Shot #1 - At Odds with the World
We meet Mad Mike as a solo man, although he has a crew. But while setting him up as a man at odds with the world isn't too terribly hard (there's some nice uses of internet comments throughout) there are some deft touches throughout Cats manage to be relatable as well as a little crazy. Showing the cat some troll's online comments definitely puts you over the top. And locking your mailbox up doesn't help either.
Shot #2 - Informoverload
I love the difference between the internet world that observes Mike and the man himself. Here's Mike on a Canadian show Informoverload and it's harder to see two things more at odds: Mike in his grungy shirt, with his homemade rocket in the background and the two hosts with a MacBook in front of them.
Shot #3 - Summing Everything Up
What a great shot with Waldo, the self taught rocket scientist of the group, describing what will happen to Mike's rocket after launch. The look of it all is just perfect: The sunlight through the beer bottle with the real rocket in the background, Mike looking on, Waldo in his American flag t-shirt with the real American flag in the background. In one shot is the chord this movie is trying to strike - I don't know whether to be proud of their ingenuity and individual spirit or shocked that this is how people choose to spend their time.
Shot #4 - Liftoff
It's genuinely thrilling to see Mike takeoff. For all that he might be a little crazy, it's one of the most heartfelt moments in the movie and it's a tribute to Toby Brusseau and Michael Linn that they keep the tension throughout.
Shot #5 - Both Prone and Spent
Having given all they can give both man and vessel end up lying parallel, Mike heading off to get checked out by paramedics and "Flat Earth" there to wait until next time.
Bonus Shot - Roadtrips
Mike shifting his trailer home to the launch site. C'mon. Every doc deserves a ride-along camera shot.
Celebrity Book Recommendations
We've had the pleasure of meeting some pretty interesting people over the years. Actors, politicians, pageant winners, producers, and musicians and we're adding more every week!
Here is a list of their book recommendations.
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Four Feet from Pete
An evening spent in the remote vicinity of Pete Buttigieg
6:30pm - It is cold outside of Decorah High School. We've just arrived, to attend the Buttigieg town hall, myself, Alan, Jeremy, and oddly enough, another Josiah. They told us to get here at 6:30. The line is maybe two blocks long and we are midway back.
6:34 - The conversation drifts from personality tests to celebrity meetings. Some Gen Zs or Millennial cuspers check our names off on their phones and give us wristbands. No one acknowledges them the rest of the night.
6:43 - No movement. I get a text telling thanking me for coming.
6:47 - Movement ahead. Finally we're inside! Bubbly and ethnically diverse (especially for Iowa) young people encourage us to go caucus for Mayor Pete. Instead I go to the bathroom.
6:50 - The whole thing is in the high school gym. People clump together beneath banners recognizing state qualifiers for various sports, pictures of Vikings (the mascot), and basketball hoops. There is only seating for those with mobility needs. I'm thinking of spraining an ankle. I instead look for the group.
6:54 - Several ladies I squeezed past recognize me from the Commonweal Theatre. They take our picture and ask us to take theirs. Small world.
7:07 - A lady in a red coat to my side says to her friends, "He gets 3 minutes and I'm leaving."
7:12 - A female voice announces they're raising the curtain in the gym to allow more people in. "Why didn't they do that in the first place?" says Red Coat. She's still here. Maybe Pete's worth the wait.
7:17 - One of Red Coat's friends, Purple Sweater says she told off the RNC. "I don't normally answer those calls. I would never give money to the RNC." She shudders. "It's like a civil war."
7:20 - been here since 6 says red coat. College students standing on platforms dutifully hold "Pete for Iowa" and Freedom Security Democracy" signs.
7:21 - Red Coat says they went through the crowd picking them out. Most of them are from Luther College. The raising of the curtain didn't create any more room. I'm beginning to wish I'd applied more deodorant.
7:24 Still no Pete. "I'm out," says Red Coat. Like a gambler cashing who knows it's not her night. It's a little sad. "I'll send you an email," Purple sweater says.
7:28 - Applause but no Pete. Toby Kane here to announce him. She is young blonde and vibrant - the perfect young campaigner. She speaks well and uplifts her community. "We have so much work but here we've created a home. We need to take what we've done here in Deborah and turn that into something that spreads all across the country."
7:30 - The phrase "Pete Supporters" is making me hungry. Say it out loud.
7:32 - Purple sweater leaves. I guess there's going to be no email.
There's a signer upfront. Kane says Pete embodies all the values of America. I keep watching the signer to see what the sign for "Buttigieg" is but I cannot make it out. She must be spelling it.
7:33 - Kane asks all of us to get involved. A girl in pigtails being held up by her mother claps. There's a lot of clapping.
7:35 - Finally Kane is done. The last thing she says is we need your help. Bring on the Pete!
7:36 - Nope. Kia Niel is next. That's not Pete. Talking about public schools. Part of Pete's platform but not Pete. Pigtails girl loves Kia. Lots of claps for the young speaker. Kia tells me to build my relational network.
7:39 - Mayor Pete! Quit clapping and let the man talk. It's 7:40 when he finally speaks.
He is earnest and engaged. Passionate. His vocal patterns almost sound like Obama - who he wastes no time telling us he campaigned for in 2008. His Norwegian joke kills. Know your crowd.
He asks us to visualize the sun coming up on a country where DT isn't President. "Take refuge in the thought," he says. However... "Think about the work it's going to take for the next president to pick up the pieces and build a better country."
7:45 - Pigtails girl is picking her mom's ear. But stops to clap in that last applause line, then sticks it right back in. I hope her mom's got health insurance.
7:47 His message: "Ideas that are bold enough to solve the problems and capable of unifying us." His topical outline: Medicare, Gun Control (No guns in school get the biggest applause), Climate change (the carbon negative farm by 2050), Patriotism, Faith, Current Administration (he doesn't stay too long on this thankfully. It's been done to death), Racial Tensions, and Public Education ("We need a Secretary of Education who believes in public education.")
7:55 Question time. Mostly your typical soft balls questions, although one kid asks if he plays Dungeons and Dragons (Newsflash: He doesn't, but he's always up for learning something new).
His best soundbite comes from talking about climate change as a national project:
"America always does better when it has a national project and this one doesn't involve fighting other people." Not bad, Pete.
8:11 - The Q&A session lasts about 20 minutes. My favorite question is about increasing his internet advertising budget, not because of the answer (he intends to advertise - go figure!), but because a man in a deer hunter jacket standing next to me leaves. Finally a little room!
8:19 - Pete wraps up and encourages us, whether "volunteer, voter, or candidate, to make the case for hope." Hope is a good word to build on. He shakes a couple of hands. I get muscled out of the way by more determined Buttigieg fans. That's ok. With a few more waves to the crowd, Pete Buttigieg leaves to September by Earth Wind and Fire.
At the end of it all, I learned the Mayor Pete cares pretty hard, that he likes Earth, Wind, and Fire and that he might like to try out Dungeons and Dragons. He's got a lot of solid ideas and an idealistic view to go with it. I don't know if he'll be dancing in September next year, but I think he's got a little hope.
What role does an actor have in fighting the climate crisis? Shakespeare said:
For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. - William Shakespeare [Hamlet]
Historically the theatre was the force that progressed social, economic, and political movements. Now is the time to include environmental. The American film industry generated $43.4 billion in revenue last year according to Medium.com. Americans turn to Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, CBS, NBC, PBS, and countless other streaming sites and TV stations to unwind. We count on actors telling stories to connect us with the outside world. The actor has a wild amount of responsibility in working to combat the current climate crisis as they connect with people around the world.
I spoke with Tim Guinee, an actor who has been seen on over 250 films and television shows including Iron Man, Bones, Blue Bloods, and many more. He works closely with Vice President Al Gore in the Climate Reality Project and recently sat down with activist Greta Thunberg. I interviewed Mr. Guinee for an upcoming podcast.
Darrell: Where should actor/environmentalists go?
To learn more about Tim Guinee or the upcoming Climate Actors Project check back here often as we will be sharing that URL as soon as it is live.
To hear the entire interview, subscribe to Highway Walkers Podcast on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and anywhere else you stream.
5 Best Shots from the documentary, Heal
Darrell and I watched the documentary Heal on Netflix and recorded a podcast, talking about it's cultural and personal impacts - give it a listen by going here. Otherwise we've got our top 5 shots from the documentary Heal, directed by Kelly Noonan Gores.
Shot #1 - The Overhead
Ahhh the drone perspective. An empty beach, a well framed solo figure with just enough of the ocean encroaching on the frame. This would make a good title shot... and there it is. A neat little button on the opening 4 minutes.
Shot #2 - Full Contact
So many of the holistic healing methods involved touch. It struck me watching the film that often we humans don't get enough physical contact with other humans. This shot comes from the faith healing sequence, the "roughest" sort of physical touch in the movie, with the faith healer almost wrestling his patient (patient? subject? convalescent? not sure). Certainly nothing you'd see a medical doctor do and it highlights the differences between contemporary and holistic practices
Shot #3 - Talking to the Camera Gimmick
Here's a cool combo that I really like: We'd get a shot of Kelly talking to a computer or a cell phone and then jump to a shot of her talking to the camera. A neat trick, sort of like a ride along video blog. I'm sure this has been used before, but it made her moments of narration more visually interesting. Simple but effective.
Shot #4 - Subtle Themes
There's a never verbalized theme of water in this doc, which makes sense. The underlying current of meditation and healing is often associated with water and here's a great shot of Kelly in the ferry (I assume around NYC - though it's never stated). Empty space, clean lines, neat silhouette with the ever-present ocean in the background.
Shot #5 - The Well Framed Interview
Interviews are tricky to make visually effective. There's the very standard over the shoulder you then me, there's the talking head. I like this one. I'm a sucker for the profile perspective and the off-whites, ivories, and eggshells are contrasted beautifully by the blue square that seems to connect these two women's heads together. Nice imagery for a doc focused on the mind.
Bonus Shot: Roadtrip Shot!
Our second doc in a row to include the roadtrip shot. Such a great motif. There were a couple to choose from as Kelly zips around town interviewing folks and friends, and with apologies to the eyes in the rearview mirror shot, I went with this one. A nice, sunlight homage to the open road.
Bonus Sequence: Unintentional Comedy
Here's a great little two shot sequence of unintentional comedy. Talking about meditation we see Kelly meditating in various places with the finale being her meditating on a suitcase cart as it glides out of the frame. But they hold it just long enough for the bellhop in the door to give a great WTF look to the camera. Unintentional comedy at its best!
Thanks for reading and check out the podcast, by going here.
The 5 Best Shots from Minimalism
Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things is definitely a movie with a message. The story is told mostly by following two men, Ryan and Josh, as they promote their book, Everything That Remains. We also hear from some talking heads people who practice minimalism to some extent in their daily lives. This message is basically the story. But like all film the cinematography is telling its own story. Here are my five favorite shots that help tell the story. Check out our review of the movie in podcast form here!
Shot #1: Times Square
What better place to start a movie about minimalism than the heart of capitalism? This shot is the opening look of the film and is held for a solid five seconds. Screens abound. Advertisements everywhere. Taxis, people rushing by. It's an iconic view and simply by dint of the title of the film we're looking at it in a different way. Not sure if it's stock footage, but if it is, it's simply great usage. A solid start.
Shot #2: Expectations = Humor
We've been told that Josh and Ryan are heading to SXSW to speak. We have before this a great shot of Ryan delivering the message of minimalism and then the reveal: mostly empty seats and people on phones. Really good use of setting expectations to get an easy laugh.
Shot #3: Visualizing the Message
Here is maybe my favorite look of the whole film. Clearly the director Matt D'avella wanted to get some quotes from the book Everything That Remains into the film. And instead of just having Josh read them in an ordinary space, they trek out to an area devoid of anything. Visual minimalism paired with personal minimalism. A great shot that taking what could've been boring and making it stand out.
Shot #4: Focus on Shallow Depth of Field
The movie doesn't have a lot of dissenting opinions, though it does offer a few comments from Clyde Dinkins, an attendee at a Las Vegas talk. The videographers got some great images of Clyde, highlighting his comments which are some of the most thought-provoking in the film.
Shot #5: Graphics, the Good and the Bad
Not all graphics are created equal. I'll include two here. The first is a simple but effective visual of a standard house set-up with the red dots indicating areas people use. Really driving home a message. The second is a intertitle card (see below) used about three times throughout the movie. If you're going to use intertitles to convey messages, jazz it up a little. Use them with a purpose. Have it mean something. This felt like information that could've been conveyed through interviews.
Bonus! Iconic Road Trip Shot!
An oldie but a goodie and one Highway Walkers have used too many times to count. Two friends on a drive, looking over the shoulder at the open road... Sometimes you just can't beat a classic.
Again check out our podcast review of the film here! Thanks for reading.
On the Buffalo - Day 3
I am lying in our tent. It is, by my best guess, close to 8:45pm and nearing the only true moments of darkness we have on this trip. The sun has finally set and the moon is about to rise: waxing full and ripe, far brighter than I have ever seen it in cities or towns. When it rises it will give light to our little sandbar.
We made an impromptu camp this evening, on the east side of the river to catch as much of the waning sunlight as possible. We needed to dry our things. Rachel and I tipped our canoe this afternoon.
The moon rises and casts its light on the various articles hanging from branches and vines: shirts, underwear, hats, our rain fly, Kim’s sleeping bag, trash, our food bag, and eleven pages from my Midsummer Night’s Dream script all on the same branch, pale in the light, like a congregation of ghosts.
The river had flooded the week before we came, rising as high as 18 feet above its normal level. The trees along the bank are full of branches, leaves, trash, and other debris. Many were knocked down, dragged along, and left in the river.
Memory has funny tricks it plays. I am sure the actual tipping our canoe took no more than five seconds, but the memory of it is slow and segmented.
Rachel and I had come around the bend and seen the tree, but the current was too strong, we too inexperienced. Remembering it I feel we had days to turn, but didn’t, our canoe slowly drifting sideways into the uprooted oak, the water pouring into the bottom of our canoe like batter into a pan. It all seemed so slow in retrospect? How could we have lost control?
We managed to get the canoe out and the only thing lost was our bailer (the top half of a plastic jug). Much was dampened, including my and Rachel’s spirits and we moved a little slower the rest of the day.
It is at first glance a learning experience, but here under the moonlight, spent and exhausted and content, I draw no lines between learning and not. Everything thus far has simply been to experience, learning and growth and the need to categorize and contextualize fade away under the moonlight and I simply lay back, close my eyes, and feel the river sway me softly to sleep.
On the Buffalo River - Day 2
Day 2 on the Buffalo River
The green canoe that once contained Darrell and Kim is wrapped around a rock in the middle of the river. It has sunk about a foot and a half underwater. It is sideways. It’s bow and stern have filled with water and the continuous pressure of the flowing river has bent it in half around the rock.
I am waist deep next to the canoe as the water flows around me. Mike Mills is next to me. We are trying to lift the canoe.
Mike has said that the river at Ponca was flowing at 400 cf/s. I have no idea what kind of pressure this amounts to, all I know is it’s enough to bend a canoe in half. The canoe is plastic, yes, but it was a sheet of high density polyethylene. It now looks like a rag.
“You don’t pull the canoe towards you,” Mike says in a voice loud enough to carry above the rushing water. “The current’s too strong. You want to lift up.” And so we try.
And we fail. However much water the canoe is holding, plus the pressure of the river, is too much for us. Darrell, who lost a shoe in the spill, steps out to help, as does another canoer who’d been floating by and stopped to check up on us.
The Buffalo River is a friendly place. Most of the people there live within a 500 mile radius, and most are willing to stop and chat. The beginning is far more populated than the end. As Mike has said, the beginning is the most beautiful part and people flock to it. We’re lucky they do.
Mike, Darrell, the helpful stranger, and I manage to lift the sideways canoe above the water level, unpinning it from the rock. It drags us a few feet downriver before skidding to a stop in a shallower area.
The stranger wades back to his own canoe and Darrell and I wearily shout a thank you. He waves and sets off.
The canoe, it seems to us, is irreparable. I help Mike dump the water while Darrell tells Mike we’ll pay for the canoe. I can hear the disappointment in his voice. Canoes like these run anywhere from $700 - $1000 or more.
Without saying a word, Mike climbs into the bent canoe and gives it two quick stomps. Like magic the canoe pops back into place. But is it river worthy? “Give it a try,” Mike says. Though he must be tired from the effort, there’s a hint of a mischievous smile on his face.
The canoe floats. Darrell and Kim climb in and Rachel and I wade back to our canoe. “I don’t know a canoe of ours that’s been on this river that hasn’t hit a rock or been bent or filled with water,” Mike says nonchalantly. Rachel and I suspiciously eye the creases in the side of our canoe before climbing in. The river seems a little more dangerous than before.
“Well now you know and you can learn from it,” Mike says and he starts to go over what went wrong. Mike has a way of turning mistakes into lessons and lessons into successes. His is a quality of a true teacher.
Fortunately the canoe had been empty. Mike had us do this leg of the trip with no gear. “You can load up where I get picked up. It’s better that way.” The only thing lost was a sandal of Darrell’s and a camera got wet. We’ll toss the camera in some rice and hope for the best.
The next few rapids go by slowly, with lots of planning and nerves. We are all a little timid.
Soon we reach Kyle’s Landing. This is where Mike will be picked up and before he goes he offers some advice: “Remember, pick a line a stick with it. Don’t second guess yourself.”
Mike gifts Darrell a pair of his old river shoes so Darrell will have something dry to change into when we stop for the night. Never have a pair of raggedy old shoes meant so much.
We load the canoes up with food and cameras, tents and sleeping bags. Tipping now would far more disastrous than before. Mike bids us farewell. “Trust your instincts,” he says by way of parting advice and we laugh nervously.
Once on the river, we put in a few more miles. We go through our first few rapids on our own. The river without Mike is wide and full of possibilities both great and daunting. We look for a place to camp.
On the Buffalo River - Day 1
Day 1 on the Buffalo River
Mike Mills sits in a canoe like a king in a throne, upright and at ease. Thick arms skim the craft over the river. Oftentimes his paddle stays out of the water for long stretches, needing only one deep stroke to navigate a rapid, letting the current - and years of experience reading it - do the rest. And yet one stroke of his takes him as far as three of our hurried stabs at the water. He is a man in his element.
We are nervous, Darrell, Kim, Rachel, and I, on our first day on the river. Mike is taking us from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing, ten miles or so, to train us for the rest of the trip. We will take out at Kyle’s and return to the beginning the next morning and start the trip anew. “The first 10 miles is the most beautiful part anyhow,” Mike says. He speaks with certainty, a man used to making split second decisions and making the right ones.
Mike begins by teaching us the draw stroke, the most important lesson, he says. A draw stroke is a stroke where the paddle is parallel to the canoe and you pull in toward the canoe. It is the primary tool of the person in the bow (or front) of the canoe. It moves the tip of the canoe in the direction of the paddle - and can be the difference between hitting a rock and gliding past.
“My job is not to judge, “ Mike says in his easy Arkansas lilt, “It’s to assess. Then I know what I have to teach you.”
None of us knew the draw stroke prior to this little lesson. All of us had canoed on lakes before, but lakes usually don’t have water pushing you toward rocks and debris - of which there is plenty. The river finished flooding no more than a week ago and downed trees are around every bend.
After learning the stroke, Mike takes us down the first rapid. “Most rapids on the Buffalo River are 1s and 2s,” he says, speaking of the classification of rapids which range from 1 (easy) to 6 (impossible). “The classifications basically relate to the likelihood of you being seriously injured or killed if you fall out in a rapid. 1s you might get a bruise, 2s it’s possible to break a bone. 3s and 4s and 5s you could be severely injured or worse.”
We all make it through the first rapid just fine and the second as well. On the third, Rachel and I get hung up sideways on a rock. Mike paddles next to us, yelling at us to power stroke (a long deep stroke meant to propel you forward). We do. We make it off the rock without tipping. Though we feel a little bad, Mike congratulates us.
“Two more seconds and you would’ve started filling up with water. It’s much better to hit the rapids head on. But you did alright.”
On the next rapid, we hit an eddy, spinning ourselves around and head backward through the branches of an uprooted tree. Rachel folds forward in the canoe and the branches fly over her head. Again Mike congratulates us. “It’s good to know what to do when things aren’t going right.”
True, but we’d prefer to be doing things right. Darrell and Kim seem to be getting along better. All of us want to impress Mike. He’s the kind of man whose respect you want to earn.
In the calm stretches between rapids he grabs onto our canoes and dispenses his advice. All four of us nervously glance ahead to the rapid just ahead, but Mike barely takes his eyes off us as he talks, paying no mind to the upcoming rocks and trees and rushing water.
"It’s better to pick a line and stick with it. Decisiveness. When you start second guessing your decisions is when you get into trouble."
When we make it to Kyle’s Landing, a few hours after we put in, about 5 o’clock or so, we’re tired and giddy. Mike invites to his house to talk, go over maps, and have a drink (no food - he doesn’t eat dinner: “Just a glass of red wine, and a handful of nuts.”).
When he asks if we’d like to go home first and "freshen up" or come straight up with him, we dither. He barks, “there’s a rock coming up in the river, make a decision.” We decide to freshen up.
His house sits on top of a large mountain overlooking the river valley. A window covers the whole east facing wall. It makes for a gorgeous sunrise, he tells us and encourages us to arrive at 6am tomorrow and watch.
We all pour over the maps with Mike and he labels rapids, potential camp sites, things to watch out for, and spots too beautiful to miss. He writes in a red permanent marker and the maps (with good reason) are waterproof. Finally, empty of stomach and full of information, we leave for our cabin to eat and sleep and rise with the sun for the true start of our trip down the Buffalo.
Earth Day: A History
Earth Day was first started in 1970. The legislation was pushed through by a Wisconsin Senator named Gaylord Nelson. The idea came to him after an oil spill in Santa Barbra, California.
"We're going to have to do a whole lot more, and give nature at least a chance to repair some of the damage we've done." - Gaylord Nelson
John Muir was a precursor to Gaylord Nelson's Earth Day. Muir, born in 1838, was a novelist, poet, geologist, environmentalist, and renown climber. He is also the founder of the Sierra Club. Conservationists like Theadore Roosevelt camped and learned from John Muir about the importance of protecting the most precious lands in the United States.
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt" - John Muir
Here are just two of the many early influential individuals that knew the importance of protecting our lands and resources. Make every day Earth Day!
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