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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Miller

I’m still not going to stop bathing

Updated: May 11, 2023

I’ve learned a lot from people who don’t shower. Things about about filmmaking—and myself—that were far from expected when I set out to tell their stories.

The First Time Ever

His name was Mike Bright, later I learned why they called him, “Pool Boy”; his other nick name, “The Professor”, seemed better suited. He was witty, an unabashed alcoholic, and the first person I ever interviewed on camera. Fortunately, he was also a character.

Several interviews down the road my subject clammed up. Until that point I’d indulged in the shot I’d carefully composed, eyes glued to the viewfinder, headphones on, while interviewees rambled their answers. But, Justin was different—his silence was a mirror.

While I was there, it wasn’t for him. It was embarrassingly selfish. I removed my headphones, sat down across from him and we just talked . . . while the cameras rolled.

Zip the Lip

This all happened on an abandoned Marine base known as Slab City—and to be fair, Mike and Justin were among the more cleanly slabbers. I was an outsider, asking their community to trust me with their stories.

Before Slab City, I used to feel the need to share things about myself in conversations—to jump in with an expositional bit of information or story that may or may not subtly boost my ego. That all dropped on the slabs.

I just shut up and listened. My worst fear was that they would think I was looking down on their way of life: off grid, no running water, not much cash, but an abundance of social freedom. So, it wasn’t enough to just not talk. To be sincere, I had to wrap my thoughts around every word they said. It was cleansing.

My Responsibility

Most of the people I interview would rather not. I don’t blame them. Of the three times I’ve been interviewed by a reporter I was either misquoted or taken out of context in each. Being held indefinitely accountable can be disconcerting.

Justin taught me that as the interviewer, I’m there to escort my subjects through the process, to be there for them to talk to, to engage in what theatrical actors call, “loop feedback”.

Editing thousands of hours of interview footage has taught me what to look for. For example, when to ask someone to clarify, re-word more concisely, or when it’s necessary to rephrase as a complete sentence.

It’s my job to provide a positive, emotionally safe, environment. Something I learned, sitting with Justin that day, in the same decayed swimming pool Mr. Bright blindly toppled into one drunken night, just after uttering, “follow me, I have night vision!”

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