Superior filmmaker focuses in on documentaries
When Dan Woods returned from Vietnam, he discovered the art of filmmaking while majoring in history at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. The passion for capturing image on film to tell a story has grown from public relations and commercials t...
When Dan Woods returned from Vietnam, he discovered the art of filmmaking while majoring in history at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
The passion for capturing image on film to tell a story has grown from public relations and commercials to documenting the realities of
equity in education, alcoholism and even mental illness.
The Superior native now is working with his wife, Debbie Woods, to capture the work being done by the judicial system to solve problems that lead to prison.
"There are some things that aren't fun, but most of it is interesting," Woods said. "Documentaries are really interesting. We end up hanging around with really cool
people who are doing high-quality work. They're inspiring to be with."
Woods got his start in the business when he went to Canada with some buddies. They took five rolls of film and two Super 8 cameras and made a movie and showed it at a party.
From there he went on to produce public service announcements, and ended up making a $22,000 marketing film the university used for years while he still was a student.
"I had a budget for a composer and an original score," Woods said. "It was a real learning experience. And it turned out great."
He graduated with an individualized major.
From that experience, Woods went on to producing commercials for banks, shooting film for the mining industry and documenting bridge and road projects.
"The next thing you know, I'm kind of making a living at it," he said.
During that time, Woods said he was largely making construction movies -- on the Bong and Blatnik bridges, Hennepin Avenue suspension bridges and several bridges over the Mississippi and Columbia rivers.
"Those, just by the nature of what they were, ended up being stories about goals and problems and energy," Woods said. "I was dealing with things that should be whole documentaries."
But Woods discovered he didn't really know how to dramatically organize the film as he worked, which meant he had some learning to do.
"A lot of documentaries are people following people around or a series of events and just harvesting it," said Debbie Woods. She said her husband's approach is more akin to telling a story in an interesting way.
In the late 1990s, Woods partnered with Steve Ash to produce their first film, "Starting in Innocence."
The nearly hourlong documentary captured the personal journey of 13 non-Jewish college students into the darkness of the Holocaust that led to the creation of the stage play "Dear Finder" in collaboration with University of Minnesota Duluth professor Tom Isbell.
"It's really about the transformation journey of these students not knowing anything, really getting connected and seeing how those lessons applied to the world then and now," Dan Woods said.
He also collaborated with his wife, before they married, to film a project on her work to create equity in education when she was principal at Northern Lights Elementary School in Superior.
More recently, he produced "No Losers," documenting the controversy and success of the San Marco housing project in Duluth in taking homeless alcoholics off the street.
That led to his latest work, "Look it in the Eye."
After seeing "No Losers," Kim Matteen of the Human Development Center worked with Woods to find funding for the almost 30-minute documentary that features two families and the impact mental illness has on the whole family.
"Mental health is one of those topics that, as I'm trying to educate the community and potential donors about mental health issues, I can't march someone into somebody's living room or a meeting to have them talk," Matteen said. "I could use a video as a tool to talk about the importance of mental health, why it's important to support our mission, and what it's like to experience a severe mental illness."
She said a documentary is a way to bring out that story.
"Having a neutral third party is really good," Matteen said.
"One of the challenges, I think, to doing a movie on mental health is how to tackle such a broad topic and have it work," HDC director Jim Gruba said. "I think this does. We've shown it to a number of audiences, and they could relate to it. ... It absolutely resonates with the people who have seen it so far."
Debbie Woods said they spend a lot of time with the people they plan to film in advance of shooting to build trust and help them learn to forget the cameras are rolling.
"Then you're really honored with access to their lives and their thinking and their issues," she said.