So asked the curly haired first grader looking sternly at Colin, aka No Impact Man. Colin glanced at me standing next to him with the camera and laughed. We were at an Earth Day talk at a local elementary school midway through the No Impact year. Colin sighed and then said, pointing at me, “I’m not making a movie… he is.”
To be honest, Colin didn’t want to make a movie at first. When Laura (co-director), Eden (producer), and I had dinner with Michelle the week before the No Impact year was to begin and hatched the plan to make a documentary, Colin was not on board. I think that he had seen the No Impact year as a chance to step back from the grind of his NY lifestyle, a respite of sorts. Having a filmmaker in his home was not exactly what he was looking for. Who could blame him?
Still, we set to work convincing him. We explained that a film could humanize the project, show the challenges and the benefits of the project, and most importantly it could reach and teach a lot of people. Colin slowly opened to it, but he had some conditions. At the top of the list he wanted us to make the film in the most sustainable way possible. As the wise first-grader who questioned the sustainability of making a movie proved, separating the film from Colin’s project was not going to be possible. We could not be hanging out with Colin ignoring our footprint while he was working hard to control his. I agreed and set out to think about the process and how we could improve it.
To keep our filmmaking as low-impact as possible, we developed a few basic rules to stick to. Here are the first two, and next week I will talk about a couple more.
Rule 1: Buy Nothing New
One of the stages of the NIM project for Colin and Michelle was to buy nothing that was new. As a filmmaker, when starting a new project it is customary to gear up. These days there is a new and better camera out every 6 months. The camera I had on hand, the Panasonic 100a, was far from the top of the line…. but I knew it could do the job. At the time, I had recently seen it create beautiful images for films such as Murder Ball and Iraq in Fragments. And for me it is all about content, so we went with what we had. It saved us time and it saved us money too.
Rule 2: No Electricity, No Lights, No Big Deal
We decided to shoot the film without using added lights. This contributed to the intimate feeling we wanted of the family at home. It was less gear to carry around (on the subway). Halfway through the NIM year Colin and Michelle completely turned off the electricity in their apartment. At night we made sure they had enough candles and when it got too dark to shoot we went home. Simple. On the camera I used some gain and slowed down the shutter. It felt grainy, gritty but real.