Prior to the beginning of this semester, I had been thinking about the year ahead and what I wanted to achieve creatively. I run what is essentially a blog but I pretend it is a legitimate website to make myself feel better. I was listing out some ideas for the year and content that we could produce for the website, and one of the ideas that came to mind was a documentary film. I’ve dipped my toes into a lot of different creative outlets through my years, from music composition to standup comedy to animation, but film has always been one that I never attempted. After years of hosting and editing a weekly podcast about video games, I have practice in editing audio and understanding what makes an entertaining show. However, the translation of that into video has always seemed daunting but I wanted the challenge.
So what do I document? What is the subject of the documentary? I was quickly reminded of a man who I would call a friend, Maurice. Maurice lives in Ocean City, Maryland. I cannot give you any more specifics on his location, and not because of a fear for his privacy, but because I do not know any more specifics. Maurice is homeless, and has been on and off since I first met him ten years ago. He, at one point, was in an accident while riding his bike, and a lot of simple tasks for you or I are lost on him. It is difficult for him to communicate, and he has lost jobs over silly misunderstandings. This might sound typical for someone who is homeless, and Maurice may appear to be just another one of the many. What makes him stand out to me is that he knows everyone. If you spend an hour with Maurice, and just wander the beach or the boardwalk, you will maybe get ten minutes of quality time with him. In the middle of a sentence, you’ll soon be interrupted by a passerby screaming “Hey, Maurice!” Maurice will go and talk to them and introduce you to more strangers than you might ever feel comfortable with, but that is just his personality.
I started to think, why is he homeless? Surely, someone has thought to help him, right? Maybe not to ask him to take up a room in their home, but someone has tried to find him a shelter or a program or assisted living, right? That was the focus for the documentary. I wanted to show Maurice for the man that he is, and capture the moments that I see every year when I visit him. Those times where we are all eating pizza and a group of people come by to say hi or take a picture with him. I wanted to show the world how loved he was and is, and I wanted to use the film to encourage people to donate or help out in some way possible.
When the semester started, and I signed up for GWST 200, we were asked to design an activist project. To do something good that can help others in any way possible. Having planned this documentary for the summer, I decided to use the class as an excuse to start early. What I didn’t know is how much trouble it would be. Because Maurice is homeless and because he is in and out of work, there is no easy way to find him. He does have a cell phone, but the phone is a pay-as-you-go phone and he is constantly running out of minutes. When he does have minutes and I can reach him, he often has a difficult time remembering things. So scheduling a shooting schedule with him is next to impossible.
Luckily, I was able to get a friend to come help out with the project, and together we managed to get a solid start on the film. the problem is, his camera shoots movies in a digital format that his computer won’t recognize and during the conversion process, we lost a lot of the little footage with Maurice that we had. After frustration, yelling, and a lot of cursing at the wretched laptop, we decided to cut together what we could and make more of a teaser than a proper trailer. For us, this was enough to spread the word about our film and get it into people’s minds. I remember seeing a 27 second long exploding Batman logo with some voice over before The Simpsons Movie in 2007, and I was instantly obsessing over what the final product for The Dark Knight would turn out to be. That little teaser affected me, so why can’t ours?
Additionally, we created a poster that has information on it to help people send in their own stories. We had them sent in for printing so that the next time we go down to the beach to film, we can hang them around for people who might more easily recognize Maurice and would be encouraged to help out. I’ve been doing my best in the last week to send it around on social media and spread the word, and already I’ve received emails and text messages and tweets about people who want to help out. More so, a lot of the people are people who have no idea who Maurice is, but they were inspired or in one case “touched” by the trailer.
Looking forward, we have a shooting schedule laid out that we are passing around internally with the folks who contribute to my website (glorified blog), and we are putting together some capital for better mobile audio recording. When I started the project I had this idea that I could just point a camera and go, then edit with some music and make something great. It certainly isn’t the case when shooting a film, and I have learned a lot about that process. Had I known that going in, I might have tried to reach out to people earlier for help, but I have always been one to do things on my own and I try not to rely on others. It’s something I have always done but in a project like this it certainly helps to have friends.
I think that some people might look at this project and scoff, or think “I don’t know that guy, and this is a nice idea, but who cares?” I’m with you! I do the same thing. I’ll be at a red-light and see some guy with a cardboard sign and I’ll avoid eye contact and keep moving. If you are reading this and you think that this is something that you want no part in, I understand. What I want more is for people to see a story. For people to learn about Maurice. I want people to take a second and think about someone that they see who might need help. It might not be a homeless person, or someone without a job. But there might be that one person that you just know is suffering and you know that you can do something. I hope that this inspires you to do just that, and lend a hand where you can.
Finally, I’ve attached the poster to the top and bottom of this post, but in case you cannot read it fully, you can email me a story or an idea or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject “Maurice.” You can also submit via twitter: @freecheeseinfo. Now that the semester is behind me, I have the summer to focus on this project, and I plan on having it filmed by the fall and released sometime hopefully around October. I look forward to completing this and returning here to update. I will also regularly update on my website, thefreecheese.com, but those updates will most likely be amidst a lot of the other nonsense that we post there. Thank you for taking the time to read this and check out the project, I hope you enjoyed what we’ve got so far because there is a lot more coming.
You can find a longer, more specific post about this project by clicking here.
In case you missed the trailer you can view it here.
And for posts to my website that are solely based around this film you can click here.