Tell Us How to Make It Better

15. The Power Of Ordinary Citizens to Enact Change

December 06, 2021 George Siegal Season 1 Episode 15
Tell Us How to Make It Better
15. The Power Of Ordinary Citizens to Enact Change
Show Notes Transcript

December 6, 2021
15. The Power Of Ordinary Citizens to Enact Change

Mary Wall and Eric Wojtanik talk about their documentary film The Fan Connection, a story about identity, possibility, and the power of ordinary citizens to enact change. If you are a sports fan or live in a town where sports are important to the community, you’ll want to listen to this podcast and then watch the film. Stay in touch with Mary and Eric and learn about how you can set up a screening or where the film might be shown on the Fan Connection Website.

 Here are some important moments in the podcast:
At 5:08 Mary talks about why it was important for her to make The Fan Connection. 

 At 9:08 Eric talks about how they cast the people in the film and the challenges they faced during production.

 At 18:00 Mary offers advice to people that have an idea for doing something but haven’t gotten started yet.

If you have ideas for podcasts or want to share your thoughts on what you’ve listened to, we’d love to hear from you: https://movetheworldfilms.org/contact
 
If you enjoyed listening to this podcast with Mary and Eric and their film The Fan Connection, please share this link with your friends so they can listen as well: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1841430/9652120

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George Siegal:

Move the world is partnering with the readiness lab, the home for podcasts, webinars, and training in the field of emergency and disaster services. I'm George Siegal. And this is the move the world podcast. Every week we feature interviews with people dedicated to making the world a better place. Thank you for joining me on this. Week's move the world podcast. Our goal every week on this podcast is to introduce you to people who in their jobs or in their lives are doing something to help move the world and make it a better place. And that could be done so many different ways, one of them is through stories that are told through documentary films. Now I'm a huge sports fan. I live and die with my teams on a weekly basis, and it can have a major difference on the mood that I'm in after a game. And in some cities they've had teams that have been bad for years, and that can not only affect the mood of the fans that can affect the mood of an entire community. My guests today made a documentary film called the fan connection about the struggles and frustrations of fans of the Buffalo Sabres. Here's a clip.

Movie Trailer:

Our self really expands to include other people. A wonderful example of this is sports teams. These are strangers playing a game, but I care about them because I psychologically identify as being part of their same group. If I'm a fan of the sabers, I've incorporated those players into me, the committed fan is essentially on a roller coaster.

Male Fan:

I can explain my connection to the team I feel like it's got something to do with trying to growing up with the team a little bit..

George Siegal:

That was a clip from the documentary film, The Fan Connection. And my guests today are Mary Wall, a former math teacher and environmental engineer. Mary left a job on the hit show, the office to direct The Fan Connection. And Eric Wojtanik , who is a writer, an independent filmmaker from Eden New York. He lives and works in Los Angeles where he's been part of a number of network sitcoms, including ABC's speechless and NBC's perfect. Harmony, harmony, Eric and Mary. Welcome.

Eric Wojtanik:

Thanks so much for having us.

George Siegal:

Oh, I'm thrilled to have you guys on here. I loved your film, but let's start off with talking about. Uh, tell me what you guys do to move the world.

Mary Wall:

Um, so for me, one of the things is always trying to be aware in my daily life of small ways to move the world. Um, I have a tendency to always think big. So for me, it's important to remember. The small daily occurrences of kindness that can move the world for someone. Um, you know, as an example, when I found out my grandfather was dying that day, someone held the door for me, it was incredibly small. It probably meant nothing to him. Um, but it meant the world to me that day to have that happen. Um, and, and so I try to keep that in mind and then bigger things like telling stories that I try to tell stories that highlight you know the possible and the good in the world and by highlighting the good in the world, that doesn't mean that the Bab doesn't exist. Right. But it means there are always other people out there doing what you're talking about, trying to move the world into a better place.

George Siegal:

Absolutely. Cause there's so many negative things that happen. And that's what I've tried to do with this podcast. I mean, I have opinions about things, but it's focusing on the positive, um, can make such a difference. We don't get enough of that, Eric, what about you?.

Eric Wojtanik:

Yeah. I think if you're talking about, um, professionally as an independent filmmaker, you know, I'm, I'm always drawn to stories, um, where there's the opportunity to share something that helps us come together and understand a different group of people or person that we may not encounter or interact with in our daily lives. Um, because. Human connectivity, you know, is maybe something that in our world today is getting lost a little bit as we're becoming more divided and individualistic and polarized because of different things going on in our culture and society. So for me, the best way to maybe combat those things and hopefully bring about positive change would be to come together. Um, and so. Sharing stories that are going to motivate people to come together and, and build community, uh, is maybe a way that that can be done. And I think that was certainly one of the goals. Um, Mary and I had with this specific film, the fan connection.

George Siegal:

Yeah, no, the three of us as filmmakers, what we all know is you can make a film that ends up dividing people even more because there could be something in it that just pisses off half your audience. And there's a real danger of that. But what I loved about your film. Is, if you're a sports fan and you care about sports, you have any kind of passion for a team. It really embodied the feeling that fans have. And your film takes place in Buffalo, where the sabers are a hockey team that have had a tough, a tough go of it. And the film really captures that. Well, what were you guys thinking about and what were you looking for when you went out there and started to make the film?

Mary Wall:

Um, and for me, when I first had the idea, it was really to tell the story of my hometown and sports was a good way to do that because it would, it was both a metaphor for the city itself and its struggles and its ability to still look hopefully towards the future. Um, it provided a great structure for our movie, which was nice. Um, so I started just with that broad idea. But I knew that an audience or other people probably don't care that much about Buffalo. If you just try and sell it like that or about the savers, but people will care about people. So for me, the casting was really important trying to get those people, um, No matter whether you're a Tampa bay lightning fan, or, you know, a completely non-sports fan that you could relate to these people and then feel like this, their story was also your story.

George Siegal:

Absolutely. What about you Eric?

Eric Wojtanik:

Yeah, I think Mary touched on it, but definitely that relate-ability um, and that idea of the story being universal because, um, like she said, we want. Fans of all different teams, but also just fans in general, um, fans of anything, for example. So if you're a super fan of Harry Potter, like you can understand watching this movie, why these people feel so passionately about their sports team. Um, we wanted the movie to resonate with as many people as possible, not just sports people. Um, Even people who, you know, don't like sports at all. Maybe it will help them understand, uh, fan culture and, and super fans. Um, so that was really, really the goal was to cast people who were relatable and whose stories would resonate with anyone on an emotional and personal level.

George Siegal:

I think when most people think about Buffalo, I think about the frustrations with the Bills. And the four Superbowls that they lost and the frustration of never getting over the hump there. And they might not think of the Sabres as much, but what was great about your film is, is those characters because you feel for them, even if you're not a sports fan, when you see the disappointment on their faces and what that means, I mean, it's, it's a pretty big deal. It really does make a difference.

Eric Wojtanik:

Yeah. Yeah. You're definitely rooting for them, um, and rooting for what they root for. And then the nice thing about the personal stories being included is you get to see them have wins, you know, in their personal lives. Whereas maybe the sports team, the Sabres that they're so passionate about, doesn't really get to win on the ice spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen the movie. Um, you know, these people, they, they get to overcome the obstacles that they personally are facing in their lives. And. And then we see a little bit of that in the city as well.

George Siegal:

Now you talk about the characters in the film, the people that you followed, um, how difficult is it to come up with people like that? You know, I, I always tell people that when you're a small crew making a film, you really can't afford a lot of misses when you're doing that. Because if you're following someone around for a season and they don't pan out, you you're in trouble. So how'd that work out for you guys?

Mary Wall:

Um, well, we knew that going in and so we cast a 12 people to follow knowing that it would not work out for everyone. And I was very upfront with everyone who I picked to be in the movie. So yeah, it was following around actually a dozen people to ultimately end up with three stories. All of the people we followed are represented in the movie in some way, um, you know, be in a line or two here or there, but yeah, we kind of.

Eric Wojtanik:

Yeah. And that pool of, or, well, the 12 individuals that were followed, uh, were drawn from a pool of about 170 people that showed up for casting sessions. Essentially. It's kind of a weird phrase to use for documentary because typically you're not, you're not casting it in the same way you're casting a narrative feature film. Um, but it was a series of interviews that allowed Mary and everyone else who was, um, on that production side to sort of distill whether or not this person was going to have. Um, as much interest in their fan identity as their personal identity, I guess, because it was important, not that they just be super fans of Buffalo sabers, but that they themselves had things going on in their own lives that as we were speaking to before anybody watching could relate to, or, or find some sort of resonant emotion within. Um, and so those 12 people that were selected were kind of, uh, Chosen with those things in mind. And then we let their stories play out as life would, you know, there's no script. So we don't really have any idea where anything's going to go.

George Siegal:

Well, what a lot of people don't realize is when with a documentary, as opposed to TV news, where you can pretty much stick a camera in anybody's face, and you're allowed to put that on the air. We have to get releases from people that are in our films. So, what was it like getting that kind of access to their lives? Now you're following 12 people, but it's more than 12 people. It's the people they're with. It's kind of their extended reach as well.

Mary Wall:

Yeah. And that was when I initially sent that email out to everyone saying, Hey, I'd like you to be in this movie, please discuss it with your family because. I'll be there. Right. And we actually had two people say no. Um, when we got to that point and then, you know, we, we picked some other people. Um, so they were well aware that I would be present. Um, I think sometimes it still, um, caught people by surprise, uh, how much, but eventually they got used to it. We we've been doing some bonus features stuff forour DVD and. You know, some of the behind the scenes, um, you know, one person, I was filming her at work and you could hear her co-worker say, well, can I walk between you and the camera? And she just like, yeah, this is just how we hang out. Um, this is just our life. Um, so they do get used to it and I think the people really close to them get used to it. But then they're still kind of the amusing thing. When you go out into an office. Then have to get everyone to sign a release at the office.

George Siegal:

Yeah. There's always one guy. This is don't film me. Or are they, they there's, there's so many things that come up in the production of a film that I think most people don't don't realize. And then how that film is put together, portrays to the public, what the filmmaker had in mind.. What's nice about your film, is it doesn't, there's not necessarily an agenda that shows in the film, it's more just following them. So, Eric, what challenges did you come across as, as you were making this thing, what did, what was the most challenging thing for you?

Eric Wojtanik:

Uh, when we were making it that mean the challenge, it's an obvious one, but it's financial it's it's funding, so it's a completely independent venture. So, you know, Mary and I were the people who through production, we're paying for everything. And there wasn't a budget or anything that, uh, we knew, okay, it's going to cost X amount. Um, it's just sort of a pay as you go experience, especially with the nature of verite filming, um, that we were doing with their no real. Okay. We're going to film for one hockey season. And within that hockey season, all the things within these people's lives are going to happen that make a full, complete story. Like we had no control over that. So we ended up filming over the course of three hockey seasons and then editing that down to make it seem like it was all taking place during one hockey season to tell a more coherent, concise story. Um, but all of that, you know, It's sort of stretches you financially. Um, it stretches people it's like maybe patience for you. Like not just the cast, but, um, your family and everyone else who you are asking a lot of, to, to go along with you on this journey. Um, and yeah, that was probably the most difficult part is maybe not really knowing when it was all going to end or knowing when to stop, like when you had enough, because, you know, we ended up, we still don't even know like approximately how much, but the estimation is around a thousand hours of footage total so. So

George Siegal:

Imagine how much it would have screwed it up if they had won?

Eric Wojtanik:

Well, I wouldn't have been the worst case scenario either would have made for a nice ending in a way, but, um, yeah. Just, just not really knowing when the story was going to be over. I think eventually we just kind of decided, okay, we think we have it. And then trusting that we did and going into the edit, not really knowing, and then discovering basically what, what the movie became.

George Siegal:

And what's the reaction you got from the people you portrayed in the film. How did they feel about. The final product. Cause that's, for me, that's always nerve wracking. You know, I had to show my last film to FEMA, unfortunately, to get their permission because they were in it and they wanted to make sure they weren't represented badly. So there's a lot of fear factor with you guys. You're showing to people in your community. What's that like?

Eric Wojtanik:

Uh, it was interesting because we show we had done some focus group testing, and then we let, uh, the cast and their family see like a preview cut and the film hadn't been finished yet. And it was long. And so like the focus group version of the film that we showed, there was like a lot of, um, well, this didn't happen at this point or there was a lot of sort of um, people feeling maybe that it wasn't the greatest representation. Um, and so we kind of had to take all that information and distill it down to what it would mean to make what it means to make the film better, because we knew we were a ways away yet it was around a two hour or an hour and 45 minute cut at least, um, what we were showing. So, um, it was, it was helpful though, to get that honest feedback. Um, because then when they saw the finished version, they were like, wow, like this is a completely different movie. Like you did so much work on it. And we did, but in reality it was only like 15 minutes shorter, but we just did all those little things to make it feel more complete and cohesive. And, um, I mean, For example, if you're talking about reaction and reception, our Buffalo premiere was probably the best screening we've ever had. It was at the Buffalo international film festival. We had around 400 people there. We ended up winning the audience award at the festival, which sounds like it should be easy to do with a film like ours, but it's actually pretty difficult because of how the scoring and rating system goes. So, um, yeah, I think. Reception and reaction wise, both within the Buffalo community at large. And then specifically within the cast has been entirely positive, even for the people who, you know, had their stories cut down a lot and had a lot smaller role than maybe was anticipated because we filmed hundreds of hours of their lives. Um, Understood the bigger picture in the story we were trying to tell, and I appreciated the film for what it was.

George Siegal:

Yeah. I always feel bad for the people we have to cut out because it's a big deal to them, but unfortunately that's the way it goes sometimes. So film is such a great way, I think, to move the world because you're putting something out there that can really make a difference in people's lives. What advice would you guys have to somebody who has an idea and wants to try something? Maybe not as extensive as what you did, but just if they have an idea, they think can, can make a difference. What would you tell them Mary?

Mary Wall:

Um, I think for me, the biggest step is telling someone for the first time. Um, it was something that I ran a marathon, like right after college and it was something in my trainers manual. It was like tell people, cause they will ask you about it and how that particular thing in your life is going. So there's sort of an accountability. Like I remember having this idea and thinking, oh, I'm really gonna try and make this. And I remember being home from LA visiting my parents and remember just storing up this insane amount of courage to tell my mother and my sister, that I was thinking of making a documentary. And not that like my mom or my sister were going to make or break this movie in that moment. Like they weren't gonna tell me no, or yes, or, but it, it was the reality. It made it real, like, just that moment of telling these two people who were close to me, all of a sudden, turn this switch in my head. And now this was an actual thing that I was doing. Um, so to me, that can be a great first step and then it gets easier. The more people you tell and then eventually you can try you find your community. Like I did this really crazy. I completely haphazard attempt at casting it first after I told them, and it did not go well, but I found Eric, um, during that. And so like, things kind of we'll come from unexpected places too, but it all starts with, for me, telling people both for yourself and for community building

George Siegal:

anybody tell you, you were crazy to leave the office to make a documentary film.

Mary Wall:

Um, not really. The thing that you might think was the most crazy. It was the people on the office, um, were so supportive. They were like, oh man, I'm sorry to see Mary go, but how could you say no to something like this or other like people in way higher places than me telling me they were jealous that I was doing something like this. So, I mean, it was a really special show and it was hard for me to leave because you know, the old adage about TV series being like family. 100% true there. Um, but not, I had a lot of support from them and if anyone said I was crazy, it was not anyone on the show,

George Siegal:

just all just friends and family, the ones that normally tell you when you're crazy. What about you Eric?

Eric Wojtanik:

Yeah. In terms of advice, I would say start with something that you are personally passionate about, um, because. It could be an important thing, but if, if that spark isn't there for you, it's going to manifest in an artificial way and probably not be incredibly successful. So by bringing your own personal passion to it, I think is where you're going to find the like-minded people, um, that are ultimately going to help you achieve that thing. The one thing I've learned from doing, uh, projects like this is, it's an impossible undertaking to do on your own. Like there, it really is insurmountable. You, you need to find the people who share your sensibilities and your enthusiasm and collectively work together to make this thing happen. Like you lean on them, they lean on you and together you make something really special. And that's like the worthwhile experience out of it all too, because even if you could do it all by yourself, why would you, like, that's just such a almost selfish experience to have, like it's sharing the experience that makes it so important and meaningful.

George Siegal:

It's tough. When you have a small crew compared to you, you watch a Hollywood movie at the end and there's five minutes of credits. You know, we were, we were trying to think, who could we throw in the credits to make ours longer. , when it's a small team, but everybody that you have has to be, has to be contributing. You need, good people.

Eric Wojtanik:

Absolutely.

George Siegal:

So how can people see the film? How would you get people to see the fan connection? Cause it's certainly worth watching and I hope people want to check it out. Where would they go to see it? Well, right now the film actually isn't publicly available. We're distributing it in the educational market. And we still have some screenings theatrically that we're hoping to secure probably in the early to mid 20 to 2022 range. Um, but the cities we're targeting for that are Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, um, hopefully New York and Los Angeles, Boston, um, Washington DC. So. That publicly, that would probably be the next opportunity. We also have some, um, some virtual screening engagements that we'll likely pursue again in the 2022 range. Um, and then we're gonna finish our DVD, um, with bonus features and that'll be available through kickstand culture, um, which is actually, uh, a bike culture shop that. In the film, uh, Renee, she was one of the profile cast. She owns it now. Um, and we do have some pop and play DVDs available there, but they're literally, you put the DVD in the movie starts, it finishes. There's no like menu screen, there's no bells and whistles or anything. Did you have a website and a way people can get your newsletter so they can stay in touch? How would they, how would they get on that?

Mary Wall:

Yeah, it's a fan connection movie, all one word.com and you can sign up for our newsletter on there. And we definitely send out updates. We have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, um, all linked on our website as well. And certainly if you have any connections, you know, our talk about community. If you live in city and you want to get it, the movie shown in your city. Let us know that we might need help from you. Um, like you need to be invested in helping us get it there, but yeah, we're open to showing this movie, um, in a variety of ways, there's sort of an order with our goals for the movie and how we're pursuing it. But yeah, we're pretty easy to contact from that.

George Siegal:

Awesome. Well, we're kind of spoiled here in Tampa with the success of the lightening the last couple of years, but my teams don't usually win, so I can relate to the Sabres big time. And, uh, you know, you guys did a great job telling that story and I wish you success and hope that, uh, hope people reach out and want to see it. Cause I think, um, a lot of people should see this film.

Eric Wojtanik:

Yeah. Great. Yeah. Well thank you for having us on George and yeah. Wish you all the best. Both this show and then your future film endeavors as well, because you definitely have some wonderful films under your belt, and I'm sure there's more to come from you as well.

George Siegal:

Appreciate it. Thanks guys. Thank you. Thank you for listening to this. Week's move the world podcast. Please share the link with your friends. So hopefully they can become listeners as well and drop by my website. Move the world films.org, and you can get all the information about the two documentary films that I've directed and produced The Last House Standing and License to Parent. If you have any ideas about guests for this program, or if you have ideas, just how to make the program better, please shoot me an email at movetheworldfilms@gmail.com. Thanks again for listening. See you next time.