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Best of 2010 - Gail Mooney


A seasoned storyteller in both stills and video, Gail Mooney mapped a three-month global quest with her daughter Erin to document people making a difference on a grassroots level. With a goal of telling seven stories on seven continents, the pair eagerly embraced a hybrid solution using HDSLR cameras to record both stills and video. Social networking and project blog updates kept them on the map with followers even when they were off the grid. Once complete, the films will go out to a global audience via Amazon and iTunes.

Gail Mooney, Brookside, NJ

Web site: www.openingoureyes.net, openingoureyes.wordpress.com

Project: Three-month mother/daughter worldwide travel for multimedia, documentary feature on people making a positive difference on a grassroots level.


All images in this article © Gail Mooney.

 

ASMP: How long have you been in business?
GM:
Since 1977.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
GM:
Since 1982.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
GM:
Travel, people, portraits, corporate, video and multimedia.

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
GM:
I have embraced the HDSLR cameras for this project. I wanted to shoot both stills and video for this documentary and, because we were going to be traveling for such a long period of time — 99 days — I could not pack two camera systems. So I opted for the hybrid solution. It’s a bit clumsy after working with a traditional HD video camera for many years, but the images are stunning. The audio capture and stabilization aspects of these cameras are OK — but not ideal.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
GM:
For video, probably my tripod and/or stabilization rig and my digital recorder for sound. Audio is everything in video. Shaky video and bad audio is unacceptable.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
GM:
I have been shooting both stills and video for more than ten years. I think and “see” in both “moments in time” as well as “time in motion” and I can offer my clients viable solutions to deliver their messages in the most appropriate medium. Now more and more photographers are expanding into video and multimedia because of the hybrid camera technology. But I think I have the edge because I know how to tell the story in “motion.” Many still photographers focus solely on the tool and forget that telling a story in motion is quite different than telling a story in still images.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: How did the idea of the Opening Our Eyes project first originate? Was it a project you conceived with your daughter from the outset?
GM:
I had my beginnings as a photographer after returning from a year-long backpacking odyssey. It was then that I realized that I wanted to incorporate travel and exploring cultures into a career. Some 33 years later, I was yearning to get back to my beginnings. The time was right. I had just seen Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition at the Met in New York City and knew I wanted to plan a road trip. But I also knew that I needed a purpose.

© Gail Mooney

I had been inspired by a young woman in my town, Maggie Doyne, who had gone to high school with my daughter. Maggie opted not to go to college right away, traveled a bit and then ended up in Nepal. After seeing so many children orphaned by years of civil war there, she decided to stay and build a children’s home. That was five years ago and she now has 30 children living with her and is in the process of building a school.

© Gail Mooney

I knew there were many “individuals” who were doing things like Maggie to make a positive difference in the world, so I decided to seek out others. Using social media and e-mailing everyone I knew for subject leads, I got an e-mail from my daughter saying that she wanted to be part of this project. I knew this needed to be her idea and that she really had the desire to do it. She was passionate about taking this journey with me, so she left her job, sublet her apartment in Chicago and joined me in this venture. It was the best thing that happened. She has been a true asset in the making of this documentary and I could not have done this without her.

ASMP: Had you ever worked with your daughter before? Has she been involved in any of your company (Kelly Mooney Productions) projects (run by your husband and yourself)?
GM:
My daughter has traveled with both myself and my husband and partner ever since she was born. So in a sense she has been involved. But this is the first time we have ever worked together.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Please describe how the work was structured or divided between yourself and your daughter. Who did what? As a result of your work together, did either of you learn anything new or unexpected about your relationship?
GM:
My daughter has pretty much dealt with all our subjects — dialoging with them and coordinating schedules. She speaks Spanish, so that is a big plus. I’ve also trained her to do the sound and capture audio, and for the most part she does the subject interviews. I take care of all the logistics — planes, trains, hotels, and so on. I run the camera and do all the post-production work. I’ve also taken care of and arranged for all our gear needs.

© Gail Mooney

My daughter and I work well together and we make up a good balance, since we have different personalities. I’m much more impulsive and ready for just about anything. My daughter Erin is more calm and likes to investigate things before jumping in. She’s also very good with details — she navigated us around the metro in Moscow — somehow deciphering the Cyrillic signs for direction. I still don’t know how she did it, but we never got lost.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Please tell us about the pre-production project research. How did you identify the subjects you selected to document?
GM:
I took this task viral, sending query e-mails to everyone I knew, and I also used social media to get our message out. For the most part, my subjects all came by word of mouth, from friends or friends of friends. I was looking for the unsung hero — the individual, not the celebrity, not the big NGOs — and I managed to find many amazing people. Finding out about so many giving, caring and passionate people was a joy in itself.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Were there subjects identified that you were not able to include in the project? If so, what factors were most important in deciding which subjects to include and which stories to tell?
GM:
There were so many people that we could not include. The biggest determining factor was scheduling. We were traveling on a round-the-world award air ticket that had a lot of restrictions. So after we sorted through the people we felt would make the best subjects in a variety of areas, it really came down to scheduling and working with the constraints of our airline ticketing.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: What, if any, role does serendipity play in this project? Please describe any flexibility (in terms of schedule, travel or finances) you had to change direction or follow a new or unexpected subject or tangent during the trip?
GM:
There’s always some serendipity at each destination — that’s the beauty of traveling, if you can be somewhat flexible to let serendipity happen. This is why I choose not to travel in groups that have rigid agendas. And of course there have been many times we have had to be flexible. We’ve come across canceled flights, strikes and political unrest, so we’ve had to roll with the punches.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: This is the first time you are using HDSLR cameras to shoot both stills and video footage. Did you find there to be any challenges or downsides to not shooting motion footage with a video camera?
GM:
I’ve been shooting video for over ten years with a traditional video camera, so it took some time to adjust to the HDSLRs. But I had the advantage over still photographers just starting to shoot motion because I already knew how to think and shoot in motion, and I knew how to capture good audio. The downside to these cameras is that the audio capture is a bit clumsy compared to a video camera. It’s also more exhausting for me physically when using a stabilization rig and not using a tripod, because I’m used to a video camera that I can rest on my shoulder.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: What, if any, logistical and technical challenges did you face using cameras and computers to capture, edit and feed ongoing material to your Web site and blog as you traveled from country to country.
GM:
Just the basics are sometimes challenging. In Nepal there were days when we had no electricity, so I’m glad I had the foresight to have a lot of camera batteries and cards with me on those days that I couldn’t download my cards or recharge my camera batteries. I’ve also been in extremely dusty places where the cameras are really taking a beating; but I must say, I’m impressed with the sensor self-cleaning of the Canon 5D Mark II. Getting online is always a challenge so, when we do get connected, we usually post a couple of blogs and schedule them to appear on future dates.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: What, if any, types of challenges did you face during your travels and/or in your shoot locations? Please talk about strategies you used to address the challenges that occur when embarking on a project of this magnitude.
GM:
Just traveling for 99 days is rigorous. Then, of course, getting a job done is very challenging. For the most part we don’t have a car, so we walk a lot or rely on public transportation, which can be cumbersome, time consuming and an adventure in itself. Sometimes the language has been a problem and then, of course, there are always surprises. Like when we were flying from Warsaw to Moscow — about a two-hour flight — but we had to change planes in Minsk, Belarus. When we got to Belarus (late), we were told we had to get a transit visa for the 15 minutes we’d be in the country. It cost us $600! That’s been the most miserable experience so far and it’s a country I will not return to. That, by the way, was the price for Americans.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Do any particular stories or moment(s) stand out as a particular highlight, epiphany or primary moment in your coverage?
GM:
Everyone we have met has touched us deeply. It’s so amazing to find these extraordinary people. I can’t really say one has been a highlight over another — they are so unique in their own way, yet they have a common bond of caring and being passionate on making a positive change. But I do have to say that Maggie Doyne, my daughter’s high school classmate, is a remarkable woman. She is 23 years old and has accomplished more than many have in a lifetime. She has given hope and a childhood back to so many orphaned children in Nepal and now she continues to inspire me as she finishes the construction of a school which will make many other children in Nepal realize their dreams.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Please describe the procedures you used to capture audio during your travels.
GM:
I use two devices for capturing audio. If I’m shooting with a stabilization rig like the Zacuto rig that I use, I use a JuicedLink audio mixer and a shotgun mic on camera, so I’m capturing both audio and video to the same card. When shooting interviews, I use a shotgun mic on a boom stand as well as a lav mic on my subject and run both into a separate digital recorder, the Samson H4NZoom, via XLR cords and then will sync the sound and video together later in post-production.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Please talk about the travel aspect of this project. Were there any particular difficulties you faced? In hindsight is there anything you would do differently in the future?
GM:
As I relayed before, I will never go to Belarus again, nor transit through this country. I am a pretty savvy traveler and have been making my own travel arrangements for many years. I opted not to take the train from Warsaw to Moscow because I heard that it went through Riga where they levied high transit visas. So we opted to fly Belavia Air, the national airlines of Belarus going from Warsaw to Moscow with a connection in Minsk. There was no mention of transit visas and we had already experienced many connecting flights on this trip where we simply went through the transit passport lines with no problems or fees. But this time, when we got to Minsk we were told we needed a transit visa, so we rushed upstairs to get it quickly in order to make our connecting flight. A stern official instructed us to fill out a long two-sided visa application and then told us it would cost $300 each!!! I was shocked and I didn’t have $600 in cash so they took us to an ATM where my card didn’t work. Then they took us to a small currency exchange kiosk, which was closed for a dinner break. The official pounded on the kiosk door to no avail because the woman inside wouldn’t open it up. Finally, after 45 minutes she opened the kiosk, took my ATM card, gave me $600 and charged me a $12 commission. As I was paying for the visa, I took note that the tariff sign on the wall in the office listed the U.S. price along with other countries — it was more than three to four times more than any other country, including European countries. That has been the worst experience so far. Other than that, travel is exhausting because you always need to be mindful of your belongings and make sure you’re where you need to be which isn’t always easy to figure out. There are many scams and hustlers and there are days when it really just wears you down.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: How did you finance this worldwide trip? Was fundraising or project sponsorship part of your planning process? If so, please elaborate.
GM:
This trip has pretty much been self-funded and creatively financed by using airline miles, hotel rewards and Amex points. I did need to pay for vaccinations, visas and food. I’ve also worked out trades with hotels where I would get accommodations in exchange for shooting video b-roll and still images for their usage. My biggest expense has my investment in new gear because I needed to outfit myself with HDSLR’s. I had a little money that my mother left me when she died about six years ago that I hadn’t touched. I used a bit of that for the cash expenditures. And some people have been kind and made donations. But our budget is quite minimal.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Have any sponsors been involved in this project and, if so, what role have they played in determining the locations you visit or the stories you post?
GM:
We do not have sponsors, which can be good and bad. Bad because we are self-funding this project, but good because we have total creative control and can really make the project the way we want it to be. We do not need to compromise our vision and can tell the story as we experience it as opposed to through someone else’s eyes.

ASMP: You describe social networking as an essential component to the project’s mission. Please talk about your strategy for this. Did this strategy change at all from your initial plan once you set out on the trip?
GM:
I knew that I wanted to find my subjects via word of mouth and through social networking but I also wanted to build an audience for the film in the process and while we were making it. It’s been an incredible thing, seeing the numbers of our blog readers grow daily as readers pass the link along to their friends. One day WordPress listed our blog on their home page and the number of hits we got really took off. The power of social networking is truly remarkable. We also plan to distribute our film via iTunes and possibly Amazon.com.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: How much time do you generally spend on social networking yourself in an average day? Please talk about whether you’ve found social networking to be beneficial to brand building or the acquisition of new business.
GM:
These days, while we are on the road we don’t spend much time at all on social networking; Internet time can be expensive. But when I’m at home, I probably spend a couple hours a day on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Using social networking can be a very powerful tool for brand building and creating awareness if you do it right. You should have something to say and be willing to share and people will read what you’re writing. But you must be sincere and realize that it takes time and doesn’t happen overnight or in a black and white way. It happens gradually and the rewards come — just not always in direct ways.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Which of your social networking groups or services have been the most fruitful for this project and which services or groups have been less fruitful?
GM:
Facebook and Twitter, and of course my blogs on Wordpress. I can be found pretty easily and everything links to one another and my Web site www.kellymooney.com.

ASMP: Has your work on this project expanded your visibility or standing in social networks? What kinds of results are you anticipating this to have for your business?
GM:
I always used to feel like an unknown, even though my work has been published in many high-profile magazines and annual reports. With social networking I’m not in the shadows anymore. I am very much on the grid and people are aware of me and my creative efforts.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: How will you evaluate the “success” of your journey and what criteria will you use — new social contacts, site page views, blog comments, images created, business connections, new assignments, other factors-to determine your success?
GM:
Of course I’d love to create new business connections and assignments, but the real motivation for this project is to shine a light on people who are making a positive change in the world, to inspire others to do the same. If that happens — if more and more people her about this project and are inspired to do something themselves — then I feel it will have been a success. In a sense, this is my way of giving with the talents that I have. That’s good karma.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Please talk about distribution for this work. What plans do you have for presenting the work in a finished form (i.e.: film screenings, Internet presentations, books or publications in print and so on). Do you have specific networks in place for distributing the content you produce?
GM:
I will create independent Web videos of each of our subjects’ stories as well as create a feature length film comprised of all the stories. My hope is to distribute it virally through i-Tunes and Amazon.com. I’d also love to do a book or exhibition, and I’ve thought about giving talks at college campuses to inspire others to create change and follow their passions.

© Gail Mooney

ASMP: Are you planning any future projects with your daughter? If so, what would you plan to change and what would remain the same?
GM:
Right now, we are just thinking about this one. But who knows what the future will hold? That’s what makes life exciting.

© Gail Mooney