POV: Aron and Gita, not only are you the director and producer, respectively, of The Way We Get By, but you are also engaged to be married! How did you two meet?
Gita Pullapilly: Aron and I worked for separate and competing television stations in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dan, who is the co-director of photography on The Way We Get By, introduced us.
Aron Gaudet: What was the first thing I ever said to you?
Pullapilly: I don’t know. What?
Gaudet: I knew you didn’t want to keep doing television news, so I said, “What do you want to do with your life?” You were a little upset by my question.
Pullapilly: Yeah, we were in a restaurant. I’d just met Aron and I was a television reporter. Aron is very matter-of-fact, and he’ll just tell it like it is. He said, “I know you hate television news, so what do you want to do with your life?” I said, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” And he said, “Well, how about making a film?”
I told him that I had no idea how to make a film, and he said, let’s figure it out together. And that’s what we did — we figured it out together.
POV: And it took you guys four years to make the film! Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
Pullapilly: When we started, we were a little naive about the process. We really didn’t know how to make a documentary — we knew how to make news stories. So there was a large learning curve throughout that process.
Aron and I definitely believed in the story, and we became so connected to Bill, Joan and Jerry. It was a battle for us to convince people that the story needed to be told. We kept hearing no, and we just kept saying, “If we’re the only ones who believe in it, and we have to go from city to city to show it, then we’ll do that.” We put our entire savings into the film, and my parents also put money into it. We just wanted to get this story and this vision out there. So to be here now, to see how far we’ve come on this journey and to know that there’s more ahead of us feels unbelievably great, as is seeing audiences respond to the film.
POV: Tell us more about your working relationship. Do the two of you work alone?
Gaudet: During production, our friend Dan Ferrigan, who is our co-director of photography, shot the film with me. It was always a two-camera shoot. But during post-production and now, as we roll out the film, it’s just Gita and me.
Gita and I had been dating for about three months when I brought her home to Maine to meet my mom. That was Christmas of 2004, and we went down to the airport and saw the troop greeters. We weren’t sure how dating and being director and producer at the same time would go. Four years later, we had gotten through the movie, we hadn’t killed each other and we thought, this has worked out pretty well. We should get married!
Our working relationship is pretty great, and we don’t have very many talents that overlap. I think we’re a perfect fit — all the things she’s really good at and loves to do are things that either I’m not good at or I don’t enjoy doing. And she doesn’t like to pick up a camera or edit, and those are things that I think I do well. So we mesh together really well.
POV: Can you talk about your storytelling style?
Gaudet: Coming from television news, we were cautious about the film seeming like an 80-minute news story. So we went into it knowing that we wanted to shoot it differently and knowing that we didn’t want it to be narrated in any way. We wanted the film to feature these people telling their own stories.
With my background in television, editing 30-second sports promos, one of the biggest challenges was nailing the pace of an 80-minute film. I think that in the end we really achieved that. Dan and I joked that we could set up beautiful shots on tripods because our subjects didn’t necessarily move that quickly. Because of our subjects, I think we were able to give the film a cinematic feel. We shot on tripods as much as we possibly could because we wanted the film to look good, and we felt like our subjects were right for it. We also really wanted our subjects to be comfortable, so we didn’t bring in a bunch of lights and have boom mikes hanging above their heads. We miked them up, brought no lights, got the cameras set up and then tried to make them forget we were there. And I think that comes across, because the film is very intimate. It wouldn’t be if we had been in our subjects’ faces, but we backed up and let their lives play out.