Friday, January 2, 2015

In Depth... The Richard Sawyer Video

I posted to the blog a video called Richard Sawyer.  To anyone interested in just who this remarkable person was and some details of the video, categorically...


We met in New Orleans when I was campaigning to work with the relief efforts resulting from the Macondo Well breach in 2010 (aka the Deepwater Horizon oil spill).  Among the many people I met and spoke with during those efforts, he was my most enthusiastic supporter.  More than that, his experience was significant to say the least.  He was the creative director of Ted Bates, Inc - globally one of the five largest ad agencies at the time, and later used those talents as a partner with the consulting firm Linder & Associates where he worked closely with several major metropolitan police departments, co-authoring plans that effectively cut violent crime rates in such cities as NYC, Baltimore, Los Angeles and New Orleans in some cases by up to 50%.  I was honored that he brought these enormous talents to bear upon a simple veterinarian who just wanted to save a few birds.  Through Richard, I met the Chief of Police in New Orleans, the Mayor, and the president of Plaquemines Parish (Billy Nungesser - an outspoken fixture on Anderson Cooper's coverage through that summer of 2010) and Anderson Cooper himself.  These are not meant to be name drops; I was certainly nothing compared to these men and not much more for having met them.  I just wanted to roll up my sleeves and get to work.  Richard mentored me in the politics of the situation.  Identifying the interests of the parties involved revealed a hidden logic behind the absurdities, and helped me to understand that good intentions are but one ingredient to an effective professional effort - that an intelligent and sensitive perspective of the various interests are essential.


When we met, his professional life had entered its epilogue.  Our conversations over coffee at Cafe du Monde morphed into adventures which indulged out common interests - exploring the swamps of the Atchafalaya River Basin, travelling around the small gulf coastal villages, exploring Barataria Bay down to Venice, LA.  It is only in reflection that I realize that his spontaneity, energy and capricious spirit was precisely what I missed since my best friend from childhood died by his own hand just seven years before.  I think my spirit starved for that.  We all get older and seem to settle into our lives like a deep soft cushion, sinking ever deeper into a complacent comfort until we finally sink into our graves.  Richard had every reason at 69 to settle into the comfortable trappings of the retirement he created for himself.  But he thirsted for adventure, reborn after leaving a solid happy marriage of thirty years and a solid career in the cut-throat world among his corporate executive peers.  He eventually went back to work when I returned from that long summer in the gulf, a simple job representing a French Quarter artist who he admired.  Always a man with a strong work ethic, he became part of the Quarter, part of the scene.  On the morning of August 10, he never woke up.  December 31st as I write this.  Sadness plus great memories remain.


I do have a video I was making for Richard.  It's not this one.  But on a long drive sampling music, I realized that Moby's Raining Again really struck me on so many levels.  It captured the energy and beat of our incredible friendship.  And the description of rain "hard on your car like bullets on tin" - to me that was a hard cry, something I knew all too well.  The great memories intersperse with the tears - and this piece moves similarly.  The images themselves are of Richard, sometimes of the friends we made, and also of the experiences we shared - a chili burger at the Clover Grill, a boat tour of the Honey Island Swamps, a pile of beignets at Cafe du Monde, a crawfish boil on a French Quarter sidewalk, my feet in the mud at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.  Look closely and you'll see his little companion Sunny the canary, or the Arcadia Way sign on his back deck - a sign that now graces my own back deck.  You'll see Richard in the narrow gallery promoting the emotionless stare of Tango Dog, a stare I addressed with some magic at the end of the video.  You'll even see Goji, the wonderful cat of our friends Tim and Patty.  The road scenes were all images from my sudden 20-hour journey to New Orleans upon hearing of his death - the saddest road trip I've ever taken.  That other video I was working on - I suppose I will post that soon enough.  You'll see it on the blog when I do.


An Adobe professional suite including Photoshop and Premiere provided the tools to translate the video that played in my head into the video that plays upon the screen.  Over 550 still images and seven video clips dance to a single Moby soundtrack.  There were no easy shortcuts.  Each image required resolution resets to 1920 x 1080 - helped somewhat through batch processing in PhotoShop.  Many more required cropping, a process not amenable to batching since each required an artistic eye for content.  Vertically-oriented images required digital mounting on a proportional black canvas in order to translate them to the final wide-screen format.  Then each of those images needed to be meticulously placed, since the misalignment of a single image by even a tenth of a second relative to the soundtrack proved to dramatically deflate the punch that the video delivered, and such misplacements echoed and amplified the discordance downstream.  Timing proved to be a truly binary pursuit - there were no tolerable shades of gray, no "close enough."  There was one single "perfect" and infinite "imperfects."  Adjusting relative volumes of the rain in some of the clips so as not to overwhelm the music yet to complement the presence of the scene was another challenge in nuance - I guess the viewer will decide if that pursuit was successful.  That puffy eye was mine.  I superimposed to it in a couple of quick stills the same cartoon tear that falls from the welling eye of Tango Dog in that final scene.  Speaking of that final scene, it was composed of three different images - dry-eyed, tear-welling and tear-dropping.  The challenge was figuring out the trick to morphing one into the other to create the effect of continuance, and at the same time gradually zooming in such that the zoom was a single motion across three different still images.  With Premiere, all things are possible - the only limitation being my ability to learn them.


Special thanks to Richard's friends - Patty, Tim, Anthony, Brian, Karlyss and to the many more who knew him, some of whom are also my friends.  I am in awe of you, Moby, for creating a piece with such an incredible mix of musical flavor and emotion.  Thanks to Diego at Kezik Gallery for creating Tango Dog.  And thank you to Richard Sawyer.  I know he would have liked this.  That is enough for me.

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