The other day, I saw someone playing guitar for tips who claimed to be a veteran on my walk home from a coffee shop. Usually, I would just pass this type of person by, but something made me stop and converse with him. We had a lovely conversation and even exchanged numbers and I found myself delighted at having had this experience. Filmmakers and life partners Epiphany Morgan and Carl Mason talked to 365 strangers in the last year, as they set out to create a new bite-sized documentary (they call them docobites) every day about a stranger they met during their adventures. They traveled to 30 countries on 5 constitutes during that time period, with each docobite being produced each day.
In the meantime, they were viewed by more than 3.5 million people in 145 countries around the world. They're currently in the running for a World Record for producing the most short films, ever! They also ran a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to fund their efforts in late 2014, where they raised more than $20,000.
I spoke to both of these adventures/entrepreneurs/filmmakers about their work, what they learned, and their inspiration behind the project.
Erin: How did you come up with the idea for Docobites?
Epiphany: After working in a commercial production company for 2 years I was really ready to sink my teeth into a new documentary project. One day on the hunt for doco ideas I spotted a book that had 365 pages, each page with a number on it going upward from 1. I thought, "why not a documentary over one whole year," and then I thought, "why not 365 documentaries in 365 days." And this is where the madness began. The concept of speaking to strangers was inspired by the Humans Of New York photography blog. Together with Carl, we worked hard to capture the essence of humanity in our films, which connects each of the HONY portraits. I think we underestimated how much we would come to care for each of the stories that we were sharing, and also underestimated the power they would have to encourage a shift of mentality. So during this journey of celebrating humanity our mission very quickly became one of spreading the idea of compassion over fear, love over hate.
Carl: It kind of developed from a few ideas into one. We were both working full time in the media industry and were looking for a project to work on together. We juggled with the idea of travelling and film making and even thought about creating a travel blog, but thought it had all been done before. After some inspiration from Brandon from the Humans of New York blog, and realizing how much his stories were bringing people together, Epiphany had the crazy (at that moment we didn't realise just how crazy) idea of meeting a stranger everyday we were travelling and making a film about them, then to top it off we thought why not do this for a year.
Erin: How did you make the project happen financially and professionally? Going to 30 countries in a year is no joke!
Carl: It was a constant battle to continue to finance this project. We left Australia with 3 months of our trip funded through some corporate investment and along the way had to get very creative with how we funded the other 9 months (all the while still producing a film a day). Once we had built an audience who were regularly watching the films we were able to leverage this with organizations and tourism boards for some sponsorship, we also did a crowdfunding campaign through kickstarter, we used accumulated frequent flyer points, we also traded our filmmaking skills for food and accommodation along the way and finally we kept a strict diet of rice, kebabs, and free breakfasts at hostels.
Erin: What was the most surprising thing you learned from one of the strangers you talked to?
Epiphany: Every single stranger surprised me. I love making a first judgment or impression of someone and then watching that stranger kick that assumption to the curb once they share who they really are with us, it's fascinating. One of the many times this happened was in New Orleans in the USA. It was during the French Quarter Festival and we were on Bourbon St when we met a beautiful dragqueen. In her daily life, Marc was a father of 3, husband to his wife, a surgeon and a nationally ranked body builder. It wasn't only just these gob-smacking details about Marc that was what was so surprising, it was his mentality that really dropped our jaws. Marc believes, you should live how you want and need to live, be exactly who you are, never ashamed of that, because he is reminded too frequently how short life is and he doesn't want to spend even one second not living in truth. I think this was the first time that a Stranger told us about the need to be happy in your own skin, and this was a theme that popped up a lot in a number of docobites.
Erin: Did you see any consistent themes emerge amongst the strangers you conversed with?
Epiphany: Each of the 365 stories we shared crossover with each other in some way. This again just supports the idea of all of us being connected. Some of the major themes include a need to belong, to have purpose, to love and to be loved, to prioritize family, be respected, even the desire and almost basic need to be able to express yourself creatively. These themes come from human stories, stories that are voiced from a humanity that is resilient, and vulnerable, that believes in love and hopes for peace.
Carl: I think the themes I mentioned above, love, family, friendship, a sense of purpose and happiness were all pretty consistent themes throughout the films.
Erin: How do you think this project changed your view of humanity?
Epiphany: It made me realize that there is only one humanity, and we are all a part of it. Before we left, I would often feel different, isolated, as if both the person on the other side of the world and the person at the other end of the bus was someone I had nothing in common with. Doing 365 docobites has made me realize, we all have everything in common. And once I got my head around that, a lot of things fell into place and I now look at the world very differently. With unrelenting hope and compassion.
Carl: It made we realise that we are all so similar in certain ways, and we are all looking for very similar things out of life. It didn't matter what country we were in, whether we were in New York City or in rural Botswana the people we spoke to were all yearning for the same things, love, family, friendship, a sense of purpose, happiness, it was really amazing to see people from all walks of life talking about how these are the most important things. I think this project has changed my view on humanity by proving (to myself at least) that you can not judge someone by their, nationality, religion, race, lifestyle or so many of the other thing we do judge people by, the only way to really know someone is to sit down and have a good chat with them.
How would you summarize your Docobites experience in one sentence?
Carl: A completely eye opening and enriching experience that has helped me to understand what is truly important in life and why we should all be looking out for each other a whole lot more.
Epiphany: Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.
If you want to check out the Docobites, make sure to visit the official website, where you can view all 365 of these short films!