Student Reflection – The One: Contagious Kindness (1.2)

By Christopher Cullen

The field interviews for “The One: Contagious Kindness“ took place over a two-day span. The first day I roamed South Philadelphia with a friend and his dog, Burt Reynolds. I filled the memory of the Flip Ultra camcorder with about 35 interviews. However, due to my lack of experience with a project of this nature (and despite what we discussed in class), I spoke too much and relied too heavily on the editing process. My presence in the footage was not only audibly overwhelming it also guided the interviewees to give short responses. The next day I returned to the neighborhood alone with a plan B. I informed a new batch of subjects that I would ask them a question and not speak again. This allowed their initial reactions, thought processes and responses to be uninterrupted, authentic, and usable.

As I was gathering interviews, I had no concrete plan of action for composing the piece. I had my question: “What random, contagious act of kindness will you do today?” This was first posed, along with my personal motivation, in a proposal video that also was composed for Writing, Research and Technology, taught by Dr. Bill Wolff at Rowan University. The video can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUQI0Qz7oF8

I also had a rough idea to include a slide show introduction, but nothing further. The footage guided the editing process. Evidently, there is a human propensity to repeat an open-ended question upon it being asked. I used this to have the interviewees themselves introduce the question to the viewer, rather than pose it as text on a title slide. This gave a conversational continuity to the piece.

I included the slide show introduction to show my personal motivation for asking the question I posed. It makes the work a narrative. It is not a series of people talking to a camera; it all takes place within a more intimate context. I made the intro playful for entertainment value (for me and the viewer), but also to contrast the subsequent more emotionally charged section when the interviewees answer the question. I wanted the acts of kindness to highlight the inherent good nature of complete strangers and have emotional impact, yet without a sense of forced profundity. What is a failsafe way to avoid pretentiousness? Include banjo music and a light-hearted introduction.

I arranged the video in the piece much like one would organize traditional text. The topic is introduced and similar concepts are sequentially grouped together. The music changes with the differing sections and lends to the respective tones within. When it was possible, I tied together responses that contained elements in common. I wanted the closing message, “the answer is our future,” to have emotional impact on the viewer. To achieve resonance, I had a little fun with two definitions of “future.” There is an “our children are our future” kind of future, but there is also a “robots and hover-cars” kind of future. Like I mentioned before, by including a contrasting, playful element, I intend to increase the impact of the heavier element.

This process led to my discovery that though the definitions of text may vary, the relative formula for organizing and delivering a message does not- at least not in this instance and for this project. But perhaps what affects me the most is a serendipitous realization. Upon reflecting on this endeavor, I realize that my personal and positive interaction with nearly 60 strangers; having them tap into their goodness and encouraging them to act upon it; to share it; is itself, a contagious act of kindness.