Friday, August 24, 2007

Killing Your Darlings

I had a colleague who would say during an edit session that "you must kill your darlings!". I was reminded of her last week while slicing and dicing our short video to reduce it to its best length. What she meant is that producers and writers tend to get attached to certain thoughts or soundbites when in fact a piece would be improved by their removal. So to any of our interview subjects who felt a bump! as they landed on the cutting room floor, I apologize, but hopefully we'll see you in the series.

The short video is a wonderful opportunity to see the challenges the series will present in the edit room. This is a documentary so heavily reliant upon pictures - not video - as well as documents and some photographs. That means special effects (in terms of movement on the prints) are key to keeping things interesting. Creating those effects is time consuming, particularly when you are dealing with thousands of pictures!

Music and ambient sound are also key and it has been a real treat to dig into 19th century American music. What an education!
From the 20th century, I couldn't resist using the famous "Sleigh Ride" lyric*:
There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy,
When they pass around the chocolate and the pumpkin pie
It'll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things
We remember all through our lives!
*I apologize for putting a Christmas song in your head in August!

Viewers can also listen for music from 1935's Currier and Ives Suite from composer Bernard Hermann, who was inspired by the lithographs to conceive the Suite as a ballet at Radio City Music Hall. It was performed several times in concerts but slipped into limbo during World War II.

The crew shot last weekend at Northeast Auctions and it was like catching the action at a sporting event! Bidding is fast, furious, and sometimes so discreet that it's nearly invisible to the untrained eye. The Curriers proved popular, with bidding on a couple of large folios coming in at over ten thousand dollars. Owner and auctioneer Ron Borgeault was a great sport, taking time out from one of the busiest days of his year to sit for an interesting interview. One thing I'll share: although a huge fan of the prints, Ron says Currier & Ives lithos are not art. Them's fightin' words for some fans and at the very least, a good topic for debate.

We're shooting tomorrow in lovely Amesbury, Massachusetts, where we'll get video of Nat Currier's summer home and talk with a family member who will share little-seen photos, letters, and other documents.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Dark Side of Currier & Ives

A key piece of this project is education and the last couple of weeks have been devoted largely to producing a short video for a Teacher's Workshop at the end of August! The "Currier & Ives Teacher Workshop" is for public schoolteachers in Springfield, Massachusetts. It gives teachers a chance to use the unique collection of Currier & Ives prints at the Springfield Museums as a window into 19th century American life.
How can teachers include these popular lithographs as a primary visual resource into their lesson plans? How can they teach students to "read" a print to discern crucial information? What can children learn by noticing what's not included in the works? These are some of the questions the Springfield Museums, WGBY and area colleges will explore in the 2-day workshop.
Teachers will also hear from some of the experts interviewed for our PBS documentary series about Currier & Ives. Interestingly, a frank discussion about the firm's controversial Darktown Comics spawned the focus of this year's workshop, which is entitled "The Dark Side of Currier & Ives". Instructors will examine the Darktown series to explore how the ideals of American democracy and opportunity were experienced by all groups of people, including African Americans, Native Americans, and women. The workshop is part of the overall partnership project about Currier & Ives funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I've been picking prints, transcribing and reviewing multiple tapes, writing, and finding 19th century music for the 12 minute video that will be featured at the workshop. The finished product will give a glimpse of the documentaries to come and prove useful for educational and promotional purposes. Because we've shot so much already and because there are so many wonderful prints to choose from, this has been an exercise in paring down: choices, choices, choices! We'll be editing the piece this week.

Also this week, the crew will be heading to a summer auction in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to tape with a man you may recognize from "Antiques Roadshow": auctioneer Ron Bourgeault of Northeast Auctions. He is a powerhouse in the art world and he'll give us his unique perspective as an appraiser and auctioneer who often deals with Currier & Ives prints.

Work is underway on the animations of certain C&I prints for the series open and the creative design team behind this effort has some very exciting ideas! The website design is updated and you can check that out at

That's it for now.