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If It's Your Life or Your Movie, Own It: How Independent Filmmaker A.D. Pearson Stays In The Game

A.D. Pearson,
Independent Film-maker
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
        "Great stories happen," according to This American Life's Ira Glass, "to those who can tell them," which seems especially true in the storytelling form of documentary film. To record real-life events in real time, and neither predict nor control the end game requires a unique combination of vision and willingness to risk. Independent filmmaker A.D. Pearson, whose documentary Running Through: The Jordan Culbreath Story will be shown as part of the VisionFest film festival at the Tribeca Cinemas on Thursday June 21, views the documentary form as a kind of offering to the subject, an opportunity to "frame someone's story. You owe it to them to tell their story the right way. I like that challenge, to surprise them by showing how they might be seen through outside eyes." Despite the various and often unpredictable problems that arise, he loves the personal autonomy of this work. "Filmmaking is a truly unique act and producing a final product that no one else could have made is refreshing. I like to take on the responsibility of storytelling in documentary, conveying a story otherwise lost amidst people and time."
      Jordan Culbreath- who was described by's Pat Forde as "everything that's good and right about college athletics - former walk-on turned all-Ivy League running back, team captain, mechanical and aerospace engineering major," was sidelined by aplastic anemia just as a football and academic stars were rising. Pearson's film, which was featured at the Independent Film Center in New York City in September 2011 and film festivals around the country, manages to educate about the complexities of Culbreath's difficult-to-treat, life-threatening and significantly life-altering condition while capturing his spirit, attitude, and willingness to give his all to face the problem. 
   An independent filmmaker teaming up with a heroic person facing adversity illustrates perfectly the marriage of life and art, the idea that "great stories happen to those who can tell them," and we can all draw energy from the result if we are open to it. Because the film Running Through is about going through, it's about fear and uncertainty and disappointment and dreams derailed for people who did everything right. And it's the result of an artist believing in his power to tell a story and in the process of taking on the risk of this project, shaping his own. 
     Willing to risk - really, seriously, risk by putting it all on the line - is one of the ways an independent artist is a model for creative thinking and innovation in any area of life. Here are a few more: The skill of seeing the stories that surround us. Connecting a single human life to the larger story that all of us are living. Staying open to ideas. Asking "is this interesting? What conflict are we tackling?" says Pearson. Thinking for yourself. And perhaps most important, readiness to grab an opportunity that presents itself and not getting bogged down in "what ifs, "fears about finances, or worries about what can go wrong. "In documentary film-making the story dictates when you can capture it. Most stories you see you can't recreate again," Pearson explains. "I film with passion, not my wallet."
     "The best experience was seeing a piece I fully made, everything on the big screen," he says. "I put it there, filled the theater and everyone liked it. I don't know too many other 26-year olds that have done that in NYC. If you make something good, be proud of it."
     He accepts that this is a tough go.
     What keeps Pearson in the game? "I'm making what I am on my own, that no one can ever take away," he explains. "I believe in us as humans. It's my calling. I have faith the rest will come. I have to focus on the gifts I'm given, that's what my legacy will be, not how much is in my bank account after I die.Though it'll probably just be a lot of debt handed down to my next of kin, haha!"
  • See the trailer and learn more about A.D. Pearson's film Running Through
  • Read more about Jordan Culbreath in the New York Times
  • Support the Independent Film Center in New York City
  • Read about independent film-making: Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, Co-Authored By The Film Collaborative (Orly Ravid & Jeffrey Winter, co-executive directors)The Film Collaborative is the first non—profit organization devoted to distribution-education and distribution of independent cinema, Jon Reiss, author of Thinking Outside the Box Office, and Sheri Candler, Marketing Strategist and Social Media Expert
  • Independent Film Project - the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers, and also the premier advocate for them

Jude Treder-Wolff is a trainer, writer and performer, host of (mostly) TRUE THINGS Storytelling show and co-creator of MASHUP-Stories Into Song.

Business Week April 13, 2012


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