April 13, 2008
HUD Fair Housing Screening of Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story
It was a pleasure to present Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story to an Atlanta audience of hundreds of fair housing advocates and experts from all over the country yesterday. The group was commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, passed in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, and was part of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Policy Conference.
To be honored with showing this documentary on a landmark fair housing battle to many of the people who do the hard and honorable work of advocating for and enforcing fair housing laws in America was a wonderful gift. It was even more heartwarming that the film was so well received, since this group knows better than anyone about the realities of fair housing struggles.
The screening was of particular significance to me as a filmmaker. Hearing, as I did, so many stories from the trenches of lawyers, organizers, city fair housing officers, non-profit advocates and federal employees, I come away more convinced than ever that America has all the know-how and talent necessary to build more inclusive communities—and that we need only to muster the will to make it a priority.
Tapping the human capital of the nation is what’s at stake in making equitable access to housing a reality for all— along with the benefits that come with inclusive communities: education, job opportunities, municipal services, and political muscle. When America more fully realizes the potential in making this a significant part of our political agenda, the country will benefit enormously— by generating the dynamic energy of millions of citizens whose power is undermined by lack of adequate and inclusive housing opportunity.
Meeting some of the people who are doing this work, even as the country lumbers through a housing crisis of undetermined proportions, makes a person optimistic about our ability to find the will to make housing opportunity a reality, rather than a promise unfulfilled.
September 12, 2006
"Beyond the 11th"
Yesterday in Lower Manhattan, thousands of family members of those killed in the attacks five years ago streamed in and out of Ground Zero. Passing any pub, there were groups of firemen or police standing together, remembering brothers and sisters lost. Wreaths were laid on and around the fencing on the site as those whose loved ones were lost said private prayers. Down in the pit, the names of the dead were read, all of them, as they are each year on this day.
In addition, a different kind of memorial was observed this year at the Tribeca Cinema. A documentary film, “Beyond the 11th,” opened, and was simultaneously shown in a theater in Brookline, Massachusetts. The film tells how two courageous women from the Boston area, whose husbands died on planes that struck the towers, transformed their pain into a hand that reached out of the ashes and across the world.
Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, two pregnant women living in wealthy suburbs outside Boston, said goodbye to their partners in the morning, five years ago yesterday, and then fell down a dark hole to a new reality. In their new lives, they bore daughters without fathers, were propelled into a uniquely bizarre and tragic community status, and eventually, found each other. Upon meeting, Patti and Susan realized that they connected as almost no one else could with them in the aftermath of September 11th. They also understood that as much as they wanted to move beyond their new ‘9/11 widow’ identity, this was, to a great extent, whom they now had become.
The documentary, “Beyond the 11th,” is about the two women’s’ subsequent actions and the organization of the same name they created. It describes a bond they forged with Afghan widows, including those left partner-less by the ‘American War.’ The film shows how 9/11 prompted two people to embrace deeper understanding, without sinking into hatred and violence. “Beyond the 11th” shows two women confronting a need to make better things grow in the tragic ground they walked, and in doing so, helping others to be more connected across multiple boundaries.
In the period when the two first met, “Beyond the 11th,” describes the Massachusetts women as overwhelmed by the generosity they received. While it doesn’t dwell on their financial situation, the footage shows their homes and living conditions: surroundings most Americans only hope for, even as the hole in each of their families' lives is painful to watch. At the same time, Patti and Susan are drawn to another reality, one for other widows of war, terror, and violence. This is the situation of war widows in Afghanistan, numbering more than 30,000 in Kabul alone.
Their counterparts’ situation was even more desolate than it might be elsewhere, as most women had no means to make an income and no allowance to work outside their own homes and stay within the rules of Afghan society. With children to support, these widows were truly desperate. Susan and Patti learned about their plight just as they began to regard themselves as blessed by all the attention and support they received from their families and the community around them.
Rather than pushing away from their concern, or turning inward to deal with their own troubles alone, the pair chose to help women on the other side of the world, whose plight had eluded most Americans. They asked for support that Susan and Patti were in a unique position to speak up for— from an American public disposed to listen to families of 9/11’s fallen.
The filmmakers show the two women moving from private living room conversations about helping war widows in Kabul to becoming more polished public personas. The crew follows them describing their mission to a police and National Guard gathering and while they appear on various local and national television programs. The film also depicts frank discussions with non-profit partners and supporters, as the pair attempt to define the parameters of their support; they wonder what numbers will actually make a difference to those who receive their help.
The method Patti and Susan decided on was to support, through their organization, a trio of programs already in place in Afghanistan: Care International, Women for Women, and Arzu, which provided in-home agricultural and business support for women and education for girls. The programs, as basic as one that distributed chickens, incubators, and chickenfeed to women who could then sustain small businesses, were already successful, but were serving much smaller numbers than the need required.
To capture the attention of the public and financial supporters, Patti and Susan decided to bicycle the path home that their husbands never made in 2001. On the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the two started at Ground Zero in New York and cycled the 275-mile journey back to Boston, sponsored by contributors and followed by media hungry for a story about people affected by America’s tragedy. The film follows their ride and plays a spontaneous train of thoughts and emotions along the route of the journey as it unfolds. It strengthens the documentary that it relies heavily on following Patti and Susan living with their children and going about their personal challenges, rather than just illustrating set-piece interviews. It gives the film a genuine feeling of observed life experience, rather than retold history on film.
The exciting transformation that takes the film to another level, however, is that it follows the women’s lives farther, as they are drawn to visit Afghanistan, shows the lives of the women who they seek to help, and the life of an endangered international aide worker they befriend, as she confronts another fact of Afghan life, kidnapping.
That the story begins in Massachusetts, on the television sets of beautifully appointed living rooms and travels not only to the World Trade Center, but on to Kabul and back connects it to the ties that bind us all. "Beyond the 11th," the film, makes the physical and emotional leap that connects two women to the world beyond them and also connects the viewer to how much we are a part of the world, whether we choose to see it or not.
June 02, 2006
Production Costs for Video
What will a production cost? Can you give me a general estimate for how much a video is? Will it be much less if the video is five minutes long as opposed to six? Is there a price-per-minute to go by?
These are all questions that I field consistently and if you are a prospective media client thinking about budget vs. marketing value, they are questions you’ll be certainly be mulling over. Money doesn’t grow on trees and especially when you first start making media work for you, price seems a daunting barrier to production.
The answer to all these questions are somewhat the same, it really does depend. Here’s where the work really begins. The cost of a project depends on a number of factors— and on how you set about addressing them.
The first thing to think about is the mission of the project. What will this video do? Do you know the specifics, or will it take a bit of discussion? Is it going to be an introduction to your company, or a piece about a particular product? Will it feature your employees as the on-camera talent, or will an actor or actors play the role of host? Will production be in one location or several? How much of a role will graphics or animation play? Will you shoot in a high-end format or inexpensive digital one? Will a soundstage be required?
Answering these questions will help define the production budget and make an estimate much easier to complete. If you have a sense of what the elements will be, you’re halfway there. We can work out the cost by answering a series of questions.
That’s one way to approach media project budgets. Another workable way to define them is to decide in advance what your budget is, then discuss the project in terms of one basic question, “What can we do to achieve our mission within that number? (‘cause let’s face it, most of the time, you already have an idea what the number is, even if you haven’t said it out loud)” This can also yield good results and can sometimes be a better way to focus on the project, rather than throwing out a wish list and having to begin paring back one element at a time.
If you’re going to work with a good production company, one of the benefits to the client should be to take advantage of our experience and ideas. We can suggest ways to approach a project that you might not have encountered, ways that can meet your needs within your budget.
So, that’s a more nuanced answer than you probably wanted, but it’s honestly more helpful than giving out ballpark figures that keep changing as the facts of the production and the mission emerge. If you can find an experienced, creative, effective producer you trust and respect, one of these methods will work well. It’s better than a scattershot Request for Proposal letter to twenty companies— and it builds a collaborative relationship from the beginning of production.