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D. Elizabeth Cohen on Producing Going, Going, Going

D. Elizabeth Cohen on Producing Going, Going, Going

This narrative is partially based on an interview of Cohen conducted by Tom Davenport.

My Background Prior to Making Going, Going, Going
Prior to making the documentary, I was a theater artist and communicator who transitioned into film. I received an M.A. in Drama in 1976 from NYU (in the department that would later become Performance Studies) with special studies in Popular Entertainments with distinguished scholar Brooks McNamara. I then did a stint as a professor, community creative dramatics teacher and administrator at the Antioch Theatre Project. .After that, I spent three years teaching in community colleges and trade schools with primarily Afro-American populations in Baltimore, Maryland. I also co-founded a women’s theater company, Texas Boots and Double Joints, which I co-ran and with which I wrote and directed original plays and conducted university workshops.

Genesis of Going, Going, Going
In 1979 I returned with my then-husband to Portland, Oregon and began a career as a Data Services Documentation and Training Specialist, in the hopes that attaining those skills would support my work as a theater artist. After having a child in 1980, I determined that while theater took a lot of time with not much to show for it, with filmmaking I could emerge with something far more durable. I began training in film and video production at the Northwest Film Center and Portland State University. And I had the opportunity- as part of my job - to produce and direct a video-enhanced program training all company employees to use the company computer – computers were becoming ubiquitous at that time in the early 80s. I took on an additional job as a folk arts producer for a weekly local cable arts show. Soon after, I quit my fulltime corporate technical writing position and interned full time for four months with the local PBS station producing and writing public affairs magazine segments. When my internship was over, I took on a variety of freelance media production and communications jobs and explored topics for a possible independent film.

Going, Going, Going was the result of one of the topics I explored. I conceived the film as a result of attending a fundraising auction for the daycare center that my then-husband directed. The volunteer auctioneer had just graduated from an auction school, the River Basin Auction School, and he put me in touch with the proprietor, the late Truman Kongslie, who encouraged my film idea by inviting me to attend the next session in Bismarck, North Dakota. I would attend the auction school but later, and closer to home, in Salem, Oregon, after I had begun researching, planning and fundraising for the production. The film was launched based upon my desire to produce an independent film and on the foundation of my background in performance studies and my interest in American subcultures that I had begun exploring in Baltimore while an instructor in the Afro-American community.

The Production Life Cycle

Overall summary
Going, Going, Going was based on substantial original qualitative research gathered in the field supplemented by literature review and some archival research. I spent substantial time gathering information about the practice of different types of auctioneering in various USA locations prior to making decisions about the film’s story, how to structure the film and what and who to feature. I spent several weeks in the field with the chosen subjects before shooting, following them to get to know them better and to decide what activities to shoot. Fundraising and grant writing were other significant activities. Actual production time was limited, under two weeks, although we spent long 14-hour days in production and accrued over 30 hours of footage (at least ¼ of which were damaged due to a camera problem). Logging tapes, editing, recording an original sound track and putting together the story were very time consuming. This was before the time of digital editing. I did two rough cuts with editor Rose Read before entering the PBS studio where we recorded a sound track with musician Hollis Taylor and narrator Valerie Brooks; I spent long hours with editor Lisa Suinn editing the final cut mostly based on the second rough cut developed with editor Read.

Fundraising
Early on I learned that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Folk Arts Program funded films, and that is the first grant that I pursued with the assistance of consulting by folklorist Steve Zeitlin who I met through former professor Brooks McNamara. An important part of the proposal was creating a sample tape, and fortunately my colleagues Eric Edwards and Claire Stock from the Disarmament Media Network, with which I had been volunteering, donated their production skills to filming the action at the River Basin Auction School when it came to Oregon. We used equipment and post production facilities that were available at Portland Cable Acess and Multnomah Cable Access. As a result of the demo tape and the proposal, and with the Media Project as fiscal sponsor, I was the recipient of a $20,000 grant which made the activities that followed possible. As research ensued, I applied for and was granted a number of small grants and in-kind donations. What ultimately made completion of the film possible were post-production services at Oregon Public Broadcasting equivalent to over $20,000.

Research
The NEA grant made it possible for me to travel back east to spend time at the Smithsonian to read through the material on auctioneering compiled by folklorist Steve Zeitlin in the American Talkers series housed there. From this research I identified several interesting auctioneers who were kind enough to allow me to visit and interview them including Ned Morrow, a household auctioneer in West Virginia and Bob Cage, a tobacco auctioneer/sculptor/tennis champion from North Carolina. In North Carolina, I also visited my old friend Marcia Dressler, who had grown up in a tobacco community and visited with members of her family. I continued my research close to home in Oregon and Washington States in the Pacific Northwest following up on leads supplied by Truman Kongslie and others. I attended livestock and auto auctions and had the opportunity to interview a number of auctioneers including Joe Paryppa and Mark Kuhn. While I had begun my research focusing on the performance elements of auctioneering, working with a number of academic consultants including ethnomusicologist Geoffrey Miller and folklorist Phyliss Harrison, I discovered in my field research that the sociology of auctioneering communities was the story that I found most compelling. I learned that the only children who aspired to become tobacco or livestock auctioneers were those who grew up in these communities. Outside of the community, auctioneering was a relatively invisible occupation. So I decided to focus in the film on auctioneering’s ties to rural life apparent from my research in the South and in the Pacific Northwest.

Decisions about subjects and story
Had I had a limitless budget I might have made different choices, but the constraints of my budget caused me to limit shooting to the Pacific Northwest and to focus on livestock auctioneering, with Mark Kuhn as the central subject.  Mark represented the concepts I wanted to illustrate and was the obvious choice for many reasons: his commitment to becoming an auctioneer, his family ties to the livestock community, his attractiveness, his articulateness, the excellent rapport we shared, and his generosity and willingness to share his life.

Preproduction
Preproduction consisted of a multitude of logistics.

Shooting
As a relatively inexperienced filmmaker, I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with gifted cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards and soundperson Dave Matthew in shooting the film. We spent long grueling days driving through the Pacific  Northwest and accruing footage. Fortunately they were great company as well as talented collaborators.

Post production
As I settled into logging the 40 plus hours of tapes that had been transferred from betacam to ½ inch, I discovered that much of the original footage had been damaged. Fortunately Dean McCrea of Northwest Videoworks allowed me to come into the facility after hours to view the original tapes so I could determine what tapes had been damaged and what was available to use. As previously mentioned, I then completed two rough cuts in analog ½ inch prior to completing the one-inch master at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Rose Read and Lisa Suinn were the talented and generous editors, Read for the rough cuts and Suinn at OPB.

Awards and Distribution
When it was released, Going, Going, Going won awards in the National Educational Film and Video Festival and the Northwest Film and Video Festival.20 years later I had the film digitized, and it came to the attention of the Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival from which it received an award in 2010 as Best Classic Roots Culture Film. Despite the fact that the film received excellentreviews in the press including Booklist and Library Journal, and was represented for a time by distributor Filmmakers Library, the film was not purchased by any university libraries. The film was released in the early 90s at the time the educational film market was collapsing with the emergence of inexpensive VHS tapes. Going, Going, Going was shown on several PBS Stations, was featured on a national PBS program American Pie, and was screened at several film festivals.

Effect on Life of Filmmaker
I spent over five years devoted to making this film on a mostly unpaid basis. Artistically it was an immensely rewarding experience, but the endeavor put a great deal of stress on my family and my health.

Subsequent Work
I never made another full-length documentary. I was not willing to pursue the same path of uncertain funding again. I attempted to make a film about environmental illness in the 90s, but was unable to get funding for the controversial subject. I went on to become a multimedia and video producer and scriptwriter for a number of projects commissioned by companies and organizations. I studied educational multimedia for my doctorate in Computing Technology in Education, which I received in 2005. I continued this research as a Senior Research Fellow at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access in 2017. I taught video and digital storytelling production for South Korean universities between 2010 and 2016 and have also given video documentary workshops at a number of colleges and universities.

Future Plans
I am currently launching a company to teach English through documentary production.

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© 2019 Deborah Elizabeth Cohen