Get Started on that Personal Project – NOW

Image by Tasra Dawson

Last week I wrote about my decision to get started on a documentary about race relations that I’ve been thinking and talking about since last year. Many thanks to the encouragement of my wife Tasra for helping me move forward on this. Yesterday I officially started production on “Mixed in America: Personal Stories of Race & Identity in the Proverbial Melting Pot.” It will look at the life and issues of mixed race people in America.

My original plan was to shoot this as a feature length doc. But I know that if I wait around to make that it happen, it never will. So instead I’m producing it as a series of short films, each about an individual. Even though technically this is a documentary series, I plan to approach it very differently.

A Different Approach

Videos and documentaries about this topic are not too uncommon. I first thought they were rare as I’ve never seen or heard of any. But then I did a YouTube and Google search and found a bunch. The most popular of which appears to be “I’m Biracial, Not Black Damn It!” by filmmaker Carolyn Battle Cochrane (she even got CNN coverage about it in 2009). All the videos I found approach the topic from a very traditional documentary style, i.e. a collection of interviews from varying biracial people; individual “home camcorder” testimonies by mixed people; or news magazine style reports.

These styles of documentaries are wonderful and serve a great purpose. I’m big fans of them. In fact, I originally planned to make my feature like that. But I’m always striving to do something different with each endeavor. Such will be the case with this. I plan to take a more cinematic approach, making each short feel like a narrative story as opposed to a straight-forward doc. My hope is to have viewers relate to the subjects on a level that you don’t get from a traditional documentary. In a traditional doc, it’s still possible to feel distant from the subjects, especially if you don’t belong to the racial group. My hope is that whether you’re white, black, brown, yellow, red, or blue, with each episode you will connect with those in the films on a very deep and personal level. It may feel just as much your story as theirs. I’ll see if I can pull it off.

Up First – My Daughter

The first film will be on my daughter, Imahni. Many of you were introduced to her via the “Dream, Create, Inspire” films we produced for Pictage in 2009. I was blown away by how eloquent and mature her interview was for that series. Based on the feedback, many of you felt the same.

This whole project started because of a conversation I had with her about her thoughts on the Chris Rock documentary “Good Hair.” She was equally eloquent in that conversation too. It was killing me I didn’t have a recorder to capture her thoughts. From that conversation came the idea for this film. Yesterday I interviewed her for the soundbites I’ll use in episode 1.

After the interview I was so jazzed about what I got, I planned to upload part of the audio interview to the blog as a teaser. Then I thought, “Heck. Why don’t I just make an actual teaser?” So I did. Here it is.

Fun Facts about this video

  • All the scenes except the last are taken from my 8.5 year old wedding video.
  • The last scene is from a video I made to honor Tasra back in Christmas 2003.
  • The “super 8mm” look was created shooting in progressive mode on a PD150 (my main camera at the time).
  • The location where Tasra and Imahni are playing in the grass field is Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, CA. We were lucky we weren’t booted out. Technically you’re supposed to have a permit to shoot there, but I didn’t know that at the time (it was literally my very first wedding video). I guess since it looked like I was just shooting home movies (which was obviously the idea from a creative stand point) we got away with it.
  • Imahni was 7 when we shot this the summer of 2002.

Follow Along

I hope you’ll join me in the adventure of making this series at MixedinAmerica.tv. There’ll you’ll find the episodes and my production journal.

Also, FYI, for those of you pro photogs out there who follow me, one of the people who has agreed to be in the film is someone you might know. Hint: he makes really “super” Photoshop actions.🙂

Is there a personal project you’ve been dreaming about shooting? Get up off your butt and start on it now!

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12 thoughts on “Get Started on that Personal Project – NOW

  1. Im hooked Ron. Completely.

    I am intrigued by your take on this, myself coming from a black church background (you know the story), I am excited to see how you share these stories with the world.

    1. Funny you mention that church background. One of Imahni’s stories is tangentially related. As I find and watch more videos online about this topics, I’m more encouraged by the uniqueness of my take.

      1. Thats why I’m compelled so much, is your pov. I really am excited to see how you present and share these stories.

  2. Ron
    I’ll be very interested in following this project of yours. My two of my children are of mixed background. My son Spencer is White, Black and Native American and my daughter Grace is Black and Hispanic. Being raised by White parents and having two older White siblings…. it has made for some very interesting discussions around our dinner table. Especially now that the younger two are older.

  3. So intrigued by this project! I’m 1/2 Japanese 1/2 European, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of a time where I was treated or looked at differently because of my heritage. Looking forward to seeing more!

  4. OMG she’s PERFECT! What a gorgeous video piece! Sign me up!! She’s beautiful and one of the best voices I’ve EVER heard on video….amazing!
    Here’s a thought: Why are the best looking people always a mix?????? A-Rod, Derek Jeter, all the female super models and all the everyday folks I see…. There’s something special going on there…. Kick some butt on your Doc, Ron! I’m rootn for you

    1. Hey Chris, that topic of the look of mixed people definitely comes up. Can be a blessing and a curse for mixed race people.

      Since you liked this video so much, click on the “Inspire” page on the top of my blog and watch the “Dreams” video.😉

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