Blog

Behind-the-scenes of Black Cloud.

That New Path

I apologize sincerely for the lack of communication on my end in the past few months. Here's the reason: 

Alex and I have broken up. I won't get into the reasons or too much detail because they're far too personal and complicated. We do ask for privacy while we both transition into our next chapters. A few months have passed and I can tell you that we're both okay or on the road to being okay, and I am optimistic that we are both going to recover from this. I feel an enormous amount of gratitude for the experiences and love that we shared, for the trials we collectively endured, and for the life we built with each other in those five years. I am such a better person for having met and loved her. 

I don't like putting this news out there in this public way - I value my privacy but I value Alex's privacy more - and under normal circumstances this is the kind of thing I wouldn't write about online. However, for those of you who have kept up with the film, you know that the story of Alex's accident and rescue is the catalyst for this whole thing. It matters to Black Cloud and therefore I feel I owe my donors and supporters this update.

That being said, let me be perfectly clear:

Black Cloud will be completed and released no matter what. I'm sorry to say I don't have a release date that I can give you yet but I promise that it will get done and released eventually. 

It's possible that it will now change shape or structure. It's possible it may change tone. It's possible it'll be a lot different than I imagined it when I initially cooked up this idea. It's possible that it'll now take a little longer to make. It also makes an already emotionally harrowing project that much more intense for me.

But the mission hasn't changed. I started this film with the purpose of documenting and honoring the lives of EMS workers - particularly those in Austin-Travis County who have had a profound impact on my life. That is still the engine of this film - that's what has and will continue to drive this project forward.

Black Cloud is a film that defies happy endings. I've learned that over and over again as I make this thing. But it also defies entirely tragic endings, I think - even when things don't work out the way you imagined, even if what you thought was destiny turns out to be something else, even when terrible things happen to us, there's a path forward. Will it be better? I have no clue. I know only this: there's nothing that makes me love humanity more than seeing someone muster the will and courage it takes to keep walking down that new path. 

Alex is still completely committed to this film and its mission. You can imagine how important and passionate she feels about getting the stories of EMS folk out there. That hasn't wavered, and I know she'd want me to tell you that she's still ready to tell their story through her story. In fact, I'm filming with her tomorrow.

Thank you for your continued faith in this film. It does not go unnoticed. It gives me strength and fuels my sense of purpose. I will do my best to live up to your goodwill.

Sincerely,

Chris Kim

 

Holding Pattern

It's a weird feeling.

Being out on an ambulance, there is this undeniable desire to want to get a trauma call or a cardiac arrest or a stroke. I hate it. Please understand, I don't want anyone to get hurt or to die. Realistically, I don't want to see it. I have no idea how I'd handle it. I desperately don't want that. I know all too well how your entire life can change in an instant. Someone doesn't look before they turn, and bam, your life becomes filled with grief. I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

If my superpower is that whenever I'm out filming with medics nobody gets hurt then I would be very happy.

Right now, I could make a strong case that that is indeed my superpower. I've gotten a lot of the same types of calls - people who are sick or slightly hurt but don't have a ride to the hospital, or homeless people who have no other avenue for healthcare other than to call 911, things like that. A lot of these are systemic problems. I don't blame the people who call 911 for these non-emergencies. 

It's exhausting. But it's also the job. If I were to edit this film now and release it, you'd be under the impression that that's mostly what happens on this job. That would be a mostly correct conclusion. It's not the entirety of the job, though. Not by a long shot. This film needs to have some of those intense calls. It does. Otherwise I'm not honoring the truth. 

In an odd way, it makes me understand the medics more. The EMTs and paramedics I've spoken with all seem to share similar sentiments. A lot of times, they do want those genuine emergencies. They want to do their job, they want to save lives, they want to make a real impact. It's frustrating getting non-emergency after non-emergency. Of course, they're all professionals and treat every call as an emergency and do their very best to provide the best medical care they can. 

It's not that they want people to get hurt. It's that they want to help the people that do.

And I want to help them by showing the rest of the world what it's like to get one of those calls. 

So for now, I'm stuck in this weird limbo where every time I'm out at a station and I hear the tones drop, a part of me desperately wants it to be something "good." The rest of me desperately wants it to be some dude with a stomachache who needs a ride to the hospital.

This is the biggest piece I'm missing. Black Cloud, as it exists in my head, is largely made up of portraits of trauma. With Alex and some other subjects, we see it from the survivor's point-of-view. I want to see it from the point-of-view of the people who do the saving. I want to see it in real time, I want to capture it unfolding in front of the camera. 

Will I get that? I don't know. But until I do, I feel like this film will be incomplete.

First Person Filmmaking

I think about Black Cloud an awful lot. It's probably not healthy, really.

See, I want it to be great. Not good. Not interesting. Great. I want it to be in textbooks. I want it to win awards. I want it to change peoples' lives. 

Will it be great? Probably not.

I don't mean I don't have confidence in myself. I feel good about my abilities as a documentary filmmaker, in fact. I've got a lot of hours of experience under my belt, after all. No, the odds are simply against me. Very few things are great. Most things, by definition, are average. 

It's an uphill climb. My way of trying to make this thing great is to think about it all the time. A part of me believes that if I think about it long enough and hard enough, it'll be the difference between making a good film and making a great film.

One of the things I think an awful lot about are the aesthetics of the film. Now, look, story is king. It doesn't matter how your movie looks if your story is great. Plenty of films prove this. I mean, Hoop Dreams isn't a great looking film but it is a great film.

I think about how I want Black Cloud to look almost to an obsessive degree. My natural inclination as a shooter is to make everything look as cinematic as possible, and that was my initial plan with Black Cloud. I was looking into shooting the entire thing on a gimbal so that the whole thing looked like smooth Steadicam shots. I was thinking about getting a drone so I could get really pretty, cinematic aerial shots.

I'm not saying I won't still do those things. I might. I find that type of cinematography hard to resist. But recently I realized that to support the story that I'm telling I might have to abandon those ideas.

See, this is the story of the medics of Austin-Travis County EMS as seen through my eyes. In this case I'm taking this personal angle because I, or more accurately my girlfriend Alex, has an extremely personal connection to ATCEMS. This makes the story stronger. It makes the impact of these medics that much more human and relatable. It's one thing to tell someone that EMS saves X number of lives a year. It's another to put yourselves in the shoes of a man who very nearly lost the only woman he's loved who loved him back equally, to think of how this man would've been crushed by his grief, how this man would've drifted alone for probably the rest of his life if not for two paramedics.

Not only is this being told from my perspective but I'm the one actually filming all of the footage. When you see the camera zoom in on a certain detail or you see it linger on someone's face, it isn't some anonymous camera operator. It's me, the narrator who's leading you through this journey. It is, in essence, a first person film.

There's a reason that my interviews are being shot the way they're shot - center framed and with the subject looking almost directly into the lens.

 

Yes, it's an homage to Errol Morris but it's also because the camera is me and I'm the one interviewing them. 

Does that make sense? Or have I gone off the deep end? I mean, let's face it, no one watching it is going to be thinking about that stuff.

The point is, I think about this film a lot. Some might argue that I'm overthinking it. To them, I say, "Well, no shit." Of course I am. I've been an overthinker my entire life. I'm not going to stop now! It's basically my religion at this point.

It's an uphill climb. And this is the only way I know of making it to the top.

Our Kickstarter campaign is officially over!

WE DID IT! 224 of you helped fund this project to the tune of $14,386!

I'm stunned. I'm genuinely stunned. 

This funding is not just about helping me make this film. (Although, boy oh boy does it help me make this film!) 

This funding is also a vote of confidence. 

It's your way of telling me that you really, really want these stories to be told. It is a tangible, real communication from you to me, and what I'm hearing is, "Yes, we want to hear the stories of EMTs and paramedics. Yes, we value them. Yes, we care." 

I've always felt a huge weight of responsibility when it came to this film. It's bigger than me. Much bigger. And now that so many of you have given me the confidence to push forward, I feel that weight even more. 

It makes me want to do better than my best. 

I promise that I'll do everything in my power to honor medics everywhere with this film. 

Thank you again for your support. I couldn't have done this without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Wiretree and the future

Once upon a time, I directed this show called Hardly Sound. It was ostensibly a music documentary series but I turned it into something of an autobiography. 

Was it a tad self-indulgent? No. It was obscenely self-indulgent.

I'm still proud of it.

The final episode I directed was about Wiretree. I've been friends with them for a long time. In fact, Dan Blanchard, their drummer and a dear friend, came to visit Alex in the ICU. 

This episode documents the first time Alex and I met Jason Castleberry and Amber Price - the paramedics who saved her life. This episode is what jump started Black Cloud. Make no mistake. This film would not exist without this particular episode of Hardly Sound.

It's honestly kind of hard for me to watch both on a personal level and because I think I've grown so much as a storyteller. My technical abilities are also way more sound. But I think there's a power to this episode, and that it's a good indication of where I'm going with Black Cloud

In fact, I like the ending to this episode so much (the weird post-apocalyptic musing, the time lapse) that I'm mad I can't use it for the film. (I don't want to repeat myself.) I'm sure I'll come up with something equally powerful. At least, I hope so.

Favorite moments: 

-Visiting (and filming) Kevin and Rachel the day after their son was born.
-Josh telling us how his dad cried when he heard his guitar solo for the first time in the song "To The Moon." Gets me every single time.
-Dan being Dan.

We screened this episode at The Museum of Human Achievemen for a standing room only crowd. After the screening, Wiretree played a set. Alex danced, and Jason and Amber got to see that. Isn't that something? 

So here you go. A little blast from the past. A look into what came before, and what is inspiring the future.