Finally, after so many idle promises, Emerging Cypriot, the long awaited documentary project of PatrowVisual, Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Dakota is ready for release.
Unlike Survey on Cyprus which was a more formal "feature style" documentary, Emerging Cypriot is a series of shorts intended to show the routine, human, mundane, and humorous aspects of a regional survey project. These complement the image drawn by Survey on Cyprus and, in some ways, expand it. The first installment will be ready for download tomorrow, but to whet your appetite today, I'll introduce you to our director, Joe Patrow, and let him introduce his work to you. The interview is very candid and unedited. It shows his frustrations and joys throughout the second phase of the project. If you haven't watched Survey on Cyprus, it's available in multiple formats here. Check back tomorrow for the internet premiere of Emerging Cypriot!
How is Emerging Cypriot different from Survey on Cyprus?
The shorts that are collectively titled "Emerging Cypriot" are chapter extensions of "Survey on Cyprus;" one might call them extensive bonus features. They highlight aspects of archaeology that were unavailable to shoot in 2005, while simultaneously introducing new faces and situations.
Did anything surprise you?
I was surprised by my change in attitude toward the documentary project. In 2005, I was a graduate student of history, eager to make a low budget documentary in Cyprus. The hope was that it would help generate a serious budget for a more affective, broadcast worthy documentary on survey archaeology. Two years later, I was working in Hollywood under a variety of hats (cameraman, editor, data capture engineer, etc), and had become more realistic about that goal and the nature of film production. Although I remained positive about returning to Cyprus and chose to ignore my production limitations, I worried that I might end up shooting little new material; and, when that worry was justified, I had to face some hard facts. I knew that there was still potential for creating a unique documentary in post-production, but not without a substantial budget, or very special resources (maybe these will materialize later). I also knew that the archaeologists anticipated my creating a feature despite the limitations. What surprised me was my unwillingness to knock myself out trying to make it when I began running into a wall. Indeed, even though I knew that such a feature could be made, I also knew I couldn't make it without compromising my creative vision; without it coming across as sub-par, as little more than a longer remake of 'Survey on Cyprus.' I was equally surprised when I opted to produce shorts of the fresh material, ignoring the guilt I felt for not meeting the supposed feature expectations of PKAP. Fin ally, I was surprised because the position I took marked a real shift in my earlier "do it yourself for nothing" dogma. It became evident that the film industry had left me with a more realistic approach to filmmaking. Yes, you can do something for nothing, but remember "you always get what you pay for."
Can you describe your relationship to the Project?
I've seen myself as a friend and supporter of the project. That is, someone who volunteers his time and resources for free to shoot archival footage of the expedition, with the understanding that PKAP will help defer some of the costs and give me special access to the footage. The post-production end of the business has always been hazy. The archival footage is made accessible to both parties who acknowledge their right to do with it as they please, though it is assumed that some form of mutual cooperation will be observed in creating a final product. In this way everyone can benefit.
Do you feel that your presence and work on the project contributed to the project's overall goals?
Absolutely. I know that "Survey on Cyprus" helped the archaeologists drum up interest and grant money, which fed directly into their project goals. The footage also played a role in creating a man-on-the-spot look at their work. This was important because the archaeologists are particularly keen in recording their research methodology. And, finally, "Survey on Cyprus" and "Emerging Cypriot" supported their educational goals by making their site accessible to classrooms.
What did you have to teach the archaeologists in order to make your work their successful?
Between "Survey on Cyprus" and the "Emerging Cypriot" shorts, we've achieved a great deal of success; maybe not a feature yet, but that is the nature of documentary filmmaking. Indeed, what I've needed to explain to the archaeologists is that creating a documentary is not as easy as it may seem, and that a truly successful piece -- that appeals to both parties -- can only come if their is more cooperation and communication in post-production. After all, one doesn't sit down and crank out a feature in a month; it can take years. For example, the chair of my Alma Mater's Cinema Department, Dr. Dave Bussan, shot a documentary about Northern Cyprus at least a decade ago, and he's still working on it.
How much footage have you accumulated over your two years of shooting?
Over 40 hours. To an editor faced with all that material, it's not unlike facing a massive jigsaw puzzle with millions of possible combinations.
How was the footage shot -- can you give us some technical specifications without being too technical?
Knowing that my first priority was to gather archival footage and the second priority was to shoot a documentary, I approached the project in the spirit of Dziga Vertov, an early filmmaker of unstaged realities, the so-called Kino-Pravada. I let my camera follow people, dancing onto a face here, tilting down to an artifact there; always keeping my lens ready to be flooded with story. I wandered across the open fields and through the streets of Larnaka like Preston Sturgis' comic character John L. Sullivan, looking to capture real substance in the world around me (...and returning to Hollywood having learned the same lesson he did). I conducted some interviews and made an occasional inquiry of PKAP's plans, but generally tried to play a fly on the wall. Over time, I would see little stories develop, and then -- and only then -- would I begin looking to shoot things that might help me connect them in post.
From a technical aspect, the shoot was bare-bones. I returned to Cyprus in 2007 with almost all of the same equipment I had brought in 2005. including my same old standard definition camera (a Canon XL1s). This technically barred me from creating anything new visually; in other words, my footage of Vigla looked the same in 2007 as it did in 2005; now all I had was more of it. All the footage was recorded on Sony Mini-DV tape. Indiana University of Pennsylvania lent me Sony studio headphones and an Azden wireless microphone system to help with interviews. I also brought a portable flag set and some stands to cut down on harsh lighting. Naturally, as I was the only member of the production crew, I was unable to carry a lot of gear into the field, and only in rare instances would someone have seen me waddling uncomfortably across the countryside with a camera in one hand and flags, stands, and a tripod strapped haphazardly to my backpack.
What will happen to the footage? Does it have archival value?
Academic selections of the 40 hours of footage will likely be digitized and transferred to a hard drive for PKAP -- a laborious project, but useful. In this way they'll be able to edit it, share it, archive it, etc. The original Mini-DV tapes will likely remain in my care and also remain accessible.
Most of what was shot has archival value. If anything, it offers a historic record of an archaeological expedition and Cyprus in the first decade of the twenty-first century. It might even be said to maintain a tradition set by earlier cameramen, like those who shot the old silent reels of French archaeologists excavating ruins in Northern Cyprus.
What are your future goals with the project?
This has yet to be determined. At present, it seems wise to backup the footage to hard drive, and discuss options. This might be the end of the road, or it could be a new beginning.
What other projects are you working on now and how can we follow them?
I am currently working on Big Brother, Season 9. You'll be able to catch that show on CBS this Feburary. Earlier this year, I was the 2nd AC on a Super Bowl spot for Reebok, and rumor has it that there'll eventually be a behind-the-scenes movie on their website. Beyond trying to write more (both alone and with my writing partner), I've been helping a lot of friends with their short film projects, primarily as an editor. One series called 'Failing Upwards' can be seen here (along with behind-the-scenes featurettes for two short films I DPed last year): http://www.myspace.com/tomorrowtheworldonline. I'll be editing a short comedy called "Booth Girls" next month. I'm also helping design characters for an animated series.