There were very few film schools when I became interested in becoming a documentary filmmaker. I also had a full-time job and learned the old-fashion way—by doing it.
WXXI, the PBS station in Rochester, NY, advertised that they wanted a scriptwriter for a new documentary in pre-production. I had no idea how to do it but made a deal with the executive producer. I would write the script and if he liked it, he could pay me. If he didn’t, then he wouldn’t.
Hard to believe now, but there wasn’t much help at the library. But I wanted in. I saw the importance of developing the medium of television in the 1968 election. I also thought documentaries were a great teaching tool. For example, a documentary on “The Great Depression” would include photographs, the music of the era, and interviews with eyewitnesses.
I got the job and tagged along on the production aspects of the film, which was about Edward Steichen, one of America’s the foremost photographers. Narrated by two-time Pulitzer prize winner Edward Albee, the documentary was selected for national broadcast. (Albee wrote in the script that it was “very good!”) The title was “Steichen…A Century in Photography.”
The WPBY PBS station in West Virginia put out a call for a documentary scriptwriter. They wanted somebody with national experience who was capable of doing research. Coming off my first national broadcast, my graduate degrees were a plus concerning the research aspect of the film. There was hardly anything at all written about the single greatest labor uprising in the nation’s history. WPBY had eight boxes of materials for me to go through in order to find the story. These were mostly newspaper clippings, published from the point of view of the coal operators.
Even the Heavens Weep was selected for national broadcast not once, but an unprecedented three times on Labor Day. I was on my way! From there I became a director, then a producer, and taught myself how to edit—first with Avid, then Final Cut and now Adobe Premier. I edited my own films and did freelance editing for others.
I like the challenge and aesthetics of documentary filmmaking. I thoroughly enjoy listening to people tell their stories. I found, with patience and trust, the camera almost gives the filmmaker permission to probe people’s souls.