deadCENTER INTERVIEW: Derek Watson, ‘This is Normal’

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Derek Watson brought his short film This is Normal to the 2013 deadCENTER Film Festival and walked out with the award for Best OKIE Short Film. He took the time to talk to Renegade Cinema before heading to the ceremony to learn he won the award.

Where did this idea for This is Normal originate from?

Derek: I had been able to fortunately work on several different projects around the world, and it really didn’t matter where I went, I mean it was like Central America or Africa or Middle East, Southeast Asia, it was the same thing. You keep seeing the same thing, the same scene throughout every single day. Women and children walking long distances for water that is killing them, and I was like, man one day I would love to tell that story about the crisis but I would love to find a really cool solution. And so we ended up running across paths with Water4, and their story is just remarkable. I mean, I love their solution and everything else. So we started talking about what it would look like to tell their story and we kind of started to realize there is like three different story threads that I would love to weave together, and I wanted just like the typical African woman and her life, one of a well driller who has no option, he wants to have a job and finds a job, a meaning, a purpose, providing a healing object for his country, and then Dick, a really successful business man that has chased the American dream and has caught it. And you would think that like “man, dude, that’s it, you know I am just going to skate through life.” I felt like, for all of us, this film is more about us than about Africans in that, do we really want this to be our normal where we just walk around in a cloud and forget what is going on around the world?

What is it that you were doing that was taking you around the world like this?

Derek: I was working on several different projects. I have a production company, and we do kind of documentaries, I mean from full blown to mini docs for different organizations all over the world, so it is typical humanitarian stuff, but we would be there to do some kind of medical clinic and we would look over and realize, man, water is what they need. You know, we would be doing some kind of feeding operation and you would be like, dude, what they really need is water. And so it was kind of some of the reasons why we were traveling around.

Other than financial reasons, what was the reason for doing a short documentary instead of a feature length?

Derek: You know, that is a great question, because my first cut was like 45 minutes that I really, really felt like… but financial is obviously the biggest part of just trying to finish it out. Also, I feel like the short category allows it to get seen in a short bit, for people to get more information about the crisis, about Water4, and to jump in, is kind of what I wanted to kind of fit it in that.

One of the problems with shorts would be that you have less exposure on DVD or whatever. So, are festivals your main plan of getting it out there or how else do you plan on getting this out there for people to see?

Derek: We are trying a whole lot of different options. I mean festivals is our first run, and we are going to try to attack it when we get there. We would love to pick up some kind of distribution. There have been several different potential opportunities that we can’t discuss, but then to also be able to do kind of private screenings around the country, to be able to say hey, you know we want to do a 20 minute screening and then a 30 minute chat, like that a Q&A to talk about the crisis. We thought this 20 minute piece would liberate us to do that.

What kind of instances would that be available to you. I noticed with Bully, they took it to schools to screen it. What options do you have to go around and show it, would it be to business communities?

Derek: Yeah, business communities, universities, churches, those kinds of things where we can try to find Rotary Clubs and that kind of stuff where we can try to gain whatever audience we can gain to talk about the issues and educate.

So how did you meet the gentleman in Oklahoma City who runs this company?

Derek:  Dick. It is a crazy story. His wife Terry and my mom grew up together, just kind of one of those crazy things, and so we started talking about different things. Actually, when we first met we didn’t realize it, but then I was on another shoot in Uganda with a group called Pros for Africa and Water4 happened to be there at the same time doing something with them and then that is where we kind of collided.

How long had he been doing this before you realized that this was going on?

Derek: About three or four years. And they are ramping up like crazy, I mean Water4 right now has the largest well project in the world, like known to man, 7,000 wells across West Africa with World Vision, you know the United Nations and Unicef keep saying this is the solution. I mean this could potentially be a game changer around the world. What is really cool is this is happening and got started right here in Oklahoma. And what this film is trying to do is get the word out for them, to say hey you know we can actually tackle this major issue we have had since the dawn of time, and we could do it in the next 10, 20, 30 years. I mean within our lifetimes if we all got behind it.

What they are doing is they are not just teaching how to put the wells in, but these people are actually able to go back to the communities and fix them when an O-ring breaks, there are the people there that can actually take care of this now so they don’t have to worry about it.

Derek: Right, and it brings the cost down. I mean that is another thing, when you start to put the solution in the hands of these people, what you got is just a crazy explosion of wells. I mean, when you go from $10,000 a mechanized well to $1,000, you can obviously do ten-times the wells, and then you can go back and fix them and maintain them and it is crazy. These guys are go-getters, and once they start to get it, to go after government grants and school grants and stuff like that.

You had footage from all over the world. How long did it take you to shoot this? I mean there are all the different countries; there was the stuff in Oklahoma. How long did it take you to compile everything together?

Derek: It took about three weeks from shooting in Zambia, our principle shooting of putting in the well and everything else. We thought it was really important to get the follow up, you know four months later. So we went back 4 months later for another two or three weeks just because shooting in Africa is crazy, it always takes three-times, ten-times as long as what you think, so you kind of budget that time. Then you know grabbing all of our experts was another like four days. I think we kind of got them all in four days from LA to New York. I mean it was just crazy trying to get all these guys.

So it was non-stop plane trips.

Derek: Trying to get it all done. And then, even though a lot of that footage is stuff that we didn’t shoot, some of the most compelling footage at the end, the most amazing scene from Uganda, is somebody with their cell phone in Africa that they shot it with. So, you know, the editing process took about four to six weeks.

That is a lot quicker than I thought. I would have thought it would have taken months.

Derek: Yeah, and that was another thing. With our budget, we were trying to cram as much in, we are real small, I mean there is just the three or four of us really that had our hands in it.

How did you raise the budget for to do this?

Derek: Water4 was able to kind of get some funds that way, so that is how we got it financed.

Good promotion for them too.

Derek: Yeah, it really worked out for everybody.

Plus, I would assume giving you the money to make the documentary isn’t just publicity for them, but it is also promotion to get the word out of what is going on.

Derek: Yeah, yeah, and hopefully there is a life to this where they can start to take it and promote that way.

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About the Author

Shawn S. Lealos
Shawn is a film critic with over 25 years of experience in print and online media. He is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and loves everything from critically acclaimed movies to B-level action flicks.
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