It was tough for me to write anything about this piece through my tear-fogged eyes.
Marty, a 78 year old war veteran, reminds us to cherish the ones we love while following our passions as they enliven us to stay young. For those listening, regardless of age, Marty voices, “You’re lucky when you’re young. You don’t realize that the years take a toll on you, your bones get weaker, your muscles kind of lose their elasticity.” Despite that acknowledgement, his decision to continue his upcoming journey shows how it’s never too late… Listen to Marty in his own words, and check out my quick question & answer with this short film’s passionate director, Michael Lei of Aleph Films below:
TANR:What was your mission for creating this video, and what emotions or thoughts do you hope it invokes in the viewer ?
MichaeI: I’ve always gotten the sense that most people are okay with what life gives them regardless of if it makes them happy or not- that they have to be complacent with this preconceived notion of what they have to do. It’s ranged from my peers who have succumbed to this concept of “the daily grind”- getting a job, getting married, working for the weekend- to some of my older friends who have gone through their whole lives and are coming to their middle or later years that are discontent with where they have ended up. It’s frustrating because so many complain about their dissatisfaction but take no action. They feel any attempts to do something outside of the norm are just hopeless- which I always felt wasn’t the case. As long as you’re still breathing there’s always a chance to shift the direction of things.
When I came across Marty and after hearing his story it just validated all that I had believed in for so long- I felt that I had to share it. Even at his age, given his physical limitations and the recent tragedies in his life he has grown only more determined in achieving his goals- I hoped to let him be a wake up call to all of us who are just as able if not more able to pursue what we really want. One of the most touching responses I’ve gotten so far was from a friend who used to dance when she was younger but had unwillingly quit for whatever reason- after watching This Was Our Song she swore that she’d take another crack at dancing. I couldn’t have imagined a better reaction to the film.
What do you do as director to ensure you’re portraying and honing the most honest and authentic versions of your subjects?
I’ve learned that one of the most important things before any footage is shot, whether its narrative or documentary, to approach the subject you’re portraying with an honest and hungry curiosity. Any subject- from ballroom dancing or boxing or the Cold War or even tar has countless intricacies and details that I just wouldn’t know without the proper research and exploration. You’d miss all these beautiful specifics if you took short cuts in getting to know your subject matter. When it comes to portraying an individual the stakes are even higher as you’re now responsible for how this human being will be presented to an audience so you got to really know what you’re working with. If they’re trusting you enough to share their personal stories then that’s the very least you can do. It’s a basic obligation. Spend some time with them and ask them the right questions so you can figure out their personalities and idiosyncrasies. Paint an accurate representation of who they are. You have the power to omit and include anything you want so know as much as you can know. After you put in the work then you take the tools you have at your disposal as a filmmaker- camerawork, music, sound, editing- and really start crafting an aesthetic that portrays it all in an interesting and unique way. But you got to put in the work. That’s where it all starts.
The bio of the video says you met Marty in salsa class at USC — What prompted you to take a dance class?
Honestly my roommates and I throughout college had always flirted with the idea of taking the class purely because it felt like one of those specific life skills- like understanding wine or fixing a car- that you should learn but never do and end up paying the price for when you need it the most. When it came down to it I thought how great it would be if someday at a wedding I didn’t make an absolute fool of myself and could get on the floor to flaunt a few moves. I just wanted to take a risk (not that it was really a huge risk) and try something new. It ended up being one of my favorite undergrad classes and incredibly fun- I highly recommend checking out ballroom dance if you’re even the slightest bit curious- in fact check it out even if you aren’t.
Any other projects your working on currently that you want to plug?
I just wrapped up a music video for a great alternative band- Crash Kings and it’s for their lead single Hot Fire off the new album Dark of the Daylight. It’s really interesting as it falls into an entirely different spectrum of filmmaking for me. It’s a narrative piece and highly stylized with some surreal elements. We worked hard to deviate from the more conventional ideas of what a music video could be and I’m really excited to see how people respond to it. After that there’s a couple of other artists I’m collaborating with for potential music videos and a fashion film we’re putting together for this really cool brand Imp of the Perverse. Soul Pancake also asked us to come up with some more content for their site and we’ve been putting together ideas for them as well.
Additionally there’s this little personal project of mine that’s been slowly coming together I’m calling The People that Amaze Me for now- I’ve been really privileged to come across some incredible individuals through my experiences in film who are masters of their particular crafts. I’m been introduced to people who work in a variety of different subjects such as fashion and sushi and professional bodyguarding and these people have dedicated their lives to these worlds that I realized I know very little about. So I decided to follow a few of them around for a day or two to gain a better understanding of their worlds. Now I know why warm water produces terrible sashimi and how Italian mills produce the best fabric. I listened to their stories and got some really special photos from my time with them- so I decided to write it all out in these journalistic narratives that are coupled with the photos and I hope to share it all on my website one day. The subjects include Shiro Kashiba, Seattle’s best sushi chef who has worked with Jiro from the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi to Myke Schwartz, who’s this fantastic stunt coordinator who’s done everything from There Will Be Blood to Spiderman.
As a film director and co-founder of a new film company, what are your big career aspirations, and what do you do day to day to ensure you’re progressing towards that goal.
Ultimately I want to be writing and directing feature films and hopefully if I’m lucky they’ll find an audience who might actually even enjoy them. When I was younger I had these grander aspirations of critical acclaim and some vague sense of glory but I realized over the years that before those loftier goals it would mean a lot just to make something that I’m truly proud of. I just can’t imagine impressing anyone unless you impress yourself first. I guess the greatest indicator of my having reached a particular goal would be that one day some kid somewhere aspiring to be a director will be excited about the release of one of my films the same way I get ecstatic right now awaiting the latest project by a filmmaker I admire.
Day to day it’s just practicing now, lots of writing, lots of research and just trying to gain a better understanding of myself and the world around me. I try to be active and reach out to the companies and subjects and artists that interest me with the hope of potential collaborations. Furthermore there’s so much to learn not only about filmmaking but about life and all that the world has to offer. Some of my greatest inspirations has just sprung from my random explorations- I just wake up every morning and try and be curious.
*Thank you so much to Michael. This film is truly beautiful!
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