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"I was just sort of captivated by the basics of what they were doing on the obits desk, receiving these random names of people who'd died and assessing them and then deciding whether they fit enough into the context of the culture to even put an effort in to write an obit," Gould tells on Joisel's obit."At the beginning I was just sort of studying that and I was helping the writer, Margalit Fox, mining my friend Eric Joisel's life and going back and reflecting on it and trying to find the salient element.
Reading more obituaries and seeing what they are, as a documentary filmmaker I was realizing that obituaries are in many ways like documentaries themselves in the print form, where you have a naive but interested observer coming in cold and sort of capturing and reducing and painting a reductionist but salient portrait of another person the way that I'm almost doing it on them.So as a filmmaker, I was just sort of, like, fascinated by the fact that every day in , with sports scores and stock prices and information about what happened yesterday, there's this one page that's basically writing these life stories and doing it with painstaking detail.And that seemed worth capturing and inquiring about." that are involved with getting those articles in the paper, she was most concerned with "getting access." "It was not easy.It took several meetings and several conversations, a fair amount of back-and-forth, to figure out even if this is something they would be interested in me doing," Gould explains."There's sensitivities around the obits and a fair amount of embargoed stuff, so to sort of let an unknown outsider in was not an easy thing for them." But once she got in, Gould says she was "open-minded and eager." The doc features interviews with the writers and editors on the obit desk, who recall memorable accounts of the lives of luminaries featured in the newspaper, and visits "the morgue," the ' century-old archive, where archivist Jeff Roth shows off some of the advance obits the paper used and the updates those stories went through before the subjects died.The film even takes viewers inside the process of crafting obituaries, as the writers are shown putting together retrospectives on two noteworthy people who died: William P. Kennedy in the historic first nationally televised presidential debate, and Dick Rich, an influential ad exec.
"We ended up deciding with a lot of writers describing this process, we really wanted to show it as well," Gould says.
"At the end of the day, showing it and not telling it made such a big difference and by letting the viewers see them working, it allowed us to use their on-camera interview time to be less descriptive and more adding personal interpretations and commentary on their experience as well.
"The process of anything, whether you're an artist or journalist, is so revealing of what makes something what it is," she adds.
Gould points out that her team didn't spend much time in the newsroom — only five or six days in total — and lucked out in that one of those days featured the writers constructing obits on Wilson and Rich. Really the only path we could take was just to turn the cameras on and film it.
And so when I learned that it was going to be this guy William P.
Wilson, we just sort of learned of him as a film crew, the way that Bruce Weber, the journalist, was learning about him as a reporter, and we just sort of captured that process.