THE LOSS OF NAMELESS THINGS filmmaker Bill Rose talks about discovering the story of Oakley “Tad” Hall III, the agony of cutting good footage and a deepening sense that life is both mysterious and wonderful.
What led you to make THE LOSS OF NAMELESS THINGS?
Well, novelist Louis Jones has been a friend of mine for years. Louie is married to Oakley’s sister Brett. Brett called me up a few years ago and said, "I know you’ve never met him, but my brother who has been on this Odysseus-like journey for the past 25 years, and the theater company up here in Nevada City has just received an NEA grant to produce the play he was writing the night of his accident. I think somebody should be telling his story because it really is this amazing journey." So, that is how I came to the story.
Filmmaker Bill Rose recalls a shared moment with Oakley Hall III, and the positive impact Hall continues to have on people.
One of the most moving moments in this long journey occurred this fall in Albany, New York. Oakley and I delivered a portion of the keynote address at a conference on brain injury, where they were screening the film. Hundreds of people with traumatic brain injury watched the film, and you could just see the pride well up in Oakley as they came up to him afterward to shake his hand and say thanks for giving them hope.
How did you meet Oakley Hall III?
The first thing we shot was the cast read-through of Grinder's Stand. (Sadly, in cutting the film down to 83 minutes from 103 [for the television version] we had to cut most of the play from the film.) The first thing that struck me on meeting Oakley was this mild sort of disconnect between the man and the robust, muscular work itself. It was as if through a curious twist of fate, he were the custodian of another man’s work. One of the actresses told me that during the dress rehearsal she spoke to Oak and said, "Well what do you think? Do you like what we’ve done?” He kind of squinted and looked off and said, “You know that playwright seems like a really interesting guy. I would have liked to have met him."
How did you earn his trust as well as the trust and cooperation of his family and friends?
I was genuinely moved by this story and I think—I hope—that my passion for telling the story was apparent. I would do these long, long interviews, really just conversations, sometimes lasting two hours or so. I think many of the people in the film, especially the actors for whom Oakley had been such a huge presence in their early artistic lives, had been waiting years to talk about this. This really was their “bump” passage into adulthood—the event that bisected many of their young lives.
One thing became clear, several of them said that they would not be who they are today were it not for who he had been to them all those years ago.
Have you seen any of Oakley’s plays?
Yes, we shot many of the rehearsals for Grinder’s Stand, as well as the opening night. In the director’s cut of the film, there is an additional 20 minutes of material including quite powerful excerpts and readings from his work. It really is eerie how much of his work at the time foretold the themes, which would soon frame his life. (Editors note: for information on purchasing a copy of the director’s cut, click on Get the Video.)
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
The sheer number of hours of footage because of those long, long interviews! We had nearly 180 hours all together, including the Nevada City Theater footage. Many of those interviewed were either actors or writers so there was quite a bit of wonderful stuff that didn’t make it into the film. The director’s cut of the film fleshes out the characters and the relationships a bit more.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
Life is a mystery, which we live. If this film can in any way deepen our sense of wonder in that mystery, then it has done its job.
What period of time did filming take place and when did it conclude?
We shot pretty quickly, really—spring 2001 to fall 2001. Rick LeCompte edited as we went. We finished the “festival cut” in spring 2004.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Artistic Director Philip Sneed says in the film, "There must be something in the brain … some kernel … which survives all sorts of damage and all sorts of tragedy. And it’s a creative impulse. The desire to add something of meaning to the world." Oak and his commitment to have an artistic life in spite of all he has been through have certainly been an inspiration.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Independent Lens is the best opportunity to tell this story to the widest possible audience.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Family life. I think I missed the first couple years of my daughter’s life and a good part of my son’s first year. I was there, of course, but very distracted.
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you’d be doing?
Classical composer or choral director. Sadly, I suspect I have less talent for music than I do for filmmaking.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
It is a cliché, but I don’t know any other way to say it: you need to be really passionate, I mean madly so. Overlooked, but also very important: get a good editor and listen to your editor! It’s something I should do more of myself.
I think in general the best advice I can give is: don’t try and do everything yourself. Work with the best people you can find and then let them do their jobs.
What sparks your creativity?
Classical music—both in building something from scratch and untangling creative problems.
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Meet the people interviewed in the film >>
Learn about traumatic brain injury >>