Reflection on Filming Southie Boy

**This is an excerpt from my Graduate Thesis Production Book.  At this point I was able to reflect of the pre-production, production, and post-production stages of this project, which began in my senior year of high school.**

When I first started graduate school my Auntie Anne told me that it was more about navigating through the system than completing projects and assignments. Now that I am on the “payment due” side of the student loan system, I have one caveat to argue with dear old Auntie Anne. While graduate school does have a fair amount of hurdles, if you have a compelling thesis, it is more of a practice of wading through the one thing that everyone holds so dear: their own opinion. Since I posted my first “test thesis” on YouTube in December of 2010, I have received attention from, WGBH Radio, WRKO’s Howie Carr (allegedly), and National Public Radio.

Like it or not, this is the daily reality that I face when I shoot a new scene, edit my work, or just sit down to think about what I am trying to say. The best part is that these opinions matter least. I have three committee members that are charged with guiding me through this odyssey, not to mention two years of portfolio reviews, MFA Production Workshops, and the thoughts and feedback from my friends and family. The amount of input my project has garnered has been generous, thoughtful, and appreciated. However, when I sit back and gaze upon the twilight of my graduate career, I will not ask if I have assimilated the right feedback into my film, I will ask if I have made a film that communicates my thoughts and vision.

My thesis project proposal established the expectation that I would create an historical documentary similar to that of PBS and Ken Burns documentaries. The project would be rich in aesthetically pleasing sit-down interviews and covered with stunning archival footage. This was my dream when I started the MFA program. My expectations started to shift when Eric Gordon said, “You know exactly what you want to do for your thesis? Hopefully that will change along the way.” Along the way I realized that my story and community were still very much alive, and that this project would be one of the last chances I had to capture my story within my community. As my concept began to evolve I was able to hone in on the story I was trying to tell, which allowed me to incorporate other styles of documentary storytelling (i.e. verite, reality, reconstruction, etc…). This conceptual evolution allowed me to hold on to the core concepts embedded in my project proposal, while communicating the story across several styles of filmmaking.

Another difference from my original plan is that I added myself as a character. I initially inserted myself into the story to play devil’s advocate against my family’s claim that South Boston was not the cultural cesspool it was perceived to be. I did this as a way to preserve the integrity of their story. I understood that such a one-sided film would alienate audiences, hindering the power of the story. However in my scenes, the voice that I was trying to present was not mine. On the surface, my version of the busing story appeared to be about the conflict between South Boston residents and Roxbury residents. However as I began to dig deeper into my relationship with South Boston, I was able to realize I was trying to tell a story about my conflict with the South Boston residents that gave the neighborhood such a poor reputation. Once I made this realization I felt that the pressure of representing another group’s story was lifted, and I was able to focus on the effects of busing in my community.

When I look at my piece as a whole, I think that its greatest strength is that it is an open account of a piece of American history that is told from a unique and often overlooked perspective. I feel that I made some great personal strides in elevating the effectiveness of my shooting, and I feel that the complementary footage serves as a way to describe “what’s at stake” in the film. I also feel that the editing of the piece helps transition the viewer from scene to scene through subtle, aural and visual transitions (such as slow raises of presence from the proceeding scene, and cross dissolves between rack focuses), which I have come to recognize as part of my filmmaking style.

As I challenge myself to identify this project as completed, I know that I must walk away from areas of perceived improvement. Additional archival news footage could improve the set up of this tumultuous period. Also, interviews from Roxbury students would establish the point of view from the students bused into South Boston. From a purely aesthetic perspective, my biggest regret is that my uncle’s lavaliere wire is on the outside of his shirt. This detail has been an issue at several screenings, and I have learned many lessons from this lapse in judgment.

As I look at my project today, it is not the production value, nor the attention I receive that matters most. My measurement of success will be how true I’ve remained to my cultural lens. In my thesis defense, the recurring issue of the ambiguity of my feelings towards my neighborhood did not seem to be fully resolved with the committee. In addition, some of the sarcastic wise cracks stated by my family members seemed to alienate some of the audience. However, I found these “issues” to be snapshots of South Boston’s stubborn and sarcastic charm. It is here where I must make the extra effort to ensure that I am capturing my understanding of South Boston. If I am able to incorporate the feedback of my committee, while establishing my “true” South Boston experience, then I will know I have achieved success.

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