This week we spoke with Alison O’Daniel, director of The Tuba Thieves,which premiered at Sundance. O’Daniel is a filmmaker and visual artist. Her work mixes conceptual art practice, narrative storytelling, documentary, and engagement with the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. During the festival, after the members of the Sundance jury walked out of a premiere after the festival failed to provide captioning for juror Marlee Matlin, O’Daniel published a column in Variety about how both film festivals and movie theaters need open captions.

You can find a transcript of the podcast below. In this episode, we talk about:

  • A film 11 years in the making. Slow burn by design… 
  • The future of captioning and O'Daniel's How to Caption resource
  • Breaking the rules of filmmaking
  • Finding the champions of your project—both with labs and grants, and without ‘em
  • Patient, piecemeal filmmaking

No Film School: I'm here with Alison O'Daniel, the director of The Tuba Thieves. Thank you so much for being here, Alison.

Alison O’Daniel: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you for inviting me.

NFS: Oh, my gosh, it's so exciting. And congratulations on having your film at Sundance premiering. Well, pre-Sundance. So, do you feel excited, nervous? How are you feeling about it all?

O’Daniel: Last night, I was a nervous wreck. And then, I screened it for a few like some of the cast and crew. We got to watch it together, and especially the ones, I screened it for a few, but I wanted the people who are going with us, the main actors, the main performers, to really see it before they're in that Sundance audience.

And I was so nervous. And then, afterward, I really, I was very calm. It just felt like, it's so meaningful. And the people who I care, I really deeply care about what they think, they were all warm and supportive. And so, I feel good right now, yeah.

NFS: So, you can spend your time screening at Sundance, just enjoying everyone else's experience of the film.

O’Daniel: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

No Film School: That's amazing. Let's dig right into some questions that I have. So, the first thing that I wanted to speak with you about is The Tuba Thieves has existed in many forms as part of exhibits and galleries, and now it's a feature. Did you always know that you were working towards a feature, and what was that journey like?

O’Daniel: Yeah, I started out writing a full feature-length screenplay. And, I mean, if I give you the really long story of which I'll try and do in a very quick way, basically, I made... When I was in grad school, I went to two different grad schools. I went to Goldsmiths in London for a studio art program, and then I went to UC Irvine, also for a studio art program.

For Goldsmiths, I really followed the school and the notoriety and the history of that program, and what I knew of that program. And then, I actually left because it was the first place I really experienced institutional ableism, and it was a great place in some ways and just really, really painful in others. When I started trying to figure out where I wanted to go to grad school, I feel like, first of all, I just want to acknowledge that I'm talking about film school, grad school, art school, and this is a No Film School podcast.

No Film School: We're not anti-film school. We definitely whatever you need for your journey. But in case you can't go to film school.

O’Daniel: And I'm a deep believer in the real school happens on set when you're actually making the film. So, or some of the most valuable, not the real necessarily. But anyway, so when I started to figure out where I wanted to finish school, I went to UC Irvine to study with Yvonne Rainer.

While I was there, that program at UC Irvine is a three-year grad program. And so, I basically did four years of grad school. And after my second year of grad school, I was just like, "Oh my gosh, I've got to get out of here, like, I am done with school." And I had this year, I had one more year left. I was going to do a thesis project, and I was like in this mindset of, "Okay, I have a year, like, how do I want to just totally take advantage of this time? Is there anything I just dream of doing?" And I was like, "I'm going to make a feature film."

And so, I did. So, actually, in my thesis year, I made this film called Night Sky, and I made a bunch of decisions when I made that film. And one of them was that I wanted to make a film with a cast and crew that was completely spread across the d/Deaf spectrum from totally hearing to totally deaf. When I finished that film in 2011, I was feeling so sensitive to this, just really beautiful diversity of everybody's experiences with hearing.

At that moment when I was feeling really just moved of having finished that project, I heard about these tubas that have been stolen from a high school in LA. And then, this over like a course of basically the fall semester, the fall school semester of 2011 into the winter break of 2012, and into the spring semester of 2012, all these tubas were stolen. That was really when a bunch of schools were hit.

And I was so amazed by the story and amazed by the way it was reported. I think because I had this extreme sensitivity to thinking about all these people's relationship to sound, I immediately was really curious about the students and how they were then sitting through music class without instruments and what that looks like and what that, just on very practical level, how they replaced tubas, et cetera, et cetera.

So, I made this decision that I wanted to make a film called The Tuba Thieves. I didn't really know what it was going to be about at that time. I knew it wasn't going to be about the thieves. And then, I knew that I wanted to make a film backward. I wanted to start with music this time, and I wanted to invite three composers to make me musical scores with me, not intervening on what they made. I mean, that's not true.

I gave them each a list of about eight to 10 things to respond to, but I didn't want to give them narrative. I didn't know what the film was going to be about. And I was making this decision over as I was deciding on this very early structure, I also decided that I wanted it to be a listening project, that I would be exploring what that meant from the very beginning.

And even now, I think there's these amazing moments where I just feel like, yeah, consistently this film was absolutely a listening project. And so, what that means is that I was very, very open-minded to what would be absorbed into the story and the narrative of the film.

I think for most people, there's this understanding that there are these rules about how you make films. Even when people are talking about breaking rules, there are still these hard and fast rules that people just really deeply believe in and are committed to. And I don't, I really, I do not believe in rules for films at all.

I think those have been done, and they're amazing. And, I mean, it's amazing. We have an amazing 150-year history of film. But it's still so young like 150 years is not that long. And so, yeah, I just basically was like, "Okay, I'm going to make a listening project, starting with music. I'm going to be open to what this film is about."

And then, I pretty much started learning these anecdotes that became absorbed into the film, different things that, based on the references I gave, the composers that then started to become important or the main character of the film. Now, she [Nyke Prince] had a small role in my first film, and then she told me that she had been a drummer, that she's deaf, and she told me about the way that she had learned how to drum.

And so, she basically was dated a musician, and she went on tour with them and their drummer set up a drum kit, and she watched them drum, and that was how she learned. And I was like, "Cool, do you want to be the main character of this film? I don't know what it is, but would you be open to this process?"

And luckily, she said, "Yes." And then, I also started meeting with these different band directors and meeting the students and just develop... Basically, I just started developing these relationships. I did go to an art residency that was seven months long, and I had the music, the three pieces of music from the three composers when I went there. And I listened to the music for seven months and started writing any visual associations or narrative associations that were coming up based on listening to the music.

And I left after seven months and I had a screenplay, and I knew Nyke the main character was going to be in it. There's many, many things in the screenplay that are still in that ended up in the film that were from the very beginning when I wrote it in 2012. And then, there's lots of things that evolved and changed too.

And so, I just made a decision that I was really open to exploring what a listening project even means in cinema. So, and then, the next answer to this is that I had the screenplay, I had no idea how people raise funds for a serious budget. I didn't even really know what my budget was. I was just like, "Okay, I did this before. I totally winged it." I was in a studio art program, and I was like, "How do you do this? Okay, this makes sense." And I had watched tons of films. I was definitely a cinephile.

NFS: Yeah.

O’Daniel: And so, anyway. So, basically, I like started applying to grants. The first grant I got was just $6,000. And I was like, "Is there anything in this screenplay that I could make for $6,000 that could also stand on its own as a little short film?"

So, basically, that was how I worked. I did that. The first one was like, I'm so proud of it. It was really beautiful. And I think that really helped. So, and I don't know that I was thinking this strategically, but it was very, very visual and very like, I don't know. There were things about it that I think helped me get the next grant. So...

NFS: Right, right.

Alison O’Daniel: There were a lot of things that people started to be like, "Wow, that was so strategic." And I was like, "I was not thinking of that as strategy, but I guess on some level, yeah, it was a structure I chose on that I was really, that I chose and that I was really interested in." And it followed it.

NFS: It gave you a pathway that let you build and create piecemeal, which I think is something that you experienced more in the documentary space. But the fact that you were... I don't know if reverse engineering is the right word, but that you were starting with sound and letting that inform the narrative. It's fascinating, and it's also refreshing to hear of something that has come from making it work with what you have. And that's something we have to remind ourselves a lot of as emerging filmmakers, like, what do you have access to right now? And how can you continue to create and form and let that be something that could unlock something in the future for the project?

O’Daniel: Right. Yeah, and how do you make decisions about what to splurge on and what to totally save on?

NFS: Yeah.

O’Daniel: Where I was strategic was that I knew I had a feature script. I knew this was going to be a long time that I was going to be making this project. I was really comfortable with that. I actually am really interested in long-form projects. I did have this sense I wanted it to be no longer than 10 years, and it took me 11. So...

NFS: Okay, that's close. You didn't go over budget, you went over timeline by each year.

O’Daniel: I went over my timeline. But the strategy that I did have was that at the very beginning, I knew I needed to have the best camera, the best lenses. I knew that visually, whatever I shot in 2013 needed to match whatever I was going to film in like 2021 or whatever.

NFS: Yeah, what did you shoot? Did you use?

O’Daniel: An ARRI Alexa. And then, we just used amazing lenses like every ... Basically, all these Panavision lenses. So, yeah.

NFS: Wow. Cool.

O’Daniel: Yup.

NFS: I love that. I'd love to talk a little bit about your use of open captions and sound design. So, throughout the film, there are captions that feel they are part of the film, the part of the narrative. I actually, didn't know what open captions were until after seeing this and then looking it up. So, for example, there are captions. There's a sequence where there is one tuba note played for this long, and it was infused. And so, it's a long tuba note being played over, I believe multiple shots, or was it one shot?

O’Daniel: It ends up mostly being just the facade of Southgate High School. And so, we stay on that for... It does start in the shot right before that, but then it's really on the high school in the dark at night.

NFS: And so, there's a little bit of a pre-lap with the sound of the tuba, and then we hang on this one shot, and the open caption, which open caption means it's built into the narrative as opposed to something that can be turned off. It reads “one tuba note played for this long.” And it made me laugh out loud because it added a whole layer to the experience, and it was such a specific moment.

Another example is when there's an airplane flying — you play a lot with the sounds of Los Angeles — and you're noting the decibels of the sound, which as a [screenwriter], I often am reading sound in scripts, and that helps me, again, adding a whole other layer and a whole other experience.

And you also, the choice of the words that you have to describe the sound, like watching the film unlocked a different experience for me, thinking about audio, I come from the world of audio as a podcast creator. I write and direct in audio as well. And then, like I mentioned, I read scripted podcasts. But I think we often leave audio to the side when we're thinking of film. Of course, it's sight and sound, but it's so cool to hear how it was sound then site for this film. So, I'm curious about the process of writing the open captions. Was that in the script from day one, or did you edit that together? How did that come to be?

O’Daniel: Actually, no, it was not in the script. I had a totally different goal at the very beginning of this film. So, yeah, I had this goal that I was going to try and do. What was it exactly? This is one of the things that has changed.

So, I wanted to not have any options and see if I could make the film, so that everything you hear, you see the source of, there's no mystery. So, basically, instead of having captions, my goal originally was to make it, so that they weren't necessary. And then, I made that first scene and showed it to one of the composers, her name's Christine Sun Kim, and she's d/Deaf.

And so, when I showed her the scene, I could tell from her response that she was just like, "Okay," like she just seemed underwhelmed. And then, I was like, "Oh, okay, this isn't totally accessible, like, this is not working." And so, then I started to, oh, actually, this other thing happened at the same time where when I was editing, doing that final edit, I was trying to describe, Christine had used her voice in her score.

And so, she was humming in her score, and I, for some reason thought that I needed to separate her vocal track from the other that I needed her vocals as a separate track. And I asked her for them, and she was like, "I have no idea what I did or how like I just made that. There's no way I could recreate that." Oh, she didn't have it as a, sorry, I skipped ahead, but she didn't have it as a separate track. And then, I asked her to recreate it, and she was like, "I can't."

So, I was really committed to this idea, which looking back is ridiculous, but it did open up a whole really huge epic door for this film, which was that I tried to listen to her humming and recreate it, and then take really detailed notes of everything that was happening in my mouth and in my jaw and with my tongue. And right before I started to send her these to recreate it, I was just like, "These are the captions I have always dreamed of. This is all I need. I don't need her to redo anything."

NFS: Yeah.

O’Daniel: And then, it just opened up everything for me. It was really reinforcing and beautiful because I realized that my authorship of what I needed was so valid, and so studied. I am such an expert in, because I have always needed captions, and I have always noticed and been angered by how frequently, how bad they were.

And so, this was in 2012, I feel like since in the time that I've been making this film, there really has been a revolution of just people thinking about accessibility. And then, also Gen Z, I think is watching everything with captions, which is so wonderful.

NFS: Right.

O'Daniel: But basically, it really opened up a door to think about like, "What do I need?" And in the end, I actually invited a few other hard-of-hearing people to write the captions with me. So, it's not just me, it's me and two other people contributed.

And I was just really, really committed to this idea that we know what we need, we can do this and show people basically how to do better captioning. Because I had so many experiences where someone would have a music symbol, and it's just so rude which is basically... Yeah.

NFS: Music is playing, is it Hans Zimmer? Is it somebody on a triangle?

O’Daniel: Yeah, right. It's just like, there's something happening and I'm going to tell you it's happening, but I'm not going to tell you what it is. So, it doesn't really solve anything. So...

NFS: Yeah. Now, it sounds like this is the first time you are... I mean, you and your community, you had a couple of co-writers for the captions specifically created what you want to see. Have you seen captions in the world that feel like they're at this level? Or is this the first, is this like the groundbreaking that we're seeing in real-time as you premiere at Sundance this week?

O’Daniel: Yeah. I mean, in the last year or two, I have started to see people doing a much better job. I've also told a lot of people how to do it. And I actually, was having so many people reach out to me about two years ago, maybe a year ago even, in the last three years, I was having so many people reach out to me asking how to do it, and feeling a little bit like conflicted because I really, obviously, I want there to be good captioning. And yet, I also was like, "You're asking for something that I actually have put a lot of, not just time, labor into, but emotional labor and experiential labor."

And so, yeah, it was so conflicted. It's like this interesting thing. So, I actually, just went ahead and made a page on my website that says, "How to caption," that gives instructions because I was just like, "Too many people are asking me for this, my film, I don't know how long it's going to take. Do I need to be the first?" I don't know. It's not, I mean, no, I don't need to. And I'm not, there's a lot of people who are thinking about this. But I do, yeah, I do. I'll pat myself on the back and all of my...

NFS: You should.

O’Daniel: ... community for how demanding we've been, and yeah, it's...

NFS: I think in a couple of years, it'll be a class at film schools and something that you can take online. So, it becomes part of the screenwriting editing process. And...

O’Daniel: Yeah, I actually, have an invitation in my inbox to talk to a class that is a class on, I forget what it's called. It's something like accessible filmmaking or something like that. I don't know.

NFS: Nice.

O’Daniel: I forget what it is. So...

NFS: Awesome.

O’Daniel: Yeah.

NFS: Now, this project in particular, you mentioned has been supported by labs and grants ... And so, how did you go about finding and building relationships with these organizations? And how did you approach each one in particular? So, did you go in with a goal in mind? For example, the Gotham, I want to go in and make sure that this pass or this program I come out with a producer attached or something like that, how did you approach the different programs?

O’Daniel: Yeah, I mean, they've all been really different for the most part. Some of them, as far as well, grants, I have a different answer too. And then, the labs, I have different answers too.

So, for labs, I've done the Sheffield Meet Market Lab. I just did the IDFA Rough Cut Lab in November, and that actually was totally life-changing for this film. So, yeah, working backward like IDFA, and then the MeetMarket at Sheffield. I did the Points North lab, which was a pitch lab. I did the True/False Rough Cut lab, the Gotham lab, and the Sundance talent market.

NFS: Wow.

O’Daniel: And so, the Sundance talent market was the first one I did, which is interesting because that was at Sundance right before COVID. And so, now I'm going back with the film finished, which is...

NFS: That's amazing.

O’Daniel: I know, it's really full circle and wild. I would say the Gotham, which at that time was...

NFS: The Independent Film Project.

O’Daniel: Yeah, for Gotham and for the talent forums, first Sundance when I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, this was right when I had switched into really making the feature in a more film-normal way. Whereas, basically, 2011, when I started writing the film to 2018, that was when I was making it how I described, where I was just applying to grants, making a section.

And then, in 2017, I started working with a producer who was like, "Okay, it's time to switch and finish this and do this, like really try and raise all the funding." And so, in 2019, I had gotten Creative Capital grant. And so, that was still very much in the way I had been doing everything, but all the grants I was always applying for unless they were just small little amounts of money. But with Creative Capital, I was applying for like, I want to finish this film.

And so, that one in a way that those were general, this is the project application. And then, Talent Forum and Gotham were when I really started to meet the players, I guess in the film industry, mostly in documentary. And so, it was really interesting in terms of just starting to meet all these people who I had no idea who most of them were.

Now, I understand that I've been really fortunate to have a lot of meetings with a lot of people who've been able to track the project and the development of the project and come in various ways, whether it was monetarily or connecting me with someone. So, I mean, I'll speak very directly to my experience at IDFA, which, even actually, the True/False Rough Cut lab, there were six projects that we're invited to that, and we were all supposed to have a Rough Cut.

And my project of the six was probably, the most of a baby, we had just finished. I think we had just finished our first Rough Cut. It was basically, not that far from an assembly. It was long, awkward, and whatever. But while I was there, I met David Teague, who was one of the mentors there, and he just recently came on as the finishing editor.

NFS: Wow.

O’Daniel: So, that relationship, I think so much of this is just like you meet someone who speaks... The project speaks to them, or they just really get it, and those are your people. It's so much about, again, this idea of just listening to what it is that's coming your way and being open to it.

And then, when I went to IDFA, I had literally found [out] about Sundance. It was a secret. I had found out, I think the week before I went. And so, everything pivoted. I basically was like, I didn't think I was ready. I wasn't even going to submit to Sundance. I actually, somebody from the IDA conference, the Getting Real conference that happened in LA, one of the programmers for that came over and watched the edit, and he was like, "You submitted this to Sundance, right?" And I have not. And he was like, "You really should not be the one to make the decision, if you don't get in, you should let them decide. And so, just write them and see if they'll still let you submit it because it was a little late." And they said, "Yes."

NFS: That's great advice. That is...

O’Daniel: It's really good advice, yeah.

NFS: ... amazing, yeah.

O’Daniel: Yeah. And so, then they took it. So, then when I went to IDFA, I had such an immediate shift of agenda and needs. And it was really clear, all the people who were supporting me through IDFA were, which I guess I didn't say, but that's the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, and it has this really amazing market.

And so, they were all, I think probably in order for you to get this film done, what you're going to need to do is try and find one single post house where you can do everything in one place. And so, the moderator of the pitch forum that I was a part of is from Mexico, and he was like, "I know this. I know someone who has a really good post house in Mexico." And he put me in touch with somebody. I was talking to them about it, and he was at IDFA, so then we met. And he was like, "Yeah, it's Splendor Omnia."

And I almost had a heart attack because Splendor Omnia is Carlos Reygadas' place. He was one of my very favorite filmmakers. I have three filmmakers that are contemporary filmmakers that I'm just always waiting for what they make, and he's one them. And so, when he said it was Splendor Omnia, I just almost fell out of my chair. So, then I went to Splendor Omnia...

NFS: Wow.

O’Daniel: ... and was there for three weeks and finished all the three and a half weeks and did color sound, visual effects...

NFS: Wow.

O’Daniel: ... the credits. Yeah, it was really intense and amazing. I did sleep. They are very regimented of, you have three meals a day and everybody's done at a certain time. It's looser than working in France or something where everybody's really hardcore about that.

But yeah, it was great. It was just such a beautiful and meaningful way to finish the film. And also, yeah, I got to have lunch every day or breakfast every day with Carlos Reygadas. So, it was just like, "What is happening?"

NFS: It's cool to hear about how people along the journey joined and helped and contributed, and it came full circle like you mentioned before at these different points.

O’Daniel: Yeah, yeah.

NFS: When you were making the film over the course of 11 years, were you sending email updates to individual people? Was it more just starting a conversation and picking things up fortuitously? Or did you have a mailing list? How were you keeping people in the loop over the course of this time?

O’Daniel: I did not have any smart mailing list. And no, I mean, that's a great question. I think it was really individual, like certain people that I would ... Either somebody would be like, "Oh, you need to reach back out to that person," or someone would make an introduction. And then, yeah, it's so fascinating.

And now, that I'm at this moment where it's in Sundance, I can feel certain people who didn't have confidence in the project like having this kind of like, this sense of a sort of awareness that maybe they read the project. I don't even know. It's not even really mine to speculate. I have no idea.

But, and then there's the people who believed in it really early. And those are just, I guess now I'm at that moment where I'm like everything is very emotional and it feels so incredible to have finished it. And I am thinking about a lot of the people who at the very, very beginning, excuse me, were just like, yeah, how can I keep pushing you along and support this? And not to say that people who came in later are not totally angels. They are.

And so, yeah, support, it takes so many different forms and how and every relationship feels to me like it requires a different thing. So, I have no answer. That's a smart, strategic like, I have Mailchimp and send out, email thing every so often. I feel like this film has been much more organic and really, sometimes really this one-woman siloed project. And then, a lot of times reaching out to people and involving people at various times. So...

NFS: And I'm sure there were people who were critical to the project early on, and then fell back for various reasons because it was a decade of work. And then, but their work was still so... They're still a part of it. And I think that speaks to, I've only made short films, but I feel that too, where I'm like, "Oh, I would not have been able to shoot or make it through four days of shooting if it weren't for this producer who I love. But they don't care at all about post-production.

O’Daniel: Right.

NFS: And being okay with letting people go and valuing them for what they were able to contribute when they were able to contribute. I think that's like...

O’Daniel: Yeah.

NFS: ... really important to highlight.

O’Daniel: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, you can't expect someone to come along for 11 years. I'm so lucky that the main actor, Nyke Prince. She's been along the ride for the whole time.

NFS: Yeah.

O’Daniel: Been open to it. I don't even really feel like, I mean, maybe at times when it was waning and I was working on some other aspect of the project that didn't involve her. I never felt like she was like, I guess that's not happening anymore. I think, yeah. So, that's an actually really amazing relationship. But then, yeah, the first cinematographer that I worked with, her name's Meena Singh, and I absolutely would've loved to have filmed with her the entire way through.

But her calendar just like, she became much busier than I was when I was ready to keep filming at a certain point. And then, what actually was beautiful about that was that then she made recommendations for another cinematographer and another cinematographer.

So, it's this film made by a village in a way. But it's a village that's always listening to whoever was previously in that role because we were matching. We were trying to. I always talk about it like a game of telephone, where it's like, the thing is the original core of the thing is still moving along and being translated, but it's also allowed to shift and change. And that I think working with elasticity, built-in and welcomed in the project, has really given the project, I think really strange and interesting features that I cherish at this point.

NFS: And I mean, you called it a listening project. And even the idea of people having to listen to what others had done before, and then make it their own. I mean, it feels like this. I love how organic it was and how you put, you let yourself have the time to do it and let it breathe and fall into place.

I feel energized by this because a lot of the time I'm like, "Okay, by the end of this week and by the end of this year, this is going to be done." And then, when I don't do it because things have happened or we see how projects they become like this... They take on a life of their own, and you have to let them breathe and exist and fall into place sometimes.

And that patience is, it's hard if you're sometimes, because I think we're used to this grind culture of get it done and look at that 22-year-old guy who got his movie into Sundance, and that doesn't help our own projects, letting myself vent a little bit about this.

O'Daniel: Right. No. I mean, and also though, I want to be transparent that it's not like I was free of anxiety. For the majority of the project, I was wavering between this like, "Oh, gosh, is this ever going to be done too? Is this going to take me my whole life?" I don't want to work on this one film for my whole life. I want to do other things. So, yeah, there were some harrowing periods of time where I was like, "Ooh, I really hope that this... I hope get to finish it beyond it just being short films."

NFS: Yeah.

O’Daniel: Although saying that, I don't have a hierarchy. In my mind, it's not like, the original goal was to make a feature film. But I actually, really love that I have these films that exist in the art world, in museums, and in installations that are part of this. I love that it's this amorphous project in a way.

NFS: Mm-hmm. It seems like by creating the short films that ultimately led to the overarching film, there was urgency, but there was also patience. And so, you were getting the satisfaction of completing something and then keeping it moving along.

O’Daniel: Yeah, and also though, I would just like to add one more thing in there though, is that I really do value this experience of the deaf and hard of hearing person's experience where you're getting part of it, and you never really are confident that you've gotten all of it.

And so, that was something that was like a guiding north star for me of like, if I have a language to contribute, it's that this space of misunderstanding is actually, really fruitful and rich and interesting. It's a nice space to mine for the project. So...

NFS: Yeah. Now, this is going back to before this project, but I'd love to speak about how your love of film transformed when you started to learn how to edit in sound.

O’Daniel: Yeah, okay, let's see. Actually, I mean, I have always loved cinema. And then, when I was... And so, as an artist, I really started out making these very low-fi video art performances. And then, at a certain point when I was in grad school at UC Irvine, I had a professor who gave this exercise assignment to follow a bunch of these narratives, standard narrative filmmaking techniques.

And I just felt the education of having watched so many films and then doing that like, it was really fluid to me. It really made sense. And I really loved actually, the process of thinking through organizing, I mean, without realizing I was having to think through a shot list, basically making a shot list in order to just figure out how do you actually construct a scene and film it and choreograph it, and then edit it and put it together.

And when I got to the very end stage, I realized that I had this real affinity for sound design. And immediately, it was just empowering and beautiful, and also like, oh, yeah, of course. Of course, I would have an affinity for sound design because I'm thinking about sound all the time. Of course, I would.

And so, in some ways, I actually think that similar to the captioning, the sound design, my ability was sound design came from this space of having been so studied about my experience because I'm not just hearing throughout the day, I'm also constantly analyzing how I'm hearing what I'm not hearing correctly. And then, that's evolved into noticing things.

I remember when I was, right before I was filming the four-week film shoot for The Tuba Thieves, I was staying at my friend Sophie's house in Mount Washington, which is a neighborhood in Los Angeles that there was construction happening down her street, and she had a hammock. I was laying on the hammock and I was listening to all these birds, and then all the construction beeping.

And I was so aware of the way they were accompanying one another, and how my friend Sophie, who I was staying with, she's a meditator, and she was so irritated by the construction. And I remember just thinking like, "Oh, this is so fascinating." This relationship I have of like, my interest in the birds and in the construction sound is equal.

One is not the enemy of the other. I mean, one is in terms of environmentally, I can absolutely feel that kind of anger. But then, in terms of sonically or orally, I was just really genuinely curious about the sound. So, I don't know if that's exactly the question you were asking me, but I think for me, sound editing is really, comes much more from a deaf, hard-of-hearing experience of the world.

NFS: This is our last question. And, of course, if there's anything else you want to talk about, we can leave that for the end. But what advice do you have for an emerging filmmaker, somebody who is about to declare that they're going to make their first feature film?

O’Daniel: I think my advice is selfish because I want to stop seeing the same old stuff over and over again. But it's also, I think generous advice, which is to really, really work hard on rewriting rules. It's helpful for all of us to have structure and rules for ourselves, but the other people's rules can lead to really blend work and repetitive work.

And I think if you have that an allegiance to rules that other people have constructed, what gets lost in that is a recognition that those rules were usually constructed based on solving a problem that existed. And those problems are not relevant to us right now or not relevant to us, and whatever bodies we're in or not relevant to where we live in the world.

And so, I think freeing yourself from the jail of film rules, and that feels to me like if I have advice, it's to do a deep investigation and to what rules you are maybe unwittingly believing in, which ones you feel pressure to follow and to be very agnostic, don't necessarily be a believer in a certain way.

NFS: Yeah, that's great advice. Thank you.

O’Daniel: Mm-hmm. Thank you.

NFS: And is there anything else you want to shout out while we're here on the podcast?

O’Daniel: No, I should have prepped for that.

NFS: All good. Then, you'll be so prepared when somebody asks you that question at Sundance as you're like there or after the film giving you Q&A.

O’Daniel: Yeah, I guess I need to start thinking about that. I don't know.

NFS: Oh, thank you so much, Alison. It was a pleasure. And—

O’Daniel: Thank you.

NFS: To our listeners, you got to go see The Tube Thieves. Stay tuned.


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