Ritual and Creative Fire

Charles Morris
7 min readNov 3, 2023

A poet once wrote “there is more truth in the ashes, than in the standing house”. They meant that only what is true remains, after something intense occurs, like a housefire. And in the case of their poem, the context was that the family remained…even though the house no longer did.

Today at around 4 PM, after tackling some unexpected website issues, instead of editing the movie The Last Shark-I just stoked the woodburning stove, laid down in front of it like a dog and slept for two hours.

I had just received the final version of the Original Sound Track (OST) emailed from California from our composers. Earlier in the day I had received a long awaited piece of footage from South Africa featuring the deployment of exclusion nets on a beach there. These were the literal last two pieces of this documentary puzzle to be fitted.

I knew I had everything I needed to finish this project that has consumed my life since June 1, 2023. I wasn’t ready to just finish it without some kind of ritual. So…sleeping in front of the fire, in this secluded log cabin in the Vermont woods, was my way of approaching that. Because…how do you just finish something you have put so much of yourself into? You know? We live in a society with so few rituals to mark the milestones. I like to build them into my life as often as I can. Writing is one of them. And taking time to breathe, be and appreciate what has come before, is important for me to do, before I finish something.

This cabin is so fricking peaceful. I am at the base of mountains. Snow is on the ground. I can sing at the top of my lungs, as badly as I want…no problem. And I have been here before. I stayed here in March of this year. Back when Frankie (my Co-Director for The Last Shark) and I still didn’t even have the files yet from South Africa. Back when we had no idea what we were in for. I love a full circle and so being here is one of them. What has happened since March, is worth thinking about. And honestly, it’s been so busy I haven’t had much time to do that.

Since I left this house, I have done housesitting gigs or stayed with friends -while working on this movie in:

Burlington VT
Underhill, VT
Montpelier VT
Va Beach VA
Charlottesville VA
Chapel Hill NC
Palm Harbor FL
Carrboro NC
Wolfeboro NH
Bryson City NC

Wow. I have never made that list. No wonder I am SO tired of moving around lol. Geez. 10 locations in 8 months. Some of these locations are just a blur. All I can picture is my workstation config, where the transcripts sat on a table and the view out the window. Some places were essential. VA Beach and Palm Harbor were essentially on the ocean. I picked those places so that I could find inspiration for the movie-since it’s ocean specific. And those places really delivered it in spades. I went to the beach at least 30 times for swimming and sunset watching this summer and it was so needed.

I stayed and visited with a lot of friends. And I am more grateful for community and friendship than I ever have been. My sense of geography and spaces between places has compressed. Driving up and down the East Coast of the USA is now not even a “thing”. It’s like running to the grocery store.

Staying with this project for free meant turning down paid work, meant running down my savings account, meant risking everything financially. One major car repair, and no housing, would have meant disaster. If I had been injured, I would have had nowhere to stay and recuperate. I just can’t say enough about how much my life had to change in order for this movie to be made.

A friend of mine died last year. She was a close enough friend that I officiated her funeral in late 2022. She died young. Glioblastoma. She died about 5 months after diagnosis. Her name was Teala and though we argued about how she had included me in her Will…I am forever grateful to her for insisting on doing so.

This entire project, my side of it as Editor and Co Director…unfunded as it has been, was only possible because of her. She literally said to me “if you are uncomfortable with the fact that I am giving you money, then donate it to a charity OR why not use it for one of those movie projects about saving the planet that you never seem to have funding for?”

For me this is really the movie that Teala made happen. Without her help it would have taken another full year for me to afford to find the free time to work on this, while working full time on other paid gigs. That being said…using Teala’s money has been difficult for me to do. I would have only used it for something that felt crucial, impactful and life changing. So I have had to reevaluate all along if this was the right project to meet that standard. It has. Also how weird is it that this project would come into my life nearly the same month that I first met Frankie when she told me that there wasn’t any money to pay an Editor. I got the check from Teala and I could hear her wishes…and here we are now, nearly done.

Yes, her name is in the credits.

I thought about her everyday that I have worked on this movie. The connectedness of all things, even really hard things, is difficult to reconcile, when they also result in something overwhelmingly positive.

Frankie and I have been making a movie. That’s a statement of fact. But the movie started making its own way in the world, as in idea, long before the film existed. After all…I am the Editor, I would know…the movie isn’t even finished yet and people are already experiencing positive vibes because of it. More than any other film I have worked on; the interest, positivity, connections, and passion for the film have been building out before the movie has been seen. A phrase that Frankie and I hear so often is “being a part of this has uplifted me”. People talk about coming out of a hard time and feeling fired up again as they have joined the effort as collaborators and supporters. It has felt more like a movement, than just a movie. It’s just been so insanely positive and we’ve had to really take a lot of deep breaths. Because working on something that isn’t technically done yet…that’s already having an impact…means you really better deliver. And in my role, that’s just been like…yeah, sometimes that’s been really a wild experience to wonder if I will get it right. What kept Frankie and I feeling like we were on that right track was back when we showed some beta viewers the very first rough cut (and I mean it was ROUGH)…they cried. That was the first time we realized we had possibly stumbled across something unique. But I can’t stress enough that it didn’t feel like we made something. It felt like we found something that was there, just waiting to be discovered.

I want to talk about fire. Sleeping next to the woodburning stove made me think about how fire is so much a part of the creative process. What burns away is as important as what remains. To create something that deals so closely with such hard topics: death, species loss, extinction, the fear of humanity…this movie has been very hard to face. To tell this truth I have had to stay close to it, really close to it. Like-method actor close. It became common for me to be on the timeline in my dreams, moving between clips, looking at footage. I have lived and breathed and put myself into the experience from the shark’s perspective, into the perspective of any poor creature caught in nets that literally only exist due to humanity’s fear. We kill animals for all sorts of reasons. But this is the first time I have spent time so close to a topic where we are eliminating a species solely due to our fear. And that’s had a huge impact on me. So for me, making the movie is the fire and what remains is a hard truth about us. We are still largely driven by our fears. And we must figure that out.

I feel like this movie is so timely for that reason. I think we have made something that doesn’t blame anyone. To me, what we have made is a different way of looking at the human story. The one where we forgot, that we live in home, where we aren’t the only one’s there.

Art wants to happen. My mom was an artist. While taking care of her as her full time nurse in 2020, when she was dying from cancer, she did a TON of art. It’s this invisible thing that needs a voice and it needs someone to listen to it and shape it into something others can see. She did that well. So yeah…I am deeply grateful that I was able to take the last 5 months (the most intense editing months out of the year since the project began anew) and just focus on what what the story was, what it was trying to say. There were times when I was laying on the floor surrounded by scattered transcripts from about 17 different interview subjects and feeling like I was never going to be able to find the story that I knew was in here somewhere. Art takes time. And patience. And listening. Mom would have really loved this movie. Anyway…yeah…I think I am ready to do this thing.

It’s time to load in the OST onto the timeline in Premiere Pro and adjust the sound levels. I will drop in the Exclusion Net footage. I have some additional color grading on some underwater footage. But it’s pretty much there really. By this time tomorrow the movie will be done.

Wow and woah and here we go…thanks Teala. Thanks Mom. Thanks Frankie. Let’s do this thing.