HOW A FILM GROWS: PROJECT UPDATE FROM “MADAME MARS”

Documentaries are famously long-duration projects.

In most cases there is an initial concept, a treatment or story outline, perhaps with bullet points or a list of potential interviewees. There is most likely a stated purpose, a point of view, and a hopeful outcome in mind, but no fixed script – the story evolves over time.

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Jan Millsapps, Writer-Director
Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond  

 

Producers and directors find themselves spending months, years, locating and managing resources, gaining (and sometimes losing) access to vital subjects, engaging in considerable research (nobody wants to tell an incomplete or incorrect story), viewing and reviewing recorded material for its on-screen value, and juggling categories of subject matter to determine what belongs in the finished film and what does not.

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Our first shoot: preschoolers at Chabot Space and Science Center creating their own solar system and performing as planets, asteroids, comets and the sun. This young woman played Mars.

The Madame Mars project began with a focus on women and Mars with the stated purpose of ensuring girls’ and women’s roles in future space science, space tech and space exploration. Forty-two interviews later – shot in eleven locations, resulting in more than a hundred hours of footage – we find ourselves immersed in editing, a gargantuan task made of many small, tentative steps, quite a few missteps and subsequent corrections, a few giant leaps of faith, and months of hard, hard work.

Documentary filmmakers must often search over time for their story, constructing and assessing many mental, paper and digital edits, identifying themes and connections that eventually solidify the concept into a coherent form, and determining the best way to present the material.

Eventually the footage begins to speak its own story; when that occurs, filmmakers must listen carefully.

The Madame Mars story that has emerged is bigger than women and Mars: it is a voiced commitment to ensure that humanity fully and accurately represents itself as we take our next big step into the universe. At the same time the story is smaller: from the hours of interviews, we believe we have found the voices that best represent our collective quest for futures in space that are representative of all of us here on Earth.

We have been fortunate to meet and talk to many from diverse backgrounds. Did we interview everyone on our initial list? Not by a long shot. But we feel confident that the characters you will see onscreen not only share the individual dream for finding one’s own place in space, but also a commitment to the larger goal of furthering human exploration of Mars – and worlds beyond.

Mars looms large over our story, a continuous presence in our collective consciousness from the earliest days of the space age, now extending far into our real, virtual and imagined off-world futures. Like all of those yearning for a red planet encounter, we are poised to see the fulfillment of our own Mars dream, as we take the final steps of our long, long journey.

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We welcome Sreang Hok – better known as “C” – the Madame Mars team (seen here working with DocFilm’s Robert Barbarino). As he completes his thesis film at SF State, C will also guide us toward a final edit. 

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