Friends of Mine is a feature length documentary that chronicles the experiences of several young men who take part in a summer camp for the developmentally disabled population. The goal of the film is to inform the public of the full and loving lives of human beings who are developmentally challenged. It accomplishes this goal by emphasizing the ways in which two volunteers at the summer camp are dramatically affected by the relationships they form with their respective campers.
10 questions with Friends of Mine director, Matthew Palmer at the half-way mark.
Tuesday, February 16th, 2016
1What was the initial seed that made you want to make Friends of Mine? Did you go through an experience like this? Much like the two main characters of the film, ten years ago I was "forced" by my private high school to complete fifty hours of community service my senior year and, like most seventeen-year-olds, jumped at the opportunity to finish all of these hours in one week before the school year even began at a summer camp for people with developmental disabilities. I am so grateful that I did this entirely selfish and self-serving thing, because my life was changed that week ten years ago. I have returned to camp every summer since... and not for community service hours.
2Docs are so insane to me. How did you put the story together? Did you have an specific story to tell by documenting this experience or did you simply document the experience and just see what happened? I guess my questions is, did you know you were making the film you were making as you were shooting or were you just stockpiling footage only to be shaped into a story later? A bit of both. I knew I wanted to show the transformation of two counselors, as I felt that the best way to show the value of those with developmental disabilities was to convey the way that those who are (seemingly) unlikely to be interested in and affected by this population are, in fact, affected. My goal, more or less, was to show non-believers as they turn into believers. In my opinion, this story is both more difficult to tell and more interesting to watch than one in which the campers would be the central characters. In other words, by focusing on the counselors, we capture transformation. If we focused solely on the campers, we would have seen awesome people stay awesome. In Friends of Mine, we are meant to see lost people becoming a little less lost because of awesome people (the campers). Because I had gone through this experience/transformation myself, I knew what to look for. That being said, I couldn't CONTROL my characters so I had to hope a bit. In that sense, we were stockpiling footage... but we had a very concrete goal of telling a particular story.
3The cinematographer Edgar Dubrovskiy did an incredible job. How did you two meet and what was it like working together? He's amazing. I spoke with and interviewed a lot of cinematographers. He is based in London and I LOVED his work, specifically his photographs. We Skyped and just clicked creatively. We spent a month filming together and became very close friends. Working together was great, because we were on the same page almost all of the time. We're still good friends and I can't wait to work with him again.
4Two of my best friends went to a camp like this when we were all in High School. I can clearly remember that trip having an incredible impact on them. Why do think an experience like this is so transformative? Oh man, I've thought about this a lot. I could write a book on the subject, but I'll leave it at this: an experience like volunteering at a camp for those with disabilities changes lives because the campers, those who in the “real world” are often ignored or, worse, looked down upon, have the greatest gift of all to offer anyone who is willing to accept it: themselves... their true, authentic selves. Those who are true do something quite amazing: they allow others to be true, as well. Which is rare in the real world. So that's why I keep going back and why it keeps changing lives. And so if Friends of Mine shows even a fraction of that experience and/or shows one person that it’s possible to get rid of his or her masks and be true (to sing, dance, run, cry, laugh, draw, scream, hug, smile, frown, listen, talk, like, hold, make, paint, love), then I’ve done my job.
5What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? Fargo. My mom showed it to me when I was 11 or 12.
6How did you select which people to follow at the camp? For the volunteers, Jordan and Brian, I tried to find people who I knew would struggle at camp, but who would end up getting a ton out of it because of this struggle. I interviewed dozens of high schoolers and Jordan immediately stood out to me. When I met him, he was kind and considerate, but had an obvious, um, uptightness about him. As I dug into who he was as a person at that time in his life (via in-person conversations and e-mails), I discovered that he was incredibly hardworking and put a lot of pressure on himself to be the best at everything. He was, internally, dealing with a lot for a seventeen-year-old. Brian and I went to high school together and one day he called me telling me he wanted to go to Camp Rec. I said, “great, you’ll be in my movie.” He didn’t know I meant that he’d be one of the main characters, but that’s what you get for skimming the fine print. I was confident that both of these young men would be great volunteers by the end of their week at camp. Jarrett and Ethan were chosen for what they could bring out of their respective counselors (for example, I knew Brian, a real talker, would need to adjust to Ethan’s lack of verbal communication).
7Just to be a tech nerd for a second. How did you get such clear audio and what camera did you shoot on? We shot most of the movie on the Canon C300 with Angenieux Optimo lenses. The "out-of-camp" sequences were shot on an Aaton A-Minima Super 16 camera that Kodak was nice enough to lend us. Audio was recorded by Tim O'Malley, who used a combination of wireless microphones and a boom (with "proper technique"...he's making me say that), recording to a 12-track 8-input Sound Devices 788t. He's a nerd, so I hired the right man for the job.
8Watching the bond grow between all these guys is so fantastic. What were some scenes that you know you got gold? Hmmm.. .I'd say the scene of Brian and Ethan shivering on the ground after swimming in the lake was the main one. I knew we had something with that moment. Also, SPOILER, Jarrett saying "I love you."
9What was the most difficult aspect of shooting this film? Oh, man... the hours I guess.. .Edgar and I shot for a month straight with no days off and very little sleep. Other than that, it was really a blast to shoot and I loved every minute of it.
10What's next? Friends of Mine premiered at the Hollywood Film Festival and has played all over the world. I'm so excited to share it on Fandependent because you guys clearly have a real love of movies. Since making Friends of Mine, I've done some short films, some commercial work, and some music videos. I'm currently working on another short documentary about a Congresswoman... can't say much more than that at the moment. If anyone wants to check out my work, they can do so at www.matthewpalmerfilm.com. Thanks!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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