THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON DOGPILE.COM
Documentary filmmaker William Gazecki recently agreed to
answer some questions posed by Dog Pile columnist Joe Catoe.
Gazecki, whose controversial 1997 film, WACO: The Rules of
Engagement, earned an Academy Award nomination, comments on
several of his upcoming documentaries and also provides insight into
his unique filmmaking process. Not afraid to take on topics others
might consider taboo, Gazecki's films explore such seemingly varied
topics as crop circles, psychedelic drugs, and the Roman Catholic
Church. Even with films targeted for theatrical release, Gazecki
shoots on digital video and strives for a somewhat unconventional
goal, as least in the documentary film world - profit. In several
weeks The Dog Pile will also feature an article by Gazecki,
chronicling his path into filmmaking and also offering candid advice
for other aspiring documentary filmmakers. For now though, here is
What made you decide
to start making documentaries?
I have been working in
media since I was fourteen years old, starting with music for the
first ten or twelve years of my career. Then I got into doing sound
for film. I realized the dramatic impact sound can have when
combined with pictures. Once I saw that, I decided that sound and
pictures were a lot more fun than just sound alone. I wasn't a big
film buff when I was a kid. I liked movies but my first love was
music. I am a craftsperson, like most people working in Hollywood. I
was pretty much in show business because it's what I wanted to do. I
started out young and never did anything else. The whole thing about
wanting to send a message or wanting to make a difference, or even
wanting to be a documentary filmmaker, all came later.
I had been a
record producer as well as a recording engineer, so I had learned
about the technical side and the creative side. I like being both
technical and creative. Once I started working in the technical side
of film it was a natural progression to look at producing in the
film business as well. It's one thing to go from being a recording
engineer to being a record producer - that's a fairly natural
transition. Going from being a motion picture sound mixer to a
motion picture producer or a director is a much larger transition, a
much more major step. I educated myself at the various film schools
around Los Angeles during a five or six year period in the
mid-eighties. I started developing ideas, not really knowing
anything about the development process or the sales process. I
really did not know that much about what it took to get beyond an
idea, to really make something.
What is it you want
to accomplish with your films?
I make documentaries
because they seem to carry the most powerful message. I got into
documentaries as I became aware of grassroots causes, of how
insulated we can be from really comprehensive information, how the
world works, what its problems really are and what the solutions
really are. What we get from the mainstream media doesn't give us
everything we need as human beings - as a society - to manage
ourselves. The media is very powerful and I think people rely upon
it for guidance. I don't feel the media delivers very comprehensive
Can you talk a little bit about your process as a
filmmaker, how much time is spent preparing, researching, and
actually filming? What is your typical shooting ratio, how much time
is spent in the editing room, and how involved you are with the
Like any pursuit of
passion, the time spent on these films is huge. Monumental. It's
counted in years - sometimes an idea can gestate for ten, fifteen
years. In general, I'd say the basic window is a year per movie,
minimum, and that's if everything is organized and going well, fully
funded, and everything is on track. The actual filming part, I would
say is, sixty days of shooting per film, and at least six months of
editing. Shooting ratios vary from 10:1 to 100:1 to even
Documentary filmmaking is a director/editor process. I edit.
I think you have to be a director/editor at some level. I don't
think you can make a documentary unless you have comprehensive
editing skills, at least in the kinds of documentaries I
How do you get funding? As a combination of grants
and public sources or from the private sector?
I rely heavily on the
private sector. I am in the genre of filmmakers that relies on
people with passion and means to finance my films.
Is it the goal of
your films to make a profit?
Do you make your
films with an eye towards commercial acceptance?
more important than making a profit is the degree of exposure. I
think one goes hand in hand with the other, personally. I think it's
imperative that projects associate with an existing niche. My
interest in making films is to be a voice for some aspect of our
culture. I'm bringing to the surface something that does not have a
Many of the greatest commercial artistic ventures begin
as obscurities, and that's the domain that I live in. Art is a
moment that is perceived - it's not an object. The object is the
output of a craftsperson. Art is an experience that occurs from the
person receiving or observing or looking at the object. So a lot of
what I do is craft work - it's creating these objects. If I do my
job well I will have created essentially a "work of art," that when
observed has an effect on people. Art can always become popular if
it strikes a chord.
I pick subjects that
don't have a voice, that aren't obvious. It's the articulation of
the unobvious that really is my interest. The hidden. The story
behind the story. The unspoken voice of dissent for example, or the
unspoken investigative story. It's looking under stones that have
never been looked under before. I take on very difficult subjects. I
take on subjects that are essentially taboo. But I don't do it just
to be a muckraker.
So far, have any of your films made money for either
you or your investors?
Yes, they all make
money. I have made money with documentary films.
How much thought goes
into marketing your films before any footage is actually shot?
has been one of my more important on-the-job training experiences. I
think the marketing process must be concurrent to the production.
What's missing in the documentary film business in general is a
clear and concise marketing approach. I think marketing is
absolutely fundamental. You have to have a clear, concise marketing
plan and execute it and you have to have a budget for it. People in
documentaries have been talking about this for a long time, but
there is still a lack of a tried-and-true marketing model. It's hard
enough to get the production financing.
filmmaking a fulltime occupation for you or do you have other
projects and interests that you use to support yourself?
Documentary filmmaking is
my day job.
It seems like all of your films take on controversial
subjects. Is that a conscious decision or did that just sort of
happen? Does the controversial nature of your subjects help to sell
or fund the films?
The subjects are not
necessarily controversial to me. They're only controversial in the
context that they challenge people's world views. That is a
conscious decision. And again, the challenge is not to get people
excited with no purpose, the idea behind a challenge is to stimulate
people to broaden their world view. What really helps sell the films
is if they're interesting subjects.
Do you have any
interest in taking on less controversial topics and just documenting
an event or a person. For example, would it interest you to make a
film like D.A. Pennebaker's profile of Bob Dylan in Don't Look
My film, Esalen, is a film like that. I want to
document the human potential movement based in California in the
1960's, 70's, and 80's. That's a film like Pennebaker's Don't
Look Back. It's not terribly controversial, but could be highly
insightful. Our film currently in production, The Philosophy of
Children, is not a controversial piece, either. Not all of my
films are controversial, but they do all address real, germane
issues - deeper issues. Sometimes that makes them controversial,
sometimes it just makes them touching.
Even though you
produce your films with an eye toward theatrical distribution you
still shoot on digital video. What is your reasoning behind this? Is
this a budget decision? An ease of use issue? Do you just like the
look of digital video?
I like the cost of
digital video - low. And I like the flexibility with non-linear
editing, and all of the software-based computer-driven advantages of
digital technology. While the look is not as elegant as film, the
advantages in terms of cost and flexibility cannot be
Do you do anything special during shooting or in
post-production to prepare your projects for a video-to-film
transfer? Do you use computer software or any other process to
manipulate the look of the digital video?
I shoot for cinema
projection - I shoot for large screen, not in contemporary "TV"
style - tight close-ups, shaky-cam, etc. I shoot wider in general,
with a larger range of medium and wide shots. I shoot in 16x9 so
that when I transfer to film, it plays like a regular (1:1.85)
movie. I don't use computer software to manipulate the look of
digital video - I don't think it's necessary. Once you transfer a
videotape to film - it's film - the "film look" is natural.
completed one film, Waco: The Rules of Engagement and have
several others that are nearing completion including QUEST of the
Croppies, Into the Mystic, and The Great Darkness: The
Orphans of Duplessis. Can you comment briefly on each film,
specifically your reasons for wanting to make each one?
The way the
three films relate is the ability for human beings to be more
self-empowered and more aware of how their world really works.
QUEST of the Croppies, Into the Mystic, and The
Great Darkness: The Orphans of Duplessis are just examples.
They're not the end-all be-all but I think they're very critical
examples in terms of places that people can go for information or
for experience. And that of course comes full circle in terms of who
I am and what I believe is important for people to do or have or
obtain. Obtain for themselves. It's not just information and it's
not just material things, it's called experience. Human experience.
This is what my life has been about.
The crop circles is in a phenomenological perspective,
a tangent to the UFO phenomenon. It is something from outside of
normal life. They are a lovely, subtle, whimsical, curious,
mysterious example of things that are not always as they appear to
be. They're not the overt technologically intimidating sort of
freakish presence that UFO's have become. No one really knows who
makes them or how, despite the presence of a few known "hoaxers."
Generally what's derived from them is an emotionally balanced,
fruitful, engaging, intriguing experience. The crop circles do
represent a kind of extra-terrestrial interaction that could be from
another dimension. That's the beauty of it, that's the wonderful
part about it, nobody knows. They are there. They appear. They don't
go away. It's not a five-second blip in the sky, or some fleeting
moment or the shadow of a dream. They're real.
Clearly they're about
communication. But who is trying to communicate? Why? What is the
message? What are we supposed to do with it? How do we communicate
back? What's the interactive process? They tease. They play. They
cajole. They joke. They don't really come on heavy and strong. The
movie's about the delight of the unknown and the delight of the
mysterious. The crop circle experience is a very playful
The crop circle phenomenon
represents the meeting of our world with some other world that
offers us a level of intelligence that we do not embody, that we do
not have. That is my belief. Crop circles represent an opportunity
for us as a species or as a world, as a planet, to somehow be aware
of, or interact with, or even receive from an order of intelligence
that is at some level outside of, or beyond, our general trip. We
are at the precipice of language, of words, to describe what it
really is. My hope with the crop circles is that it encourages
people on a mass scale to start looking individually at the world
from a slightly different perspective than they already are.
Mystic presents extraordinary groundbreaking historical
documentation of Shamanism, psychotropic plants, and psychedelic use
throughout history. It focuses on indigenous tribal ritual and
custom, contemporary legitimate psychiatric and pharmaceutical
research, and the cultural impact of innovative and creative
endeavors influenced by use. Into the Mystic features the
most learned and professional researchers in the field and is not a
Psychedelics are a great unacknowledged force that our
current politically correct world has relegated to this very
inappropriate zone of dangerous and threatening and drug related.
When I use the term psychedelics, I'm not talking about LSD. I'm
talking about sacred plants, mushrooms, vines, or herbs that have
been used by people in almost every indigenous culture, around the
world, for eons, to enter into an altered state of consciousness to
divine a spiritual motivation or spiritual direction for where their
lives should go. Psychedelics have always assisted in providing the
opportunity to achieve innovative states of mind. Innovative
thinking. Thinking of new things you wouldn't have thought of
before. They're about innovation, they're about coming up with new
ideas. They're also very spiritually appropriate for some
There's a deep history for thousands of years of
profound beneficial use, but nobody wants to hear that. Its like
Galileo, we don't want to know the world is round. We don't want to
know that the universe doesn't revolve around us. Galileo was
imprisoned. For the facts. This is not that much different. These
things are safe, they're non-toxic. One of the main things about
psychedelics that is a threat is that they do not encourage being
controlled. Once you experience freedom of thought, freedom in a
heightened, elevated, interpersonal or spiritual sense, you become
much more aware of your own abilities and your own predisposition to
being a free person, to be a free thinker. My basic stance on
psychedelics is that they should not be treated as they are now,
which is this heavily illegalized, regulated, judged thing.
Darkness: The Orphans of Duplessis is a historic Canadian story
of injustice and cover-up which will air on PBS. The Roman Catholic
Church ruled the province with the iron hand of fear. Their stated
ideals were those of faith, love and charity, especially toward
society's most vulnerable - the poor, orphaned children and the
mentally ill. The reality was far different. On March 18, 1954, in
order to allow the Church access to federal healthcare funds,
legislation signed by Quebec Premiere Maurice Duplessis mandated
that Roman Catholic orphanages be converted into psychiatric
institutions virtually overnight. Every normal child in the care of
the Church became a "mental deficient" or "mental retard." The
"psychiatric treatment" that substituted for care can only be
described as barbaric - straightjackets, electroshock, psychotic
drugs, beatings, dunking in ice cold baths. All were used to control
and, eventually, dehumanize.
We're not going to take
the lowest possible denominator and make the Church the bad guy.
It's much more sophisticated than that. Duplessis is about
horrors, but there are underlying causes of this horror which on the
one hand are everybody's responsibility and on the other hand no
one's responsibility. WACO is very black and white, very
clear cut. Duplessis is not like that.
With your films being
controversial in nature, I'm sure there's a certain segment of the
population that would label your work as nothing but liberal
propaganda. What would you say to those people?
I do not take
a liberal or conservative stance. I embrace both sides. There are
things about both ideologies that I appreciate. My choice is to
embody as many sides of the various political spectrums both in the
United States and globally as I can. Our sense of liberal and
conservative here in the United States is not universal. It is
really tied to our own culture. When you go outside of our culture,
to someplace like India for example, the politics are largely driven
by other sensibilities. Concepts like "liberal" or "conservative" do
not match what we have going on here.
I hope that my films
transcend political and cultural ideologies. WACO certainly
did. That film spoke to many. I worked for months to not have that
film fall into either the conservative or liberal camp, and it
didn't. It was received in a way that the entire spectrum of
political ideology found something that it could relate to. That's
really what I'm looking for - to transcend those limitations so that
those kinds of labels are not as easy to affix.
distribution outlets do you plan for your films? Will we be able to
see any of your work on PBS, The Discovery Channel, or The Learning
It's theatrical distribution first. HBO and PBS are
where I am focusing my television distribution - The Great
Darkness: The Orphans of Duplessis will air on PBS. BBC, ZDF,
NHK and various European networks are my choice for Europe. That's
where you can expect to see my work.