Could You Find Thanksgiving Dinner in the Trash? Alex Mallis Documents Dumpster Diving in SPOILS
What does a grocery store do with food deemed to be “unsellable” — when a bag is torn or a can damaged, or when items are past their sell-by date? In many cases charities can’t accept such food. So this otherwise perfectly good — or at least partially good — food ends up in the dumpster out back. What kind of people show up to dig through these discards? Filmmaker Alex Mallis shows they’re sometimes not who you think with his doc Spoils: Extraordinary Harvest. As many of us sit down to (over)consume Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S., watch what happens to some of the food you didn’t — or couldn’t — buy (in this case, here in Brooklyn, NY). Don’t click play if you’re expecting a quick-hit viral video with visual effects; this is a 20-minute documentary starring very real characters.
Mallis on the low-profile approach:
For this film I used a Canon 7d with a Sigma 20mm 1.8 and a Litepanel Miniplus on the hot shoe. My soundperson used a zoom recorder running a sennheiser lav to one channel and a standard shotgun to the other. The litepanel ended up being essential as I was basically locked at f1.8 the entire shoot due to low light. That, and the extra weight added much needed stability. I didn’t go with rails or a rig – the low profile kept us quite inconspicuous. Many people, including the Trader Joe’s employees, assumed we were taking still photos. Furthermore, we were aiming for a verite/observational style and I think it was easier for those on film to become comfortable with our minimal set up.
I asked Alex about the process of figuring out what to do once he had 10 hours of footage in the can. As I’m a new member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, I wasn’t there for this particular screening process, but I can say from my first several meetings that the level of feedback filmmakers get on their rough cuts is second to none. I’ll definitely be screening MANCHILD rough cuts there — more than once.
The editing process [in Final Cut 7] was hard. I decided to intercut the characters’ journey to the dumpsters after several intense critique sessions with the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective. We meet weekly to present and workshop rough cuts of our work. It’s hugely beneficial. At first, I brought in a 50 minute cut to share with the collective, which basically amounted to a string of selects. The group was torn between encouraging me to film more and aim for a feature, and cutting it down to 10 minutes. I opted not to shoot more, but rather worked the footage over to cut it in half. I love the way the film turned out, but its length has likely been a hindrance in getting in seen. I was turned down by all but a few festivals, and 21 minutes is a tad long for the internet crowd. Despite that, I have had some modest success thanks to some great sites like narrative.ly and, of course, nofilmschool.