"Hey, I love your hat," yells a faceless brunette from the window of a moving pickup.
"Hey, thanks," Kurt Braun shouts back, repositioning his leopard-print cowboy hat. "Now what was I saying?"
Braun was trying to explain why L.A. sucks and how he hates the whole Hollywood system. But now, sitting at a Starbucks in Poway with a cigarette in one hand and venti-sized coffee in the other, he's quietly reminiscing about his hat.
"You know this hat has been in a few movies?" he says. "I've always tried to sneak it into the background somewhere."
Ignore the Marlboro Lights, Starbucks, leather jacket and leopard cowboy hat, Braun really isn't a Hollywood hipster. The cameraman-for-hire and up-and-coming filmmaker draws his inspiration from something Hollywood doesn't offer: normal people engaged in everyday life. Braun's interest in reality inspired his new film project, 5 Minute Opera. Not reality as in staged, scripted and rehearsed reality television, but the commonplace minutiae that make up life.
5 Minute Opera began as a simple idea: a feature-length mosaic created from scores of different five-minute clips of life on our planet. But as it percolated in Braun's brain, the idea evolved into something more whimsical. Why not, he thought, have dozens of cameras across the globe rolling simultaneously for five uninterrupted minutes? Five minutes of a traffic jam in San Diego, a couple eating dinner in New York, a sandstorm in the Middle East. And what better time to film the five minutes than on May 5, 2005 at 00:00:00 Greenwich Mean Time or, as Braun sees the date, 05-05-05.
"Everyone has thought, "Hey, I wonder what's going on halfway around the world right now,'" says Braun. "This will give people a chance to see what the different parts of the world experience at the exact same time."
Braun sees the project as a continuation of the aesthetic pioneered in Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi). Reggio is famous for blurring the line between narrative and non-narrative filmmaking. With no plot, script or dialogue, Reggio tells stories through images that range from the flow of rivers and traffic to the rush of pedestrians and the calm of the desert. In the '80s Reggio enjoyed packed art-house theaters, but his type of experimental filmmaking has since fallen out of vogue.
With 5 Minute Opera, Braun wants to remind moviegoers that film can still be more art, less entertainment. But there are a few hurdles to get over.
Braun doesn't have dozens of cameras or filmmakers he can sprinkle across continents to document life. Having only worked on a few independent features and a handful of short films, Braun doesn't even have a budget. So armed with only an idea and Final Cut Pro, Braun and collaborator Bryan Caron, a writer and graphic artist, set up a website and began contacting anyone they thought might be interested. The response wasn't overwhelming, but it was enough to give the project a shot-friends here in the United States, former classmates from Braun's alma mater, the London International Film School, and former-coworkers from his years in TV production in Istanbul, Turkey, have all agreed to help out.
"I've even got a filmmaker from Israel who is going to film the same five minutes on the Israeli side of the border and the Palestinian side of the border," says Braun. "He asked me if he could put both sides together in split screen and I told him, "Hell, go for it, send me the raw footage, but go ahead and send me split screen too.' That's what this whole project is about-all these different people's visions of the world, so I don't know what I'm going to get."
Beyond the commitments they received from friends, Braun and Caron have no idea how many filmmakers will participate. They've contacted faculty and students at film schools in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver and Paris, but because all one needs to do to participate is download a release from the website and send the footage in by June 5, Braun and Caron have no way of keeping track of who's on board.
"I know I'll have something because of the artists already signed on, but I don't know if I'll get 25 tapes or thousands," says Braun.
Caron hopes it's more rather than less-even though he'll be going through every tape with Braun and helping create some sort of narrative out of the raw footage.
"What we really want to get is a global picture of what was happening during these five minutes," says Caron. "If we get most of our stuff from the United States, then that's what we have to work with, but I really hope our international filmmakers come through."
Whatever the results, Braun plans to make this an annual endeavor. Partly joking, mostly in earnest, he suggests a project inspired by 06-06-06."Yeah, we can do one on the sixth of June that's six minutes of the best horror you've got," he says.