POV: Who inspires you as a filmmaker?
Tod Lending: Actually, the people who most inspire my filmmaking are still photographers. I came out of still photography and I studied Eugene Smith, Frank Capra, Danny Lyons, Mary Ellen Mark, Eugene Richards. These are all documentary photographers shooting in black and white who elevated documentary recording, or documentary images, to real art. When I looked at one of their pictures, or a series of their pictures, I always felt an entire story behind that image. And honestly, they are still my sources of inspiration.
POV: What skills do you bring to the documentary process?
Lending: I think my greatest strength in coming to a story like this is the ability to connect with my subjects. That is the key to my storytelling. If I don’t make that connection I’m in trouble. Through that connection, I try to develop a sense of intimacy in the film. I try to get the viewer to walk in the shoes of my subject. And if I can do that, then I feel like I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do. The other thing that I take pride in is the crafting of the film. I’m a documentary filmmaker who places a lot of emphasis on visuals. I’m trying to get away from relying on interview material, and really focusing on the power of the image. A lot of documentary filmmakers have come out of journalism and are much more focused on communicating information. I am interested in trying to penetrate the emotions of my subject; I am much more emotion-oriented than information-oriented. Also, sound is extremely important. I put a lot of time into the mix because through sound you can work on your audience on a subconscious level. And that’s something that a lot of documentarians kind of gloss over.
POV: How do you approach storytelling?
Lending: I’ve spent time studying traditional three-act dramatic structure, thinking about plot points, thinking about arcs, turning points, where the story rises and where it falls. One of the struggles in telling any kind of documentary story is weighing out the balance between storytelling versus informing. At times in order to move the story, you have to cut out information. Knowing when to cut out information in order to move the story and when to keep the information and risk slowing down the story is always very tricky.
POV: What kind of crew did you use for filming?
Lending: I work with a small crew: myself and my cameraman. In this case, I worked consistently with one cameraman, so it wasn’t only myself developing a relationship with Omar and Pete, they also developed a friendship with the cameraman. Not setting up lights, working very quickly with the camera on the shoulder, working with only a two-person crew: all of this created a situation that brought trust into the filmmaking process.