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.


atleast said...


You probably already know this, but Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) had the manuscript for his first children's book, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" rejected 28 times before it was picked up by a publisher.

I have my fingers crossed for the Nantucket Film Festival.


Benjamin said...

I didn't know that! Reassuring. Thanks, Elyse!