Toddy Burton’s great interview with 2 time AFF filmmaker Daniel Kraus is below. You can see Daniel’s next screening Sunday the 14th at 7:30pm!
You’ve directed multiple documentaries and one narrative feature. What’s your take on docs versus narratives and do you ever feel that it’s a difficult transition from one to the other?
Documentary work informs narrative work and vice versa. For example, thinking carefully about shot composition in narrative features feeds into the compositional ideas you come up with on the fly when working on docs. Feature filmmaking is like performing a piece of music that you’ve composed, revised, and rehearsed. Shooting docs is like taking all of that knowledge and sitting down at a piano and improvising—it’s sink or swim and you need to have the goods to make it work.
What was your original vision for this film and how did it develop throughout the production process?
The final product is remarkably close to what I wanted it to be—namely, something that turns the idea of a “concert film” inside out. With Musician, you keep waiting for the concert—and it does come eventually—because what you’re mostly seeing is Ken Vandermark move heavy equipment back and forth. You expect a movie called Musician to be filled with music, but that wasn’t my expectation or my experience. That’s the fun of these movies: the jobs are never what you expect.
What were some of the difficulties you encountered during the production phase?
The shooting was very smooth. The biggest difficulty was the same difficulty I have with all of my docs—the fact that I make them alone. The challenge, on a moment-by-moment basis, is framing, zooming, focusing, irising, and riding two channels of sound while walking backwards down a flight of stairs. That and carrying all the equipment. By comparison, the interpersonal stuff was easy.
People say documentaries are “made” in the editing. What was the process like for you and how much would you agree with this statement?
Absolutely, it’s all about the cuts, particularly with the Work Series (workseries.com), because the whole idea of the series is that I’m showing the parts of people’s jobs that most filmmakers would leave on the cutting room floor. It’s the off-moments that fascinate me the most: I’m talking about the hauling of equipment, or the mountain of paperwork, or the smoke break, or whatever little moments or movements a person goes through when dealing with their daily life.
What do you consider to be the goal of this film and what do you wish that audiences take away from it?
The goal of Musician is the same goal as Sheriff—and it’s the same goal shared by the entire Work Series: Despite the omnipresence of video cameras, we’re increasingly isolated as a culture. Seeing the minute struggles of regular people you see everyday—whether it’s the CEO of your company or the person cleaning the toilets at night—humanizes them and allows for parallels to be drawn between their lives and our own. We’re all in this together, you know?
It seems that you’ve been influenced by the work of Frederick Wiseman in verité style and even your titles (Sheriff, Musician). What are your influences and how have they shaped your work as a filmmaker?
Frederick Wiseman and Studs Terkel are the obvious touchstones—I admire their tenacity and patience. Aside from that, it’s hard to think of any others; I’m really trying to develop my own Work Series aesthetic. Everything I do is sort of influenced by the original Twilight Zone TV series, but I’m not going to explain that statement—I’m going to leave that a mystery for now.
What’s next for you?
I’m forging ahead with the Work Series. I’m just about to choose the subject for Work #3, though I can’t announce it quite yet. Work #4, Professor, is already shot and I think it’s going to be the best one so far. Also coming up, I hope, are Preacher, Social Worker, and Gravedigger. The nice thing about this concept—and the tough thing about it, too— is that the possibilities are literally endless.