The VO Talks with VIFF Director Peter Esmonde
The Vancouver Observer asks Peter Esmonde a few questions about his film Trimpin: The Sound of Invention.
VO: Please tell us a little bit about yourself, as a filmmaker.
PE: Back when dinosaurs still trod the earth, I went to college and studied film. Eventually, I even went to film school. Over the years, I've worked in most film/tv jobs, from production assistant to producer, in New York, LA, Washington DC, and most recently, San Francisco.
VO: How did you come to make this film? What inspired you?
PE: I had long been interested in creative process, and how highly creative people relate to their world.
More specifically: for very personal reasons, I needed to make a film about how a highly creative person survives in a society that tends to judge people only on how rich and/or famous they are, or how much they can produce or consume.
So I did my research, came up with a list of potential subjects, all extraordinarily creative people, with a long time devotion to their own ways of doing things. And Trimpin rose to the top of my list every time.
VO: What was it like working with Trimpin?
PE: It took some time to gain his trust. Then it took awhile longer for him to become comfortable in front of the camera; you'll find the first 20 hours of footage on the cutting room floor. I explained that I was an observer, not a director; like a sociologist or an anthropologist, I wanted to watch how he worked. From the start, Trimpin and I had a working agreement: no retakes, no reenactments, no “just pretend that you are...” If I missed something, I missed it.
VO: What was one of the most memorable things that happened while filming?
PE: Most of them are in the film. Just the usual miraculous moments of discovery/epiphany: Trimpin falling in love with the unexpected sound of a long squeak from a cathode ray tube; fully savoring the BANG of a dumpster; etc.
The film provided me with innumerable opportunities to trip over my own assumptions and take glorious conceptual pratfalls. Just when I thought that Trimpin worked kinesthetically, like a sculptor, he'd sketch out something like a graphic designer. When I thought his process was that of an architect/designer, he'd be inspired by a particular sound and plunk out something on a keyboard, etc.
VO: What would you like people to take away from this film?
PE: A life spent in creative exploration/investigation may not be lucrative, but it can be extremely rich and full.
Even without being wealthy, you can create an extremely rich world for yourself.
If you open your ears, your mind will follow.
VO: How has your film been received so far?
PE: Festival audiences seem to like it... in any event, they certainly seem to love Trimpin. Having made the rounds of various fests throughout the States, the film has started to screen internationally.
VO: What do you think the future looks like for documentary filmmakers?
PE: To my mind, “documentary” has always been a problematic term; it now seems downright antiquated. People have always had the need to witness, interact, and question; that won't change anytime soon.
Technical changes have upset traditional film/tv models and markets, which in turn lead to significant changes in how we see and value “documentary” footage. It's a disturbing time for a lot of filmmakers, which just means it's a time of opportunity for others less constrained by traditional models and assumptions.
In short: It's all going to hell (rapidly), which may be a good thing (ultimately).