“The job is to ask questions-it always was-and to ask them as inexorably as I can. And to face the absence of precise answers with a certain humility.”Arthur Miller
On 17th street, entering the side of the Redlick building, through a heavy spring door. is a wooden stairwell with brick walls and exposed pipes. Climbing the stairs, the wood has a certain sound—the stairwell was painted red—a perfect, rich red—but when the building was sold, the stairwell was painted grey. On the fourth floor this stairwell used to lead to the Children’s Homeless Center—the Center was one of the first tenants to move out under the new ownership. But today I am stopping at the third floor to visit Daniel.
The job is to ask questions—to always ask questions—
When I walk into a space—sometimes I don’t know the artist—somehow over the years we have missed each other in the halls—because of different hours—and we know the same people but we don’t know each other—
Daniel is a filmmaker with a masters degree in poetry—on a shelf to the right of his desk are all the hardcopies of his films— “I don’t describe myself as a visual filmmaker…my interest in writing and filmmaking is dialogue. My poetry is driven by colloquial dialogue.”
How does this interest in dialogue influence filmmaking? For me, writing begins visually—so when Daniel references dialogue, my senses are pushed into another direction—these differences are important in understanding what drives the artist to make what they make—and how they make. Dialogue is a specific material—and Daniel is looking at what is captured in a person’s spoken language—his transition from one medium to the next is linked by this material—it is his vantage point.
“Film captures dialogue in a more authoritative way…it is what it is.” What Daniel is referencing is the performer. When the dialogue is on the paper, there is so much room for interpretation—voice—inflection. “Writing has more work to do upfront—to convince people of its authenticity—there is a certain amount of cynicism.”
A quote from Arthur Miller is roaming in Daniel’s head— Sydney Lumet asks Miller about why he chose theater over the novel—this is what Daniel is thinking about when he says ‘collaboration’—‘authority’—the material as it becomes processed by others—Miller’s excitement of seeing his material and words in another person’s hands.
From the hands, we keep talking—Daniel is holding his upper arm tightly with his right hand—he describes a documentary piece he has just finished: “Verite,” (the French word for truth) is a style of documentary film in which the filmmaker attempts to capture life as objectively as possible—always acknowledging the camera’s presence—’Truth.’
I try to think about this process as related to writing about Studio 17—what is the camera? What is it to be documented? There is disillusionment—there is the fact that the artists are coming out of their studios to bond together—there is a quiet exodus, too—and I can’t help but wonder if this is what happens—an external force pushes us—and will make us a tighter community, or it will break us apart.
Communication is complicated—the challenge of collaborating is that it requires working with people. It also requires matched goals, as Daniel learned on one of his recent projects: ”I failed to communicate.” Believing his communication to be effective, he ended up in a room editing the film for an extra one hundred hours—Maybe ”I was burning them up with too much information,” and I picture a disk and information being burned onto its reflective surface—”What needed to be asked first was—what is this person’s goal? Individual goals are different.
“Craft can disguise creative capacity…it implies creativity that someone isn’t interested in. “You involve them in something creative and it falls flat.”
“In the theater, while you recognized that you were looking at a house, it was a house in quotation marks. On screen, the quotation marks tend to be blotted out by the camera.”Arthur Miller
About STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols
At the end of June—a community of over 70 artists—at the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District—must leave STUDIO 17 to make way for high-cost working space. This blog will catalog the end of this community above Thrift Town (on Mission &17th Street) and what it means. To understand what is being lost—I will spend the next two months carefully observing how artists work in their space—to give an intimate look at the inside of this community.
More about Alex Nichols: alexhnichols.com
How the journey began… STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols
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Published on May 1, 2015