By Carla Sanchez Taylor (RiPpLe PuDdlE)
Carla Sanchez Taylor is RiPpLe PudDle
You may not know Doug Nichol. I didn’t know who he was until I had to research him to prepare for our interview for his newest film, California Typewriter.
It turns out Mr. Nichol has worked on familiar and pretty culturally significant films, music videos and commercial work. But of all his work, his latest documentary, California Typewriter is his most delicate and powerful orchestration. It is the whisper you hear in the middle of the night, the one that gives you some unearthed insight that your subconscious has been holding on to until the time is right. This movie is not about typewriters, but something far more emotionally intelligent that can only be revealed by the delicate hand of a visual genius. Because, you see, the active senses are required to process the information this documentary hands you. This movie, like the typewriter itself, gives the viewer a tool that can never be taken away: knowledge, observation and understanding of where the most important work shows up.
I sat down with Director/Producer Doug Nichols to talk about the contemplative art of creativity and where to look for it.
Carla: The narrative structure of this film was elegantly subtle. It felt intuitive. Did you have an idea about what this film would look like when you set out to make it?
Doug: I was trying to make a film about a feeling: about how things disappear and how people respond to those changes. I also wanted to convey my own perspective, a sort of melancholy about how things go away but also the excitement of what can become of them.
Usually when you start making a documentary, there is a process. You come up with an idea, write up a treatment and lay it out. Then you go out and raise money. You try to make the film you pitched and whoever paid for it will keep you to that original vision.
I made this film pretty much on my own. I shot, directed, edited and did the sound recording not knowing if anyone would see it.
I made it as though it were the process of building a house. You get some wood and nails. You put down one plank and then you walk over and hammer it down.
After I shot, I put cards up on a wall and started connecting the stories. I felt that the story had a life of its own and it was telling me what it wanted to be. The writing of it came from the making of it and in that way it wasn’t preconceived at all.
Carla: Sometimes you have to use a contemplative tool to produce better work, just to make time for creativity to show up. I think this message was powerfully centerpieced for the viewer.
Doug: Hey, I love technology. I have all of the latest Apple gadgets and I very much rely on these tools. But I think that technology is trying to make everything really easy, fast and efficient up to the point where we don’t really have to do much anymore. And it’s important to keep doing things for ourselves, to get our hands dirty, to be in control. We’re all seduced by technology but it’s ultimately going to lead to a strange world. For me it’s a balance. It seems important to hold onto the things that work in order to hold on to our humanity.
Carla: I like the suggestion of using advanced technology to promote older and effective tools.
Doug: In the film, John Mayer mentions, ‘write a book on a typewriter and promote it on Twitter.’ Use the spectrum. Like guitars, the typewriter is a great tool to get your thoughts out as quickly as you can without interruption. You don’t have to wait to turn it on or open an app. The work exists outside of yourself with immediacy.
Ken Alexander, one of the California Typewriter employees says, ‘the typewriter symbolizes America. America hard work.’ You’re not relying on anything or anyone else but your own ingenuity.
Carla: I thought this was such an important observation, the idea that certain tools serve a different purpose than we ever considered in the past. Our tools, in a way, keep us honest and not complacent.
Doug: The happiest people are the people that are out there working and creating. Work is what brings meaning and joy to life. It’s the process of doing. That’s what people live for. Most artists live for creating; that trance state of making a sculpture or writing a song. It’s pretty powerful seeing those ideas flow through you.
The future seems to be leading us to a life of total ease where everything is done for us. But will we find meaningful work if we don’t need to drive our own cars or plant our own crops?
Carla: Because it is such personally motivated work did you ever find yourself in moments of doubt?
Doug: Since I wasn’t hired to do this, I didn’t have to complete it. I worked on it because I truly enjoyed working on it. I discovered through this process that if I tried to force an idea, it would lead me to dead ends. But when I focused on the reason I was making the film in the first place, which was to help the family who owns the typewriter shop, doors opened and magical things started to happen.
Carla: Is there a continuity or thematic nature to the type of work that you aspire to produce? The work that makes you feel most alive?
Doug: This project came out of desire. Nobody hired me. I made this out of the love for making it. I don’t know why I bought that $6 Underwood typewriter on Ebay that I sat in the corner of my office for months. I don’t know why that typewriter spoke to me and said it wanted to get fixed. But by buying that typewriter, it led me on this journey to make this film.
This piece was typed entirely on a powder blue Smith-Corona Cornet Super 12