We started working on the narrative film part of our project in November. Since then, most of the time has been spent on researching the historical information pertaining to the story and figuring out shooting locations. A number of super-helpful historians and archive collections helped our cause and the script is just about done. The challenge there was to figure out what to include and what to leave out of the story we will tell. The tale of Solomon’s life is very fascinating and has many chapters, from Napoleon to the Great Depression and everything in between. But as we are making a short film, there is only so much we have time to show. We would love an opportunity to share this story as a feature film, but that’s a goal that’s later down the line.
Our immediate goal is to shoot the short film (15-20 min) in time for submitting it to next year’s Sundance Film festival. That basically means we need to shoot it no later than mid-July, as the deadline for Sundance is September 2nd. That would leave us a month and a half for the post-production. And in the meantime, we need to find our cast, fill out the rest of the crew, and finalize locations. That last one is a big challenge as we want to shoot a part of the film on Native American reservations in New Mexico and getting permission from some of the tribes takes quite a while (while some are quite quick about it).
Of course, finding the right actors will be the key to making a good film. No matter how much effort everyone else may put into this project, if the characters don’t resonate with the audience, none of the fuss will matter. We have some preliminary ideas on who will play Solomon, but projects like ours are always at the mercy of various schedules and intangibles (like big Hollywood opportunities being offered to our first choices). Still we hope for the stars to align and for the perfect folks to find their parts in our story.
Will we get the film done on time? We should, even if it often feels like we have a mountain of things to do. But that’s just the misery and magic of moviemaking. Given the right amount of passion by the filmmakers, it all somehow works out in the end.
This may be a short film but the scope of what we want to do is quite large, as we really want to convey the full excitement of the adventure that was Solomon’s life. One part of that would be to show how he got to America. That means figuring out how to shoot some scenes on a steamship, which was the preferred mode of transportation used by immigrants of the second half of 19th century. The journeys to our shores of freedom were grueling, full of disease, uncertainty and stress. Our challenge (shooting this at 1/10,000th of Titanic’s budget) is to find the boats that would work to stage those scenes. “The Queen Mary” docked in Long Beach is a stationary steamboat, with the Long Beach Harbor skyline prominently displaying itself in the background of most shots. It’s also a very renovated boat and just doesn’t look like it’s undergone a transatlantic journey any time recently. So we are figuring out whether we can employ clever production design and shoot some shots that make use of the vintage parts of “The Queen Mary”, and replace out the harbor views via VFX or perhaps shoot shots with moving water in the background on another boat (we found some grungy WW2-era boats that might work for that). Let’s see how things pan out, but probably as all filmmakers, we want to shoot something as great as we can even on a limited budget.
More pics of the “Queen Mary”:
THE INTERVIEWS + THE EXHIBIT
While the short film has been taking up the bulk of pre-production work, we are also continuing to shoot interviews for the documentary part. The goal is to keep interviewing Jews in the Los Angeles area, asking them the three main questions that stem from Solomon and Juana’s story. With enough diverse participants, we hope to create a really illuminating portrait of what Jews in LA think like at this point in time. So if you are someone who’d like to talk with us or can help us get in touch with others who’d be interested in participating, please get in touch!
The other part of the project that has emerged is the possibility of creating an exhibition that utilizes the research that we accumulated as part of the preparation for this project (on the subject of Solomon Bibo and the interaction between Jews and Indians in general). We have been talking to some interested parties at UCLA, the Autry Museum, New Mexico Jewish community organizations, and have also broached this subject with Acoma historians and museum representatives. There is definite interest but organizing the exhibit will take more time, and we hope to give it some real shape in the coming months. Some amazing historical stories are coming to light, stories that very few know about, and we’d love to help share them with as many people as possible.