever was to Bob Dole, and how he took his dad's advice to "Keep it simple" -- half of the "deep and simple" equation we posit as our thesis. We also re-arranged the components of the segment to move through it more quickly, but with more nuance.

By the time we were done, we'd shaved just shy of a minute, but crafted a clearer, sharper, more-interesting segment.

I just said to Chris, "I still can't believe Tim granted us this interview." Just as I still can't believe I've been emailing with his widow, Maureen Orth, for the last few weeks. She's been so helpful, basically sharing every photo she could find from their family's time on Nantucket. So cool. One photo shows Tim, Maureen and Luke racing across Madaket Bay in a speed boat, all wind-blown and smiling ear-to-ear. Its emblematic of the kind of access friends of Mister Rogers have provided Chris and me.

All of these little changes are in service of Friday's Nantucket Film Festival deadline. Of course, I've always hoped to screen there; it's where the film was born. By the end of the week, we'll be waiting to hear from Tribeca, Nantucket, Toronto, Boston, Seattle and HotDocs. Hopefully, it'll find a home...