The Beauty of the Frog

Academy Awards Nominees for the Best Documentary Features

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you ever got in your career?

Once someone gave me a little trinket from Japan. It was a wooden frog. They told me that the beauty of the frog is that it can’t move backwards nor sideways but can only leap forward. It was a reminder to stay focused. To this day I bring that frog with me on every shoot and it hangs out on my desk when I edit.

This was a question on the 84th Academy Awards Nominee Questionaire answered by T.J. Martin. He, along with Dan Lindsay and Rich Middlemas, won the Oscar for best Documentary Feature for their work, “Undefeated.” They followed the Manassas Tiger team, the dark horse from the inner-city district of Memphis, in their battle through the 2009 football season to eventually win the first playoff game in their high school’s 110 years history.

I like the frog metaphor because it really hits home for me. I have nowhere to go with no choice but to move forward. However, I learned that some of the things that happened in our past are important enough to preserve and pass on to our next generation. We lived and experienced many days where there were events that changed our lives forever, and often we don’t make a record of them. Maybe we thought, at those times, that they were too personal or not important enough to be memorialized. Then, years later when we reflect on those days, we realize they were the most important days in our lives and we have nothing but memories of it to hold on to. That’s the beauty of documentaries. “Undefeated” may talk about winning one game, but to those players, that game was the most important game of their lives. Once that game was over, they must move on. We all must move on forward. The difference between them and most of us is that now they will have a tangible memory of that life-changing game because it was documented.

I’ve always wished that my life would be as fantastic as Chelsea Clinton in the White House or dramatic as Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family or unique as Jessica Watson, the youngest person to sail around the world solo at age 16. I wished my life is at least that interesting. After last two years I’ve come to term that every single life is worth being documented, regardless how uneventful a life can be. No matter how long a life is, or where the journey is, it’s the sixty seconds in a minute in which a life is changed matters the most. When your life is changed 180 degree in sixty seconds (or ten or two), that is when things start getting interesting. I just happened to have hours and hours of footage about a few life-changing moments on my desk that I believe are worthy to see.

I want to hear from you, those of you who are the experienced and emerging documentary filmmakers. What is the most valuable advice given to you in your career? What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process and what is the most challenging part? What advice will you give to somebody who is getting into the documentary world (like me!)?

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