Top 10 Questions and Comments on Harriet’s Secret

It has been one month since the premiere at the IMAX Theater of Harriet’s Secret: A Progressive Marriage in the 1890s, the full feature documentary I have been working on for two years.

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Having now taken a deep breath, I will devote a blog entry to discussing the most common questions and comments I heard that night after the show and the week following. For those who haven’t seen it yet, click here for the storyline.

1. It really wasn’t what I was expecting . . . but I liked it!
Apparently, a large portion of the audience was ready to chill out with some popcorn and enjoy an evening of light entertainment. I got the sense it was entertaining—it did keep everyone’s interest—but it was hardly light. The intense themes, tragic drama, and large amounts of information imparted to capture the social history of the era made for a night of intensity. It was more like the Deer Hunter, Sophie’s Choice, and Clockwork Orange and less like The Sound of Music.

People pay money to watch those intense movies made by Hollywood as well, so I think everyone was glad they came. It just took a few minutes to adjust.

2. That could be made into a narrative movie, not just a documentary.
This often mentioned comment surprised me. But I guess all the stuff is there for a Hollywood version of my doc. I was flattered. There are two reasons why I didn’t make it that way. 1. I am naturally inclined toward documented history and hard journalism and 2. It would have been literally ten times more expensive. Maybe more.

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3. I hate Percy. Why does Harriet act that way? Cecil confuses me.
These are sample comments on various characters. They represent the sense that the movie really made people think, which was a definite goal of mine. People on both sides of the ideological aisle enjoyed the film, and it challenged them.

4. I liked the Andrew Carnegie/Theodore Woodruff subplot as much or more than the main story.
I heard this quite a bit. The story of Percy and Harriet lasts about 55 minutes. The remaining 35 minutes provided me the opportunity to also tell the story of another ancestor of mine, Percy’s grandfather, who invented the Pullman sleeping car that revolutionized rail travel. Carnegie and Pullman stole the patent and left Woodruff penniless, but Carnegie decades later in his autobiography credited Woodruff with starting his fortune. This subplot is a fast paced story with adventure and intrigue and ends with Woodruff dying mysteriously. I used the subplot in part to lift the mood of the audience as the Percy and Harriet story, while also fascinating, is heavier and somewhat slower moving.

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Subplots can perform various functions. One is to contrast with the main plot. Another is to confirm it or double down on the climax, which is what this one does. The movie ends with two strange and mysterious deaths.

5. The first half was slower than the second half.
This was actually a backhanded compliment. In fact, the second half of the movie is so interesting and moves so quickly that even I have a hard time stopping it, and I’ve watched it dozens of times. But, yes, the first half is slow by comparison, but still keeps your attention. This is one of those tricky facets in the art of storytelling where you have to provide just enough intrigue while imparting the necessary background information to properly set up the rest of the movie. This story required quite a bit of information, so I counted the cost when writing the script. But I feel like it worked.

6. The quality was so professional, like what you would see out of Hollywood.
Indeed. Much of the credit for that goes to cinematographer and co-producer Axel Arzola, who shot and edited the entire film. His standards are extremely high, and he’s just flat out talented. Our actors, untrained volunteers, also had an unusual amount of raw talent.

7. What are you working on now?
I have been chewing and praying on this question for a while. I don’t have the answer yet. However, I have in fact started playing around with a romantic comedy and it’s starting to take some shape. (I guy who plans to become a monk falls in love with his buddy’s mail order bride.) We’ll see where that takes me.

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8. Did you enjoy it?
Yes. Very much. I was a good bit concerned about the medium of film as opposed to what I am used to—writing books. I wondered if the big but temporary splash of a movie would be less satisfying than the longterm feedback you get from a book. I guess it’s a bit too soon to fully compare and contrast the two, but I will say I did enjoy the high intensity of premiering a film. I didn’t say, “Well, that was anti-climactic. I won’t do that again.” I really enjoyed the experience, and if the right opportunities come together, will look to try and do something again.

9. What else is planned for Harriet’s Secret?
It has been submitted to several film festivals (and we plan to submit to a few more). Hopefully, we will catch someone’s attention. We won’t know for several more months. Until then, we have to refrain from distributing via DVD, streaming, YouTube, etc. as festivals often require their festival to be the first public viewing of the film (our premiere was by private invitation only). If the movie gains traction at a film festival, perhaps a cable company will pick it up.

In order to enter all these festivals and tie up loose ends, we have a remaining need of $500. Click here if you have an interest in helping with that.

10. Any other interesting stories?
Yes. A friend from high school and her husband traveled from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to attend the premiere.  Really, Amy was more of an acquaintance back in the day, so her traveling all the way to Chattanooga was surprising, but certainly flattering. It was one of the little bonuses of the event for me.

Turns out, there’s more to the story. Amy’s husband Ed is an entrepreneur and investor. And one of his pastimes is Kickstarter. So one day he was surfing around the fundraising site and came across my film project. He thought it was really cool and showed it to Amy.

“I know that guy!” she said.

So they decided to make the nine hour trip. I got a chance to chat with them at the afterparty; they had dressed up to the nines, participating in all the fun of a premiere. That’s when I learned the story of how they came across Harriet’s Secret. They loved the film and want to help advance it’s promotion with a network of friends in the Los Angeles area.

Amy and Ed travelled from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Amy and Ed travelled from Cape Canaveral, Florida.