Friday, April 19, 2013

The Next Birding Movie, Part 5: from Director Rob Meyer!

Filmmaker Rob Meyer in action, on the set
From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes:  Okay, here's the deal about being the director of a film.  It's like being God.  Only better, because people actually do what you tell them to do.

Or at least, that's what I would have told you a couple of years ago.  That was just based on impressions from things I'd read.  Cecil B. DeMille demanding that Victor Mature wrestle with a real lion during the filming of Samson and Delilah.  James Cameron screaming at the extras bobbing around in the water during the sinking scenes in Titanic.  And so on.  But until I visited the set of A Birder's Guide to Everything, I wouldn't have guessed that a movie director could be the most decent, kind person you could hope to meet.

I first connected with filmmaker Rob Meyer by way of an email introduction from our friend, the great nature writer Scott Weidensaul.  Scott told me that Meyer had a screenplay that involved birding, and he wanted some expert birder to read it over to see if it sounded plausible.  Of course I was intrigued enough to say yes.  

It quickly became obvious that this was no amateur with a pipe dream about making a movie.  Rob Meyer had solid credentials.  He had worked as a producer at Nova and National Geographic, and had received his MFA from the graduate film program at New York University.  He had already produced a short film, Aquarium, that had received awards at film festivals all over the world.

And the screenplay that he sent - coauthored with his friend Luke Matheny - was amazing.  Yes, it had birding as a central plot element, but it also had a wonderful story, well-defined characters, superb dialogue.  I was captivated.  (And I wasn't the only one: Oscar-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley had read the script, and had tentatively agreed to star in the film.)  I promised to help in any way I could.

So over the next few months, as Rob and his colleagues worked to pull together the funding to produce the film, I had occasional email contact about bird-related elements in the screenplay and in the plans for the set designs.  And finally in August 2012 I traveled to just north of New York City, to meet Rob Meyer in person and to watch a few days of the filming of A Birder's Guide to Everything.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it was amazing to watch all the dedicated professionals working on myriad details on the movie set.  And it was impressive to see Rob's directing style.  The director is the person in charge, of course, but this director wasn't acting like a dictator - more like a "first among equals."  Rob is a young guy, and some members of the crew probably had been working on films before he was born, but he had earned their respect and he in turn respected their experience.  A powerful collaborative energy pervaded the set, everyone striving together to make the film as good as it could be.  


On one day we took over a local school, where the principal let us convert his office into the offices of the fictional "Birder's Way" magazine.  Here, Rob Meyer pauses to check out the monitors while several members of the crew are setting up the next shot. 


Working on a tight schedule and tight budget, working very long days, dealing with a billion pesky details, Rob obviously was under an extraordinary amount of pressure.  But it didn't show in his interactions with people: he was phenomenally courteous, thoughtful, and considerate to every single person involved, at any level.  In the innumerable discussions about how to set up each shot, he was respectful of every opinion, even if he ultimately wound up going a different way.  Whenever anyone helped out with anything - people delivering supplies, people serving as extras in the background of a scene - he made a point of personally thanking them.  When someone new arrived on the scene - even a birding consultant from Ohio - he went out of his way to make them feel at ease.

In short, Rob Meyer is a brilliant writer and director, but he's also the most thoughtful, courteous, considerate, kind person that you could imagine.  He's talented enough that he wouldn't have to be as decent as he is, so it's just a reflection of his genuinely good character.  That's part of the reason why I'm sure he's going to be hugely successful.  In the movies, you know, you want the good guys to win.  


Rob Meyer and Kenn Kaufman on the set of A Birder's Guide to Everything

I'm sure some of my birding friends are still waiting for birding content in this post (and more than the fact that I'm wearing a Black Swamp Bird Observatory T-shirt in the photo here).  Okay, consider this.  Rob Meyer himself is not a birder - or at least, he didn't become one until he started developing the film - but he takes this hobby seriously.  In a recent interview in IndieWire, he said that one theme of the film was "an ode to birding and the restorative power of nature."  In answer to a later question, he said, "I'm hoping everyone who sees the film wants to go birding."  When I read that, I thought, Wow!  What a great idea!  When the film The Big Year came out in 2011, its portrait of extreme birding may have seemed out of reach to the average person.  But in A Birder's Guide to Everything you have appealing characters going birding on a local level, in a way that should be accessible to audiences.  This film might make a lot of people decide that "Hey, I could do that!"  


Regardless of how it impacts the birding scene, I think this film will earn a lot of kudos and recognition for the talented young Rob Meyer.  Of course, I haven't seen the film yet!  But Kimberly and I are heading off to New York to attend the premiere, and we will report back after we see it!


As a final note, I enjoyed a longer interview with Meyer in which he talks about writing, acting, birding, and a wide variety of other things.  Clearly this is an individual who is thoughtful, original, and talented, someone with a brilliant career already under way.  
The link is here.

3 comments:

  1. I'm hoping that it will play in some theaters in Connecticut.

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  2. Looking forward to seeing this film!

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  3. Very exciting. You two make a wonderful team. One all birders and movie buffs alike will be keeping an eye on. Well done.

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