Louder Than Words: 7 Years, 14 Cameras, 1 Surprising Story
COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : Saj Adibs : Louder Than Words: 7 Years, 14 Cameras, 1 Surprising Story
Let me start from the beginning, 7 years ago. I had recently started freelancing as a camera operator and had bought my first camera, the Panasonic DVX100B using a credit card.
I had my first big client that wanted to create a marketing video about the cochlear implant which I learned was a little device that could allow deaf people to hear sound (it's a lot more complicated than it sounds!).
During the production of that video, I interviewed a deaf family that had a deaf child. A friend of mine had also just bought the same camera, so we did a two-camera shoot for the interview. The interview was in ASL (American Sign Language), so I didn't pick up much of it while shooting.
Later that week, I got the transcript of the interview and started my edit. I was immediately blown away by the interview. It was simply powerful. It was a story of parents that did everything in their power to give their child the best possible future, even though it came with a lot of criticism from the Deaf Community that they were a part of their entire lives. I remember having to hold back tears during much of the edit.
For the first time, I learned that even though cochlear implant sounded like a miracle scientific breakthrough to hearing people, it was a culture divide in the Deaf Community. Deaf people viewed it as something that threatened their culture and didn't want any part of it. So to meet a family that was part of that culture, but at the same time, was willing to go against to norm for the benefit of their children was very eye opening.
The same day, I called my client and told her I would love to do a more in-depth story on that family. I had interviewed almost a dozen families for the marketing video, but their story in particular really inspired me. My client thought it was a great idea.
We set up a meeting with the family and pitched them the idea. "We want to do a feature length documentary on your story". To my surprise, they agreed to be involved. That was summer of 2008.
At this point, HD was taking over and my SD camera seemed out of date already. So I made another purchase and got a Panasonic HVX200. It was basically the HD (720P 24P) version of what I was used to. Looking back, I'm so glad I did that. The film would have looked so outdated if it were in SD.
My HVX200 package
In 2009, I followed the family and shot for nearly 20 days during the course of the year. I was following them as they were going through the medical process for getting the cochlear implant for their second child who was born after my first interview with them.
I also had a little Mini DV camera (Canon ZR50) I bought to give to the family, so they could shoot home videos that I could use for the film.
Fast forward to 2011. I met a second family that really inspired me; a hearing mom that had a deaf child, Rachel Coleman. I thought she would make a great addition to the film and tell the same story from a different point of view.
When Rachel was told that her deaf daughter, Leah, was going to graduate with a 3rd grade reading level, she refused to believe it. Was American Sign Language the answer for better communication? Signing Time was a direct result of Rachel wanting to help her daughter. Was the impact it had on Leah what she had hoped for?
Leah Coleman's cochlear implant
Rachel has rarely spoken openly about Leah's cochlear implant surgery at age 6. In the film, the Coleman family take us step by step through their decision making process, their hopes and fears for their deaf child, and includes never before seen footage of Leah's implant activation, and Leah's journey from birth to graduating high school.
Leah and Rachel Coleman at Leah's graduation in 2015
By that time, I had bought a Canon 7D and a Canon 5D Mark III. So I flew to California and shot a five-hour interview with her and her daughter. Then I spent an additional day shooting interviews with the Sony EX1 (Shot at 1080P) that I had borrowed from a friend for B-roll shots with sound. I found out that the family had a large collection of home videos from their daughter's birth all the way to when she was a teenager. It was a gold mine. It was all in DV tapes, but they digitized it for me and gave me everything on a hard drive. They shot everything with 3 different consumer cameras over the years.
Canon 5D Mark III
I continued to film the families here and there for the next two years. In 2013, I made a big investment and purchased a Canon C300. I was tired of using DSLRs and recording audio on a separate device. By that time, I had transitioned from Final Cut Pro to Adobe Premiere, which made dealing with these different formats in the same timeline a breeze. I was already up to 3 TBs of footage that I was editing in one timeline. That made my life so much easier.
I had learned everything in Final Cut Pro. Even though I was trained on Avid in film school, I used Final Cut for all my projects. So I was really worried about the transition. However, the cloud version of premiere was available for $20 a month and final cut 7 was really giving me a hard time. The conversion of all the formats alone was taking so much time.
To my surprise, it took me just a day to get familiar with Premiere Pro. I still used the same keyboard layout as final cut, which was an option in Premiere Pro. I learned that I could move my project over using an XML file. It was relatively a smooth transition. I kept all my p2 files from the HVX200, so I decided to reimport those and edit them natively in Premier, something I couldn't do in Final Cut 7.
The nice thing about the Cloud subscription was, I never had to update Premiere for additional cost. It was updated through the cloud anytime there was a new update without additional cost and I always had the latest edit software. The project is currently in Premiere CC 2015 and I've added Photoshop and Adobe After Effects CC to the mix. They all come together with the bundle cloud membership. I've even used Adobe Audition from time to time to fix up some of the sound in the film.
I did a few shoots in 2013 and by 2014, I bought a Canon C100, so I could do two-camera shoots. The one thing that was consistent with the format was the 24 frames per second that I was able to use since day one, on the DVX100.
I finally had the perfect scene for the ending of the film in summer of 2014. I was able to use my C100 and C300 and borrow a C500 to do a three-camera shoot. Those cameras ended up matching pretty nicely in the edit all at 1080p.
My Canon c300 package getting balanced my steadicam flyer
Here is the picture of the timeline a couple of months ago
Louder than words timeline in premiere CC 2015
That brings us to 2015. After having a rough cut of the film, I decided that I needed some re-enactments to really spice things up and tell a more visually compelling story. I happened to be working on a commercial project over Labor Day weekend and had access to a Red Dragon and some high-end Zeiss primes. I spent Labor Day weekend shooting several scenes at 6K resolution and a bunch of 120-frame slow motion footage that I ended up using in the film. Again, Premiere saved me so much time. I just dropped the footage in the timeline and it was ready to edit.
Shoot b-roll with the red dragon at 6K
Shoot handheld b-roll with Red dragon and zoom lens
At the same time, I was given some really old VHS and Beta tapes from one of the families. It was their wedding tape and old news clips. So I digitized those and threw them in the timeline. Everything was still working on one timeline.
I continued to shoot some more re-enactments, but I wanted them to be all in 4K or higher. I borrowed a Red Scarlet and shot a few scenes. Around the same time, I got my new camera in the mail, the Blackmagic URSA that I used for one additional scene at 4k.
Blackmagic URSA setup
Finally, after seven years, the film is fully shot and nearly edited. I brought in a really talented composer, sound designer and lawyer on the team to help me finish things up. Even though I was able to self-fund the film all these years from the support of commercial videos I was working on, the last part was getting very expensive. Clearing rights and licensing ended up being far more expensive than I had originally planned. And that brings me to today, three days after the launch of my Kickstarter campaign to fund the rest of the film and for submission to festivals. You can support the film here. http://bit.ly/louderthanwordsdoc
It's been such a rewarding journey and I can't wait to share the finished film with the world.
My name is Saj Adibs and I'm the director of the feature length documentary film, Louder than Words. I've followed this story for nearly seven years and have delved into Deaf culture more and more as I continued.
My background is in film and television in Chicago. I graduated with a concentration on film directing from Columbia College in Chicago and started a production company, New Slate Films the same year in 2007.
Since then, I've had the opportunity to work for companies large and small to create short format documentaries telling variety of inspiring stories. In 2014, one of my short documentaries about dietician changing the world won several awards including the Telly, Communicator and Aurora award.
This film is the project that I'm the most proud of. Telling this untold story to the world has been my mission for nearly my entire professional career.
Saj Adibs-Director of Louder Than Words-Owner, New Slate Films