Wayne Betts, Jr and Chad Taylor: “Let’s meet Wayne and Chad.”
Filmmakers and Founders of Mösdeux: Zooming in on the Deaf Lens
Length of Interview: 26:18
Note: This is a summary of the signed commentary made during this interview and not a verbatim translation. Text summary by Karen Christie and Patti Durr.
Wayne: Deaf cinema means stories told through the Deaf lens, through Deaf eyes, edited from a Deaf sensibility, and a feel for Deaf rhythm. It is telling stories through a Deaf person, a signing person, or from a Cultural view. In writing a story from a Deaf perspective, you check if it has those characteristics, and if the answer is yes to all, then that is Deaf cinema.
Chad: Viewing Deaf Cinema is the experience of saying yes to what is shown up on screen; saying yes, that is also my Cultural experience. It is an appreciation for the norms, the oddities, and all the things we hold dear, isn’t that right?
Wayne Betts, Jr and Chad Taylor
“Let’s meet Wayne and Chad.”
Filmmakers and Founders of Mösdeux
Zooming in on the Deaf Lens
Wayne: My name is Wayne Betts, Jr. and my namesign is W turned over to B.
Chad: I’m Chad Taylor and my namesign is ‘brushing of the back of my ear’ because my ears stick out quite a bit.
Wayne: I’m from Massachusetts, and I attended the American School for the Deaf (ASD). I’m an ‘East coast’ boy – born and raised.
Chad: I’m from Canada. To be more precise, I’m from London, Ontario in Canada. I attended the Deaf school there and after I graduated I came to college here at RIT.
Wayne: I grew up in a Deaf family. My mother is crazy about FILMS. My mother grew up without captioned TV, and movie theatres at that time did not have any open-captioned films, so my mother was accustomed to going to the movie without captions. After I was born, she decided to take me to the shows with her. We went often and that is where I developed my fascination with film. The first film that really did it for me was “E.T.” “E.T.” changed my life. Watching that movie, I began to understand film language, cinematography, the using of lighting, and how to utilize the whole package to tell the story. I realized that it was not only the script that made the story, but all of the behind the scenes features that allowed the story come to life. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to become a filmmaker. Because of that film and truly because of my Mom, I am what I am today.
Chad: My father brought home a camera (to Wayne: see, I’m giving hats off to my Dad). He brought home a camcorder, the older kind with the long handle. It had a big videotape cassette. It was pretty old-fashioned. You’d squeeze the handle to record and stop-and-start. I started following around my sister with it, filming her behind trees and coming around corners. My sister wouldn’t even know. I was “stalking” my own sister with the camcorder. It’s odd to think that, but at that time I was trying to see how to express a story…
Wayne: I was raised in the East. The first University I attended was Gallaudet University in 1999. Fortunately, I had a professor named Facundo [shows name sign which is the sign for Argentina – claw hand shape rubbed up and down over the heart].
[Image of Facundo Montenegro with other people at the Deaf Rochester Film Festival ‘05]
Wayne: He was Hearing and didn’t know how to sign. At that point in time, he was a pretty awkward signer, but he was teaching a course, Introduction to Film 170 or something like that. That class was for graduate students. Luckily, I had done some film work previously, and asked if I could join the class. He agreed, and welcomed me into the class.
I remember I got into films thinking I want to make movies like what people see on TV or in the theatres. I wanted to make imitations of what was out there. One class assignment Facundo gave us was to make an experimental film. He showed us his experimental film work from his college days. It was a very bizarre film. The editing consisted of a man standing and staring straight ahead, that cut to a blazing fire, and then cut to clouds rolling overhead, which cut to the man taking off his shirt. It then shifted to someone running and then cut back to the fire. It was a very abstract way of piecing the film together. That’s called an experimental film. There was also various sounds and music interwoven into the film. We viewed this work and were assigned to go off and make our own short experimental film.
It turned out that we all produced something similar to what Facundo had shown us. My experimental film was a guy sitting in a room that cut to him jumping and falling, which cut to him landing hard and ended with a shot of a TV with a frozen screen of white noise. My classmates made things in a similar vein. The professor was DISAPPOINTED. He said, “You just made a ‘Hearing’ film. Your editing and composition were sound based. I don’t want that. Don’t want it.” We asked, “Well, what do you mean? You told us to experiment and we experimented.” He responded “No, you didn’t! I want to see your Deaf… your visual aesthetics … your ASL. I want to see you experiment with those things… without any rules. There are no rules here.”
I was a bit taken aback. That was the first time someone had made me think that I’m a Deaf filmmaker, and I need to convey that through my film language. I shouldn’t be wandering off following after other models. I needed to discover how my work could be DIFFERENT from those other films.
That is how the short film “Mr. V” came about, because of that experimental film project. I was experimenting and wanted to make a story told through my hands; that is, walking about as if a person. I wasn’t sure if this would match his expectation, but I decided to go for it. When we screened it, he said that was EXACTLY what he wanted. He found it to be new and different. We had in-depth discussions about how it was composed. We analyzed it critically because HE made us think. Ever since then, my work has had much more in-depth because of that teacher.
[Mr. V film]
Wayne: You notice the film has a rhythm and a beat based on how the hand/person moves and the shots were filmed: He walks, he jumps, he climbs and he lands. Each action has a beat to it. I didn’t intentionally design for this to happen. After I put it together and once it was projected, we could SEE how this natural rhythm and this cadence all came together. This made the whole concept DIFFERENT. That is what experimental films are supposed to do for us. They get us to think outside of the box and analyze what we are seeing on a deeper level. They stimulate us to become aware of the language of cinematography and all the other film elements.
Discussing Short Student Film “Apathy”
Wayne: The “Apathy” video was made by Ryan Commerson. We worked together and I acted in it. With Ryan Commerson, you never know exactly what is going to happen next. This is just FYI.
[Picture of Ryan Commerson]
Wayne: At 3 a.m. in a dorm room after a long day, we were discussing the concept of apathy. We noticed how students were not taking any action, so we talked about it and came up with the idea of making a film about a guy who takes a stand and says, “Stop apathy! It’s time to take action!” The shot would focus on this guy making his announcement. Then, the camera would pan out to show that he was just talking to a bunch of empty chairs. It would show that he was just standing in a dorm lounge alone. Hence, he himself was guilty of practicing apathy. We had this in mind and thought why not give it a try. It was shot and produced just as the sun was coming up. I grabbed some sleep while Ryan did the editing, and then we brought it to class. It was really a spur of the moment kind of thing. That is the story behind the making of “Apathy.”
Wayne: Once I had a Hearing editing teacher at RIT who noticed my editing style was different from the other students. There was something he saw that was different there. (Chad comments: He was seeing the Deaf Lens and your Deaf experience coming through in your editing). That is true. My mind and my ASL grammar INFLUENCES my editing. I might edit a shot to be slow, then fast; whereas, a Hearing editor might do the reverse. But the teacher was amazed that it still worked. It had a flow and told a story; yet, it had something unique. I suspect that it is the Deaf lens at play that caused the story to be constructed differently.
Intertitle: Mösdeux is a film production company founded by Wayne Betts, Jr. and Chad Taylor in 2005. They have produced several short films and full-length works together.
[Video clip of Mösdeux logo – a broken old fashion microphone in a gold background]
Intertitle: Discussion of Several Mösdeux Films
[Still image from “Vital Signs”]
Wayne: “Vital Signs” came to be as a result of the PBS documentary “Through Deaf Eyes.” We were contacted, and they granted us a small budget to make a short experimental film. An EXPERIMENTAL film, mind you. Chad and I had just formed Mösdeux, and we were brainstorming a story concept. Chad said it would be nice to do something with a heart – a beating heart – and I agreed. The basic idea was that we must have someone signing a story, and we would the use film to sync up with the storytelling performance.
It was not really an original idea. Just about EVERYBODY has had that idea before to blend movie-making images with ASL storytelling. Many people have wanted to do this, but prior to this time we didn’t have the technical capabilities to make it a reality. The editing and construction couldn’t yet be mastered. In our minds, however, we could see it played out clearly. Many people had envisioned that. We set out to make our film as pure as possible, and that is how “Vital Signs” started. We brainstormed the story concept, and brought in Roger Vass, our ASL storyteller. After filming him, we shot the rest of the scenes, and edited it, piecing it all together.
The filming of the ASL storytelling was one day’s worth of work. Roger came in and did the performance. We thanked him, and he left. After that, we took about three or four months to shoot the other footage and scenes to match up with the ASL storytelling.
Chad: We hopped around to all our various locations. He forced me into cold water.
Wayne: That was a must. We had to do that scene in cold water.
Chad: Wayne had to go into the cold water with me because he had to film it underwater.
Wayne: The important thing is what looks good in the frame, and if we have to suffer for it, so be it. There is a famous quote, “Pain is temporary. Film is forever.” Pain will subside, whereas the film will always be there.
Chad: There is a funny story behind that water scene where I fall in. I was getting ready, and Wayne had already gotten into the pool to film the shot. You have to realize that this was in November, so it was very COLD water. Wayne had the underwater housing case for the camera, which was very heavy, but under water it becomes light. When Wayne got in with the camera, he made only a slight grimace and then said, “It’s not too bad.”
Once he was all settled in, they gave me the cue, “Ready? Go!” I plunged in, and it was like my lungs almost collapsed from the shock because of how cold the water was. Wayne didn’t tell me how cold it REALLY was. Jumping in, I got the shock of my life, and then had to do it several times. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience.
[Short clip from “Vital Signs”][Still image from short film “Resonare”]
Wayne: The “Resonare” film marked many ‘firsts’ in Mösdeux’s [uses namesign for the company – letter M then double X twisted] history. It was the first time we used a crane for a shoot, and we used a steadycam, (Chad adds: We also filmed under water) and used underwater housing. With this film, there was the filmed story plus our playing with the technical toys as well. Our focus was more on telling the story via the camera itself. If you watch it carefully, you will notice how all the shots are on tripods and cranes, making them fluid so the camera motion and pans are consistent and steady. That is, until the very end when the apple is bitten, and at that moment the camera tilts from extreme left to extreme right, back and forth slowly, to signify the message of the story.
The message behind “Resonare,” we will NEVER tell. N-E-V-E-R. This is why we like “Resonare” so much. It is open to so many different interpretations. I like everyone’s interpretation. I find them very interesting, but as far as our true intentions behind the making of the film, you will never know.
Intertitle: “Unity for Gallaudet” Protest
3 Short Shorts by Mösdeux
Chad: We made three short films about the Gallaudet Protest. The film,“2,700 Miles Away” [correction: It should read 3,000 Miles Away], was made to show our solidarity with the tent city at Gallaudet. A second film of a bicyclist trudging along called “You Must Not Quit.” After the tent cities came down and October rolled around, we felt the need for one more film to show our support for the protest. Things had become very contentious, and it looked like it was going to end in a stalemate. We felt something more was needed. We brainstormed ideas and different storylines, but ended up zeroing in on ‘keeping it real.’
After we talked about our ideas, we decided to contact BB [namesign for Bridgetta Bourne] about including her son in the film. Bridgetta Bourne was one of the leaders of the first Gallaudet protest, so to have her son represented years later seemed auspicious. After we contacted her and she agreed, we did a sit down interview with her son, simply asking him questions. We felt that what we got from him really made an impact. (Chad to Wayne: Why don’t you take it from there?)
Wayne: As Chad mentioned, we had these three short films. The first two showed action to inspire people, but we realized that we needed to focus on the message; that is, to give a clearer picture of why people are protesting at Gallaudet and what is at stake. That was not addressed in our first two works, so the third one focused on the Deaf child who represents our future. That child in the film was Gideon. Watch what he has to say.
[“Let’s meet Gideon.” Video in full. A young Deaf boy shares who he is, his interests, his aspirations, and his storytelling skills interspersed with footage of moments of conflicts during the Unity for Gallaudet protest.]
Wayne: You see a smart little boy signing away. The interview we had with Gideon was very REAL. It’s not rehearsed. He was not instructed in what to do, or told to say anything specifically about Gallaudet; none of that. It was just a casual sit down chat and he said whatever he pleased. The interview concluded with him telling me, “I want to go to Gallaudet in the future. I don’t want to be bogged down by an interpreter.” Clearly, it was an answer he came by naturally.
It’s interesting that the intentions of the film and how I edited have changed over time. If you take a good look at it, the meaning has changed. Originally the film went from a take of the interview with Gideon to footage of the protest where someone was being grabbed and dragged away. The initial purpose was to provoke outrage. Initially, we are watching a cute kid which switches to seeing the anger towards JFK [correction: should read JKF, Jane K. Fernandes] and I. King Jordan demanding they be thrown out. That is how I saw it previously. But now when I view it, I see that is not all of it. We go from Gideon signing to two groups in heated conflict; their struggles and chaos, the protest and their refusal to talk and negotiate. Both should have agreed to take a look at the boy, both should have agreed to work together for a better future for him. It’s interesting how one’s perspective can change over time. That is my favorite of all the films we have made thus far.
Intertitle: Mösdeux Feature Films
Wayne: We have made three full-length feature films: “A Permanent Grave,” “The Deaf Family,” and “The Caretaker.” We have a working relationship with David Kurs. He creates the story. We often first sit down with him and provide him with the concept and vision we have in mind. David listens attentively as we explain it, and then he goes off into his own world and fleshes it all out into a screenplay. The general concept morphs into location, characters, plot, and conflict. David scripts this all out. We then take his printed pages and make them into a film.
[Picture of David Kurs]
We really have a good team. In addition to David Kurs, there are many other good team members.
[Illustration from “The Deaf Family”]
Chad: For “The Deaf Family,” we wanted something where we could kind of mock and expose. We wanted something that folks would respond to saying ‘yes’ to what was happening on the screen. We addressed things like SSI and Pyramids. (Wayne to Chad: Taboos) These were things you ‘should not show,’ and things people would respond to by saying, “I know, I know but keep it quiet.” I very much wanted to bring it out into the light, to say here it is, and thus allow it to become more acceptable and known.
Personally, I wanted to expose politically sensitive topics which folks would back off of. I felt it didn’t matter what others thought – that we should go for it. If it would make some folks mad, that is fine. Then, we could talk about it. After these topics become accepted, things can change for the better. That was the reasoning behind making those choices in this film.
Wayne: Comedy is a safe place to mock; mocking oneself, and touching on taboos. Comedy gives us a ‘license’ to do that. (Chad to Wayne: That’s right).
Wayne: Some people did complain about “The Deaf Family.” Most of their concerns were of the nature of; “Yes, it is true what you’ve shown, but others outside of our community will see this. We should keep this a private matter inside the community.” That means we have addressed a taboo subject. Deaf folks don’t want it exposed, but it’s always there. We should bring it out. This leads to acceptance, and analysis. Once a taboo is accepted, it fades away.
Always, each generation produces change and evolution. New taboos will arise and the ‘forbidden’ will always be touched upon in A-R-T. (Chad: Show it!). That’s often the purpose of art, paintings, and writings. Those creations always touch upon things people don’t want to talk about. A-R-T tends to be the vehicle for exposing those taboos, and film is one artistic medium that does this.
Intertitle: Deaf Cinema – What is it?
Wayne: I saw “Deafula” when I was pretty young. After I entered Gallaudet in ’99 I saw it again there. It reminded me of what our professor Facundo had told us about imitating Hearing films; he wanted us to pursue our OWN filmmaking. A perfect example of that emulating ‘others’ is “Deafula.” It had quality production and acting, but it was superimposed onto a Hearing frame, using a Hearing structure in how to tell a story. The detective signed, everyone in the town signed, but that doesn’t represent the real world. There is no real town like that. In contrast, Deaf cinema is produced through a Deaf lens, through a Deaf person’s point of view, and a Deaf way of seeing the world.
For example, we have a story where a Deaf guy’s hands are tied behind his back and he is gagged. He’s a hostage and there is a hit-man sitting across from him with a gun, who is interrogating him. The hit-man is Hearing and the hostage is Deaf. The Deaf guy doesn’t know what is going on. Now, if the story is about the hit-man’s struggle to communicate with the Deaf hostage , the camera will show him talking and being frustrated that he can’t communicate with his hostage. He might bring someone in and say, “What is this guy saying?” The other person might say “I don’t know any signs.” That would be telling the story from the ‘Hearing lens;’a Hearing Point of view.
If this same scene is from a ‘Deaf Lens,’ as in Deaf cinema, we would see the Deaf hostage’s point of view. It would show his struggle in trying to understand the talk back and forth between the hit-man and the other person. We would see his confusion and struggle to understand what he is doing there. Once he sees some signing, he might gesture for his hands to be untied. The other person might recognize that he needs to be untied. Then, the Deaf hostage would start to sign. That is an illustration of how to tell the story from the Deaf lens. There would be a shift in the perspective.
Peter Wolf [“Deafula’s filmmaker] has Deaf elements in his film, but it is told from a Hearing perspective. The film is, therefore, contradictory in nature. Many of us have struggled with similar challenges, such as how to tell our own stories through the medium of film in our own language. We haven’t really fully solved that yet. We are still exploring it.
Deaf cinema does not mean you MUST sign, or it MUST be about the D-E-A-F. I don’t think so, or that it MUST have a full Deaf crew.
Deaf cinema means stories told through the Deaf lens, through Deaf eyes, edited from a Deaf sensibility, and a feel for Deaf rhythm. It is telling stories through a Deaf person, a signing person, or from a cultural view. In writing a story from a Deaf perspective, you check if it has those characteristics and if the answer is yes to all, then that is Deaf cinema.
Chad: Even a Deaf person can have a Hearing lens. They might write about music. They might keep shifting their gaze into the Hearing frame. As Wayne said, there is a constant pressure to mesh the Deaf experience into the Hearing point of view. We want to break away from that – to chisel it apart – so that the Deaf can truly be themselves – authentic filmmakers. Also, the techniques used in Deaf cinema are different. One technique traditionally used was to have a frozen frame from which no sign could wander out of, off screen. If any signing went out of the frame, the filmmakers would say, “Cut,” and they would film it again. It was thought that we must use a direct, head on medium shot for signing people. Really, that is not necessary. You can be more creative. You can shoot over a signer’s shoulder and still be able to capture what they are signing. You CAN experiment with the camera angles. As long as you feel it can still be understood, you should go with it. Move that camera around!
Wayne: For example, I am sitting here now watching Chad sign. Applying that traditional view, I should not be able to understand his talk from this side angle. Yet, I understand him just fine.
Chad: Oh, I’ll move my frame for you. Is that better?
Wayne: That is just one example. [Pause] One of my favorite examples from Facundo was about how he was trying to explain OUR cultural representation in film. He was discussing Black cinema. One early work in Black cinema showed a strong Black guy in a police department surrounded by a bunch of White racists. There was a big fight and the last guy standing was the Black guy. He was the lone survivor. It was very POSITIVE. But Black audience members knew it wasn’t credible. They knew that was not how it really was until Spike Lee came upon the scene as a director. He made a film set in NYC showing a group of Black people, with slanted hats, boom boxes, and experiencing conflicts with another group of Black people. They hated each other, but they were Black people speaking the same language. Before Spike Lee, that kind of representation was unheard of. People were like, “What’s that? That’s so NEW. What is it?” They were fascinated. That’s a CULTURAL view. (Chad: That’s a Black lens) Yes, it is the Black perspective in filmmaking; the Black lens.
My mother had taken me to the movies without any captions, but I was still studying the use of light and the cinematography. I hope someday a mother will be taking her Deaf son to see Deaf Cinema on the big screen. There will be a long line waiting to get into this movie, and they will hope it won’t be sold out before they get their tickets. It would be shown at a big movie theatre in NYC, and just as they grab their seats, the projector starts to run. They will see a Deaf film equal in caliber to a Hollywood production. The little boy will watch the film with a main character who is portrayed without an overemphasis on his or her being Deaf or using sign language. Then, the end credits will roll. THAT is my dream for the future of Deaf cinema.