Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Plaza of the Mind Interview with Filmmaker David Blair!

I first saw David Blair's Wax: or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees when I was still a student at University. I remember looking at it and not knowing what to make of it. I remember that I could not get a grasp on the film but something about it captured my imagination and so I decided to watch it again about a year later and it was during that second viewing that I realized that the film would become one of my top-ten all time favorites.

I later found out that Wax: or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees had the honor of being the world's first online feature-film. I highly recommend you check it out here. Mr. Blair also has an electronic journal that you may peruse here.

I was thrilled that Mr. Blair accepted an invitation to the Plaza of the Mind. Please note that this interview was actually conducted during the Spring of 2007 but for various reasons I have just now been able to release it.

[The Plaza of the Mind quotes appear in Bold-type, Mr. Blair's in normal-type]

The film Wax: or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees is unlike almost any film I've ever seen in that it has a bit of a steep learning curve. I didn't seem to get as much out of it until I began playing it repeatedly. I even began putting it on a continuous loop as I drifted off to sleep and I found that it seemed to effect my sub-conscious. Is this sort of osmosis something that you aimed for with the film?

That I haven't heard before, but yes, the movie is meant to open up after the first viewing,
and it apparently has had enough in it to support lots of viewings for the people who want to put it on again...

You created a singular form of narrative with Wax, did you plan this from the beginning or did it evolve as the project took shape?

Well, it almost literally started as a one-liner, and went from there... but it was really a process that fed back into itself... i.e. the script, production, and the edit were done all at the same time,
and not finished until the end.... sometimes I mention that's how a documentary often works as well.

What did the one-liner consist of?

Well, as an example of early method I just went to the NYPL research library and looked up bees in the old catalog, back before they computerized.

The narration of Wax is quite pleasant. Where did you find the actor that did it and has he done any other work?

Thanks, that was me in fact, I was the cheapest solution that would work, and the most appropriate. At this point it looks like I may do voice for The Telepathic Motion
Picture as well. As for other work, well I amuse my kids but I'm not an actor.

I enjoy the documentary quality of the film, the way the film starts out quite straight forward and then slowly begins to fragment into an abstraction yet at the same time keeps its coherence through the narration. How did you go about crafting such a method of slowly lulling the viewer into stranger and stranger territory?

Well, I worked hard to keep it on track... for the person watching to know what they were looking at any particular second, and get a sense that they had come from somewhere and were going somewhere.... I was also working with a producer, who really wanted a three act structure. After that, the simple matches and blends between ideas and places sort of lull you, as you say, into believing in the continuity.

You worked on Wax for quite some time, and your follow up feature, The Lost Tribes, seems to be taking just as long. Do you enjoy working this way?

Well, I have to say that I wish I was finished with the Lost Tribes. I think if I get the chance to do another long project I will script more before and get it over with quicker. On the other hand, I do enjoy letting the project go where it goes, and if Lost Tribes comes out well than I won't complain.

What strikes me most about your work is that you are basically a one-man filmmaker. I find this very inspirational. Do you enjoy working this way?

Well, sometimes it feels like I spent the day baking bread for the breadshop... making moving pictures has very much simple repetitive work to it. Sometimes it is like making a candy house in the rain. But all in all, I have to say I do enjoy the craft of it.

Do you feel this method affords you more freedom to express yourself the way you see fit?

Well, yes I have complete freedom, except for the fact that I have to do it all myself, technique is hard, and nothing is sure, Ok, I'm complaining. Yes, I can say what I want about what I want in the way I want, and hopefully keep it interesting....

Is Lost Tribes near completion? My friends and I are dying to see it.

I've been on it full time for years, and I have told myself to finish picture by the end of the year, though I will have to raise money for sound work after that. The structure is still up in the air.

Wax had an endowment from the NEA. was that difficult to secure?

That was back in the day when they gave grants to individual artists; It was a competitive application.

What is your relationship to the IATH? I see that they are the ones hosting both Wax and the Lost Tribes.

The hypertext author Michael Joyce suggested I contact them. They had just started up an online residency program. They used the modified MOO server that Waxweb ran on at the time for some stuff, and later on they offered to put Lost Tribes online.I raised some NEA money for that as well.

William Burroughs appears in Wax. I am very fond of his work. Were you at all inspired by his writings?

By his description of cutup, yes.

How did you go about putting him in your film?

Mark Kaplan, the cameraman, was from Lawrence, Kansas, where Burroughs lived. He set up a documentary around a beat reunion set up by Burrough's secretary, I went out to help. After the reunion, I set up the shoot with Burroughs at his house, and mark and I also went out to the Garden of Eden.

Your wife Florence Ormezzano appears in Wax. She also has displayed some truly intriguing digital works with her organisms/specimens?

She finished last year an artist book-dvd object, which is available from cactus productions in Caen [France].

I saw there was a DVD of that piece, how would one go about getting a copy?

I am not sure she sells the DVD outside of the kit, it might not have occurred to her, you can ask directly to see what she says.

Does she have a role in the new film as well?

She worked a -lot- while we in Japan, especially doing bodies for the 3d characters, etc.

Wax has a great ambient soundtrack by Beo Morales and Brooks Williams. How did you find those composers?

Brooks has a very nice small studio in New York, Harmonic Ranch much used by downtown audio and video folks. He and Beo have collaborated for many many years; they had a group
called The History of Unheard Music.

Will you ever release a soundtrack?

No, since it wasn't done as songs, but as part of the sound design.

Who is doing sound for the Lost Tribes?

Hopefully they will, but I have to finish the picture and raise money.

Does Lost Tribes employ the same hypermedia features - each section of the film having a description - that Wax did?

Not sure yet. I want to finish the movie first.

That work must have been horribly painstaking, did that part of the project take the longest to produce?

I think that the technical part was just the longest... I had to learn and redo. Video was hard in the 80s, and web was hard in the 90s.

How long was the shooting of Wax?

There were several small shoots, a 4 day shoot in New Mexico, and I think the main shoot with all the hired people was 5-7 days, I don't remember. I think we were in the Carlsbad Caverns 2 nights? One day at Trinity Site, etc.

Do you have any ideas for any films after Lost Tribes?

Of course, lots of vague ones, I'll give them some sugar water when I get done with this one and see if they perk up.