I was asked to talk at TedxDetroit about Detroit:City of Design, Imagination, current projects and the use of technology, specifically Drones, in my workflow. Below are my notes and general direction. My speech went different directions at times but I wanted to make this available. The below picture is a drone selfie of my speech and the beautiful audience taken by @aerialimagery. Please forgive any typos as this was written in a stream of consciousness. (To have the chance to talk at such an event is one that humbles me even now).
We are living in one of the most powerful stories in America: Detroit's rebirth.
The film you've just seen was a combination of over 25000 images and video clips and is a representation of diverse technologies being used in a single production seamlessly to create visual impact but it all starts with a camera and a vision. With a camera you are capable of documenting any story anywhere. It takes imagination to tell it well.
In 2003 my film career started with the limitations of a single camera and a drive to tell stories about people. In the first few years I worked for non profit groups in Africa and Southeast Asia and since then have worked in over 30 countries for companies that could afford a plane ticket and a small stipend. I wanted to offer high end production to ngos who couldn't normally afford it so i had to be creative with what high end production was to me: by focusing on great story and a great frame. I always wanted the best film possible for the companies I worked for but couldn't afford any of the really great gear.
High end production tools were too expensive at the time so i began to pursue mastery of the power contained in an image from the fixed position of a tripod.
Three years ago that all began to change as more sophisticated technology began to be more affordable.
Now film tools like the freefly movi are opening up endless possibilities for filmmakers of all levels to create cinematic level experiences in a new ways but it took an extensive new flight path through drone cinematography. Tools like this help filmmakers dream dreams and cinematic shots they can quickly achieve.
Lenses have opened new worlds for us all. From the far reaches of deep space through the Hubble telescope, through looking at the smallest forms of matter and particle physics through electron microscopes, aided by the power of theoretical inquiry, and the scientific imagination.
Scalable, mass-market availability of technology leads to new possibilities and probabilities by the sheer mathematical scope of human engagement with it. New insights, new marvels, and new opportunities appear and like so many things in life it takes patience and persistence to find the hidden gems.
Drones have given filmmakers an opportunity to explore what we already know, or think we know, what we've seen, or think we've seen, from new vantage points. Drones are taking us to new places visually with a level of ease, economy, and accessibility that weren’t possible just 3 years ago.
We now have the opportunity to see the world differently.
I've seen estimates that as many as 1 million drones will be in the marketplace by the beginning of next year. Drone technology is becoming so accessible that the most valuable, the most impressive thing will not be what flying lenses reveal about the world around us, but what we do with our understanding as our imaginations are awakened to the beauty and complexity of our surroundings.
As a filmmaker i'm constantly reminded that imagination ignites the power of storytelling.
For the past 9 years I have lived in the city of Detroit and have been engaged in telling independent local stories with many extraordinary opportunities that of been afforded me by a variety of clients, institutions, news media, including two years as staff at The Detroit Free Press, 56 assignments from The New York Times, TIME Magazine, 115 short films by Kresge Foundation as well as the daily persistence of telling the stories for non profits and in my own pursuit of the life in the city. I have 33 TB of hard drives full of Detroit content; of daily life, of weddings, soccer games, pinnacle moments and challenging ones.
With all that documentation of momentum and pinnacle moments of Detroit, none of that could have prepared me for bankruptcy of our city and on the same day the Emergency Manager was announced, my daughter was born. That new life in my arms brought me to a more elevated vision than any drone could take me that view put into focus that everything i have documented was part of a larger story of not what it to survive in Detroit, but to live. was to Her story, my wife's story, the story of friends, neighbors, city enthusiasts, dreamers, makers, urban planners, community leaders of those with hope, and those who need help. The collection of the content was a portrait of the journey our city.
With the birth of my daughter here in the city, I became identified with the rebirth of Detroit in a brand-new way. So I decided to begin editing all the content into a film about Detroit and document life for another year.
My motivation is more than just personal, through the resilience in the stories of the people I have filmed, I wanted her to know the story and city that she was born into. (The project has no name yet but will soon)
It is clear that the visual momentum of Detroit is changing from showing the challenges to what is changing here for the better. But it will take all of us, our vision and our visuals to further educate the global narrative of our city. Together, we are redefining what #Detroit looks like to the rest of the world.
Lenses, whether they're mounted on a tripod or elevated on drones, can only tell us so much about our circumstances in life. Ultimately, we are the storytellers who must make good use of the technology at our disposal to assure more hopeful future, working together for the generous, humane, industrious and creatively compassionate Detroit.
(After the speech was one of the most amazing few conversations of my life as people came up to me to talk about their hopes and dreams for Detroit, some to the point of tears. Those stories will be in Part 2 of this blog post) Part 2 to this will be out next Tuesday.