As we consider our issue theme of conversations, each of us at SixByEight Press took a little bit of time out of our days to engage in open dialogue with writers, collaborators, and mentors from our own personal and professional lives. We hope that in having these open-ended chats, we can reflect upon and gather a few key lessons from this most human of rituals.
In this piece, editor Joe Madsen talks to web developer, digital assets manager, and documentarist, Jon Ristaino.
Hi Jon, thanks for making the time to talk to us!
What’s the most informative creative experience you can recall?
Hmm, I can’t think of a single most. I would say creative experiences compound over time, and they’re all distinct.
Ok, what’s a significant creative experience that informed you?
I can talk about a piece of equipment I once purchased, actually.
I was working on a film I was making, and I bought this thing called a slider. It’s this piece of equipment, with metal tubes about three or four feet long, and a plate that sits right on top and slides down the tubes. You then put the camera on the plate, and it allows you to create really smooth shots that wouldn’t traditionally have motion — but you give it motion with the way the equipment lets you move: laterally, circuitously, etc. And it’s heavy, but manageable enough to haul it with me from shot to shot. I could pull in close to people’s faces, rotate around them, express how I was seeing the room in a completely different way. And it changed how I interacted with the medium.
At the time, I was shooting someone with limited mobility. The slider helped me capture the moods and emotions of my time making the film and add motion to shots. Over time it started to change my style and perspective.
What kind of media do you respond to as a creator?
Video for sure. I’d say I discovered that before college. My best friend growing up had a video camera, and we used to set up little army guys on my parents’ treadmill and film them. I don’t remember a lot of the details of what we’d make or how they’d turn out, but I’ve always been into video since then.
What kind of media do you respond to as a consumer?
Video. It’s the same. I like to read, but video just makes so much more sense to me.
Do you think you’re a visual learner?
Oh yeah. But I also think I like having everything thrown at me when I’m learning, which is why I like multimedia work and combining different elements together.
What project, paid or unpaid, do you take most pride in these days?
My second documentary — it’s the same as the one I mentioned before, when I bought the slider. It wasn’t a perfect film, but I was proud of it. Still am. It was a challenge, and I had worked on it for five years, so it got to grow and change with me. I always had a vision in my mind, and even though that vision changed throughout the five years, it was rewarding being able to make it come to life.
Corey’s Story – Traumatic Brain Injury (Corey Beattie) | Source: Jon Carmine Ristaino/YouTube
Maybe that’s the selfish side of it. Like the narcissistic artist. But the other side of that project is that I got really close to it all — to the subject. She had a traumatic brain injury, and getting that up close and personal with her and her family’s life in the process was rewarding in itself. Maybe that’s the journalist side in me.
Do you have any negative creative experiences that you wouldn’t change for a second?
I had one terrible experience in the 11th hour of a film I was making. I was in the last stages of editing before it was supposed to premiere at a festival in two days, and for some reason, the database I was using fucked up and lost almost my entire project. And it was like there was nothing I could do.
Yeah, and I had a… well, I don’t know if it was a meltdown, but I’ll say I had a meltdown, and I just lay on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. And I was like… there’s nothing I can do about this. This is just it.
But it wasn’t.
It wasn’t. I ended up getting on the phone with support, and after a few days trying to figure things out. Turns out there was a backup system in place which they said might be able to recover the project, but it would take about a day to go through that process.
Which gave you just one more day until the premiere.
Exactly. Long story short, it worked, and I got almost the entire thing back. But that was a sickening moment.
Ok, switching gears a little.
How has your creative work informed other aspects of your life?
I think it’s made me more patient. Sometimes the work of big projects is so intense that it gives you good perspective on other things in your life. And it makes you more patient [and] more calm. And sometimes the subject matter I interact with changes my point of view on things. Different subjects challenge you, and you have to listen to them which made me better at being patient.
That’s why I like documentaries because you get to do a lot of different things. You get to be the journalist, telling stories, and you get to be the techy filmmaker.
Be Who You Are Documentary – Trailer | Source: Jon Carmine Ristaino/YouTube
Tell me about a project you would start tomorrow with no time or cash limits.
Hmm, I would probably want to make some kind of multimedia experience that combines lots of video and projections with person-oriented stories. Something that physically pulls you into a space, working on you senses. Something documentaries aren’t known for; they’re usually very static.
I try to think of museums or exhibitions I’ve been to that combine lots of video work, and without something super specific in mind, I’d want to do something like that.
How well do you do being your own audience?
Awful. I’m terribly critical of myself and generally uncomfortable sometimes. But there’s something I love about obsessing over it and watching over and over again.
How do you do with letting an audience in?
If it’s a finished product, I’m nervous, but I’m a little better than if it’s unfinished. If I’m showing a finished product, it’s because I feel it’s somewhat ready — even if it’s never complete. But when I’m showing something in draft mode, it’s hard hearing the feedback on everything I’ve done, knowing there are so many details unrefined. I have to trust my reviewer to get that its just a work in progress. It can become overwhelming and daunting.
How do you know when you’ve truly exerted yourself?
Well for me, I usually get ill. Or I stop caring for myself properly. Sleeping odd hours, not eating, eating like shit when I do. You get into bad habits quickly, and then they become part of the process themselves. But now, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to avoid doing stuff like that when I’m really in the thick of something. I have a business to run, so I can’t say up for a few days straight, editing and chain-smoking cigarettes. So I just don’t do projects that way, like I used to. I don’t let myself get all consumed and temporarily abandon all the other stuff in my life.
But then again, sometimes I think maybe those habits were just part of the experience!
Thank you so much for your time!