In a modern digital age where craftsmanship has seemingly become overshadowed by technological feats, it’s a treat to feast your eyes on a story that focuses on process, craft, beauty, and transformation. “Shaped On All Six Sides”, the debut documentary short from talented storyteller Kat Gardiner, made with the support of Portland, OR-based production company Food Chain Films, is a welcome reminder that true skill is still unparallelled.
Recently screened at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana, “Shaped On All Six Sides” has been garnering well-deserved attention from The Atlantic, The Portland Egotist, and was even selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick. Before setting off for Missoula, Kat and Food Chain Executive Producer Brad Goldthwaite made a Dig1 detour to give “Shaped On All Six Sides” some sweet audio caressing a.k.a. a true mix fit for its silver screen debut.
Now that “Shaped On All Six Sides” has a festival securely under its work belt, Kat was kind enough to share the backstory on this spectacular short, as well as her thoughts on the film’s audio before and after the Dig1 mix sesh.
Dig1: How long have you been doing projects like this?
Kat: This is my first documentary short, but have been shooting experimental documentary still photography for years, as well as writing— journalism, screenwriting, and fiction–and working in production on commercials and digital content.
Could you please describe the genesis of the project?
I used to be the on-staff production manager over at Food Chain. A couple winters ago, when production times were slow, Brad encouraged the entire staff to make a short documentary on a maker or craftsmen. This is the one I decided to focus on (after throwing about 15 ideas at the wall and watching none of them stick just right). I’ve known Andy Stewart for years and have always admired his craftsmanship and world view. I wanted to make a documentary that was more about the why than the how, and he seemed like the best person to ask.
What’d you enjoy most about making “Shaped On All Six Sides”?
I loved shooting it. Framing existing objects using natural light is a very gratifying experience for me. I get great joy from putting images together, compositionally in the frame. Interviewing Andy was great, too; getting to know such a wise person that much better, and being able to share his wisdom with others. Also, that moment when the project’s story began to finally come together; cutting up sentences and putting them back together in a way that made sense, retained their original meaning, but flowed better than originally stated. Putting music to the images and watching it all come to life. And then, of course, watching the reactions from Andy, Brad and my co-producer/husband Nathan. When they liked it, it was a huge sigh of relief. Getting into the middle of a project can be claustrophobic and dark and maddening. Often it’s not until you emerge that you figure out if it was worth the energy or not. It’s often the next set of eyes, further away from your own, that gauge best if the message was sent on as intended.
So in other words, I enjoyed it all.
Where’d you get the idea for this film?
In another lifetime, my husband and I ran a cafe in Anacortes, Washington—a little fishing town in the northern Puget Sound. It closed down and my husband got a job apprenticing for Andy in his boat shop (Emerald Marine). I remember going into that space for the first time and really being in awe of the beauty and function of the design. How each piece of wood has to be bent and shaped perfectly. Also the meditative quality of the work; how slow it was. It was all insanely interesting to me. Even though I don’t know much about the details of carpentry myself, I found myself brought in to the magic of creation when I was there. I wanted to bring the viewer—a layman like myself— into that magical world, too. Andy seemed like the perfect subject as he, more than most wooden boat carpenters, was more drawn to the whys then the hows, so we were able to see eye to eye on the point of the story.
What was the shooting process like?
Small, slow and fast, simple. Like I mentioned before, at the time I worked full-time, on staff, as a PM at Food Chain. This was great, as it gave me access to a 5D, a portable sound recorder, and an editing suite, but it did give me certain time restrictions. If a job came up, the project got paused. Additionally, the boat shop is a six hour drive away; far away from any crew that could join me and help. I spent one long weekend up north in July of ’12, shooting two full days in the studio while the shop boys & girls worked around me. I set up a download station in one room, let a GoPro go off in another, and then rove around the shop with a handheld 5D and an auxiliary mic attached to the flash shoe. (Almost all the sound captured in this day was discarded due to various complexities of my one man band status and general auditory naïvety.) In mid-October, we went back up to shoot the sailing scene. It was the day before they were set to dry dock their boat, Windsong, for the year, so it was a real do-or-die time and I recall being exhausted from another shoot during the filming. It was raining that day, which I loved, but we were soon thwarted when James (Andy’s business partner whom you see briefly in the final couple shots) got the line stuck in the propeller of the engine on our way out of the marina. We had to pole back into the slip, and were lucky to find someone with a full diving suit in the marina to go down and untangle the mess. The actual shooting on the boat was intense, too, as the wind and current picked us up and almost toppled the boat. There was one point where I was standing with arms wrapped around the rigging, camera in hand, fully parallel to the water below me. But we survived and the footage was better for the adventure. The final day of shooting took place last March when we bopped up for a day to shoot the credits which were hand printed, painted and/or screened by the fabulous local Anacortes artist Jessica Lynch (who just opened up a shop in the Pike Place Market in Seattle called Slow Loris.) Again, with the credits everything was shot hand-held, using only natural and practical light.
What role did the audio mix play in the final product?
Oh my god, you saved it! I, like many others starting out, am doing my damnedest to wear as many hats as possible, but audio mixing is one hat that doesn’t fit my head. The first time I saw my short on the big screen (at the Seattle Design Fest last September) I was aghast at how unbalanced it sounded. On tiny headphones and computer speakers it worked ok, but in the real world? No way! Chip saved it. The screening at Big Sky was audibly perfect, and all that credit goes to Dig One.
What difference did the additional mix make, now that you’ve had your festival debut?
The new mix made the rest of the film breathe. It was like night and day.
What’s next for you?
I am working on two large projects right now, one I’m a good ways into and the other is in the infancy. In the womb, actually. If I talk about it, I might miscarry, so I’ll leave it shrouded in mystery.
The other project is reaching a mighty milestone; I have been working on my first novel — The Seventy-Five Foxes of Lawrence Island — and am set to finish the rough draft in the next month. Ideally, the novel will find a home and see the light of day in the next year. It is a dark, magical-realist, YA horror novel about an awkward teenage girl named Maura living on an island in the northern San Juans in the mid-90s.
Learn more about Kat at KatGardiner.com and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more great things from the Food Chain Films team.