When my World Piece book tour finished in March, I had no idea what I was going to do next. I did know, however, that writing World Piece was so taxing I didn’t want to write another book anytime soon. All I knew is that I wanted—needed—a new creative goal, one that would push me to learn new things.
My final event on the book tour was in Tucson, and the weather so was ideal and the hiking trails so accessible, I extended my stay a few extra weeks. I hiked every day. Hiking is a way to let my mind rest, to let go of stress, and to make room for new ideas to develop. I hiked and hiked and hiked, climbing up steep mountains (perhaps to get a little closer to God?!), and eventually a new idea did come. The voice was strong and clear—and scary. (Well, I did say I wanted a new challenge, which can come with a side of fear.)
Make a documentary film about pie, it said.
I know from past experiences that when that voice speaks, I have to listen, and I did.
First, I looked into summer filmmaking workshops. Nothing fit into my schedule, my location, or my budget so I decided I’d just throw myself into it and do my own crash course.
I wanted the film to be about pie all around the country (like the TV series I have been trying to sell since 2010, which I wrote about in my first book, Making Piece.) How fun would that be to do a summer road trip filming pie stories? But at the time Peanut, our Chihuahua rescue, was very sick. She had congestive heart failure and I wanted to stay close to home to be around for her. That’s how I determined my documentary would focus only on Iowa.
My first call was to former Des Moines Register columnist, Kyle Munson. He spent years covering stories in all 99 counties, so if anyone knows a good Iowa story, it’s him. I asked him to help me resolve my dilemma: focus on the pie competition of the Iowa State Fair or the pies of RAGBRAI? He suggested that RAGBRAI was the stronger story as it has a beginning (at the Missouri River) and an end (the Mississippi River). Given he rides in the annual bike ride across Iowa every year, it could be that he had a bias, but I initially agreed with him. Still, my gut was nagging me, something about it just didn’t feel completely right . . . until I remembered RAYGUN Shirts’ “Pieowa” graphic on a postcard. It suddenly became clear: I would focus on the culture of pie in Iowa as a whole and call it Pieowa!
The idea took shape in early May, and by May 18, I was doing my first shoot.
This past Tuesday, November 28 — 8,000 miles, probably as many pies, countless panicked calls to my various mentors, and 5 Terabytes of footage later (as well as the burial of our beloved Peanut in early June) — we finished the final day of shooting. Ironically, it was with an editor for BHG and took place in the test kitchen at Meredith Publishing, where I taught a pie class that life-changing summer of 2010, before I had any notion of staying in Iowa, let alone moving into the American Gothic House and opening the Pitchfork Pie Stand.
What a journey making this documentary has been! I get choked up thinking about it. These past months have been jam-packed with traveling, meeting new people, hearing scores of stories—many of them unexpectedly emotional—and reviewing hours of footage. (And there was that time I sobbed for 2 and 1/2 days when I discovered some of that irreplaceable footage was overexposed. I hadn’t cried that hard since Marcus died!) I should be exhausted, but instead I’m energized.
I’ve never made a feature-length documentary. I’ve never hired a film crew. I’ve never been a film director/producer. I didn’t know anything about “shooting in log” or how many frames per second to set the camera to or how to light an interview subject or that I needed to get anyone who appears in the film to sign a talent release. But thanks to many generous filmmakers who shared their knowledge, countless how-to YouTube videos, and one exceptionally useful TEDx talk, I learned what I needed in order to “just do the next thing.” That became my mantra for the past six months and it kept me from getting overwhelmed—though it didn’t keep me from having many nights of insomnia thinking about the project.
The next “just do the next thing” is organizing all the footage we shot and wrangling it into a narrative, to tell the story of pie in Iowa. There is so much good stuff to tell, I can’t wait to get started on this next phase.
In the coming months, I’ll be pushing myself to learn even more new things, like how to edit in Adobe Premiere. I’ll assemble a rough cut myself, and when I get it far enough along, I’ll hire a professional film editor to turn it into the best film it can be. I hope to have a film to show you by June. In the meantime, here’s a little practice segment I edited. I have a lot to learn, and luckily I have a few editor friends on speed-dial to help.
No matter how the film turns out, I’m proud of myself for trying and for getting this far. I hope my efforts inspire others to pursue whatever that idea or challenge might be. Life is short. Don’t put it off, just go for it.