By Noah Nelson
In our review of the Slamdance audience award-winning documentary Getting Up: The Tempt One Story we summarized the film thusly:
Tony "Tempt One" Quan is one of the legends of the graffiti scene in Los Angeles. His lettering style is admired by fans and fellow artists, and his sense of community make him one of the lynchpins of the graffiti world. So when he was diagnosed as having ALS, the debilitating condition also known as Lou Gerig's Disease that leaves its victims paralyzed, in 2003, it was a blow to the graffiti world.
Enter Mick Ebeling, entrepreneur, philanthropist and street art fan. When Ebeling hears about Quan's condition he decides to give some money to the Tempt One ALS Foundation and learn some more about the man. This begins a journey for the two men, with Mick working to recruit technologists and craftsmen for a project that with the goal of getting Tempt back to doing what he does: rock fresh and funky styles on walls.
The result of that journey were two amazing products: the open source EyeWriter device, and the film that documents its creation and Tempt's return to the art world. Yet as director Caskey Ebeling told us, the film didn't start out as a feature documentary project.
"We knew we needed to document the process because if we we're going to do open source/do it yourself we wanted to share the process," said Caskey. "We figured at some point it would be some sort of proof of concept or some sort of video to help with fundraising. So we just kept shooting and as time went on-- and years and years went on-- we had so much footage and the story was getting so much hype. Just underground blogs and people interested and Time magazine and all these things just started accumulating."
The film manages to frame a lot of different information squarely within the human drama of Tempt's battle to overcome the staggering limitations of ALS. Each element of the story has subtleties that a mainstream audience doesn't necessarily have an understanding of. Nor is it just a matter of technical complexities.
"A lot people have misconceptions about the graffiti community and art and what a crew is and how they work. And that it's possible for Tempt to be in two crews and stuff like that," Caskey told us. An early cut of the film was set at 47 minutes, but once the scale of the story was apparent, that was abandoned in favor of a feature length. "So between graffiti, open source, the technology, ALS, and you know the story of getting the whole thing made, there's just no way for it to be told in any way that just wouldn't cram someone through a bunch of the information too quickly."
Caskey's husband Mick plays dual roles in the film, both on and off-screen. Behind the scenes he's the executive producer, a role that we get some sense of with his activity on-screen: as the man who acts as a virtual extension of Tempt's will, bringing together the resources and talent needed to create the EyeWriter.
Indeed the film demonstrates one of the wonders of the human capacity not just of having the will to survive, but the will to thrive even under the seemingly hopeless conditions.
"Tempt is strong," said Mick Ebeling. "I am incredibly headstrong person. Once I get something stuck in my head it's really hard to dissuade me or shake me off track. Tempt kind of refereed to that a little bit in the film. I've only had a few people who rival me, and Tempt absolutely blows me away. There's no rivalry. I'm just a neophyte compared to his will."
One other result of the creation of the EyeWriter is the founding of the Not Impossible Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to similar explorations. We asked the Ebelings how given their careers as a director (Caskey) and the head of a production company (Mick) they had time to tackle a personal project that took four years and the involvement of both hacker collectives (Graffiti Research Labs) and tech giants (Dell).
"We don't," said Mick. "That's the answer. And I actually think it's relevant to the question."
"Nobody has time," added Caskey.
"Nobody has time to do something like this," Mick continued, "and nobody has time not to do something like this. If you do the math, and you put it all on paper it doesn't add up. We don't have the time, we didn't have the resources, we didn't have the technological expertise."
There's also more than a touch of irony to the name "Not Impossible" as the couple discovered.
"Caskey and I just went to a party in Park City," Mick told us, "and we met with these guys who are engineers. After they saw the film we had a thirty minute debate saying that the only reason we were able to get this done is that we had no idea how impossible it was. No engineer or programmer in their right mind would have taken something like this on."
Originally published on
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