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 Serieswas a project that spanned more than a decade. We all feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity of bringing it to fruition.
Love heals is not an empty phrase. There are research studies bearing out the integrity of that statement. But that’s not exactly what this vlog is about. It is the idea behind Elizabeth Hepburn’s Better & Better Series.Love, music and beauty are all healing techniques and in this series we created a combination of those elements.
In 2010 Elizabeth, who’s dictum is “Love Heals”, had been mulling the idea of a video for her Pledge to Love.
The concept of the video was to stress the international aspect of the Pledge so we wanted to include as many nationalities/languages as we could. From our neighborhood we got the Turkish fruit vendor and the Yemeni hardware store guy. Through networking with our friends we ended up with thirteen languages from Gaelic to Chinese.
(Except for one in Germany and another in Oregon they were all in a one mile radius of our house. You gotta love New York City!)
Elizabeth tells us: This “Pledge to Love” is the result of a gift from Dr. Brugh Joy. Several years ago, at a class of his on the upper west side of Manhattan, he was having us sit quietly with our right hand on our heart center. We were to feel, very slowly, one at a time, the myriad aspects of Love present there – joy, tenderness, peace, gratitude, compassion. It was so beautiful. The next morning in meditation, in putting my hand over my heart to recreate this experience, I heard this Pledge of Allegiance. I’ll be forever grateful. Regardless of where we stand religiously, spiritually, or non-spiritually – we all want to feel good and be happy.
We did versions of several lengths. The one presented here is the longer one.
The short versions are (4:51) here and (2:10) here. Enjoy and please share.
*This is a rewritten version of a vlog on Ben’s books website hence the super on the video. Elizabeth’s home page is at lovehealswithelizabeth.com.
The concept of creating surgery support video and audio programs had been in Elizabeth Hepburn’s mind for a decade or more before we were enabled by Eric Brown to begin the process of actually making them in 2003.
Married to a Video Maker
When Elizabeth first mentioned the idea to me (Ben Bryant) I knew that in order to produce a project of this magnitude, with the quality it deserved, a significant amount of money would be required. About ten years later I directed and edited a documentary that Eric financed. While we were in the middle of the production of Nyack to Ninth Avenue he mentioned that he wanted to learn more about producing video and asked how I had learned. I told him my story about being “thrown into the deep end of the pool” by my mentor Jack Tellander pointing out that the best way to learn was to just do it.
Creating a Producer
Eric asked if I had any ideas for projects and I whipped out the one-page description of Elizabeth’s surgery support concept. He liked it and when he met Elizabeth it was (mutual) love at first sight and we were on our way.
Here’s a short sample of our Pre-surgery support video for the Patient. (There is also a version for the Caregiver.)
As I have written before and will no doubt write again, Love Heals, is the idea behind all of Elizabeth Hepburn’s work.
This video needs no additional introduction in that it is, itself, an introduction by Elizabeth to her Better & Better Series. All more that need be said is that I, Ben Bryant, was blessed with the joyful task of directing and editing the entire project.
In the Lap of Luxury, the third program in the Better & Better Series, was shot at New York State’s spectacular Lake George in the Adirondack mountains.
The Boat Shoot
One portion of the shoot began at Yankee Boating Center. We hired a sailboat for Elizabeth’s photography and a second boat for camera. Riding out of sight in the cabin were Melinda (wardrobe), Michina (makeup) and Richard (a very capable production assistant) who handled the playback boom box and walkie-talkie for my direction from the camera boat. The picture boat had an outboard motor which was fortuitous since there was very little breeze that day. The camera boat was a kind of floating flatbed that comfortably accommodated both camera crews, our gaffer plus me and Eric.
We motored into the lake until we were out of sight of buildings and began to shoot.
The series contains five, twenty-five minute video (and audio) programs – written and performed by my wife Elizabeth – designed to aid both patients and caregivers in preparation for and recovery from surgery. The principal photography of our first production, Post-Surgery, was shot at Pearson’s Falls, North Carolina.
I (Ben Bryant) got to direct and edit the entire series, one of the great blessings of my life.
As always in video production, there were “bumps in the road”. A potentially big one happened the day before the first shoot.
Production insurance is considerably more costly than regular business insurance. It was the only instance in this entire project where our producer, Eric Brown, tried to save money. Everything else Elizabeth or I asked for was okay with him. Eric opined that his broker, from whom he’d been getting business insurance for years, could provide an appropriate policy. He got one for about 15% the $3,000 cost of a production insurance package. I continued to advise against it but Eric is a smart guy and a lawyer so I figured he knew something I didn’t about his insurance guy, the vaunted Joe Q.
On the day before the shoot in North Carolina we were having lunch with Elizabeth and Peter Longauer (Nature Cameraman) when Eric got a call. He started outside and waved me to follow. The call was from Joe Q. Once it had become clear to the underwriter exactly what Joe was insuring they had declined. So we had no insurance and were going to shoot the next day at a location where a young crew would be carrying heavy, expensive equipment over terrain covered with slippery rocks, streams and a big waterfall. The certificate of insurance – now null and void – had already been filed with the location owner.
The choices were to proceed uninsured – not mentioning this unfortunate turn of events to anyone – or to reschedule the shoot after getting proper coverage. This would not only have been very expensive but probably impossible. We chose to keep the conversation to ourselves and proceed. As soon as we got home an appropriate production insurance package was procured for the remainder of the shoots.
(PS: There were no accidents or equipment losses.)
As you’ll see in the video below, I wrote a book – Waiting for Elizabeth – about our relationship and it includes the entire story about the creation of Elizabeth Hepburn’s Better & Better Series.
Click here for downloads of Elizabeth Hepburn’s Better & Better Series. Once on the page, put your cursor over an image to Id. the program and click for more info and a sample. If you prefer discs click here.
Since her first bout with cancer Elizabeth Hepburn has devoted her life to sharing healing support with others.
Producing Better & Better
In February 2004 Eric Brown committed to produce Elizabeth Hepburn’s Better & Better Series – a set of video and audio healing support “tools”. We’re not certain when the title came into being but we know its derivation. In all the Better & Better programs Elizabeth quotes Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie the French psychologist who introduced a popular method of self-improvement based on the autosuggestion: “Day by day in every way I am getting better and better”. All five programs – conceived, written and performed by Elizabeth – are designed to support patients and caregivers in preparation for and recovery from surgery.
I, Ben Bryant, am blessed to be married to this extraordinary woman and to serve as her director and editor.
Finding the Location
Since we were in high school Bob Collins (cinematographer) and I had talked about working together, him as cameraman and me as director. The wish finally came true that April when I flew down to Winston-Salem (where BC was head of the North Carolina School of the Arts cinematography department) and we went waterfall scouting for four days.
The location that had looked most ideal on the internet was Pearson’s Falls near Saluda, North Carolina.
We saw it in person on our last day of scouting. This waterfall had the size and beauty we needed and was not frightening as many large waterfalls can be. There was a kind of delicacy about it and its environment was picturesque, offering a variety of beautiful settings: several tiny waterfalls, small and large bubbling brooks and a wealth of flora. It seemed made for our purposes.
Here are two short clips from the twenty-five minute program Post-Surgery for the Patient. (Introduced by Elizabeth)
Elizabeth called her new website Love Heals with Elizabeth because the premise of her work is: Love Heals.
Do not take that statement to be exclusive. Love is certainly not the only healing substance or approach available but the active application of Love in any dis-ease situation will enhance and support the healing process.
(This is her husband, also her video director/editor writing this piece.)
We live in an age of prodigious medical technology. In my lifetime healing tools – both chemical and surgical – have advanced beyond imagination. When I was a young man there had never been a heart transplant. Today transplanting a heart and a pair of lungs to save a life is almost routine. When in the early 1970s Elizabeth had her first post-cancer-surgery-chemotherapy most such methods were in many cases as bad as the disease. She was blessed to be treated with a drug that was local and limited in systemic effect but many patients were devastated by chemotherapy treatments. Today the chemical applications can be tailored to the patient and targeted to the specific malignancy and produce minimal discomfort. The same is true for radiation. We know because after forty-one years the “big C” hit Elizabeth again and she benefitted from targeted chemo and radiation in 2016. These and other advances in medical technology are invaluable weapons in the battle with dis-ease of all sorts.
Her work, particularly the Better & Better Series, addresses the emotional/spiritual aspects of healing, specifically the fear and worry when one is faced with a life-threatening medical situation. There are few among us who have not experienced fear and noticed its effects, from butterflies in the stomach to cold sweats. When one is preparing to “go under the knife” fear is inevitable even for the bravest among us. The Better & Better Series is designed to support the elimination of that fear.
Because I am married to this wonderful woman (twice, but that’s another story. See my book Waiting for Elizabeth for the whole story) and I’m a video director/editor I was privileged to be an integral part of this project.
The Better and Better Series comprises five healing support video and audio programs, designed to alleviate the anxiety and stress associated with surgery – for both patient and caregiver – and to sustain radiant health once the recovery is complete.
Pre-Surgery Healing Support programs combine the soothing, healing ambiance of the beach, original music and Elizabeth’s therapeutic suggestion * to promote relaxation and a sense of peace and trust to set the stage for optimal results to be achieved from surgery. (24 minutes)
Post-Surgery Healing Support programs for the recuperation period applies the powerful inspiration of a beautiful waterfall in spring, in combination with music and therapeutic suggestion to support and invigorate the healing process to facilitate recovery. (24 minutes)
(There is a version of both the pre and post surgery programs for the caregiver as well as audio only CDs for both.)
In the Lap of Luxury is for anyone and everyone. Elizabeth calls it “Mission Possible” Feeling Really Good! Magnificent Lake George in upstate New York provides the backdrop for music and therapeutic suggestion designed to sustain radiant health and well-being. (23 minutes)
Once our producer, Eric Brown, approved my budget Elizabeth (writer and on-camera presence and leader of the meditations) began rewriting and refining her scripts and I (director and editor) began scouring the internet for locations. Together we began the search for a composer and soon found the brilliant and creative Rick Baitz who not only wrote appropriate beautiful music but also engineered the final audio mix for the entire project.
I’ll be back with other posts sharing some details of the preparations for and the shooting and editing of Elizabeth Hepburn’s Better & Better Series.