The author is adept at making people feel comfortable. Part of it is the genteel Southern charm innate in his personality, and part of it his mastery of patience he perfected as a journalist over half a century.
He has a profound grasp of human nature.
“I would trust people if I thought they were being frank in saying what was on their minds when a certain thing happened,” Wolfe said. “But people will not talk about the humiliations that make up 75 percent of life.”
For a couple of his early trips, I was merely a volunteer fixer, chauffeuring, translating, arranging, and introducing him. When he’d come to town, he would call me up and I would take a day or two off from my reporting job to spend time with him.
Around the same time, Chuck Fadely and Candace Barbot, two visual journalists at The Herald, handed me and a couple of other reporters, Tere Figueras Negrete and Casey Woods, Canon Powershots and turned us loose on presidential campaigns crisscrossing Florida. We became The Herald’s first backpack journalists.
“Shoot some video for the paper,” they said. “Here’s how you turn on the camera.”
It was my first experience with video, and I got bit by the bug. From then on, I’d sneak back to The Herald’s video department every chance I got, grateful to have talented professionals willing to teach me about this budding medium.
Before long, Lehman Brothers collapsed and the market tanked. The downturn reverberated in newsrooms everywhere. Layoffs, buyouts and downsizing seized the industry, including The Herald.
Strip club trip
Wolfe called from New York with an unusual request: He wanted to go to a Russian-owned strip club. It was that night with him at Thee Dollhouse in Sunny Isles that I got the idea to do a film about his research. A bouncer or manager recognized the impeccably dressed writer almost as soon as we walked in, and sat us in a VIP area. Wolfe proceeded, sometimes fruitlessly, to try to engage dancers in conversation, asking them about their lives and motives. This was literary history unfolding. The chapter in Back to Blood dedicated to the strip club came to life after that visit.
With an optimistic spirit, I volunteered to leave The Herald during one of its buyouts and set out to start a video production business, which would be called Explica Media Solutions. I used the severance money to buy the equipment I needed: Sony HDR FX1 and Canon HV20 high-definition cameras, Sennheiser microphones; a Lowell Pro light kit; the obligatory Mac and Final Cut Pro; and all the whiz-bang accessories I thought I’d need.
One night in the fall of 2008, I called Wolfe in New York and asked him how he would feel about having me bring a video camera on some of our scouting and research trips. He consented on the condition that I put the camera down if he thought it would interfere with one of his interviews.
From then on, I added filmmaker to my fixer duties.
I enrolled as a film student at Miami Dade College — I was by far the oldest in the class — and took night courses in film production and editing.
My first day of shooting for the film was at the 2008 Columbus Day Regatta and the concurrent parties around Elliott Key, just days after I formally left the paper. The movie was born, and, bang!, another chapter in Wolfe’s novel, too.