My morning listening while editing scripts and text, courtesy of dhool:
The Stuyvesants just released their lasted record of remixes of timeless classics and this one is just right for a summer of chill and gatherings. The record is a free download and can get it here. Also highly recommend to check out other The Stuyvesants’ releases.
How Would You Crop Einstein?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The photos that LIFE magazine recently released reminded me of a learning experiment I passed around to staff not long ago. Take a look at the photo above and note your immediate impressions:
What did you first notice when you first saw this photo?
What went through your mind?
What drew you in? What did you wonder?
What is Einstein wearing?
What sense of Einstein do you get from this image?
I rifled through hundreds of photos of Einstein trying to find a marquee image for our two-part series on Einstein and the mind of god. I wanted photos that were fresh and not overused. Portraits that presented the more human, contemplative side of Einstein — the “inner being,” if you will.
Then, one of those Proustian moments: slipping on a jean jacket with a banded collar — a memory of a portrait of Einstein seated in a chair bathed in natural light. Ahhh, Lotte Jacobi! — whose photographs I had seen in 2004 at the National Museum of Women in Washington, D.C. And, of course, the exhibit’s title? “Focus on the Soul: The Photographs of Lotte Jacobi.”
Her work is intimate and often goes unnoticed. Her portraits are not the default portraits of Einstein commonly chosen for newspaper articles, blog entries, magazine spreads. I still can’t understand why. We’re fortunate to have set our eyes upon them.
Now, back to our experiment. Look at the following image. This is the original version of Jacobi’s print, without cropping.
Ask yourself the same questions as above and a few more:
Perhaps you have other observations?
What would you crop? How would you crop it?
What do you gain; what do you lose?
I have some fairly strong opinions, but I’ll table them so I can hear yours and ponder my own.
Mary Doria Russell on the Music of Little Green Men
» download (mp3, 2:12)
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
We’re all excited about this new program we’re working on featuring anthropologist-turned-novelist Mary Doria Russell. She frequently writes historical fiction, but Krista one day picked up her sci-fi epic The Sparrow (and its sequel Children of God), and was hooked. I guess being a fan of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek influenced her a wee bit as well.
The premise of Mary Doria Russell’s epic is that music from another planet is detected by SETI scientists here on Earth. That’s how first contact is made. This leads to a group of astronauts being sent into space in search of the music’s source.
The idea of music traveling across the universe is not remotely fantastical. We’re already beaming transmissions from Earth into space in hopes of making contact with an alien civilization. In the 1970s, we sent out the Pioneer and Voyager probes to study the solar system. The two Pioneer probes each carried a plaque showing where the probes came from.
The two Voyager probes carried something far more ambitious: a cosmic message in a bottle known as the Golden Record. Although the potential aliens would need to build a device to read the record, once they do, they’ll find directions to Earth, and a wide sampling of sounds, music and images from life on this planet. That’s our attempt at making contact. So in this produced program with Mary Doria Russell, it seemed appropriate that we lay in some of that Golden Record music.
Here’s a short clip that ultimately was cut from the program, about Mary Doria Russell’s fascination with music. Enjoy. The full show will be up next Thursday.
The Final Cut: Omitting the Samaritan Woman’s Story
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Some interesting reactions to the Vashti McKenzie program this past weekend, both positive and negative. This interesting e-mail in particular was mentioned during our Monday morning staff meeting, coming from Kathryn in Davis, California. She mentions a segment around 01:12:00 in the full interview that we cut out of the final production. The segment is about 6 minutes long, and survived through a couple of rounds of edits before it was ultimately cut out.
I am a big fan of this show and admire your talent, Krista. The editing on this particular show disturbed me, however. By her own account, and yours, the essence of Vashti McKenzie is discovered in the the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s an incredibly profound teaching in the same way that Native American stories are so deeply wise and transformational. (One can understand how Christianity of the mainstream stumbled so badly by failing to understand the meaning of this core teaching. Rev. McKenzie finally gets it right.) And yet, it didn’t make the final cut.
When I look at what did make the cut — the emphasis on the Jeremiah Wright exegesis — and the timing of this interview, it tells me that you used Speaking of Faith and Vashti McKenzie to make an appeal to nervous undecided and conservative voters to support Barack Obama, much like the just released movie about George “W” Bush did.
This is your show, you can do that, and I hope it works. That said, the story of the Samaritan woman holds so much more meaning and value for viewers here and around the world than whether or not undecided voters now might feel a little better about Barack Obama’s Christianity. Rev. McKenzie’s teaching goes both to her core and the central mission of your show. Your rough cut managed to miss the mark on both counts.
There are a couple of things there. The first thing is the apparent support for a candidate. Depending on what we’re covering on a particular week, we often hear from listeners who think we’re supporting this or that political ideology. Just as an example with this program, some listeners suggested that even mentioning Jeremiah Wright at this stage meant we were trying to derail Sen. Obama’s bid. It seems to go with the territory no matter how much editorial rigor we subject a program to, and that’s fine, we’re happy to talk about our process.
But as with most Speaking of Faith programs, we try to contribute something to the conversation in the larger American community. Talking about race in the context of this presidential election might seem cynical, but I don’t know if there’s ever a wrong time to talk about racism.
Maybe the story of the Samaritan woman contributes to that larger conversation in a more enduring way than anything that can be said about the Wright controversy. Rather than reflecting an ulterior motive, this is where the desire to be newsworthy comes in. Krista is talking to someone who is a prominent leader in the African-American community, and who had close ties to Jeremiah Wright. There is a journalistic responsibility to address it openly. To be honest, in the full interview, I detected some reluctance in Bishop McKenzie’s voice as far as talking about the Wright controversy. There is more discussion of the controversy throughout the interview, but we edited a lot of that out because the segment we had in the final program addressed the issue without belaboring it. And there was some thematic redundancy between the story of the Samaritan woman and other parts of the interview. With our eyes on the clock, we make room for some things at the expense of others.
The show itself was meant to act as part of a reflection on how race and gender have been used in this campaign. And when we decide to re-broadcast this show at some future point, it’s highly possible that we swap out the Wright discussion — which will no longer be timely — with the story of the Samaritan woman.
For now, we’re still trying to draw something positive out of the uglier aspects of the campaigns. Bishop McKenzie talks about defining moments. In our public life, we often hear about missed opportunities to turn crises into teachable moments — “transformational” is a word Kathryn uses above. I don’t know, what do you think? Samaritan woman, or Jeremiah Wright reaction? Timely or timeless?
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
"You gotta kill your darlings." That was one of those sayings that permeated our discussions back in film school, something our teachers would tell us during the editing of our film projects. It means you have to be willing to let go of that shot or that sequence that you invested so much time, effort, and probably money into making but, for some reason, slows down the pace of the story or isn’t as strong as our hope for it. In some weird way, it’s like that Buddhist saying, "If you ever meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha." Don’t turn the Buddha or your "darlings" into idols that bar your path to enlightenment or a perfect film.
I’m now editing an interview for a show we are so eager to put out there about the 20th-century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., and equally provocative and challenging.
Sometimes we record an interview, and we have little trouble finding places to edit out. Sometimes the interview digresses from its core and we have to wrangle it back by cutting out some material. Other times, you listen to an interview, and it seems like every word is a darling. For myself, I count the interviews with Jean Vanier and Janna Levin in that category.
The other day, as we were doing our pre-edit listen of an interview with Arnold Eisen, chancellor of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, who was greatly influenced by the late rabbi, there were more than a few times when I thought I’d burst into tears, whether from Arnold Eisen’s own storytelling or from his reading of choice Heschel excerpts. I’ve highlighted a few in this audio excerpt:
- The first part features Arnold Eisen talking about Heschel’s advice to young people, his encouragement to them; it’s something that echoes with the self-doubt I felt for many years in my twenties.
- Following that is one for the SOF blooper reel.
- The last part is Arnold Eisen reading from Heschel’s writing. It’s gorgeous.
There’s another reading, in the interview, that comes after this one. It renders me helpless and it’s too good to spoil by throwing it out as a teaser, so you’ll just have to listen to the final show, which is a few weeks away.
Meanwhile, as I edit all this great material, I’m afraid that some of it will have to be lost for the sake of time constraints. But what do you let go, when it’s all gold? I’m having serious trouble killing my darlings.
Producing Jean Vanier
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Every new show is the product of lots of research, editing, writing, and scrutiny. One of the big bench marks is the listen to the first mix, where we assess the program and often make significant changes. Here Senior Producer Mitch Hanley and Krista give their best ear to the Jean Vanier show scheduled for Christmas week, in a listen conducted earlier today. In the interview, the founder of L’Arche—a movement composed of people who live in community as “assistants” to people with disabilities— describes his personal theology and the need to embrace tenderness as a powerful religious virtue. Jean Vanier speaks with a quiet authority that is absolutely stunning. We are very excited about the program.