Sunday, September 29, 2013


FIREFLY DIGITAL “Since just after the time of the dinosaurs the folks at Firefly started producing videos. Over 400 videos in the last 10 years. The exciting thing is we’re just getting started and although the technology is changing at a rapid and exciting pace the core of our work remains the same – it’s all about story telling.” What a pleasure it can be when you come, unexpectedly, into contact with somebody who does a job exceptionally well! It can happen almost anywhere—in a bank, in a tangle of leaking basement pipes, over a wasps’ nest under a veranda, in a counsellor’s office, or in a classroom. It can even happen on a video shoot—as I discovered last week, when I worked on a video with Tracy Bennett from Firefly. I confess, my expectations were low. I have been involved with a few video shoots in the past. Some of them were worse than others. In general, I’d label them in the category of inconvenient and unsatisfying, though the resulting productions haven’t been as bad as the memory of the production. So I would not say I was looking forward to participating in an e-learning video on hope and self-care for the care-partner support programs of the Alzheimer Society. But I have been working with the Alzheimer society for many years, so I agreed to do a video, and I labelled the dreaded experience in the category of “taking one for the team.” My less-than-perfect experience with video shoots has been only partially the fault of the video-shooting process. To be fair, the topic of hope is a difficult topic to grasp and squeeze into a few cogent sound-bytes. Ask me a simple question about hope, and you’ll get a rambling answer. I am, it seems, a storyteller. In the short video format I try to focus on content. Somehow, my content rarely blossoms without the story, and the story that ends up taking first place in the video is unquestionably a story I told, but not the story I had wanted to tell. The preliminary work on the Alzheimer shoot was handled long distance. Like all the video producers who have gone before her, Tracey Bennett had no idea what a HOPE LADY was, or why she was interviewing THE HOPE LADY for an e-learning video on Alzheimer care. She called me from Halifax to find out what it is that I say to groups of family care partners, year after year after year. I admit that I couldn’t seem to tell her over the phone. “We have conversations, I said. “Spouses and adult children of people with Alzheimer disease feel more hopeful at the end than they did at the beginning. That’s my skill, constructing conversations that give people hope.” Even as I said these things, true as they are, I could feel the cloud of vaguery descending. What story was I trying to tell? It was the same old story, beginning again. In fact, I was under-stating the conversational case. The conversations I have with care partners at the Alzheimer Society are not entirely unscripted. When I sit down for a conversation with a dozen care partners, I follow a brief handout and fill in the interesting parts with my stories and theirs. Grasping with Tracy for some sort of clarity, I offer to send her a handout I use for Alzheimer discussions. In return, she sent me a draft video script. This was the point at which I began to feel that we might be on a better track. The interview guide that accompanied the script stated some learning objectives that looked suspiciously like my goals for sessions with the care partners: 1. Understand the importance of hope on the journey as a care partner. 2. Identify ways to maintain hope in the face of this progressive illness. 3. Understand the importance of caring for one’s self as a family care partner. 4. Describe when and how to ask for help. The script had only a few questions for an interviewer to ask. My answers were roughed in. I was encouraged to add to the answers, but not to change the questions. Using that script, I prepared in advance to shoot my portion of the video. Some day a video featuring me in conversation with an actress named Liana will appear on the Internet. It was made in the manner of a movie with actors, but it will appear to be the filming of an interview. To the viewer, it will appear that Liana is brimming with curiosity about hope, the experience of Alzheimer care partners, and the ever present need to maintain good mental health when you care for people who have dementia. It will appear that she has asked just the right questions at the right moments to get the story out. Average viewers will not suspect that the questions came, not from Liana, but from Tracy. There will be no reason to believe that half of the questions were asked later, then inserted into my original answers, after Tracey had heard the content of my answers to the few scripted questions that were asked of me in the first round. Nobody will guess that some of the smiling and nodding was recorded later, then added in and thoughtful pauses. They won’t know that each of the questions was filmed twice, from different angles, while the answers were only filmed once. They will think they are seeing a single interview, start to finish. That is what I would think, if I hadn’t been there to witness the process. The entire process of shooting took about 45 minutes. From this, they intend to develop a 15-minute interview. Tracy was the person who so capably managed the process. I was blown away by her intuition for adding the questions in after the answers were given. She did this on the fly, in the space of a few moments. But while she managed the process of filming the original script, she was also managing the content. She added a whole new section based on her own curiosity about something we hadn’t discussed. She and I had a conversation off camera, then she scripted questions for Liana to ask. Seldom have I had the privilege of watching someone with such a gift for hearing a story and making a story at the same time. The final product will be the joining of a hundred tiny pieces, trimmed to fit like panels on a patchwork quilt. I asked Tracy if she would be the person doing the final edit. She said she doubted it. She would be going on to do something else. She said it was very hard for her to let a project go, to trust the final edit to a person who had not been in the room at the time of filming. But she knew, from experience that the video would turn out well because the foundation was there. I didn’t doubt it. How could I?

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