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Charles Mudede: Zoo Story
By Andy Spletzer
January 19, 2007 - 8:21 PM PST

"We do have some theories about his death."

And that's audio?

Audio. What we did was we went through it over and over until we found out how the story worked, and then we constructed what they said into the narrative. We learned about the group and how they met, and we learned about how he died that night. Also, we knew how the family of the deceased responded, from Jen. From that we were able to structure a story.

We decided, instead of making it the night that he died, let's make it any night that they would go out. So it runs like a story. It's like Proust would do with his "would" statements. "Then we would go out and we would see the sky," and it sounds like you're saying this happens any time of the year.

Making this more about the group instead of the death.

But the death happens. And we're using the "would" statements. "And then they would come here, and then they would smoke, and then they would drink beer, and then they would go and have sex, and then one night he died." That's a shift. Then we go into the story of the death. That was sort of built in after the interviews occurred.

One thing I really like, and it's done in short films but rarely in features, is having the separation between the audio and the image where they're running parallel, and sometimes counter to each other. Rarely is there a need for synch sound. It's cinematic, though I guess it's more the form of an "essay film" than a documentary.

You know in Police Beat we did this weird thing where we took the [African language of] Wolof and we made this independent film into a foreign language film by adding the voiceover narration in Wolof. It was a similar thing here, but that narration is something that we put together first and we shot that narration as a script. That's sort of a trick, you know?

I don't know if it's a trick necessarily. It's just an interesting method.

So this script is exactly what they said, and they had to act out exactly what they said.

It was a small budget, but I think this method makes it look big. Especially with Sean Kirby's cinematography.


How much did Sean Kirby end up being a writer, seeing as the images and the narration are almost on equal footing?

I would say the film is really made by four people. Joe Shapiro, the editor, who with his team really cleaned up the voiceover. What we did was we took raw voiceover and organized it into a script. Now still, that voiceover has to be cleaned up. It's full of mistakes. Some words don't come out right. It's cut and paste. So for him, that became a super job in the editing of the film.

And that's just the audio editing.

First the audio editing, and then the visual editing, and you've got to make them match. So that became a super job for him. Then there are the visuals, because we wanted them to have an exceptional look, and [cinematographer] Sean Kirby is exceptional. I know that some directors tell the cinematographer, "We will allow you to have two or three beauty shots, and the rest need to just get the job done." You know what I mean? Directors will tell them how many shots they're allowed to go for. In this film he was told, "Every shot has to be a beauty shot. Don't hesitate at all if you can do something interesting with the material." So that gives a cinematographer the power to do anything.

And he was free to change up the speeds because you didn't have to sync the sound.

All that, the speeds, that's all Sean Kirby. There's all sorts of stuff that we couldn't fit in because it would have been too long. All sorts of dazzling stuff.

It's like Christopher Doyle working with Wong Kar-wai, where 80 percent or 90 percent of his gorgeous footage is just thrown away as they make a film.

I could imagine. I know. You cry. And then there's Rob and there's myself in terms of this film. The other person who comes into this family is Paul Moore. He did the music, he did the score.

Talk about your choice not to use names. Did you go back and forth on that, or was it a relatively easy decision?

The guys wouldn't talk with us otherwise. If we weren't protecting names, we wouldn't have gotten the principal three interviews.

Meanwhile, god bless the Internet because his name is all over the place. Probably all of their names are out there.

That's the funny thing.

Mr. Hands has got his own Wikipedia entry.

It's there and we know who he is, and that's fine. If you want to know his name, that's fine. We thought it was kind of cool to use their Internet names. We actually liked the idea that we were using their Internet names, because it kept it in the Internet.

In a way, using their online names makes it about the community rather than the incident.

Yes, that's right.

What was the screen name of the ranch hand?

Mr. H. He was the last one we interviewed. He came in at the last minute. We really wanted him, and we felt that the film was incomplete without his input. What we did was, we gathered what Mr. H was about from the first three interviews and then, when he came in, he just proved or corroborated all of the speculations we had about him. We were able to fit or retain everything we had already shot about him, except for one or two shots we had to add at the last minute. So what they said about him was true. He just came in and fleshed it out. He came in at the last minute, and that was actually a blessing.

Talk a little bit about the owner of the horses.

We know him more about him, actually, not from him. We got a lot of good stuff about him from Mr. H, the ranch hand. Most of what we got about that couple we got from the police report. There was a very extensive description about how the cops arrested Happy Horseman, and the scene where they're showing the owners watching the videotape, that's based upon the police report. We know that they showed them that to verify, because they wanted to get him on trespassing, so they wanted to verify that it was their horse.

What about the actual death itself? The other taboo in society. Did you learn things that were different from what previous reports had said?

It's hard to tell.

What are the different scenarios for his death that have been put forward?

The biggest problem was, we do have some theories about his death but we couldn't assume [they're true] because his family didn't want to help or to be involved with the film.

That's Mr. Hand's family you're talking about?

His brother is [a character] in the film, because we know about him.

He had a wife?

He had a wife, he had a son, he had a sister. We know all that. But what we didn't know for sure was, he had several complications... from... I'm trying to say this without really saying it. We know that his life went kind of rough at the very end. We know that he had been involved in a motorcycle accident.

So by "rough in the end," do you mean in the weeks leading up to this? Or the day of?

No, no, towards the end of his life he was in bad shape. In general.

In the last months? In the last years?

In the last two or three years. If you look in our film, all that remains of that is that we know that he had two holes in the side of his head, and that was because he was involved in an accident that put him in braces, in body braces, where they screw into your head. Those marks were still in his flesh. What happened was a bad motorcycle accident. So his body was already really not in great shape. So we knew all these things, but we couldn't justify them because we couldn't find the record of the accident. The parents wouldn't verify this. So we just dropped it.

How long was he with the group?

Four years.

next >>>

"The Internet made it possible."
"We do have some theories about his death."
"All sorts of crazy stuff. It was really off the charts."

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Andy Spletzer
A film critic, filmmaker, and now a film programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival, Andy Spletzer has recently joined the "blogosphere" with Spletz-O-Rama. In his spare time he studies hobos, robots, pirates and Vikings.

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