Mr. Gold: Brian Carlson
Back in 2012, we featured the work of photographer Brian Carlson, who had just finished creating a moving documentary project of environmental portraits made in the Parramore/Holden area of central Florida. Brian won a grant from the United Arts of Central Florida to help finance the project, which included providing his subjects with an 8X12 print and a CD containing their image. When he finished the project he invited all of the residents to an exhibit so they could see their portraits displayed. “Making someone feel loved,” Carlson said “and showing them you care really can’t compare to getting a check in the mail, receiving an award, or getting published.” Read more about the project and see a selection of the portraits here.
Recently, Carlson finished his first documentary film project and reached out to us to ask if we would be interested in sharing it which, after watching it, we responded with an enthusiastic “of course.” Mr. Gold shares the story of Jose Melendez, a 21-time felon who spent 11 years incarcerated and now works as a street corner promotions man for a jewelry store. It’s a wonderfully shot, touching story of a man taking ownership of his life and wanting to turn his experiences into second chances for others. I asked Brian a few questions about the project, which he was kind enough to answer.
F&B: How did you find Mr. Gold and what was it about his story that resonated with you enough that you wanted to tell it?
BC: Jose works at a corner right near my house. Whenever I drove by he would give me that signature wave and flick of the hat. His attitude and joy for what he does is infectious. I knew he was special and in the back of my head I wanted to do some kind of project with him. A few months later the local weekly paper gave him the award of Best Sign Spinner and that was the tipping point. When you see how he moves and you read up on his story you understand that this couldn’t be captured in a single portrait or photo story. It needed to be a documentary.
As your first foray into documentary filmmaking, what was the most challenging aspect of making it?
There were a lot of unseen and unplanned challenges, which I think is pretty customary when it comes to a documentary. I’ve done some travel in other countries so I’m pretty used to things not going as expected. You have to plan and then be prepared to throw your plans out the window. Specifically, one of the biggest challenges was the shooting location. He’s on a street corner with 50mph traffic whizzing by. That limits my options on shooting angles. It’s either in front of him (which was complex because of the angle of the sun when I was shooting) or behind him (with a lot of shots of the back of his head). At some point I realized I needed to visually switch it up. That’s where the high-speed footage came in. At the same time high-speed can become really gimmicky so I didn’t want to overdo it. The pace at which Jose moves also lends itself to high-speed.
Another challenge was just learning all the ins and outs of filmmaking. This was pretty much a one man show for me as it was more of a personal project. I brushed up on my audio knowledge, taught myself a new editing software, learned how to operate a steadicam (I use the word operate very loosely), etc. It was fun to conquer all those obstacles. You certainly can’t do every piece like this. Having a good crew is essential. Thankfully these new skills won’t go to waste, they’ll make me a better director.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got an ongoing series on my blog called 11 Questions that I’m always working on. I’m currently producing a few conceptual shoots for it. That series gives me a chance to stretch my creative muscles. I’m going to be entering Mr. Gold in some film festivals and after that I’ll probably start up another video project. I’ve got two ideas right now. Both of which I’m really excited about.