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The Search for a Title

I'm more at home in the middle of a project than I am at either the beginning or end and I'm more at home starting than finishing. Nothing is worse for me than the moment all the real work on the project is done and it's time to introduce, if you will, the finished show to its intended public.

I'm talking about promotion, publicity, this blog I guess, paragraphs of pointed p.r. prose, but mostly I'm talking about titles. We've gotten quite used to calling this documentary the Arts Doc, the IAC Doc, even Project 1585 rather than refer to it by its official working title "Public Value of the Arts." (Would you want to say you're working on something called "Public Value of the Arts" and that you're incredibly passionate about it?)

Dan Andries in contemplation

The show did need a title and I knew it. I also knew that as much as I might suffer over the title in the long run every title ultimately adjusts in appropriateness after the work has been viewed, examined, discussed, and if you're lucky, written about. You could call this documentary "Fred" and it would be fine in the long run. It would probably even gain some meaning that at the moment entirely eludes me.

Here are some of the more than 100 candidates for the title of what we finally ending up naming "Beauty Rises: Four Lives in the Arts; "Four Square", "All Four One", "Four Art Harmony", "Art Works Art Lives", "Sparks & leaps, wisdom & dreams"; each to be followed by ": Four artists in Illinois" or ": Some artists in Illinois".

Believe it or not theses were the titles I briefly greeted with a gleeful sense of relief – ah ha I thought, we've arrived. Finally! A title! Especially the last one. That one I dreamt up on a bike ride home.

To continue: "Dan's Art Doc", "How much tape do you plan to shoot anyway?", and finally, "Are you done yet"?

These of course reflect an adolescent cynicism vis-à-vis my potential audience and towards my colleagues at the station.

Others: "Four Lives in the Arts", "Art from the Heartland", "Prairie Souls", "Art & Soul", "From Fertile Soul".

Tracye kept alluding to the possibilities of the word Discovery.

There were another 80 or so with variations on these themes.

I cast my net wide. I called on team members, colleagues from past and present jobs, co-workers of all stripes, aunts, cousins, friends. It was a true cry for help.

Nothing was more painful than this question: "It's great. Do you have a title yet?"

I kept thinking about what Allison Joseph said regarding her student poets and their negligence in naming their work. "You wouldn't send a child out into the world without a name would you?" I have three and they all have names. But that was pretty hard too, and Austin, Isabella and Elliot might have been Dylan (or Brick), Ariadne and Odysseus (or Nick). I do know a couple who left the hospital without naming their son. Eventually the grandmother christened the kid something they all could live with and that was that. The documentary needed a grandmother, I guess. I just couldn't find one.

It heartened me to hear that Barbara Kopple, Oscar-winning documentarian and role model extraordinaire has similar headaches with titles. Kopple made two great documentaries on events in American labor movement – "Harlan County U.S.A" and "American Dream." Titles, according to an associate of hers, don't come easy.

I still had to decide on a title, crippled like the big-time documentary filmmaker or not crippled like the big-time documentary filmmaker.

More than one patient and loving soul suggested a title lurked somewhere in the show itself, in something someone said, or a clear thought or action therein (that's what I thought "Sparks & leaps, wisdom & dreams" was all about). My cousin, the published fiction writer, Katherine Shonk, was in that camp. She hadn't seen the documentary of course. I did my best to describe it as we e-mailed back and forth. I offered up the following options, soundbites from the completed show:

"Life is extremely short. We must value those things that are valuable because after all, tomorrow's never promised." (said by Orbert Davis)

"That's one of the poet's jobs. Arranging words so that beauty rises out of the chaos or chaos rises out of the beauty, take your pick." (said by Allison Joseph)

"Like anyone who's been through anything, I'm kind of on a bonus round. I dig the idea of creating." (said by Dessa Kirk)

"This is so dangerous." "Are you scared?" "Well, I know if the ladder won't hold me, she will." (an exchange between me and Dessa Kirk as she climbed a ladder precariously leaning on a snow covered sculpture outside in the December cold)

"Now full with the promise of an unexpected storm" (from a poem by Allison Joseph)

"Birth is sort of this place between worlds. You know, you had her inside you, you were giving her life and you let her go. And so that's I mean, maybe in a most like fundamental, primal way, that's sort of how I was hearing you mothering the child. It was by literally giving her breath and then by literally letting your relationship to her in that way die." (said by Laura Wiley)

Very late in this process I came to the unique conclusion that the greatest titles came from Shakespeare and the Bible. Think of it: "The Sound and the Fury." "East of Eden." "Let there be light." "Brave New World." "A Clockwork Orange." However, since I didn't read either regularly or carefully enough, I spent a few days plowing through a huge volume lent to me by the station's art director, Linda Fox. It was filled with quotes and excerpts from a warehouse of writers, including Shaespeare and the folks who wrote the Bible. Tracye Campbell did read the Bible more regularly than me - this I knew. Her suggestionss, solicited from folks at her church, tended toward the "By the work of our hands" variety.

Katie, as we call Katherine, suggested "Beauty Rises," finding most of the others to be unclear or a bit of a downer.

Titles are for publicity ultimately, to entice curiosity, to draw a viewer in and to create an expectation that will be met by watching the piece. I remain convinced a great viewing experience will live without a great title, or any title at all. Just think of all that amazing music you've heard that you have no clue as to its name, and all those paintings and sculptures and photographs (!) whose titles are entirely unknown to you.

Anyway, I'm being cantankerous.

"Beauty Rises" it is. Fawn Ring gave it the second title, the after colon designator.

Thanks Katie. Thanks Fawn.

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Producers Blog: Dan Andries

Allison Joseph

The Search for a Title

A few words from Nicholas Tremulis

The Producer and His Cameraman(men)


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