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(Excerpted from Doc Space Canada)


Interview with Soundtracker director Nick Sherman

Gordon Hempton is a man who has made a career out of the value in peace and quiet. An audio-recordist who has spent over thirty years capturing wilderness soundscapes, Hempton has built up an Emmy Award-winning catalogue and become a crusader for spaces untouched by noise pollution. Soundtracker, the documentary about Gordon Hempton that recently screened at Hot Docs, follows Hempton on his increasingly difficult journey for sounds and silence. DOCspace interviewed Nick Sherman, the California-based filmmaker who directed Soundtracker. Read on to hear Nick’s take on working with Gordon Hempton, Hot Docs, and the difficulties emerging producers face financing a documentary in the United States.

DOCspace: Soundtracker is your first doc feature, correct? What made you want to make documentaries?

Nick Sherman: I studied philosophy before moving into film and I’ve always seen the two as related.  Philosophy is the act of questioning the assumptions about the world we hold to be true, and documentary, at it’s best, can accomplish the same thing.  Before shooting Soundtracker, I knew I wanted to make a film that would inspire people to reexamine their own lives and their relationship with the world around them.  When I learned about Gordon and his audio recordings I knew I had found a subject that would help me draw out so many ideas I’d held inside for a long time.

DS: How did you meet Gordon Hempton? Did it take long to convince him to participate in the film?

NS: I first “met” him while I was reading a newspaper article about him in the LA Times one morning when I was waiting to get a haircut.  The article presented him as a crusader for quiet, somebody who sits in a field for hours doing nothing... and I thought, “that’s the film I want to make!”  I never got my haircut that day – instead, I rushed home, tracked down his e-mail,  and wrote an impassioned letter to him introducing myself and my idea for a documentary.  A few months later I flew up to Washington State to meet him and to introduce myself and my cinematographer.  We did a practice 2-day shoot to see if it was even possible for a film crew to follow him without interfering in his work.  We all hit it off and made plans for a much larger trip a few months later.

DS: What was it like working on location with the Soundtracker? Can you describe your best shooting day?

NS: We almost always camped and rarely stayed in hotels, so every day was an adventure in low-budget, no-agenda, documentary filmmaking that began with a pre-dawn wake-up call, rolling up our sleeping bags and hitting the road or heading deeper into the wilderness to make another recording.  I asked him to just be himself but to narrate his thoughts, as he had them, into the wireless mic I placed on him.  And we just watched.  And let the story gradually unfold.  The best shooting day was our very last one.  We still didn’t know what the story was or how any of it would conclude.  We had reached the end of our budget and Gordon had told us this was his last day to search for his epic “Meadowlark and the Train” recording which he had already spent so much time going after.  As a filmmaker, I thought to myself, if he doesn’t get this recording, I’m screwed!  It was a long day and we shot so much footage we had used up all our tapes and had gone back to finding some tapes that had 10 minutes of unshot space at the ends of them.  We all went through a roller coaster of emotions that day – fear, confusion, hope, defeat…but then at the last second, with our camera perfectly positioned, we got a little help from the Fates - and that was when I knew I had a special story in the can.

DS: The film had its international premiere at Hot Docs  -- what was it like on opening night?

The crowd was great, I love the Toronto audience.  They laughed in all the right places, they were quiet in all the right places – they made me feel like I had taken them on a journey someplace new.  I didn’t want to tell them beforehand that Gordon was in the audience because I didn’t want them to react to the footage differently than if he wasn’t there.  So they sure were excited when I introduced him at the end.  They loved him so much every question at the Q and A was for him!  It was like I was just some random guy standing up there.  But that made me happy.  He deserves the recognition for all the years he’s done this work in obscurity – it’s been quite the struggle

DS: As an emerging documentary filmmaker living in the United States, what has your experience been like fundraising for your first feature? Do you have any words of wisdom, advice or warning for those just starting out?

NS: I decided early on that if I found the right story and had the access I wouldn’t wait to raise the money I would just start shooting.  So that’s what I did.  Then everything happened so fast I pretty much found myself financing the whole thing myself…it was stressful, for sure, but it allowed me the freedom to make the film I really wanted.  I don’t know if I would do that again, though.  I’m hoping that with this film under my belt and with the experiences I’ve gained, next time around I’ll be able to have a bit more financial support behind me.  Coming to festivals like Hot Docs has taught me a lot about how to be smart about raising money for a film – there are so many opportunities available – especially in Canada!  It’s a bit harder in the U.S., so I’m looking for a Canadian producer to partner with so I can participate in some of these great programs.

DS: For anyone who missed it at Hot Docs, are there plans to broadcast or distribute Soundtracker?

NS: Yes, absolutely. Soundtracker will be distributed on DVD and digital by IndiePix later this year. They've been great to work with and hopefully we'll have a couple of broadcast dates as well.











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