This Place (360°)
Best viewed with headphones, on a mobile device and using a headset like Cardboard.
This Place is an experimental 360° short documentary that captures a day-in-the-life of Edward Haik, the lone distiller of Cajun Spirits in New Orleans.
In 2010 two brothers, Gus and Edward Haik, opened Cajun Spirits Distillery in New Orleans. Gus handles the business side and Edward is in charge of production. Before this Ed was a teacher with no prior experience distilling. He has learned the process by doing. Save for the occasional visitor, Ed spends his days working alone inside a giant warehouse in a sparsely populated, industrial part of town. I have often wondered about the solitary nature of Edward’s work, and wanted to explore his process from that perspective. I have been exploring the limitations and possibilities that VR technology presents for documentary, and felt it would be the perfect medium through which to tell Ed’s story.
I really wanted the viewer to feel the solitude of Ed’s experience. So it was important that they feel invisible, almost like a spirit in the room. The idea is that they are hearing Ed’s inner monologue as he goes through his daily work. At one point he compares himself to a “man on a spaceship.” I see this piece as an excerpt from his captain’s log.
Step inside the massive warehouse and the first thing you see is a striking copper still, like something out of an H.G. Wells novel. Nearby, Ed is scooping raw sugar cane into a cluster of steel tanks on burners, walking through the distillation process in his mind. He takes pride in these locally sourced ingredients. He and his brother have deep roots in Louisiana and their spirits reflect that. If you look around, you will see other aspects of the production process represented in the space – a folding table with glass beakers and the trappings of Ed’s experiments, a tasting area, a bottling station with hundreds of shiny glass bottles lined up waiting to be filled, labeled, boxed and transported by the large forklift parked a few feet away. You follow Ed as he moves throughout the space, trailed by his dog, Susam. He is thinking about the nature of his existence in this place. Ed takes Su for a romp on the grassy neutral ground just outside of the building. The blue sky and sunshine his mind shifts to the future, full of possibilities. You see the Superdome and the cityscape in the distance. Less than a mile away, it feels like an entirely different universe.
My goal was to get more people thinking about what VR can bring to documentary, and to encourage others to experiment with this technology by showing what you can achieve with a consumer grade camera.
Ed agreed to participate in this experimental project, and gave me open access to film him working inside the warehouse. I shot the piece in three days spread out over the course of a week, using the Samsung Gear 360 (4k). I conducted three separate interviews with Ed and chose to record audio only of those conversations. I wanted the viewer to feel like they were hearing Ed’s thoughts, and felt that this approach would be the best way to achieve that effect. The absence of a camera also put Ed more at ease and allowed me to be more present in the conversation.
I intentionally placed the camera at various distances from Edward, but kept most of the action center to the front lens. I used the back lens to bring perspective to the vast space around Edward, alone with the tanks, bottles and the still. I did not originally intend to have him hold the camera in the final scenes. There was a moment during filming that some local brewmasters stopped by the distillery to talk with Edward. Seeing the way he guided them through the space, inspired me to incorporate that dynamic. So I asked Ed to guide the camera through the warehouse, and out onto the Poydras Avenue neutral ground to establish the location.