The Secret History of American River People

An Anthro-Historical Artist’s Journey Through the History of a River


Secret History is a journey to discover and collect the lost narratives of people who live and work on the river from the deck of a recreated shantyboat and present these stories through web-based digital archives and a touring art installation.

Find out more about the Secret History project here.

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Shantyboat at FIGMENT Oakland [Video]

A Secret History exhibited at FIGMENT in Oakland. The shantyboat had already gone up to Oakland the previous weekend when we went to the Sacramento Delta. So it was an easier journey than it would have been hauling the boat up from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

FIGMENT is a one day art festival that brings Burning Man values of creative expression, gift economy, and participation to our urban environment. Thousands of people came to FIGMENT and trouped through the shantyboat, checking out everything including the  digital archive and the library.


For the first time at an exhibition, I invited people to write their river stories. Just a little hand-written card, “GOT A RIVER STORY?” I didn’t know if anyone would take the time to leave a story at an arts festival so full of interesting, engaging things to do.


People did. They left dozens and dozens of river stories which will all go into the Secret History archive.


I invited musicians at FIGMENT to use the Shantyboat as a stage. Groups large and small performed throughout the afternoon. Wildflower Orphan Train played the first set in the video above.


The New Thoreaus brought a four-piece band to the shantyboat . (Photos by Calista Chandler.)




ENE (Eugene Chen and Serene Pichotti) were an energetic duo accompanied by Ukulele





Marilyn and Rafael played a mellow set near the end of the day. Check out Marilyn’s music and videos.



Lauren Donovan and the Creepy Guy [VIDEO]

This is the second excerpt of an interview I did with Lauren Donovan, who kayaked the length of the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca to New Orleans. We met her as we were moored at the public dock in Hastings, MN. She paddled up the river with a friend in a Walmart inflatable raft.

Here she talks about an unexpected meeting while camping along the river.

The long form of this interview will be part of the Secret History archive.


The Producer’s Journal: Catching up

A note about the Producer’s Journals: They make either super awesome insider geek info or the most boring blog ever, depending on your inclination. Your mileage may vary. So if you are the type of person who watches the Making Of segment after the main feature on the DVD, read on…

I was getting stern reminder emails from my production professor Irene Lusztig asking about the whereabouts of the Master Log I’d not yet created. Panic. I hoped she’d believe my sad little mea culpa email that I am not normally a flake.

I spent the weekend learning the ins and outs of this logging and ingest process. Now I can definitely say with confidence that I am a semi-informed neophyte. I know just enough to be dangerous. Maybe I’ll stop for a moment and make another backup of my source material.

For the last two weeks I’ve been struggling with getting everything done despite my ignorance of production processes and terminology. Slowly I am learning.  To my immense relief Irene walked us through the meaning and concept of a bunch of video production concepts: shot list, master log, ingest, transcode, logging, selects, rough cuts, and so on.

For the Master Log, Irene says:

The Master Log is not a shot-by-shot log, it’s a scene-by-scene (or shoot-by-shoot) log. So less detail, more big-picture information… It’s more detail than the written scene list that you’ve put on the blog (because it includes additional information fields like date, tech notes, location, duration, log / transcribe status, etc), but much less detail than Premiere where you are logging each shot.

That’s a relief, because I was imagining the pain of detailing the hundreds of individual establishing and detail shots. Okay, that’s one of tonight’s many tasks.

Secret History Master Log
Secret History Master Log

I was having some issues with Prelude, Adobe’s ingest utility (unexpected and repeated crashing on startup), so I switched over to Adobe Bridge to do my renaming and reorganization.  It worked well and had decent facilities for automated batch renaming.  Following that with some manual renaming and reorging, my archive was in good order.

Secret History Raw Archive
Secret History Raw Archive


After that, importing it into Adobe Premiere, allowed me access to most of the metadata that would have been accessible via Prelude.

So in the end, I had an archive that had decent filenames and good metadata and was imported into my editing program Premiere.

I also set up my folder structure one level above the raw files in a way I thought would be useful in the long term:

Secret History Project
 |  +--Field Recordings
 |  +--Libraries
 |  +--Voiceover
 |  +--Early Preview
 |  +--Interview Excerpts
 |  +--SHARP 20140420 At Boat
 |  +--SHARP 20140508 Audio Sacto Delta
 |  +--SHARP 20140725 Interview Pat Nunnally
 |  +--. . . and so on
 +--Rough Cuts
 |  +--Early Preview
 |  +--Interview Excerpts

Which looks like this:

Secret History Meta Archive
Secret History File Archive

Thinking about a production schedule, a good bit of this is dictated by the pace of Irene’s production class:

Oct 8   archive cloned, transcoded, and backed up
Oct 15 scene list completed; transcription started; master log started
Oct 22  transcription completed; master log completed; production schedule established; filesystem renamed/reorged; archive logged into Premiere; sync sound begin; cutting selects begins
Oct 29 sync sound completed; cutting selects completed; cutting rough scenes begins
Nov 5 cut rough scenes started; assembling rough archive completed
Nov 12 cut rough scenes completed; cutting down scenes started
Nov 19 first assembly completed; outline of scenes/paths completed
Nov 26 revise individual scenes
Dec 3 outline of revised structure of scenes/paths completed
Dec 10 final rough cut of scenes and assembly completed

So I have a master log, a workable file structure, good filenames, everything ingested and logged into Premiere, and a production schedule. I think that takes me up to where I was supposed to be a week ago.

Meanwhile, my production team met (Kyle, Monica, and Regina). We are almost done with transcription. Whew, big job. with something like 16 hours of video. Everyone is writing production blogs, some of which we may feature here.

We had a brainstorming session to determine what things needed doing for the project and what things we thought we could accomplish this quarter.

Project Team Brainstorm

Just out of curiosity, I asked who of the production team was interested in the possibility of working on the project next quarter as well. It was unanimous. So we agreed that after two quarters working together, we’d have to make a Secret History Production Team T-shirt.


the lost narratives of river people, river communities, and the river itself