Elizabeth Hepburn’s Better & Better Series is (as of this writing, January 2020) the biggest and most important movie – actually a suite of five short movies – Ben Bryant has ever directed and edited.
Neither of us is sure of exactly when I wrote the first drafts of the concept but we agree that it was sometime in the mid 1990s. Then in 2004 I met Ben’s Producer, Eric Brown, who loved the idea and decided to finance the production. So I went to work and began rewriting and fleshing out the scenarios.
After talking with several people I was led to the brilliant Rick Baitz; Eric made a deal with him and we had our composer. I began working with Rick developing the music and recording the scripts in March 2004. In the physical creation of the five movies that comprise the finished series, the work of Rick and I, covered over six months, and that of Rick and Ben more than a year.
Ben and I scouted and found our Lake George locations (Lap of Luxury) in March. Then, after many hours of on-line research we narrowed the waterfall (Post-Surgery) locations down to central North Carolina. In April Ben scouted nine of them with one of our two Directors of Photography, multiple Emmy winner Bob Collins, and they found the perfect site. Finally, Nancy Grigor of Hamptons Locations showed us many beaches (Pre-Surgery) and having selected one, we were ready to schedule the shoots.
All the audio tracks were recorded in Rick’s studio and about a week before the first shoot, with a little help from my director (Ben), I learned how to lip-synch. This was essential since on the noisy (waterfall & ocean) locations where we were to shoot, recording my speaking and singing was impractical if not impossible. According to Ben, since I’m a highly focused and fast learner, the lip-synch was virtually perfect when we shot the scenes.
With a crew of Bob’s advanced students from North Carolina School of the Arts, where he was head of the cinematography department, plus our Director of (nature) Photography, the brilliant Peter Longauer, we shot the waterfall on 9 June that summer. We shot Lake George for two days the following week and did our last principal photography at East Hampton, NY on June 21st. Two of Bob’s students and a fellow teacher (DP Arledge Armenaki) came north with him to work with our NY crew members for the lake and beach shoots.
At each of these locations (plus later in Westchester County, Central and Riverside Parks in NYC, a friend’s home in the Pennsylvania countryside plus on one of our beach vacations) Peter and Ben shot copious quantities of nature and critter footage.
Once he began editing Ben realized we needed more beach footage so we did a pickup shoot with DP Peter Longauer in mid-August.
For each of the five (approximately) twenty-five minute movies – Pre-Surgery for the Patient, Post-Surgery for the Patient, Pre-Surgery for the Caregiver, Post-Surgery for the Caregiver and In the Lap of Luxury – the guys had shot around two-hundred and fifty minutes of me on-camera plus maybe another eight-hundred minutes or more of nature footage. (It was still called footage then since we shot on digital videotape.) Samples of all these pieces are available here.
In each of the programs I was talking (lip-synch) on-camera for four to five minutes and Ben says editing that was the easy part. He just had to pick the best takes and synch them with the recorded tracks. Each video includes a (pre-recorded) song and editing them took longer as we shot all the songs in multiple sites with multiple angles. But the choices were limited and specific; so though they were challenging, Ben had great fun cutting them.
The remainder of each movie was my voice giving therapeutic suggestion (also known as guided meditation) underscored by Rick Baitz’s perfect music.
After cutting my on camera work, it was time for the abstract, most creative and longest portion of the editing process. Ben began with Post-Surgery at the waterfall.
He has written several essays and blogs about many aspects of this project and other edits but has never written about the near mystical experience of editing the over two hours of the five finished movies. Beyond the aforementioned footage of my on camera scenes he tells me that he had no conscious idea of how to begin the visuals.
I don’t appear on camera until almost two minutes into the piece. How was he to start? A special shot was needed for the opening. He played the sound track over and over as he scanned Bob and Peter’s gorgeous shots of bubbling brooks, tiny cataracts, colorful flowers and towering trees. Silently he said, “I need some help here.” And one shot kept “jumping out” at him. He laid it in, tweaked the in point a few times, and it was perfect.
Here’s the opening two minutes of Pre-Surgery.
Ben is not a religious person but he is a Spiritual man. While he doesn’t believe in the classic father god and the dogma that accompany that sort of belief, he feels that there may be non-physical assistance sometimes available to us when we request it. This is what he means by “near mystical experience of editing” this set of movies. Over the year plus that he worked on editing this project he had a number of similar experiences – asking for help – and the results were always excellent.
The experience of creating these videos is Ben’s and my personal masterpiece and he has said that he will be eternally grateful to me and Eric Brown for making it possible.
With the inception of the concept in the mid 1990s and the final versions going to the duplicator in June 2006, Elizabeth Hepburn’s Better & Better Series was a project that spanned more than a decade. We all feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity of bringing it to fruition.
You can read all the details of this project when you click here and get Ben’s book, Waiting for Elizabeth.