WJI 2016 Blog - Day Twelve - Shaky Cams, Barber Shops and Fancy Rhino

May 27, 2016

Molly Hulsey

Covenant College

Grins glinted in laughter, eyes watered or opened wide with wonder as filmmaker Drew Belz had unveiled Fancy Rhino’s—his mixed media firm—cinematographic magic the night before.

Their film crew captured everything from a teacher’s enthusiasm as blazed an Oregon Trail in his classroom, the splinter of early morning over an impoverished school, and the vibrato in marathon runners’ voices as they spoke about being outmatched by their teammate— a man with terminal brain tumors.  It was like viewing Cannes-quality epics suppressed into an eight minute time span.


So, with this magnificent tutorial in mind, we fantasized at night of how our three minute documentaries on Friday would spin the film world out of orbit.

Well, things didn’t turn out quite as my partner Thomas and I had envisioned, and… it was probably for the best.

Originally, we hoped to do a local news story: an incoming watershed habitat for Asheville’s River Arts District.  Innovative. Environmental. Trendy.  What could go wrong?

Then, the planning director got back with us and said she’d be gone for the weekend into next week. No one else in her office could answer our questions either.

Okay, back to the drawing board: A sit-down café that offered free food to both the homeless and thrifty tourists sounded like a plan.

However, no call, no email, no tweet, no Facebook message bleeped in from the Reverend in charge during the days preceding film time.  Still, the website reassured us that the café was open on Friday.  We wouldn’t have a chance to survey the territory beforehand, but the impromptu “shaky cam” technique was still in vogue—right?

One of the few drivers with the program ferried us to West Asheville (WA) later that day and dropped us off outside the doorstep of the picture-perfect Mainstreet café.

Alas, it was closed,

As someone familiar with Asheville might know, downtown yields a consistent crop of milling activity, but daytime WA appeared fairly dead—an empty Mayberry set from the Andy Griffith show.

And now, we were stranded with a documentary due in less than 24 hours.

So, Thomas and I regrouped in a park beside an old barber shop.  We almost rallied our moral by breaking out into a huddle chant and did a double take of our surroundings.

“Why don’t we do a doc on that?” he suggested, hypnotized by the swirling red, white, and blue streaks on the barber pole.

“A barbershop? Are you sure about that?” I said skeptically.  “I mean, do viewers really want to watch 10 minutes of someone getting their haircut?”

However, after researching the place, we discovered it was actually one of the oldest barbershops in NC with a 90 year track record of snipping local dos.

Hmmm. Potential here.

Prospects became even more promising when brother and sister barbers swiveled around customers to greet us beneath shelves swathed with action figures and smurf paraphernalia.

Then, we knew we had entered the inner chamber, the holiest of holies, the brick-and-mortar newsroom of all small town secrets—driven, as we were, through these sweetly jingling doors by misfortune, impending peril, and sudden desperation.  Hallelujah.

Thomas played cameraman, and I began to dish out interview questions over the buzz of electric razors and gossiping clients.

In just a few hours, we examined the tools of the trade, jested with Asheville old-timers, verified  men are more picky with hair than women, and agreed that brother Tom has “every smurf known to man”—down to Papa Smurf bedsheets and curtains. Even a blue-tinted barber hung from a makeship noose by the mirror under the steely gaze of comic-book anti-hero, “the Spawn.”

A long evening of “copy-and-dragging,” “music overlaying,” and cutting—not hair this time but film—was still to come, but we rejoiced in uncovered a much more colorful subject than watershed construction.

Perhaps the project wasn’t one of the brilliant silver screen visions we had witnessed the night before, but there was a sort of magic to the way seemingly in-congruent pieces fit together just right in the end.  It takes one step at a time.

Molly Hulsey is a WORLD Intern.

For more information:

World Journalism Institute