Amy Browne (Co-Director/Producer) grew up in Australia and moved to New York City at 19 to study theater at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and film at The New School University. Her other film credits include Production Coordinator on drama feature Valedictorian (Rotterdam 2015), Associate Producer for I Used to be Darker (Melbourne International Film Festival & Sundance 2013) and Crazy & Thief (LA Film Festival 2012), as well as work on The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (MIFF, Berlinale & Tribeca 2011), among may other short films and music videos. Amy has now returned home to Australia and recently finished work as Producer and Director of a series of short documentaries for the upcoming premier event festival21. When her sister Sophie introduced her to the concept of green burial, which connects the profundity and beauty of nature with the cycle of death and life, Amy was inspired to explore the idea through film.
Jeremy Kaplan (Co-Director/Cinematographer) received his B.A. from Boston College in Film and Philosophy and his M.A. in Documentary/Media Studies at The New School. His documentary work has brought him across the globe to Costa Rica, Egypt, and South Korea with topics ranging from the environmental impact of American corporations in Costa Rica to a portrait of a progressive New York orthodox Jewish community. The years spent on A Will for the Woods have been his most gratifying work yet, due to the moving subject matter and the collaborative nature of the project.
Tony Hale (Co-Director/Editor) first discovered digital editing through recording loops of his drum kit. Later, while studying Mathematics at Boston College and working at a Harvard University media lab, he rediscovered this passion in filmmaking. Now a freelance editor based in Brooklyn, he has worked on a number of non-fiction and narrative projects, many with an environmental focus. A Will for the Woods marks his first feature and combines his love of environmental documentary and character-based stories.
Brian Wilson (Co-Director/Editor) graduated from Brown University with a degree in Comparative Literature and History, and works as an editor in New York. Passionate about the natural world and its protection and restoration, he is pleased to be exploring and raising awareness about green burial with A Will for the Woods. He became interested in developing deeper insight into death after his mother died in 2008, and has been grateful to find it through working on this project, which he hopes will offer similar comfort and understanding to many viewers.
T. Griffin (Composer) is a songwriter, composer, and producer based in Brooklyn, New York. He has composed music for over 20 feature films and dozens of live multidisciplinary projects. He was one of six composers selected as a fellow at the Sundance Composer's lab in 2008 and has been nominated twice for Cinema Eye Honors for original music score. www.tgriffinmusic.com
Tom Paul (Sound Design), an Emmy Award winning re-recording mixer and highly regarded sound designer, is one of New York City's most sought after talents in the field of post production audio. Some highlights of his sound design and re-recording credits include the Academy Award winning films The Fog of War and Born Into Brothels. Other notable films include: Junebug, Palindromes, The Baxter, The King, and U2 360, the largest selling concert DVD of all time. Tom won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding mixing on Joe Berlinger's Under African Skies.
Nice Dissolve (Color Grading/DI) is a boutique post-production facility located in Brooklyn, NY. nicedissolve.com
The wider community: Throughout the years of making this film, many people lent their talents, guidance, and support to A Will for the Woods. Artists, technicians, trusted colleagues, friends, family, and the many people who participated in the filming all helped make the film what it became. Furthermore, the amazing support from all the backers of the film's Kickstarter crowd-sourcing campaign helped bring the film out into the world. See them all here!
This is our collective reflection on how the film came to be – our inspirations and fascinations – as well as how we collaborated as four co-directors, and what we have learned and gained along the way.
Stuck in traffic over the vast Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York, Amy Browne decided to make a film about green burial. She had first learned of the concept two years earlier from her sister, Sophie, who was researching the topic with Professor Roger Short of the University of Melbourne. While Amy had been curious about Sophie’s work, at twenty, she had not given death or funerals much thought, and conventional burial and cremation had not inspired her interest or awe. In 2009, Sophie came to visit Amy in New York and they took a road trip. Idling on the busy city overpass, Amy looked down on the stark cemetery crammed with tombstones, mausoleums, roads, and a scattering of trees. How depressing! What a waste! The place seemed spiritually, emotionally, and ecologically void — little chance for life, regeneration, or a meaningful legacy. Amy turned to her sister: “Tell me more about this green burial?”
That conversation led to what would become a four-year filmmaking journey, a collaboration between co-directors Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale, and Brian Wilson. What drew the four of us to the topic was not a fascination with death, but a realization of the life-affirming power of this new/old idea that our bodies can remain within the cycle of life.
Inspired by the concept, Amy began researching the topic, and soon joined forces with Jeremy, whom she met at The New School. It seemed that everyone they talked to about green burial mentioned Joe Sehee, founder of the Green Burial Council. They arranged to meet him at a funeral convention in Texas, where they were immediately drawn to his charisma and passion for the cause. As the sole environmental regulator in the vast and entrenched multi-billion dollar funeral industry, Joe and his nonprofit organization were a compelling underdog story. Following Joe for several months opened up the very large scale of this issue and demonstrated that this infant environmental movement was growing into something that could change funeral and burial conventions, as well as attitudes about death.
Amy and Jeremy heard from Joe about a man in North Carolina who was planning his own funeral and inspiring his community to think about green burial — and that he would love to speak with them. Within minutes of meeting Clark, they were immersed in his daily life of doctor’s visits, radiation treatments, and discussing green burial with anyone who was interested. They quickly established a close connection with Clark and his partner Jane during that first week in Durham. After only a few days, Amy and Jeremy were moved and honored when Clark and Jane invited them to follow his entire journey, and if he didn’t beat the cancer, to film his funeral and burial. Clark wanted the world to witness the power, significance, and beauty he saw in green burial.
While Amy and Jeremy continued shooting, Tony and Brian began the editing process, and the four of us started to form the film’s story. We were beginning an intensive, collaborative, and moving two-plus years of editing, working with what would eventually be over 300 hours of footage. Deeply compelled to honor Clark’s wish and see his story told, we ultimately came to realize that certain story lines and statistics would have to move aside to make room for the intimacy that had been shared with us, and that it felt more appropriate and inspiring for the film to represent the idea of green burial through the scenes of Clark’s life.
For all of us, one of the core motivations in making A Will for the Woods was to shed light on this profound environmental and social movement. At first, we were primarily fascinated with green burial as a strategy for land conservation and the reduction of environmental impacts, but as we continued working on the film, and particularly through witnessing Clark’s journey, we saw what a powerful spiritual experience green burial can be. For many, including Clark, green burial offers the unexpected gift of a deeper understanding of our connection to the natural world — of what it means to die, but also live, sustainably and in harmony with nature. We hope that the film will provide this comfort for others.