Where are they now?
An interview with Steve Atlas

Executive Editor

Q: Are you aware of any significant changes in the lives of the diarists since this production wrapped? Where are they now in their lives and their stories?

A: Happily, all four of the diarists have stayed in touch with us, and all in their different ways appear to be doing well. Jeanne reports that she is sometimes overwhelmed by the noise of the world, but also discovering music and musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, that hadn't previously been accessible to her. Jack is still in medical school, which he says is even harder and more demanding now than when he did his diary–the attrition rate is very high–but he is a year closer to finishing and appears to be staying to the difficult course he set for himself despite the obstacles. Jonelle has a new job, one that she doubts she'd have been able to get before her three weeks at the Successful Stuttering Management Program. She says the stuttering is under control as long as she continues to use the techniques she learned and to work at it every day of her life. And Yolanda is still in school, raising her child, and as determined as ever to make her way in the world independently.

Q: Do you anticipate the creation of additional video diaries for broadcast?

A: That will depend on response to this first round of programs. From the beginning, the idea was to test the viability of the video diary format, that is, to see whether this highly unorthodox and risky way of making television could produce programming of national broadcast caliber. Viewers, critics, and the public television community will form their own judgements as to whether we have succeeded, but we believe these first outings offer a glimpse of the considerable potential of the form, and we hope they will make it possible to attract the funding necessary to keep going.

Q: In what ways is this television format effective for a strong narrative line? In what ways is it limited?

A: The limitation is one of control. For one thing, these stories by definition are completely unpredictable: you have no idea what if anything will happen in the diarists' lives within the period of time we are able to stay with them. For another, there is no scripted narration–every word comes from the diarists, as they told it to the camera–which means we give up one of the filmmaker's most essential tools. Finally, because we effectively hand editorial control over to people who have never made a film before, we are making what is already a difficult enterprise much harder still, with the inevitable result that the failure rate is very high. In consequence of all this, the diaries that viewers will see are the only survivors of a very long and arduous journey that began with many more than four candidates. As for the strengths of the video diary form: when it works, and at its best, it yields up moments of intimacy and candor and personal revelation that one rarely sees on television. To be sure, documentary-makers at the level of Frederick Wiseman have a tremendous gift for capturing "real life" on camera, but to my mind, the pure diary moments–diarist and camera, alone, often late at night–have a quality and a feel all their own. It is these moments that differentiate the video diary approach, and that we believe take viewers places they simply could not go by more traditional documentary means.


Ellen Schneider
Steve Atlas

The Series