Hi Alex! You would have been a great ship captain so, are you writing from your “harbor” or are you somewhere in the world?
Ahoy! I am writing from Vienna, Austria. Yesterday we filmed a fun little commercial here and now we are beginning the post-production.
When was your love for exploring and filmmaking born? Do you remember your first adventure?
My father would bring his Hi-8 camera to film our various family trips to Florida and northern Michigan. My brother, my friends and I would entertain ourselves by making short films. And when I say ‘short films’, that usually just meant filming ourselves jumping off the roof.
We’re fascinated by “The Electronic Afterlife”, a documentary commissioned by Gizmogul; tell us something about this project.
The ‘Electronic Afterlife’ project was an amazing opportunity and a huge challenge for me. First of all, the production itself was somewhat daunting – traveling by myself to shoot in Agbogbloshie – an extremely polluted, impoverished and potentially dangerous neighborhood of Accra. I only had four days to get all of the footage that I needed. To complicate things further, I was also the narrator/host, so I would have to find a way to film myself as I wandered through the slums. As I mention in the piece, I was lucky to have a friend there named Kwame, who I met on another project that we shot in Ghana in 2012. He really made everything happen during the production.
“Film is a gateway to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”
“Watching these young kids doing such back-breaking work in truly horrific conditions. It’s heart-breaking.”
Which was the hardest part during this assignment?
The hardest part is probably boring to discuss – I’m not used to speaking on camera so I had a tough time acting natural and getting my eye to stop twitching. Stephen Schneider, the Producer/Writer/Entrepreneur, walked me through this part of the process. I definitely needed some hand-holding. The scariest part however, happened just after an interview with one of the scrappers in Agbogbloshie. I was planning on grabbing a few more shots in one particular area when Kwame told me we had to leave. Reading the serious look on his face, I packed up my gear without asking any questions. Later, he told me that the same scrappers who we had just interviewed were discussing a plan to take my camera and make me pay to get it back. I’m lucky that Kwame happened to be eavesdropping.
And the best moment?
During my last night in town, we shot a music video for Kwame’s friend, Kochoko, who lives in Agbogbloshie. They didn’t really tell me what was going on, they just told me to make sure I didn’t have anything of value in my pockets and then they lead me to a variety of locations around the slum. Hundreds of people were eagerly awaiting their chance to be in Kochoko’s video, most of them got mighty drunk and high for the occasion. Some fights nearly broke out, prostitutes whispered gross things in my ear and everybody brought out their signature dance moves. It was somewhat horrifying and super fun. A lot of people have been asking where they can see the music video. Unfortunately Kochoko still hasn’t sent me the track. I’ve been bugging him about this for months. Hopefully he will finish mixing it soon and we can finally cut the video together.
What do you usually take away from your traveling and in particular what did you learn from this experience?
One of the perks of being a director is that I get to learn something new with each project. This experience with Gizmogul has been especially eye-opening since I knew very little about the issue of e-waste before we began. Of course, I researched the horrific statistics and data points but what will really stick with me is the brief glimpse I got into these peoples’ lives. While I’m filming, it’s hard to get caught up in the emotion of what I’m seeing. I’m usually more worried about finding the right angle to capture the best light. It’s when I’m back home and scouring through every frame of the footage, that’s when it really sinks in. Watching these young kids doing such back-breaking work in truly horrific conditions. It’s heart-breaking. Apologies for the cliche but it really makes me appreciate everything so much more.
Do you think filmmaking can accelerate social movements? How?
Of course. That’s the real reason why I got into filmmaking – the potential to influence social causes. Film is the perfect medium for educating while entertaining an audience. This isn’t just about documentaries – every story has the potential to reveal something about a community, a culture or a social cause. Film is a gateway to see the world through someone else’s eyes. When executed correctly, that sort of empathy has the potential to move the world forward along every social front.
Is there a director or explorer that inspires/ed you the most? What would you ask him if you’d have the chance to meet him?
Max Joseph is an inspirational director (and not just because he hooked me up with Gizmogul). As far as explorers go, I’d love to meet the badass, Ernest Shackleton. I’d ask about how he kept spirits high while his crew was stranded on sea ice for the long Antarctic winters.
What is the best part of being a freelance filmmaker for you?
The opportunity to travel – meeting inspiring people, learning about social causes and then spreading those stories out to the world. I love the fact that every project and every day is unique. It’s truly a gift to be able to make a living by promoting companies and causes that I care about.