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Rock the Boat

Rock the Boat

Articles - Directing

In the feature-length documentary,
Rock the Boat, audiences aregiven an inside look
at the astounding courage, humor; compassion and
adventure (some might add `folly”) of nine unlikely
sailors who brave high seas, hurricanes and personal
challenges as they race across the Pacific Ocean.
Not only are the crew members new to sailing, they
are all HIV positive and determined to show the
world they can perform against the greatest odds
…and win the game of life.

Stephen Ashton (MM): Congratulations
on your stirring film. Can you tell us how you came
up with your vision for Rock the Boat?

Robert Hudson, producer (Hudson):
We were winning races off the coast of California and
most of the crew was HIV positive. The thing is that
none of the crew of the other boats realized that they
were being beaten by a bunch of HIV positive sailors.
So we thought, “There must be some kind of message
there:”

We decided to do a more challenging race,
and the Trans Pac (race from California to Hawaii)
is not just challenging, it is downright grueling!
Within six months we were at the starting line. That
was six months of working day and night with one assistant
…looking at boats, getting crews together and raising
money at the same time. We had to raise at least $100,000.

MM: Where did you go to raise the
money?

Hudson: We went everywhere. A
lot of people championed our cause. Corporations put
in a little cash, survivors of people who have died
of AIDS sent in a little, and we got enough to finance
the race.

Ashton: You have a non-profit
media organization called “Get Challenged.” What is
that about?

Hudson: We develop role models
for people who are HIV positive. It’s a case of “show
’em, don’t tell ’em.”We can write brochures til the
cows come home, but if we can show one person sailing
across the Pacific it might just be the impetus to
hire him back to work, or say “These guys really can
do stuff!”

MM: What are your film backgrounds?

Bobby Houston, director (Houston):
Rob made these award-winning films in the 5th grade.
That was the last we ever heard from him (laughing).

Hudson: They were really good
though! I had an editing machine in my bedroom and
worked all the time on them. I loved it!

Houston: I was actually a p r
o f e s s i o n al (sarcastically)

Hudson: (interrupting) I
was a professional unrecognized! (laughing)

Houston: Seriously I had done
independent features (Trust Me, Caged Fear),
episodic TV and acting. But when my partner died in
1995 I bailed out. I had lost all heart for film work.Then
I met Robert and got swept up in his whirlwind. I ended
up chasing these guys in their dream of sailing across
the Pacific.

I started shooting in Hi 8 and realized
that they were actually going to pull this off. I got
a digital camera and jumped about the boat by myself
..a one man film crew. I thought that I might have
a sound man, but there wasn’t even room for him. I
had a couple of lights, a digital camera, a spare wrapped
in plastic in the front of the boat.

MM: What kind of cameras?
Houston: Sony DVX1000’s. I had a Sennheiser
shotgun which I was able to use sometimes …only
sometimes, though …and the camera mic.

MM: Were there problems with the
camera mic?

Houston: Not really. It was surprisingly
effective.

Hudson: There’s a funny thing
about doing sound on a boat.You’re usually shooting
from the middle of the boat pointing back, ’cause that’s
where a lot of the action is …and you’re usually
racing into the wind, but when you race to Hawaii the
wind is behind you, so the sound is carried. It’s really
unique …you are shooting someone who is 20 feet away
and you’re picking up their voice perfectly. So you
think they must be miked or boomed. But the wind is
traveling at 30 knots. It brings the sound right to
you.

MM: “at was the most challenging
part of the shoot?

Houston: The night shooting, for
sure. It was absolutely forbidden to use any lights
…it destroys the night vision. It was a real problem.
I was unable to shoot at night for the most part. I
had to shoot at dusk.

MM: Were you wearing two hats?
Were you also sailing?

Houston: Yeah, I was!

Hudson: You know when you bring
a camera on board, or an extra person on board, the
crew will quickly develop a dislike for that person
because they are not pulling their weight. We knew
about this ahead of time so we decided to place Bob
on one of the crews. I think that helped a lot. He
wouldn’t have been accepted, otherwise. What happens
is that if you put a bunch of people in a confined
space, after two or three days the people don’t even
know the camera is there, which is the magic of the
film.They just carried on with what they were doing
or said anything they wanted. They didn’t even know
the camera was going.

After a few days Bob said, “This is ridiculous,
I am completely exhausted. I’m covering two shifts.
I can’t get the footage I need, I can’t get any sleep.You
have got to take me oft the sailing part of it.” So
I did and he was able to shoot straight for seven days.

Houston: I shot 100 hours of tape.

MM: How did you approach a structure
for the film?

Houston: Bob and I brought an
editor to our little ranch in Ojai and set up an editing
room in a 10 x 10 pool shed.We went into the editing
room, and for seven months we cut on an Avid. We would
invite people over in groups of 10-just people we knew
from town.We would show them the film and they would
make comments on scratch paper. People would write
pages! And we did this all the way along until we finally
had no comments. Then we knew we were done. Now it’s
84 minutes.

It’s a great way to cut a film; to work
and show and work and show. A lot of people don’t want
to do that. Bob didn’t want to do that originally.
But I really knew the audience would tell us what worked
and what didn’t. I really knew the audience would tell
us where they laughed and cried; where they were bored
and what turned them on, and they did!
Then at the end of the seven months we went into sound and we mixed for a week
and half. We came back and bought some new songs.

MM: How is the film being recieved?

Hudson: Here’s the funny thing
…we have not been able to get a bad review, knock
on wood. I know eventually it will happen, but up until
this day they’re great.The thing in Rolling Stone this
month (February) is good, our Film Journal International
is over-the-top good …lots of raves.

MM: Getting back to the Post Production…

Hudson: The post was difficult;
it went on and on. We had four editors; I wanted someone
to make a good thing better. I brought in Hanna Rudkilde
and Tom Miller. They brought the film up to really
good comprehension.Then in the end we brought in a
young editor named Louie Maggiotto who really brought
it all together. He was the hippest. Everyone worked
on the sound all the way along. They all worked overtime,
polishing and polishing.

MM: Did you as a producer have
differences with Bob the director?

Hudson: You bet! We fought like
cats and dogs. Bob wanted to keep the audience serious,
and I wanted to make them cry. And the two of us fighting
for our positions make the film what it is today. I
would do all of our fights all over again.You know,
films need to be debated, heavily debated. MM: Well
that extra effort is something that needs to be done.
More filmmakers need to be more ruthless in the editing
room, don’t you think?

Producer: Yes, indeed. We just
did a benefit and got standing ovations! You can feel
the energy in the film. That’s just what’s so beautiful
about movies, right. It carries the energy. You know
all that polishing will stay …it doesn’t go away
…it doesn’t tarnish.

MM: So you were at the stage where
you had a video of the film. Had you always intended
to blow it up to 35?

Hudson: Absolutely! When we shot
it we knew it would be a feature. MM: Tell us about
the blow-up process…

Hudson: What a nightmare. As much
as I like WC, it was tough. You always seem to lose
resolution when you blow up. It’s like you’re seeing
your baby get smushed across the screen, and you get
scared. And then you work with them and it changes,
always working up the quality. We did a second negative
after we did all our polishing; we warmed it up and
it looks beautiful. Now it’s a great-looking print
and will look great for the theatrical run.

You know, most filmmakers can barely
put together enough money to make one negative when
they blow up, at 18, 20, 30 thousand dollars, and we
had to go back and do a second neg. which really hurt
…it was so expensive.

MM: So how much was the second
neg. and did they cut you a break?

Hudson: Yeah, they cut us a break
and it was still $20,000.

MM: Do you have any recommendations
for filmmakers?

Hudson: Yes, don’t ever get discouraged.
If you get rejected by some film festivals, never take
that to heart. Never let a rejection get to ya! That
absolutely doesn’t mean audiences all over the place
won’t love your film. What people seem to like about
this film is that it’s about life. It’s about not letting
anything get in your way.

Also, as I said, screen your film as
you work on it.You learn so much about your storytelling
that way. After all, we as documentary filmmakers are
storytellers. Tell the story first. MM

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