Andrew Garrison recounts his experience filming TRASH DANCE
Here’s a blog post from filmmaker Andrew Garrison of TRASH DANCE screening at Silverdocs June 23 & 24. The film documents the creation of a beautiful dance piece inspired by the work of often unnoticed public servants — sanitation workers. Stay tuned for more posts from Andrew Garrison as the Silverdocs festival approaches.
A scriptwriter friend of mine said, “I can’t believe you documentary guys. You start projects without knowing what you’re going to get, and then you have to make a story from whatever’s in front of you. You spend years on a project that is completely based on a roll of the dice and you have to be lucky enough to be pointing the camera in the right direction at the time. It’s crazy!” I repeated this to a documentary filmmaker friend of mine. He smiled. “Isn’t it great? “
It is great. It’s a combination of exploring, discovering, and inventing. I had never met Allison Orr before I started filming. I had read about her work and thought there was potential in that for a film. And I had personal reasons for wanting to do this. I was feeling stiff and stodgy about my camera work and I thought the opportunity to shoot a dancer at work would help me. When an acquaintance asked what I wanted to do for my next film, I mentioned Orr to him. He said, “That’s my wife. I can introduce you.” When the universe is being that cooperative you don’t say “no.” I should have bought some lottery tickets that same day. I called Allison and she told me she was starting this new project with the Solid Waste Service employees the next week. If I wanted to show up on Tuesday morning at 5:45, that would be her first day.
I realized watching Orr and the employees leading up to the performance could work as a film. The process had a natural structure with the performance, good or bad, as the capping event. I had a camera and my own sound equipment. It might turn into a small film or something more. At the worst, I would only be out my time. My greatest surprise and pleasure was how well Orr worked with the employees and how they opened up to her. One morning she walked up to a guy who had been in her safety-training class and chatted with him about his family in fluent Spanish. I knew I was watching a remarkable person and process.
The next great pleasure was being welcomed myself by the Solid Waste Services employee; people began to open to me and were willing to share personal stories and their time outside of work. However, even after six months of shooting, only a few people had stepped up and committed to the dance performance. As I watched and shot and talked with people, I was always trying to assess who was likely to be a performer. For the largest part of the year before the performance I was filming everyone I could.
Once I knew I was getting great material about the employees and their jobs, and about the creative process unfolding, I knew I had something pretty good in my hard drives. But the performance itself was still a gigantic unknown. I saw different ideas for scenes as they were brainstormed, shaped and re-shaped. But there was never a full rehearsal of the entire performance until the day before the actual performance was due to be presented. And even then, it seemed unlikely to come together. I also had logistics issues of my own. Dance performance to video or film is always difficult. In this performance, the size of the “stage” was two football fields put together. How do you shoot so that the strength and power of the trucks and of the performers comes across on a 2 dimensional screen while remaining true to the choreography and the audience’s experience? And there were so many variables, including live music, rain, and untested performers. The moment the performance began, I still had no idea how well, or even if, it would work.
At the start of the show, grew closer the anticipation and energy of the audience and the performers, were palpable. When the trucks began their approach in line from about a quarter-mile away, the feeling was electric, thrilling, ominous, and exciting. Composer Graham Reynolds’ music lent to the power and when the trucks broke on the scene and then started circling, the music shifted to this great cycling, celebratory theme—the audience was completely involved. It was then I knew we were lucky to be filming something extraordinary—and the movie could become something very special, too.