Category Archives: Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

Musings on Film-Making

By Elam Stoltzfus

5/20/14

If the pithy saying  “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true, then how much is a video clip worth?

Most broadcast video clips have 30 frames a second. That is 30 pictures a second. That one second of video is worth 30,000 words. Multiply that by a minute. A minute of video is worth 180,000 words.

And this is if we are just talking about silent video! We haven’t even added music, audio, or natural sound. How much is a video clip worth? It is one of the richest mediums humans have to tell stories: pictures, words, music, audio all come together in one place. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an hour of video is worth the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

 

Elam with a broadcast video camera in 1984, his start in the industry.
Elam with a broadcast video camera in 1984, his start in the industry.

 

This year has been thirty years since I picked up a video camera. During that time I have shot both professional broadcast video and film.  Having a career in broadcast has been a thrill, a great opportunity to meet wonderful people, a ticket to travel the country , and the chance to document a collection of fascinating stories.  Each story has an emotional connection revealing heartaches, celebrated victories, exciting thrills, human interest, animal behaviors and much more.

Putting a camera on my shoulder (especially a heavy broadcast camera) was a free ticket to concerts and sports event with a front row seat—and sometimes a back stage pass (literally).

Elam with Joe Wasilewski and an invasive python in South Florida.
Elam with Joe Wasilewski and an invasive python in South Florida.
Elam filming a gator being pulled out of the Apalachicola river.
Elam filming a gator being pulled out of the Apalachicola River.
Elam Stoltzfus filming Joe Browder and Clyde Butcher in the Big Cypress Swamp.
Elam Stoltzfus filming Joe Browder and Clyde Butcher in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

When I picked the first video camera up in 1984, it was a game-changer for me. Before I had documented the world around me with a still camera. Video is no longer just images—it is synthesizing many things into one. With video you put together music, sound, photography, and stories into one unified piece. I soon realized that it is a medium that influences millions and millions of people. Film media has a long history, it is very influential. Film production is a challenging art form because of the multiple disciplines used to create a story.

With film-making you have to know a little bit of something about many things. In my role as an independent producer and film-maker I have to be a jack-of-all-trades.

From the visual side I have to know the composition. Not just static compositions, but moving images. When does an image start, when does the image end? And then not just one image, but multiple images because you have to edit it together the collection of compositions. How are you going to tell your story to your audience? One of the theories of good composition is clues you give to your audience and if you adhere to this structure, this is one of the first things you want to share with your audience.

An example would be to feature a homestead in the film. First, give the audience the setting of the place. Where are we? What does the house look like? Is it in the country? Is it in the city? Decide what composition best tells that story: Is it a wide shot? Giving your audience a wide shot first establishes the setting, but you really can’t engage in the conversation if the scene has people. You would want to do a medium shot, get the audience closer and then do some close-ups. Perhaps you have an argument. You would want to do some quick-cuts, you want to do some close-ups.  It is taking the audience, engaging them in the conversation, pushing the viewer forward and keep pushing them and, in a way, you are pushing someone into somebody else’s face and forcing them to experience this emotion. Compositions that captures emotions.

Then you have music. Music is what allows your emotions to ebb and flow. The ups and the downs. The sweetness, the sour. The love scenes, the anger. Music is that bed that flows and ties it all together. You have natural ambient sounds, you have voices. What kind of voices are you using? Low bass voices, the sound of God, versus sweet-sounding female voices that are enticing and nurturing.

Then you have a script—that is the words. Who is writing this? How are these words woven together to tie in with the emotions and what do you want people to know? What don’t you want them to know? What age group is your audience? What is your target? Who are you trying to reach? You have many, many elements, structures and mediums all coming together. Then on top of all that you put this piece together and then you have an opportunity to broadcast the story to the world. Think about this…. here is the story you worked on and it is being shared with millions and millions of people!  Sometimes they are all watching this piece of art all at the same time. Now is that amazing or what?

Here we are in 2014 with so many new opportunities with the media. We have social media, cable, distribution in ways that we never imagined 10 and 20 years ago. Many new stories and more opportunities are available to educate our world.The world is more intense, and it is going faster and faster and it is becoming smaller and smaller. And we need more material, we need more visual content and we have it everywhere!

But where do all these ideas start? The idea starts in your brain.  It’s those lightbulb moments; emotionally-charged memories that inspire us to create.  We have so many media tools and methods and opportunities to birth these ideas. That’s why the art of film-making is so important.

So, if you want to make a movie—go and make a movie! Capture your ideas, share your story with the world. The world will be a better place with your story.  Tell a story using video worth millions and billions of words. The world will be richer for it.

 

Earth Day 2014 – Off the Beaten Path

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition 2012

Off the Beaten Path

By Elam Stoltzfus, Film Producer

 (In 2012, four explorers enter the Everglades and, 100 days later, reach the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition showed that the heart of Florida is still wild–and can still be saved.)

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Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition 2012 map
Elam with the Kayak getting ready to launch on the St. Johns River.
Elam with the kayak getting ready to launch on the St. Johns River.

 

For me, a filmmaker, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition was a once in a-life-time opportunity to showcase the landscapes, wildlife habitats, winding waterways and conservation legacies of Florida.  “The Wilds of Florida” was like an epic dream come true.  I guess it is as Dr. E.O. Wilson says, “[our] love for nature [is an] innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world”, that piques my continual interest in exploring and experiencing an in-depth connection with nature.

Media introduced me to fascinating stories and characters across Florida.   What I found in my journeys was a collection of true life stories, a trove of tall tales, dreamers for a better tomorrow, an active sportsman’s paradise and a diverse interaction with the natural world.

Some of my favorite moments during the expedition were early in the morning, especially on waterways with the morning fog rolling in.  One particular moment I recall was when we were on a tree island in the Everglades, and misty shower greeted the morning, followed by the sun breaking through the rainy clouds with a rainbow appearing over the sawgrass horizon.  In a moment’s notice, I quickly set up the camera. The composition was right there, five feet from the tent. Those were great moments of being immersed in a developing scene around you.

Elam on kayak filming the morning sunrise on the St. Johns River.  Image by Carlton Ward, Jr. 2012 copyright.
Elam on kayak filming the morning sunrise on the St. Johns River. Image by Carlton Ward, Jr. 2012 copyright.

Another scene I recall was a flock of roseate spoonbills along the St. John’s River.  It was shallow enough that I could move the kayak with my toes, and I moved slowly through the marsh, keeping the camera mounted on the kayak steady.  Finally I was within a few yards of them and got that really cool shot… to be able to capture those images is a gift.  And you cherish that time, that interaction between the camera and wildlife.

As a filmmaker, having the opportunity to listen to stories shared by the 90 on-camera video interviews with people, meeting with them in their area of comfort, and spending time with them was like having a front row seat in a college class. For many, this was an investment into the greater cause of the corridor concept. A number of them walked with us, some kayaked with the team, others rode horses along side with us and others supported us in their own way. With hours of interaction and recording time, these experts brought so much information to the story that was easily shared to the camera.  And if there is a richness to the whole story, it’s what people gave and shared and invested into the expedition. I’m so honored because that’s what makes the richness of the story–it’s those people and their stories.

During a visit at the Adams Ranch with Rancher Bud Adams
Carlton Ward, Elam Stoltzfus, Alto “Bud” Adams, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt and Joe Guthrie.

As our team finished the odyssey that was the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a journalist asked me the question: “Can you give a sentence of your overview of the journey?”.  My immediate reply was “into the wind, against the current, and off the beaten trail”.  Certainly, our journey was an arduous one, with long days and grueling terrain. We followed spring weather from the southern tip of Florida in the Everglades all the way north to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Over 100 days we traversed 1,000 miles of some of the most beautiful locales of Florida’s heartland. But this journey couldn’t have happened with just us. All throughout our journey, from the moment is was merely an idea, there have been people pushing it to reality. From trail angels to pastors, from professors to teachers, from commanders to generals, from bear biologists to park rangers, from corporations to small businesses, from kids to parents, from people of every walk of life, you have supported our journey. 

As we traversed Florida’s landscape we collected a lot of pictures, video, and interviews. We discovered what brings us together, what we have in common. We all want to preserve the environment for current and future generations. We want to continue to see habitat restoration, endangered species protection, and cross-agency cooperation become a part of Florida’s landscape. During our expedition we experienced the real Florida. And this is what we have learned: Our journey is really just beginning. With your continued support we have the opportunity to bring this idea of the Florida Wildlife Corridor into reality. May our decibels increase as we express our concerns in a unified message. Like many journeys this will be one that is into the wind, against the current, and off the beaten trail.

As you celebrate Earth Day 2014, take time to reflect on some the greatest gifts we have been given, our wilds of Florida.  Engage in the great outdoors, observe wildlife and most of all, renew your spirit with warmth of the sun, feel the wind in your hair and feel the soil in our toes.   

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” 
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

http://vimeo.com/flwildlifecorridorfilm/review/63261532/9657517567

http://youtu.be/JwIXw2Z-BHU

http://www.floridawildlifecorridor.org

FSU Spring 2013 Commencement Address

Shaking Hands with President Barron By Elam Stoltzfus

Live an active life among people who are doing worthwhile things, keep eyes and ears and mind and heart open to absorb truth, and then tell of the things you know, as if you know them. The world will listen, for the world loves nothing so much as real life.   ― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

If you would have told me thirty years ago that I would have the opportunity to present a commencement speech for the Florida State University 2013 graduating class on a Saturday morning, I would have called you delusional. But, last year, on May 4th, 2013 I spoke to graduating students at one of FSU’s graduations in the Leon County Civic Center. This definitely was an once in a lifetime experience. Here is the speech I presented:

Good morning and congratulations to all of you! When you walk out of this building today, you will be a proud graduate of the great Florida State University.

You may be wondering what in the world a middle-aged guy with a funny last name can say this morning that is interesting or relevant. On the other hand, I am looking out at you —remembering— you’re young and ready to take on the whole world.

You took a step towards a better life by pursuing your college degree and I salute your accomplishment.

Never underestimate the power of one small step in a forward direction. Let me tell you a bit about the journey that brought me to FSU.

At the age of 30, I became a student here — Married and poor with a low paying job, a wife, and a son on the way. There were no Bright Futures Scholarships to help pay my way. You see, I was born Amish and the Amish Mafia was not interested in paying way to attend FSU. As a side note, Amish Mafia makes for great TV—fantasy TV, that is, there is no such thing as Amish Mafia.

In an Amish home in Pennsylvania, learning English only after learning German, one of 9 kids—our life was without electricity, can you imagine? No cars, no TV, no pictures or films of any kind; but we did have National Geographic magazines. It was a life of many rules and working dawn ’til dusk on our family farm.

At the age of 6, I was fortunate enough to enter a small public school— a bit unusual for an Amish kid. This was the first small, but vital step. I was introduced to art—color, Disney movies, and the Beatles. My teacher, and inspiration, Mr. Jere Brady, didn’t seem to mind that I smelled like cows. He taught me about primary colors and basic art designs.

After the completion of eighth grade and part of the ninth, my formal education was over. There was no negotiating—this was the rule— in my home and in my church. At the age of 15 I was working 10 hour days—long, tiring, tedious days—working on a potato and dairy farm. Somewhere in the back of my dreams, there were still memories of creating art — and a sense that there was this big grand world out there just beyond my reach. And so, I left the Amish community. I bought a car, bought a camera, and joined a traveling band; All big taboos in my former world. This was an even bigger step….

Along the way, I fell in love with a a sweet southern girl with a pretty accent, and ended up marrying her and moving to Florida, the place she called home. My wife was a constant source of encouragement as I considered the daunting task of going to college—years after my education was declared ‘finished’ by the Amish church.

Another important small step was when I enrolled at Chipola College in Marianna. There I learned to write english papers and understand Algebra. Through Humanities classes, I discovered the glorious art of Peter Paul Rubins and Picasso and the soul-stirring Eine Kleine Nachtmusik of Mozart.

Chipola was a beginning, but I had a dream of doing something that no one in my family had ever done –– graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. A diploma signed by the governor. I wanted to go to FSU—home of the the Seminoles. This was a BIG step! —and was probably one of the hardest steps of my life. I can vividly remember walking down the brick sidewalk of the Westcott building. Heart pounding, lump in my throat, this nervous ex-Amish man took this big step—and it changed my life. I didn’t know a soul and felt like I didn’t know a thing. But I wanted to learn about communication, about media and film. It was here, at FSU, that I learned how to produce media material, how to create compositions, and how to craft stories that add color to life, stories about nature, stories about people, stories that educate, inform and entertain.

I have worked in the communication world and media industry for almost three decades. The small and big steps necessary to get an education were the tools that helped me become an independent documentary filmmaker.

Last year was one of the highlights of my career—I was one of four individuals who embarked on a 1000 mile in 100 days expedition. From the southern tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia we hiked, kayaked, and rode horses throughout the vast state of Florida to create a documentary for PBS-TV. Plenty of small steps to trek across the vast state of Florida, I guess for some people this would be a huge step. The many small steps in my education and career prepared me to tell the stories about conservation issues, wildlife observations, and gave me the opportunity to interview many of the great conservation leaders across Florida.

By creating an in-depth collection of stories, the projects that I produced and worked on reached millions across the state and our country. These media stories are windows of education that can lead others to take steps in creating a better future.

The small steps that changed my life so many years ago lives on in the lives of my two children. My small steps toward getting an education allowed them to continue on to high school and college, an opportunity denied to me.

My son Nic graduated from FSU last spring, and is now teaching English in Japan. He studied Japanese here, and worked with international students to earn a TEFL certificate. My daughter Laura is pursuing a hybrid Bachelor’s to Masters program in Communication here, graduating with her BA a few months ago. Some of you may have had her as a TA for Public Speaking this semester.

My commitment to education provided my children with a future brighter than any I imagined. I would not be here now without the brave steps of those who taught and inspired me, and I hope my journey can teach others the importance of an education and inspire you to reach for your own dreams, even if they seem outside of your grasp.

As you step into a new world of new opportunities, remember, your efforts in taking small steps in a forward direction will continue to open doors and provide new paths for you, as well as those who follow after you. Be courageous. Take risks. Be bold. Take BIG steps. Leave today and go change your world!

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqKCEgRNy48

Leon County Civic Center
Leon County Civic Center – 2013
Elam Stoltzfus FSU Commencement Speech 2013
Elam Stoltzfus FSU Commencement Speech 2013
Elam with his daughter, Laura
Elam with his daughter, Laura