So we did it. For now. The money everyone pledged was for me to get back to Chicago, to see if I could find the people I met last year, and to find out why they are among the thousands of people living on the streets in Chicago any given night.
One thing I learned about documentaries that has always drawn my interest is their ability to change at any given moment. You can plan and prepare all you want, but one answer, action or discovery can change the entire story. Our plan was simple, but has quickly turned into something overwhelming, enormous and impossible to solve. And that’s ok. It actually makes our small, daily, individual efforts, and the final product of this documentary more important.
Here is where we are now…
I just got back home after spending a few days in Chicago last week, where I interviewed several people from different organizations that are in one way or another involved with helping people experiencing homelessness. From vans packed with social workers and nurse practitioners, to sectors of the city that are dedicated to the cause, I spent last week meeting with people to try to piece together the options available to individuals when experiencing homelessness.
A few themes arose, including the biggest obstacles, the most effective outreach, and how dynamic the difficulties of these individuals can be. I quickly learned I will need more interviews to tell the story, and I continue to develop research, production, funding and distribution plans to accommodate these needs…
So with the first round of interviews complete, and the editing underway, I will continue to set up interviews as questions arise, and search for production help in the form of illustrators, colorists and SFX editors and musicians for the score.
Feel free to reach out with questions. Please keep spreading the word. It’s amazing how far a quick nod or ‘hello,’ can go to helping a person feel better about themselves, which could be the catalyst for getting them back on their feet.
My apologies I have not been present on social media or posting content the past few weeks. I have been developing this story behind the scenes, planning all logistics, interviews, and even adding a (fairly large) wrinkle to the project.
Here’s what’s in store for the week(s) ahead…
I finalize whatever interviews I’ve tried to sort thus far. I will need more to help explaining the process than I’ve confirmed so far, but the first round of planning interviews will be finished before Wednesday.
Wednesday I pack. I make sure I have everything ready for the shoot. Car, camera, place to stay (more on that later), etc. Packing camera gear can be daunting. I have to make sure I don’t forget anything, but also don’t want to pack anything I’m not going to use, since I will be carrying everything on my back. Plus it will be raining in Chicago.
I fly to Indy Thursday. Friday I contact to confirm with everyone I will meet with over the next few days in Chicago, and head up Sunday morning.
I stop by Bear Komplex to pick up the backpacks they’ve donated, and then to a friends to unpack and gear up…
The wrinkle I’ve decided to include is that I will be staying in a tent for one of these nights. I will have to speak with a couple people before deciding which night makes more sense, but I want a feel for what these people go through, and I want to be able to explain that to you, so one night is the very least that will take.
I hope doing so brings a unique perspective to the situation, and an ability to explain it to the public so they see it in a new light.
I film and interview all day Monday and Tuesday before heading back to Indianapolis to start processing the footage and everything I learned Tuesday evening.
Lastly, I’ve decided it makes more sense to tackle this story from Indianapolis. It is close to Chicago, and logistically works better than San Diego. I would have to get back behind a bar (worse places to be, I know), and not be able to devote the time and energy to this if I am trying to eek by paying bills just to live in America’s Finest City. If I am able to carry this project back to San Diego, I would love to help here, too, so we’ll see. But for the time being, I will spend a few weeks here after I get back from the Chicago trip to tie up loose ends and head back to Indy in August until this project is complete.
I wanted to post an update on Tent City to let everyone know how we’ve progressed over the past couple weeks. I have been setting up interviews, getting the logistics in order, such as car and camera rentals and have been trying to map out how to get as much footage and information in the short time I am there.
A few organizations have not taken the time to respond, but those who have are excited to be part of this project and will certainly help us reach more people! It’s cool to think about how this project will affect the people we are trying to help, but also how it may influence people that weren’t initially part of anything, and are motivated to be part of helping somehow after seeing what we are trying to do.
The weeks leading up to the project require a lot of work behind the scenes. I’ll continue to post updates on Instagram and LinkedIn, which will surely ramp up when I get back to Chicago 30 June.
Lastly, “Tent City,” is a working title. It may change (I expect it to) once I get back to Chicago and hear what these individuals say about their experience living there. Often times a phrase or word makes itself clearly important or symbolic of the project. It isn’t that ‘Tent City’ doesn’t represent this issue, but the name is not singular to this project or issue, and again, another symbol could make itself apparent once I get back.
I don’t know much about Mark Michael Allen, other than he’s vegetarian and I trust that’s his name. It didn’t take long to realize he doesn’t know much about himself other than that, either…
The first night I ever saw Mark, he was sitting on a bench in the heart of Grape Street Square. I just asked if he was hungry and wanted a burrito, when he looked up and replied, “Bean and cheese?” It wasn’t. “I’m vegetarian,” he said, and declined.
I took my camera on a walk a few days later and saw him next to the Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course. I was sort of meandering, looking for a place to have dinner myself, so approached him again, to see if he remembered me and if he could use a bean and cheese burrito…
He wasn’t necessarily hungry, but had a lot to say; most of which was extremely difficult to understand. I was taken aback by what I was hearing, utterances of being the heir of Starbucks in Denmark, and that he knew me, “Larry,” as the heir to another European monolith in which I could not understand. Every question, as simple as I tried to make them, led to a confusing, tangled answer. I didn’t know how to respond. He was in a great mood, and has been the few times I’ve seen him, so I didn’t feel threatened, but he couldn’t give me a clear answer from where he thought he knew me, if he was in the military (other than he was a 5 star general in a secret division of the Air Force), or even where he stayed at night, other than that bench or, “you know, Mary’s…” Overwhelmed, I told him I had to take some more pictures, and would bring him a burrito at his bench in a bit, and went on my way. We exchanged names, which is the first time I heard him say he was “Mark Michael Allen.”
After dinner, I stopped by 7-11 and found the bean and cheese burrito he was talking about and brought him one. I again tried to have somewhat of a conversation with him, but he could not complete a clear sentence that made any sense, other than firmly establishing he only wanted bean and cheese in his burrito, and when I asked his name again, he replied, “Mark Michael Allen,” confused I didn’t already know. He was trying to tell me about a division of the military he was in, but I could not make any sense of it. He thought he knew me but I could not find out from where. I was utterly confused, and had no idea how to move help the conversation progress.
How could I help Mark? I don’t even know if he understands what I am saying to him! He isn’t mumbling like he’s drunk, and he isn’t speaking like he’s on drugs.
Suddenly, it clicked… This is dementia.
I am obviously unfamiliar with the condition, but what else could this be? Could he be blocking his past because of trauma? Possibly; I have noticed him talking to himself when I walk by, but there is really no way for me to know, if he isn’t part of a shelter or program, and can’t really communicate himself what he’s going through. And it isn’t my place to ask questions that personal.
He did try to pay me back by saying he gets social security every month, and would have to owe me, unless I declared it a gift. I didn’t ask how he received his checks, and I certainly didn’t need to be reimbursed. He seems happy, or at least content. I haven’t seen him beg, drink or cause any commotion in the least. He’s always calm when I see him on that bench.
Most people I encountered in Chicago were able to have a conversation. They were trying to get out of the situation they were in, which seems to be different than what I’ve found so far in San Diego. The people in Chicago wanted desperately to find homes, where people here in America’s Finest City seem to just want to be left alone.
Thanks to your support, the Kickstarter was successfully funded. So I’ll be heading back to Chicago at the end of June to try to find them, and figure out what is keeping them from finding a suitable place to live.
In the meantime, we still have until Thursday afternoon on the Kickstarter fundraising campaign, and every backer we continue to gain shows the grants I apply to that we have a strong following. If you have a moment, head to Kickstarter and make a small pledge now! It means a lot to a cause much larger than ourselves. Your support is appreciated! Hyperlinks are live or click embedded video below…
I went downtown Monday morning to try to find a street I’d passed before, where people were sleeping on a sidewalk lined with shopping carts, sleeping bags and suitcases. I didn’t find it, but didn’t have to, to find similar conditions. I actually found something familiar to me after what I’d filmed in Chicago, as the city had posted eviction notices where people loitered and lived.
I was immediately apprehensive to approach some of these people when I found this street, partly because I didn’t want to offend anyone and didn’t now how, and partly because they were belligerent for no apparent reason. There were a few police officers around on bicycles, and a few people that seemed to be gathering their things and moving. Then I saw the cleanup notice.
You can’t blame owners for not wanting people to camp outside of their business, and you can’t blame the police for enforcing their removal, but there is still no solution to where they should go…
I didn’t want to start asking people questions under these circumstances, not having any clue what I was getting into, and realized a lot of these people did not want me around.
It did shed new light on what I am getting into here. I am somewhat embarrassed for not speaking more with these people, and instead relenting to the fear I felt and getting out of the situation.
Not that I didn’t experience the same dissent as I continued to walk around. I was taking pictures of someone in a lawn chair digging through his bag when a railway passed, so I covered my camera to avoid any dust from harming my equipment. Someone approached me on their bicycle and asked me if I was taking pictures of them. I replied that I wasn’t, but he asked me to show him, and asked why I covered up my camera when I saw him coming over. He’d been through this before, and explained that people would come by and snicker and snap photos, so I showed him what pictures I’d taken, and told him what I was doing.
He chose to be live on the streets, and didn’t want to be on camera. He wasn’t asking for help either, he just didn’t want to be criticized or ridiculed. Speaking with him gave me new perspective on the many different stories people experience that bring them to not having a place to live. Our discussion, added to the few other people I’ve spoken with during this project are why I’m embarrassed I didn’t speak with the people when I first arrived downtown. Their stories are important, too! I was just too fearful to ask.
I’m hoping this experience helps he shock effect the smell of drugs and alcohol, the yelling and inaudible shouts produce. Their situation is so new to me, but having been exposed to it calls me to act. So I continued to speak with few more people, mainly to offer words of encouragement and gain more knowledge about their experiences and this epidemic. Actually, the more people I speak with, the more theyencourage me to see this project through to the end.
We’re a week in to the Kickstarter campaign for Tent City, and we’ve raised 50% of our goal! I am sure we will reach it by 30 May (ONLY TWO WEEKS AWAY), but that is no reason to rest on laurels, and I sure don’t want this going down to the last minute! Let me first say, “Thank you,” to everyone and explain the importance of your pledge as best as I can.
When your name pops up as a supporter, it is such a huge way of telling me, “Keep going!” That means a lot, guys. One thing I never thought about, as I am producing my first independent film and crowd-funding campaign, was support from anonymous sources. “Likes,” and “follows,” from people on social media, known or unknown, are gratifying and yet another source of motivation, but still, not anonymous. There is just a little extra boost when I see someone anonymously pledge on Kickstarter, so I just wanted to take a second to thank them for their support, too. Not that I don’t want to see all of your lovely names!
When I launched this campaign last week, I sent a link to every email I could find. I’d been collecting them for a few years, knowing I would have to reach out as a filmmaker down the road, asking for help in some ways. Well, I realized asking several hundred people I barely knew to take time out of their day and money out of their pockets to support this may not be the best approach, so I’ve concentrated the list to people that have made a positive impact on my life, in hopes that I’ve done the same for you.
Thank you to everyone for your support. I’m urging you not to wait if you are able to help in any way. Please remember that any pledge on Kickstarter gives a monumental amount of support for this cause, regardless of the dollar amount. The more people we can show are behind Tent City, the better chance we have to make a lasting impact on these people’s lives.
It was a cool process to put together the campaign, and really helped lay out what my intentions are, and how to see the details of the project. A lot is left to do, and I’ll start by setting up interviews once I get the email out to notify everyone of the launch!
Let me start by thanking you for visiting this page and showing interest in Tent City. I think a lot of us want to help, but don’t know how or where to start. Some of us aren’t aware of the ways we help others, or already help a great deal (and are fully aware)!
Tent City is my way of helping.
By dedicating my time to this effort, I hope to better understand not only the process of acquiring housing, but also what is keeping individuals I’ve been in contact with on the street.
There is an overwhelming amount of people in need, so I think it is best to start small. This introduction is to detail what the KICKSTARTER video doesn’t, so everyone can better understand the process of producing this documentary.
This is a two-fold effort. I’m not only trying to screen the final documentary at pertinent film festivals, but more important is to actually HELP the people on the street. By being there with them, I can find out specifically, on an individual level what has brought these people to their current situation. That will equip me with information to help the social workers and city officials when discussing these issues. It will be important to recognize their efforts and how they have to adapt to the dynamic needs of these communities. The second part is putting together the footage and telling their stories, in an effort to raise awareness on a larger scale.
To save money, I am using a flight to Indianapolis I already paid for to get back to Chicago late June. A rental car will be necessary, and the difference in gas to Chicago and back from Indy is far less than including a flight from San Diego to Chicago in the budget. That gives me almost two months to research and set up interviews with city officials and organizations that are known to help Chicago’s homeless communities.
The plan is to drive to the tent community in Chicago Sunday, 30 June, and start filming right away. I’ll film that day and night, and plan interviews with social workers and city officials for Monday and Tuesday, the 1st and 2nd of July. At the end of filming and interviews Tuesday, I’ll head back to Indy and return the rental car. Then my job is to put the story together, and send it out to a curated list of film festivals to screen this documentary to audiences that are interested and able in taking this project farther. Editing this footage will take a couple months, maybe 90 days, with no budget for more interviews or acquiring more footage.
If we raise enough through KICKSTARTER, I will be able to reserve a car and hotel close to the viaduct where these people are living. That will save money on gas and allow safe, quick access to camera gear without having to take everything with me the entire day.
I will be alone on this trip, using one camera on a gimbal, with a shotgun microphone for backup sound and a sound machine with a great lavalier mic for interviews.
I will use Instagram (@margaretnighthawkproductions), Linkedin and this blog to keep everyone up to date. Once funding is secured, I will set up an LLC and a bank account where all donations will be deposited. At that point, I will provide a link to a Coda.io document with all necessary accounting information. For now, this link shows an ESTIMATED BUDGET, and why that is our goal for the KICKSTARTER campaign.
The main reason spreading the word is as important as reaching our financial goal on KICKSTARTER is because after the KICKSTARTER campaign is complete, I will start applying for grants. Most application processes for grants involve showing public interest and funds already accumulated. Let’s show them we’re for real!
Lastly, as I am asking for your donations, I feel you have the right to know if there is an expected return. In this project, the return is philanthropic… Certain levels of donations will receive Producer or Executive Producer credits, and copies of the final cut to download, but this is not an attempt at a profit, nor is there much of a chance at one. The Producer Fee does not even cover my costs, as it is based off a simple equation a trusted documentarian once explained to me, which, in this instance does not have room for monetary gain.
The best way to contact me will be through email, firstname.lastname@example.org, but any communication through social media is also greatly appreciated to help utilize those resources.
Your ‘likes’ and re-posts on Instagram and Linkedin, and shares of the KICKSTARTER video are all valuable contributions. With your continued support, I can dedicate my time to this effort and create a lasting story to reach people in desperate need of our help. Let’s get to it.
RED-SKINS – Where is the Term Derived? – The term has been around for almost 300 years, with a dynamic context worthy of Supreme Court and trademark cases involving the First Amendment. It’s time to collect and present the facts to help the public decide where to stand.
WHEN RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD – The History of North American Roads. – When did it become necessary to connect the coasts? Scaling previously successful, smaller systems across the country was no easy feat…
TITLE PENDING – A Look into North American Sports Rivalries. – There are 5 specific rivalries we’ll explore, all in the same sport, on the same day. No more clues!
TITLE PENDING – How Do People Become Obsessed with Sports? – What brings a grown man to wear another man’s name on the back of his shirt? What brings grown-ups and kids alike to paint their face the colors and logos of their favorite team? What brings these fans to violence in support of their teams? What affect does supporting, endorsing and celebrating athletes’ egos have on our society?