Documentary filmmaking 101

Ward Powers sits in his plush Northville office amid books, papers and plants. He has been a trial lawyer for 20 years, but he has always engaged in pursuits that belie the suburban existence he enjoys with his wife, Dianne, and their three daughters. He needs to express himself in ways that transcend legal briefs. He wrote and self-published a book of poetry. He sculpted a bust of Abraham Lincoln.

His latest brainstorm struck in April when he morphed into one-third of Circle of Bliss Productions, or "three guys with a camera."

Circle of Bliss is a film production company consisting of Powers and two friends, Chad Munce and Scott Carter. It was born over breakfast. None had any filmmaking experience. Carter owns a silk-screening company and Munce is a public relations guy.

They nonetheless went to work right away on their first independent film, We Are All One — an exploration of spiritualism in the new millennium.

"Ninety days ago we sat down at Cracker Barrel and had this idea," Powers says. "Ninety days later we’ve met all these famous people."

We Are All One will have documentary traits, he says, "but not so boring. The goal of our movie is to package — as entertainment in an artistic, free-flowing form — different views of spirituality. Our theory being that any and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We’re not all supposed to have one view."

The crew has already interviewed New Age author Deepak Chopra and many other spirituality leaders. They've even queried members of the state's atheist organization. Each interview consists of 30 questions, including, "Nonverbally, describe the condition of the world;" "What are the world’s two biggest evils?" "How does one obtain true peace?" and "What happens to you after you die?"

Powers says Circle of Bliss arranged the interviews by sending e-mails to authors of spiritual and philosophical books. Robert Thurman, the first American-born Tibetan Buddhist monk, invited the three to his home in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

"We go to the top of the mountain where he lives, and he lets us into his house," Powers says. "He invites us in like we’re his long-lost brothers — three guys from Michigan with a camera that he doesn’t know. So the project has really taken off from a group of local guys who got themselves a nice video camera and didn’t know what they were doing, to one door opening and another and another."

Powers, Carter and Munce all chipped in to create the film’s budget of $10,000. Powers says they have already bought their digital camera and can comfortably buy the rest of the equipment they need, such as the computer and editing software.

For three neophytes, one might think the Circle of Bliss guys have had incredible luck, being they have interviewed more than 20 people in 90 days on a small budget. Dianne Powers, who's been dubbed the "Yoko" of the group, says the trio has, indeed, been lucky, but it’s nothing a student or a hobbyist couldn’t do.

"Don’t just say I can’t afford it and blow if off," she says. "If the desire is strong enough, there are still avenues to make your own bliss complete. We don’t care if we make money off of this film. If the film does end up making a profit somehow, it would absolutely go to a charity or the arts, because it’s not about us. We really want to get the spiritual message out. It's richer to me than any money in the world.

"From my heart, this project has nothing to do with us or our egos. Hopefully it would be able to bring truth into our world and give people with beautiful minds a voice. Any money would definitely go back to the people — homeless and to the children — it came from love, and it will go back with love."

Ward Powers expects to do 40 more interviews, and they hope to do them within a year. They're producing a trailer from interviews already done as a kind of letter of introduction for prospective interview subjects.

We Are All One will not be just one interview after another. They expect to edit 200 hours of videotape down to 90 minutes. The commentaries will then be interspersed throughout the storyline, which involves a journey taken by Carter.

"All these voices are going to be worked into one character who will wake up one morning and live one day," Powers explains. "The viewer will travel with him to the top of a mountain, through all modes of transportation. And all these voices will be heard through that day. So it’s one man’s journey to enlightenment."

Powers says Circle of Bliss hopes to convince local musicians to create the sound track.

"We have so many great bands here," he says. "There’s so much talent around here that hasn’t been discovered … [I]t’s not like we have the money to buy music with. What we’d like to do is give them their credit's worth at the end of the film, so they get promotional credit to be a part of the project."

Interested musicians can e-mail Powers at: [email protected].

After We Are All One, they will definitely move on to another to-be-determined story.

The trio take pains to avoid getting too attached to the film. They have no plans for it after it is finished except to take it to film festivals. Powers says by keeping expectations low, they are able to relax and have fun with it and turn it into something meaningful for society. Andrea Leptinsky is an editorial intern at Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]

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