After talking with Constance Marks, director and producer of "Being Elmo," I feel as though I've taken a lovely walk around a park full of green trees and blue skies. I felt the same way after seeing "Being Elmo," quietly hopeful and inspired. Watch the trailer. Go see the film and you'll understand what I mean and why the film won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance this year.
"Being Elmo" tells the story of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who created the character of Elmo and brings him to life. It's the story of one man's success through his clear vision, hard work and family support. It's just a great story, reminding us about important things we've all known, wanted and done. But before I veer off toward something that sounds unremittingly sappy and sentimental, let's bring in Constance.
Constance Marks is a critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker. Her work includes "Green Chimneys," "Let's Fall in Love: A Singles Weekend at the Concord Hotel" and "Return to Appalachia." Her films have aired on PBS and HBO. Her resume includes films tackling social issues such as teen pregnancy, homelessness and veteran's issues.
Constance worked with cinéma vérité filmmakers, the Maysles brothers, and prior films are shot in that style. "Being Elmo" called for a different kind of storytelling.
I was trying to make a film similar to all the other the films I've made which are vérité films, in which we follow someone through their life, the ups and downs of their life ... and since we were focusing on Kevin's professional life, that's what we all wanted to do from the outset. What I learned through shooting was that we would ... shoot one part of one scene. Then we would be at Sea World with him and he'd be doing remote radio shows and then we'd be at a school the next day and he'd be doing career day. And each scene in and of itself had very interesting aspects, but they didn't add up in terms of how do we tell his story.
It was really Phil Shane [co-director, writer & editor], who said, "We have to think about this differently. We have to think that the real story is Kevin's life". So instead of having a vérité film where we have a little section devoted to -- oh, here's his past and here's what happened ... and now, he is where he is today. That's the story. That had to be expanded and then the vérité footage is what we used whenever we could to catapult the story forward.
We were just militant and there were actually a couple of scenes ... that came close to not being in the film because we couldn't find an organic way to use them. And then when we did, it looks so effortless, you can't believe it was even ever an issue. But that was sort of the genesis of what I'd originally intended and what was created in the end.
After seven years of shooting and editing, "Being Elmo" shows the private life of Kevin Clash -- his early years, support from family and mentors and the challenge of fatherhood. Making this film, getting to know Kevin and the response to the film has had a deep impact on Constance.
Somebody asked me yesterday, "Well obviously, you know the story and basically what it's going to be like when it's done before you start." Absolutely not. The question is are you making a wise choice in your subject and are you willing to take the ride?
I asked Constance where taking that ride has brought her in both her personal and professional life.
I think knowing Kevin and Kevin's mom has really affected my ideas of the kind of mother I'd like to be. I don't know if it's actually having any effect at all, but at least I'd like to think that the bar has been raised having met Kevin's mom and also talking to Kevin a lot about parenting. I mean at this point, I feel like he's a friend and I talk to him about things and he gives great advice. Yes, I've been changed profoundly by making this film. I've never worked so hard in my life. I'm less afraid of making other kinds of films now and -- I wouldn't say afraid -- but I'm free now. It's very liberating.
People are having deep emotional responses to this film. Some of them are long distance truck drivers. We had a pole dancer. We have teachers. We have moms, shop owners ... every kind of job description and from the Middle East, from the Far East, from Australia, New Zealand, all over Europe, I mean it's just so touching. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, I'll be so worried about something and I'll wake up and come to my computer and I'll just look at the tweets and the Facebook page. Just to get grounded and just to have the thrill of seeing this work that we did from our little offices for so many years, so quietly and just with the hope of making something lovely. That it's getting out there is just beyond thrilling and that people are moved by it. It just fills me with more energy than I've ever had.
"Being Elmo" opens in New York on October 21 and then in Los Angeles and nationwide starting November 4. For more details and information, click here for the website.
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