In Their Own Words 2011 Update

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The past three years have been busy, so much so that we must be excused for the lack of update. Since we last wrote, we have made three films, graduated from high school, and been featured at our very first film festival outside the U.S. We have also temporarily relocated. We write from the far distant lands of Taiwan (Sarah) and Belgium (Emma). We miss our Arkansas (and our family, but we try not to give them a big head by telling them that), but are having too much fun to miss it too much. Don't worry; we haven't been neglecting our filmmaking, as you will see for yourself in a little less than a year. Project Lingua Franca should hit the theaters sometime around August 2012 and that's all we have to say about that. In the interest of time, we'll spare you all the details of all our exploits these past years and will just hit the highlights.

The ill-fated documentary hinted at above never materialized due to a lack of information. We had never let a topic beat us like that before, but eleventh grade was busier than tenth and perhaps we were loosing our touch. We searched for months to find the minutes for the committee, but they seemed to have disappeared. Two years later at a presentation at the University of Fayetteville, we finally found out what happened to them. One of the archivists at the University library bought them at a garage sale a few months before we started looking for them but was on vacation the day we came to the library researching the committee. We briefly considered returning to the topic, but decided we didn't have the time. Perhaps one day we will. 

In the middle of our eleventh grade year at Central, our history teacher came to us with a request. Would we please film the visit of Israeli peace activist, Gila Svirsky, when she came to Arkansas that spring? Film festival deadlines fast approaching and censorship committee documentary in ruins, we jumped at the opportunity. We decided to be more creative with this film than our others and attempted to make a "narrative documentary." It was fun being able to tell people what to say and how to act finally, but the combination of inadequate equipment, lack of experience, and our usual struggle with sound made the film less than noteworthy. It was aired as part of AETN's Student Selects, but broke our winning streak at the T Tauri Film Festival. After that disappointment, we didn't submit Meet You in Jerusalem to any other film festivals and have done our best to bury it in our resume. We also produced another short film for the Wolfe Street Foundation. We turned it into a music video for the Johnny Cash song "Walk the Line" and after the disaster of Jerusalem, it was a much-needed distraction.

Senior year we decided was too important to our future to spend time making another film. Between college applications, final SAT/ACT tests, and whatever else might happen between the first day of school and graduation, we were all ready to retire our film cameras for good. Fate (and by fate we mean our parents) had something else in mind, however. Our father was asked to curate an exhibition of Arkansas art for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation's Legacy weekend. Being the great supporter of our work that he is, he volunteered our services to document the exhibit for posterity's sake. College applications now submitted and grade point average safely secured, we had no excuse. What was meant to take only our one-week spring break turned into over three months of car trips, thirty interviews, and a solid month at the editing chair. But besides being long, hard, and the biggest single undertaking of our career, it was probably the most fun we've had on a film since we started (but if our father asks, it was only "okay".) Over the years, filmmaking had become a routine for us-- Sarah doing most of the pre-production, Emma practically glued to the editing chair during post. This gave us a chance to reconnect, both with each other and with our father. Everyone we met was so supportive and their insights into their work and their world was fascinating. Never have we been more proud to be Arkansan than we were then. It was the perfect way to say thank you and goodbye before our grand adventure overseas.

ARtists was completed too late for most of our regular film festivals, but we still have high hopes for it in the many new ones we have and will submit it to. We believe it bodes well that the first award to its name is our first official international film festival: the WorldKids Film Festival in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, while ARtists works its way around the globe (we hope), the next five years are set for us. All that time we didn't spend working on our films has paid off and in addition to our Rotary fellowships, we have both been accepted into our dream college, Wellesley. Together we will join the class of 2016 next fall. Emma plans to major in psychology and Sarah, camera and media studies with an emphasis on film history and film analysis.

Until next time, au revoir and
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ARtists: A Conversation Trivia

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  • Sarah was not the primary interviewer for the film. This has only happened once before, with their first production, Separate But Equal. Instead the twins’ father, David Bailin, who has assisted them on all of their previous productions, filled that position. As an artist himself, the twins felt that he would be able to connect better with the interview subjects, or as they put it “he speaks fluent Art-ese.”


  • The original idea for the film was to have it more as a “conversation over coffee” than as a more traditional documentary. This was done for two reasons. One, the filmmakers were experimenting with a new method of interviewing that would make the interview subjects feel and look more relaxed. Two, due to the number of subjects involved and time restraints, the filmmakers feared they would be unable to focus on each artist individually, but still wanted them all to have a part in the movie.

  • With few exceptions, all the art shown in the film was displayed at the art opening.

  • Filming began in the middle of February and continued every weekend until the first week of April.

  • At the height of filming, the filmmakers averaged three interviews a day.

  • Only one artist included in the exhibit was not featured in the documentary.

  • Despite traveling all around Arkansas every weekend for three months, the three-man crew only spent one full night away from home.

  • To get as unrehearsed responses as possible, Sarah attempted to keep the conversation prompts a secret until the individual interviews. This proved impossible as many of the artists were friends with each other and they compared notes.

  • The artists were not read a list of questions in the traditional manner. At the beginning of the interview during the sound check, Sarah read a series of what she called “conversation prompts” with the instruction that the subject was to talk about whichever one they remembered when the interview officially began, the theory being that if they remembered it, it must be important to them for some reason. (Incidentally this is the same method Sarah uses to write the narration for the twins’ other documentaries.) Although many of the artists claimed not to remember any of the prompts, it became clear early on that by the end of most of the interviews, the artist had answered every one of the prompts in some way.

  • Although Emma did not look at a single one of Sarah’s notes, every clip she chose when she edited was one Sarah had noted as important during the interview.

  • The film is dedicated to Sally Williams, a former Arkansas artist and a major supporter of the art community in Arkansas. The twins decided to dedicate it to her after hearing three artists in a row site her as a major influence on their work and career.

  • The twins took turns editing the interviews. Sarah took all the even numbered interviews, and Emma took all the odd. After all thirty interviews were cut, they each worked for an hour before switching. In true DTP fashion, many times Sarah took the editing chair only to find Emma had rearranged her segments. Sarah fixed them and the cycle continued until one of them gave up or found something they mutually agreed was better.

  • The twins were not planning to make another film before college, but the continued pleas from their father to do this for him convinced them.

  • The twins did not miss a single day of school to work on the project—a first in DTP history.

  • This is the only film since their first that was declared finished more than twenty-four hours before it was due. The twins site the fact that their father misread the calendar and told them the wrong due date for this miracle.

  • The twins attempted to dub Maxine Paine’s interview several months after the film’s official completion, but they were unsuccessful.

  • Only six artists were not interviewed in their studios.

  • Several of the artists credit the film for inspiring them to work because they wanted to have something to show the film crew when they came.

  • This is the first of their documentaries not to have a direct connection to the Rose Law Firm besides the fact that the twins' mother is a partner there.

  • While traveling in northern Arkansas, the crew visited Mr. Jodie Jones and his wife. The twins interviewed Mr. Jones for their second documentary, Watching the Water Rise.

  • Although on the title screen in the movie, ARtists is written without the capital R, during production it was always written as ARtists. The postal abbreviation for Arkansas is AR, so ARtists is the shorthand version of the film's full title, Arkansas Artists.

  • The font of the title screen is based off the writing on Arkansas' license plates.

  • The twins never officially decided whether to call the film Artist or Artists. The title screen titled "Artists," but the twins call it "artists" and "artist" interchangeably.

  • During production, the film's title did not include "A Conversation." That part was added when the twins decided the film's format needed some explanation.

  • The twin's father jokingly refers to the documentary as "the film about artists that doesn't show any of them making art." Time restraints both with allotted interview time and movie length meant that there was no opportunity to show the artists working in their studios.

  • The twins had only a two week window between accepting the job and the first interview.

  • The twins' older sister, Livy, was a studio aid for Holly Laws during the editing of the film. At one point Emma had a question about the materials Holly used to make her Levittown houses and texted Livy to find out what it was. Livy texted back the chemical name for the plaster. When Emma asked what that translated to, Holly reportedly said, "Tell her to look it up, damn it!" 

  • When the twins sent out the request for pictures, Sarah asked that they include some baby pictures for the section of the film that talked about whether they'd always planned to be an artist. Emma was against the idea and only Holly Laws' "baby" picture ended up in the film.

  • At the end of Holly Laws' interview, Sarah asked if Holly were good at making gingerbread houses, to which she responded that of course she was. The picture of young Holly standing beside a giant gingerbread house was meant as an inside joke.

  • Although most of the twins immediate family has been credited in one way or another in their films, this is only the second time one of their family members has appeared on screen. The first was their grandfather in A Soldier in Skirts.

  • There is no music in the film. The twins have had trouble with music in the past and decided not to risk it.

  • When Sarah imagined the film, she always pictured black screens separating topics; Emma was against the idea. She said she could put the interviews together in a way that "flowed." Sarah was doubtful but let her try. 

  • This is the last film Sarah and Emma made together before being separated for their year abroad before college.

  • When the film was selected as part of the WorldKids International Film Festival in Mumbai, it became the first of the twins' films to be seen outside the U.S.

  • Fearing she would need to write narration, Sarah read some of her father's art textbooks before filming began. No narration ended up being needed, but the refresher course in art history turned out to be useful when some of the artists got technical during the interviews.

  • Knowing the DTP tradition of chocolate chip cookies, Sarah's best friend made her a batch of them before their first car trip. Sarah claimed the last one, but Emma and her father ate it while she napped. She didn't let them forget it for the remainder of the production.

  • Les Christensen and John Salvest are married, a fact the twins' father was not aware of until he scheduled their respective interviews. He also didn’t expect Les to be a woman.

  • The tight scheduling of the interviews meant that the crew often ran late. The only time they arrived early to an afternoon interview was Les Christensen's interview. Unfortunately they had told her the wrong time and she thought they were an hour late.

  • In 2008, Cindy Momchilov interviewed the twins' father at her camera studio. Sarah used many of her questions as inspiration when writing the conversation prompts. If Momchilov noticed during her interview, she didn't say.

  • Warren Criswell was nervous and refused to do his interview without the dog in his lap. That dog is officially the first non-human interview the twins have ever done.

  • Many of the artists had studio pets. Among those pets were dogs, cats, and lots of chickens.

  • A deleted scene shows Sarah being attacked by a flock of chickens after Holly Laws' interview. No chickens were harmed in the making of the film, although several did flee the coup.

  • David Bailin nearly fell asleep during his interview because he had been up all night the night before working on the exhibition.

  • Sammy Peters was the first interview and David Bailin was the last.

  • The twins missed their senior prom to go to the exhibit opening and film premier.

  • Many of the artists met each other for the first time at the exhibition. Emma couldn't stop remarking how strange it was to see them introduce themselves because to her, they'd been talking to each other for months.

  • After the twins left for their year abroad, their father attempted to make a version three of the film without his introduction or the dedication, but he was caught by their mother and forced to trash it.