William from Washington asks: When you proposed the film, was Bill concerned that the filmmaking crew would negatively affect his campaign?
Richard Kassebaum: For the most part, it was just me shooting and doing sound, so the distractions of having a crew hanging around were largely removed. Only when Bill was going door-to-door trying to hand out yard signs did he ask me to stop filming. Other than that, he was a pretty good sport about the whole thing.
Dennis from Texas asks: Since you had to do all of this by yourself, can you tell us about how you did that? What sort of camera did you use; what settings to make the picture look the way it did; and how did you get such good audio with just what I presume was an on-camera microphone?
Richard: I was able to borrow a Sony VX2000 (and added a Sony wide-angle lens), two Lectrosonics wireless mics, a Sennheiser ME66 shotgun mic, and a BeachTek audio adapter to route the sound into the camera.
For most scenes, I used a lav on Bill and the Sennheiser mounted on camera (make sure and use a good shock mount to isolate mic from camera hum). I just had to make my best guess as to what the audio input level should be and let it ride (don’t forget to switch your camera audio setting to manual). A technical problem knocked out the Sennheiser for a week during which I relied on my brother’s lav to pick up everything. I was surprised by how much I could get, but I missed some good stuff too. I think I wound up with pretty good production sound, but that is due in large part to Jon Oh and Richard Burton, who put in a lot of time cleaning and mixing the final tracks.
As far as picture, I just tried to look for good compositions and a balanced frame, light-wise. On a couple of interviews I used an eye light, but mostly tried to use existing light and whenever possible do interviews early morning or sunset. I got lucky in the garage because of all the soft sidelight pouring in. In general, I tended to underexpose about a stop.
I cut on Final Cut Pro and output to DVCAM, bumped that up to Digibeta and took that to a color-correction session at Filmlook in Burbank. While there we started experimenting with the Filmlook process (which simulates a film look in video), and wound up giving the show that treatment.
John from Oklahoma asks: You are part of an emerging body of work about the crisis in the Great Plains. There are articles in National Geographic and other magazines. Now there is your film. Is this part of a movement that has legs? Do you plan to do any other work about the Plains, its people and its issues? Do you plan to return to the Plains?
Richard: You’re right, there is a lot of attention being paid to this issue lately, but it will only become a movement if people truly see the benefits in moving back to the Plains.
I recently came across an encouraging story in the Washington Post about the small town of Marquette, Kansas, not far from where my brother lives. In a move that harkens back to the Homestead Act of 1863, town leaders decided to buy 50 acres of nearby land, divide it into lots and give it away to anyone willing to move there and build a home. As of April, twenty-one lots have been taken and more than 400 people have inquired about those remaining. This will also mean the arrival of at least 20 new school-age children (bringing in about $6,000 each in state aid). This idea was borrowed from the nearby town, Minneapolis, Kansas, which has been successfully giving away lots since 1999.
I do think I’ll move back eventually. Work will keep me in LA for the near future, but I am developing a couple of Plains-based stories and will hopefully be back in Kansas soon to see those through.
Thomas in Texas asks: What documentary films would you recommend to a person interested in making documentaries?
Richard: I would recommend Waiting For Fidel, by Michael Rubbo. It chronicles Rubbo’s trip to Cuba in the early ’70s to do an interview with Castro. The interview never occurs (hence the title) but he builds that into the story and ends up with an insightful look at Cuba at that time. There’s a lot of humor as well. It’s a great example of making the best of a bad situation, and it really helped me figure out how to survive my first documentary experience.
One recent documentary I enjoyed quite a bit was Bukowski: Born Into This. Some very nice editing and a thoughtfully told story. And always a favorite is D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary on Dylan, Don’t Look Back.
Tracy in California asks: Given that you’ve made films about your grandfather, Alf Landon, and brother, Bill, would you ever consider making a documentary about your mother’s remarkable life?
Richard: I think it would be interesting, but so far my mom doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.