If You Want a Happy Ending…..

My favorite quote is by Orson Welles; “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story”. No doubt he was giving this advice to other filmmakers and storytellers, but I remind myself daily that it has tremendous influence on how I want to I live my life and that has helped form my personal story or my legacy. It can be easy to understand the philosophy behind that quote, but much Happy more difficult to apply. But, it has enabled me (to paraphrase my good friend Sky’s film title) to live a life well lived.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these days because I’ve been holed up for a month like the rest of us. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, but in my case it has been beneficial. It’s made me hit a big “pause button” and I think that was the universe giving me a message that was probably there all the time, but I wasn’t listening. As John Lennon wrote, “life is what’s happening while you’re busy making other plans”.

At the time that most of my “neighbors” in NYC and NJ and beyond went into quarantine, I had already been in self-isolation for two months editing my latest feature documentary Like A Woman – a film about women who are working in male-dominated professions – because it was a topic I knew quite well. Like A Woman Poster smallFor the majority of my career, I have been the only woman at the table. So, I wanted to use my storytelling skills to create awareness and make the change that I wanted to happen. As spring was right around the corner in NJ and I was ready to release my film – the world changed, not just for me for everyone and it is forever changed. It sucks, but it wasn’t the first time in my life that I had to switch gears and it has never been easy for me in my profession, because I a woman I had to try harder.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not the easiest person to know but I’d like to think I’m worth it. I’m a glass half full (at least) kind of person. I have to believe in possibilities to be able to survive. I have to have hope and something to look forward to. With that said, after procrastinating for two weeks and really doing absolutely nothing, I made a list this morning of things I CAN do. Here are a few things I wrote down:

Like A Woman – I hope to hire a musical composer to create a score for the film. It will make it more powerful and have more impact. More importantly, I have decided not to proceed with entering the film into film festivals. It’s just bad timing and maybe that’s a blessing in disguise. Thanks to Travis Keyes and Katrin Eisman for their encouragement and that was desperately needed. I always thrive on encouragement but I can honestly say, I really need it now. They reminded me that “content” was golden these days and it’s being consumed like never before. So, I will let go of the film festivals because I sense that’s not the approach I need to take. Instead, I will pursue offering screenings (for a fee) for conferences centered on women and young girls. No doubt these conferences will be virtual for a while and I am able to stream the film and even set up a virtual Q&A via platforms like Zoom. And the film will actually have the ability to reach more people. I suppose one could say that I put my ego aside, that is customarily stroked with the film festivals and have put my emphasis on getting the film “out there” to inspire women and girls who need a lot of inspiration these days. And the stories of the amazing women who are in my film will surely inspire, which is the ultimately goal of this film.

And the film will have the ability to reach more people. As far as marketing this new film to the conference planners, I am extremely fortunate to have some prestigious  credentials with my last film Opening Our Eyes.If, you’d like to see the full film, you can see it here.

 

 

There is one film festival that I will still pursue to get in

to and that is the Santa Barbara Film Festival that hopefully will take place in January 2021. I will always have a close connection to Santa Barbara because that’s where it all started for me, at least as far as my career. After a yearlong backpacking odyssey around the world, I drove to Santa Barbara from New Jersey and attended Brooks Institute. As one of six women in a school of 600 at the time, it was my first experience in a male-dominated environment. It’s where I met my husband, Tom Kelly. And it’s where some of my best memories were made and I’ve have been blessed with decades of unbelievable memories and experiences since then. My years in Santa Barbara were my foundation.

Conteur ProductionsI started this side business a long time ago. It was my first venture into the retail world. We shoot family story movies. We capture one’s family stories through interviews with their loved ones, while they are still here to tell those stories. We then scan their priceless family photos

Groleau children at school, Upper Peninsula, Michigan School children – 1930’s

and digital their old family movies and/or videos, along with newspaper clippings and other documented mementos and make a “Ken Burns” type film to preserve those memories for future generations. It all began when my mother passed awayIMG_1906 and I realized that I would never hear those family stories that she told around the dinner table and her infectious giggle as she told them. It also led to me discovering a part of the family I never knew about – but that’s a story for another time.

This pandemic has also made me realize that when things get back to a new semblance of normal, there will be a real desire for this service. But, it will also be different. I will probably do more remote interviews via Skype or Zoom, rather than get on a plane and have face-to-face interviews with people wearing masks. I know that I can get a more professional product with a well lit and professionally shot interview with good audio. But, I also know that we have all gotten used to a new aesthetic with Zoom conferences and news reporters broadcasting from their home studios.

I know this blog is long but I want to thank everyone who has always believed in me, the ones who give me a call when I seem to need it most and my real friends and FB friends who have helped to fill this current void in my life and to Tony Bennett for his beautiful song Smile which has helped me through some dark days. I want to leave you with some wise words from my 93 year old Aunt and I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.

  • Q: You lost a child when she was 27 years old to cancer. What advice do you have for parents who have lost a child? (I will include all the people who have lost their loved ones during this Pandemic)

Let the tears flow, let it all out. Feel all the pain. I cried for four years straight. I cried for her son who wouldn’t have his mother. Before that, I never felt old in my life. But I felt old when Patty died. I was 52 when that happened.

  • Q: You raised seven children and they all get along, how did you accomplish that?

            We traveled from base to base and they got along because they needed each other. I also kept family traditions. We ate every breakfast and every dinner together. We accepted each other for who we were that day. And whatever you earned, that was yours. I let them fight. That’s where you’re supposed to fight – with your family. That’s where you learn to adjust to the real world. I never killed their curiosity. Kids want to come to you – not the other way around. No one is short on love.

  • Q: Last words?

        What women can’t do physically, we can figure out mentally. Most difficulties aren’t catastrophes.

Here’s a snippet of my family and where I come from and I’m so very lucky.

Hang in there everybody and stay on the side of the glass half full.

Best and Worst Things I’ve Been Told

I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore. In its heyday, stock photography was big money and various stock photo agents actively sought after my partner/husband and me. We had a deep body of travel and portrait images that were valued by many and we had set up meetings with some of the stock houses that were located in NYC – just across the river from where we lived, in NJ. One day we had a meeting with a rep who repeatedly praised our work as she went through our portfolio and made it clear that she wanted to sign us up. Then she said, “I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore.” We didn’t sign up with her, went on to make a lot of money in that part of the business (at that time anyway) and live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States that happens to be in NJ.

We call this the “love” contract. When many photographers were making pretty good money producing and/or licensing “stock” or existing images, one of the big stock outlets decided to roll out the new contract. At that time, stock photo contracts were changing and to be brief, the changes were never in the favor of the content creator. One day, there was a huge meeting of the photographers at their NYC headquarters and the point people from the company came out on stage and joyfully announced the rollout of the new contract, which they called the “love contract”.

That immediately caught my attention but not for the right reasons. Later the audience asked dozens of questions about changes or alterations to the contract, which were answered with replies like “we’ll take that to corporate”. After about an hour of listening to this but not seeing anyone taking notes, I instinctively asked, “How are you going to remember all this?”

They say your print is only as good as your negative. When we were starting out we were very lucky because we were embraced and mentored by a leading art director at a prestigious magazine and he gave us a lot of opportunities. I can honestly say, that knowing and working with this man has changed my life for the better I many ways. One thing he loved to do was to have a luncheon or dinner with the photographer(s) and writers and staff who worked on the article together. We were young and very green and we’d be at the table with some of the legends in the business. During one of those luncheons, a very prestigious photographer and his wife were in attendance. The photographer was going on and on complaining that he couldn’t find an assistant that could make a good print. This particular photographer was well known for complaining. I’m not sure if it was the 2nd glass of wine I had or the fact that I was sympathetic for the assistant but for some dumb reason something popped into my head from what they always told us at Brooks and I blurted out – “You know what they say. The print is only as good as the negative.” I don’t know who laughed harder, the photographer, his wife or our mentor.

We didn’t feel we needed to see you. One day my daughter came home from school and told me that her teachers didn’t feel they needed to see me on parent/teacher night because she was a great student. At the time, our town was growing and class sizes were getting big and I suppose the teachers felt that since there were no problems, there wasn’t the need to talk. I understood their plight, but I have one child and pay dearly for the public schools through high property taxes. So, please don’t tell me I can’t have 10 minutes of your time. When I met with her teachers, they praised her and said they really didn’t have much more to say. I instinctively said, “ I didn’t know it was going to be a one-way conversation.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? When I was headed to Brooks Institute and planning to drive my 10-year-old VW bug from NJ to California, by myself, my Dad told me that I would be foolish and it would be better for me to buy a better car. I immediately said, “How will I pay for it? My dad said, “you’ll get a job”. I said, “What if I don’t get one?” He said, “Gail, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I thought, well they would take away the car if I couldn’t make the payments, but at least I’ll get to California.

Why not? I got together recently with my friend and fellow filmmaker when she was in town to do a Q&A at a screening of her new movie. She reminded me of something that I once said to her and has stayed with her and inspired over the years. I said, that whenever someone questions me and asks me why I’m doing something that may seem too outrageous or daring, I answer by saying – why not?

 You’re 25 and already making compromises? I call this story my Jay Maisel story and is one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. I was young and showing my portfolio around in NYC. My love was travel and I wanted to shoot for magazines, but it wasn’t a good time to pursue editorial work, Look magazine had recently shut down and Life had folded for the first time. Everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living with photography then I needed to shoot commercial work. I had put together my commercial portfolio and went to see the legendary and blunt NYC photographer, Jay Maisel. He looked at my work and pretty much threw it back at me and said: “This is crap, this isn’t what you want to do – is it?” I told him no, and that I wanted to shoot for magazines and travel but everyone told me that I wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. And the blah blah blah of youthful excuses. He asked me how old I was to which I replied that I was 25 years old. I’ll never forget what he said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises!”

My Money Shot

Attached is a jpeg of a photo I call My Money Shot.   If you can’t see the image, please read further. If you can see the image, please read on anyway.

I had a shoot last week to photograph a wine tasting event that was a fundraiser. In addition, there was a silent auction as well as a 50/50 drawing. At one point people were bringing around a basket of 50/50 tickets and crumpled up bills (American money). I took a quick photo of it and moved on.

Later that evening I downloaded everything that I had shot that night, even though it was late. I had shot both raw files and jpegs so I did a quick spot check by clicking on some of the jpeg files. When I clicked on one of the jpegs in Photoshop CS6 (a non-cloud app), I got a plain grey PS background with a message that said

 “This application does not support the editing of banknote images. For more information, select the information button below for Internet-based information on restrictions for copying and distributing banknote images or go to http://www.rulesforuse.org.”

 

 

I have been in business a long time and I’ve used Photoshop since its inception, but this was the first time this had ever happened to me.

I was very surprised for a couple of reasons.

  • I was not using a cloud-based app (although I was online)
  • My photo was a picture of crumpled up money – not a picture of a complete banknote that I could possibly counterfeit.

The next day I attended Photo Plus Expo and I spoke with some of the Adobe folks at the show. They seemed a bit skeptical of my story. Finally, one of the reps pulled a dollar bill out of his pocket and took a picture of it with his phone. Then he brought it into his mobile Lightroom app and he had no problem opening up the file. At that point, I was questioning if it even had happened to me. But I was determined to find out if it would happen again and decided to try it on another computer when I got home.

I brought the files into my laptop that has the same Photoshop CS6 app installed and the same thing happened. I wasn’t allowed to open the jpegs. I tried twice, once while I was online and once when I wasn’t. The same thing occurred both times – I couldn’t open the jpegs. Then I discovered that I was allowed to open the raw files. This really perplexed me because it made no sense and it wasn’t consistent with its own policy.

Ultimately, I delivered all the images using the raw files. Granted, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I hadn’t been able to open “my money shot”. But, I persisted because at that point I was on a mission to clear up my confusion.

I never really did figure out why this happened and why it happened with this particular image that seemed so harmless. To be honest, it’s downright creepy. I’d love to hear from people who may have experienced the same thing. Or even hear from some folks who can shed more light on the matter.

The story behind the photo – An afternoon in Versailles.

I was on assignment for Smithsonian Magazine, shooting a story about the restoration of Versailles after storms had severely damaged many of the gardens. That was the bad news –  I was going to be shooting damaged beauty. The good news was that a lot of work and money had been infused into the gardens of Versailles after they had been neglected for years – some gardens had been gated with no entry.

I consider myself as a people photographer so photographing gardens wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse but the magazine editor must have seen something in me that I didn’t. After seeing dozens of uprooted trees, I asked the head gardener if he would pose for a portrait. He obliged and his body language said it all. He was confident – in control – and was restoring the beauty.

It’s not often that one gets to see to behind the scenes of a place but I did at Versailles that day. It will be a day I won’t forget.

Moving Forward

I got a memory today, on Facebook, letting me know that 3 years ago I posted this blog on Journeys of a Hybrid. I read it and started to look back on the last three years.  The website has been updated hundreds of times and the reel has been redone twice. Work has definitely been a mix between still photography and storytelling video and I launched a new project entitled, Like a Woman, about women working in predominately male professions. I also put more effort into my Instagram account bringing new life and eyeballs to my legacy images as well as my new ones.  Please follow me.I’ve been a terrible blogger, and in fact, have disappeared the last few months, but I’ve decided to blog more.  But I will take a different approach and that is to talk about the story behind the making of the photograph or video. I like to learn by example and I hope that others do too.

 

New Website, New Reel, New Look for Kelly/Mooney

It had been far too long since we did a redesign of our website – more than 5 years. Not only the industry (visual communications) has changed in the past 5 years, but so has our KM Logobusiness. More and more, clients are asking us to provide visual solutions in mixed mediums for a variety of uses – print, the web and social media. That’s been true especially with our editorial and corporate clients. It’s rare when a client comes to us for just one photograph for one usage.

With that said, we wanted a new website that would demonstrate the scope of our business. The first thing I did was to define the look and functionality of the website as well as what I wanted the website to communicate to potential buyers. We knew that a template site with just our still images no longer represented our business. We also knew that we wanted a website that would speak to our client’s needs and the services we provide that meet those needs.

My list of must haves for our website:

  • A site I could manage and update easily.
  • A site I could move to another server if I chose to do so.
  • A “scrolling” website. In researching numerous websites, the scrolling or parallax scrolling websites appealed to me and I began to see them everywhere – small and large film companies, graphic designers, non-profits, etc. We wanted a site that told the Kelly/Mooney story.
  • Messaging throughout the site communicating to potential buyers, what we do, the services we provide, how we work and who we are.
  • Intuitive navigation.
  • A site that would not only show our work but our experience as well.

I should point out that before I even got to this point, I had spent over a year culling through a vast archive of our work – literally terabytes of still images and footage – both digital and analog. I did the task over time, sifting through new work and old, trying to distill it down to the best representation of what we do, what we want to do and our self-initiated work, Ultimately sorting through this body of work, not only served the purpose for the website but resulted in a new reel as well.

Challenges:

  • One of the biggest challenges we’ve always had was showing one unique vision because there are two of us. This website shows our combined work throughout the galleries, but it’s the first time we show individual galleries for Kelly & Mooney.
  • New reel – I took 7 hours of footage down to a 90 sec. reel. And then I re-edited it! That doesn’t take into account the time I spent sifting through music selections to pick the right piece for the soundtrack of the reel.
  • Picking images – We have a huge body of work because of the longevity of our careers. Ultimately we selected mostly recent work, but we didn’t want to discount our classic images so we decided to create a legacy gallery.
  • Realizing that I sized the images too big. In addition to the images having long load times, they bogged down the site by adding to the size making it a double-digit Gig file. I had to go back to the images and resize them all. That was not fun as I’m not a big fan of going backward.
  • Finishing the site at the beginning of the summer and then cutting it back all summer long because it was just too overwhelming. No doubt, there’s still editing that should be done on the site but at a certain point, we had to launch. We finally did on Oct. 6, 2015. That in itself was traumatic. Right after we went live, somehow I deleted a critical file, which shut down the site. I was very fortunate that I had great support from our host server who had everything restored within the hour.
  • This is the first time I’ve ever built a website. It was frustrating, challenging and scary. I thought that my limited knowledge of WordPress from working on my blog would be enough to create a WordPress website. It wasn’t, and it has been a huge learning curve for me. But I wasn’t the only one who worked on this website and I’d like to acknowledge the people who helped me through my meltdowns: my partner Tom Kelly, my colleague Jan Klier, and all the lifesavers at DreamHost (our host server) and folks at Envato who designed the WordPress theme.

This will continue to be a work in progress and I welcome comments and suggestions. http://kellymooney.com/

“There are no Secrets on Easter Island”

Out of the blue, on a lonely stretch of road, a car slowed to a stop and the driver rolled down the window and yelled out “there are no secrets on Easter Island”. I was on assignment on the island and I was shooting a portrait of this Rapanui man in a very remote spot on the island which was is one of the most remote places in the world. It was also mysterious and a wonderful place for exploration and photography.

One night I attended an indigenous dance performance. Native Rapa Nui Man, Easter Island, ChileIt was exhilarating and alive with sexual energy capturing the primal spirit of the people. I knew immediately that I wanted to photograph him with the barren environment of the island in the background.

He agreed and we set up a time and place. He drove up on a scooter sans makeup and tribal dress and proceeded to strip down naked in the middle of the road using the mirror of our car to apply his makeup. The shoot was memorable and what I remember the most was the fierce wind that was blowing and the engaging spirit of this man. His eyes tell the story and secrets of this mystical island.

Gail Mooney is an award-winning photographer and storyteller.