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The Brighter the Light.

Photo by Galina N on Unsplash

“I have a great idea for a film.”

Sure you do, I would usually say to myself. And, adjusting for inflation, if I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that tired sentence from a non-pro, I’d be financing my own pictures on the earned interest.

Now, before I come off sounding like an arrogant SOB, allow me this qualifier: I totally understand why just about every breathing consumer of popular culture possesses the notion that his or her idea would make for great film or TV. We’re all visual. It’s unconscious. We daydream. We see or read something that sounds like a movie. And the imagining of the making of a film is far less daunting for most than, say, writing a book.

Sometimes I’ll politely listen with half an ear. Others I’ll merely offer the advice my old man gave me after hearing one story too many from his movie-obsessed son. “Write it down,” he said to me. “Then maybe someone’ll read it.”

Sometimes it’s a family member with the magic idea. A niece, a second cousin, or in a recent case, my own darned sister, Carrie. She’d recently retired from her job in politics and had found herself with the inclination to make a documentary.

“I have this idea for a film I want to make,” Carrie announced to me over the phone.

“Okay,” I said, sinking into my seat. I was about to listen with both ears as opposed to my receiver being set on whatever. Why? Well, because she’s my damn sister and she knows which buttons to push that can hurt me.

Carrie’s idea began to unfold. It wasn’t completely cogent. It was more a series of questions for which she was seeking answers. I engaged her, asked her my own questions, hoping hers would congeal into a single, provocative query around which to wrap her premise. Something that might spark an interest once it landed on someone’s ear. Not just from me, but potential investors because the hell if she had bank enough to turn her provocative question into a feature-length documentary.

And damned if she didn’t pull it off.

Carrie’s idea for a film was not just good, but something great. If executed well it would be a documentary I would actually pay to see. She asked if I’d consult with her through the process and of course I agreed. Not just because she’s my sister. But because I so wanted her film to be as strong as what was still only a very bright concept.

But when I hung up, my experience and instinct informed me like this: an idea is only a single cell with potential. To grow into an actual film is tantamount to climbing one of the world’s highest peaks without the assistance of oxygen. Most wannabe filmmakers become instantly daunted, distracted, and then shrink from the task. I love my sister but didn’t fully expect more than another conversation or two on the subject before it eventually fizzled. Not because I didn’t think she could do it. It was the depth of commitment it required along with a marathon runner’s patience.

I was so very wrong.

She figured she’d need to make a fund-raising trailer and, in no time, she had secured a camera crew. I told her she needed to write her trailer before she’d have something to shoot. So that she did. Draft after draft. She took notes, learned quickly, and delivered. More importantly, as she began to compose the trailer for her film I began to hear a voice. Her voice. As if that provocative question which she wanted to make a film about was coming from a place deeper than her striking intellect.

“You know,” I said to her during one of our conferences, “Some of the most compelling stories ever told are from the first person. Especially documentaries. The compelling difference between your pretending to be a docu-journalist and an actual human being in search of an answer is huge.”

“Make it about me?” she eventually asked.

“Make it your quest,” I encouraged. “You do the interviews. You seek the answers.”

“But me? I don’t know.”

“You’re a mature woman. You’re beautiful. You’re damn articulate. Nobody knows the subject better. Why not you?”

“I’ll have to think about it.”

And so she did. There were follow-up discussions. I didn’t want to push her into doing something altogether out of her wheelhouse. Yet I encouraged her to risk getting a little uncomfortable and see where it might take her.

A month or so passed. She and her camera team had traveled a bit, shot some interviews and some pretty ghastly “b-roll.” When a rough edit of the trailer finally landed in my inbox, it revealed what I’d feared. The product looked as if it had been farmed out to a local TV news crew, was hardly cinematic, and considering the powerful and provocative nature of her quest, well below par. Even more importantly, it lacked Carrie’s passion. As if she’d given up her vision.

“You can’t subcontract out your vision,” I told her.

My sister agreed. She felt as if she was losing her mojo.

I recommended a few documentaries for her to watch. Plus their accompanying trailers. Once again, ideas began to spin. And it became crystal clear to her that if she was going to succeed as a documentarian, she’d have to begin captaining her own production from skin to marrow. With that, she found herself an editing program and, because her trailer was just for attracting investors, began to borrow from the vast images and video available on the internet. At last, she began to have more than a question. My sister had a vision. She began to call me in the mornings, excited to run her docu-making concepts past me, and exactly how she saw and heard her film unspool.

Damn, I thought. She was pulling it off. My sister was going to realize her germ of an idea into an actual reality. I was so proud.

Then came December 2013. My outwardly healthy sister contracted pneumonia as a result of a pulmonary embolism. Then just as it appeared that she was kicking the infection’s ass, a test result revealed that those blood clots were the result of a highly treatable lung cancer.

Only we wouldn’t have a chance to treat it.

Last Thursday, February 6th, I lost my brilliant sister Carrie due to complications from her treatment. And I’m afraid that her vision for a film was extinguished with her shortened life. A documentary that, without my sister’s shear will, might never come to be.

Still, though her lamp may have been switched off, her light remains brighter and more beautiful than ever.

Goodnight dear sister. But not goodbye. You live in not just my heart, but in so very many others.


  1. Mr. Brimm says:

    Sorry for your loss, Doug. Sounds like you two had a great connection.

  2. Lloyd Vance says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Doug. I would count myself lucky to work on a project, even fleetingly, with one of my sisters.

  3. Christopher Kubasik says:

    So sorry for your loss.
    A lovely, and true piece of writing.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      Thanks CK. Don’t feel like it was written as much by me as it was my sister’s spirit.

  4. stevethecreep says:

    Wow. This post came out of nowhere and punched me in a guy. Shows how great of a writer you are and how true emotions make so much more impact than anything else. I’ve read your blog for a while but never commented. You have my deepest sympathies for your loss.

  5. Dougie Brimson says:

    So sorry for your loss, your sister sounds amazing.

    But was it really necessary to plug your books at the end?

    • Doug Richardson says:

      Not just unnecessary, but wholly inappropriate. The book plug is an auto add-on that’s slapped at the end of each post. I’m out of town at my sister’s funeral. Hope to have it solved by tomorrow. Thanks DB for the heads up.

  6. Kristine Smith says:

    Sincerest sympathies for your loss. Your sister sounded like a great lady.

  7. wonder says:

    This is a beautiful tribute. She sounds like an extraordinary woman. Thank you for sharing.

  8. fbluhm says:

    Doug: along with the other members of your blog family, I would also like to offer my sincerest sympathies for your loss. Your blog is a wonderful tribute to your sister, and her passion (as well as yours) for her project. Fred

  9. Erin K. Moffat says:

    I have 3 younger brothers, and no matter how old we get when they tell me that they believe in me means so much. I’m sure that your encouragement, and honesty, meant so much to her. It seems that there was a little bit of extra bonding toward the end which is so special. I hope that you or someone is able to bring her vision to fruition. I am so very sorry for your loss, and thank you so much for sharing.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      It would so great if someone could make it. But like her. Because the uniqueness of the project was how she saw it.

  10. My condolences to you and your family, Doug. This is a wonderful tribute to your sister.

  11. Phyllis K Twombly says:

    Still recovering from losing my mom just over a year ago. The support of my brothers has been a huge comfort. I’m sure your sister felt the same way because you were there for her. My condolences to you and your family.

  12. James Moran says:

    So sorry for your loss, sir. Thank you for telling us about your sister, she sounds pretty damn cool.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      Yes James. She is proving cooler in her passing, packing them in for her memorial service like she was Elvis.

  13. Bryan Walsh says:

    Wow, Doug. Sorry to hear about your loss. Sounds like she was a go-getter , much like her brother. Obviously the subject of the documentary was very important to her; hopefully a member of her crew/friends/family will be able to complete it so that her efforts aren’t wasted. Would be a wonderful tribute to someone that sounds like a wonderful woman.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      She was a go-getter that took no prisoners. Can’t say much about the future of her film. The beauty of it was that it was HER quest.

  14. Stacy Chambers says:

    What a lovely tribute.

  15. Jack Gorman says:

    I’m very sorry to hear that, Doug. My best to you and your family in this difficult time.

  16. Kittysneverwear says:

    oh, my dear.
    what a beautiful heartbreaker this story is. sending our love to your family–

  17. Aaron C says:

    Oh my god, Doug… I’m so sorry. I lost my brother when he was 21. He was my only sibling. It’s a particular bond that hurts in a particular way when they pass. Wishing you and your family strength. She sounds like a remarkable person. Thank you for sharing.

  18. MorganHoward says:

    I did not see that coming. I guess you didn’t either and that’s why it’s written that way. You communicated that shock without writing the words. After reading the beginning I was going to comment “Finally, a story about a person with a real name.” Now, I’m just terribly sad to learn how real this person is, your dear sister. Her light glows through your words.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      You’re so right. It was the most unexpected and unwelcome moment of my life. Yet she still glows warmly in all our hearts..thanks Morgan.

  19. Glenn McGee says:

    I feel sad for your loss. I hope everyone whose hearts were touched by your sister find some comfort knowing how fortunate they were to have her play a special part in their lives. May her passionate spirit live on.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      Indeed Glenn. Carrie touched so many. She is sorely missed. But we all feel blessed for the time we had with her.

  20. Tim O'Connell says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss Doug. My thoughts and best wishes to you and your family.

  21. John Thomas says:

    Thank you Doug, for sharing with all of us, and I’m really sorry for your loss. After reading this, I miss her – and I never even met her.
    I always look forward to your blog, for the as-it-is truths, wild stories and humor, and I didn’t expect this. But I’m grateful that you expressed the raw truth of it – both the beauty and the sadness. And yes, I do see beauty in it; true sadness would have been if you hadn’t had a chance to spend so much time with her recently. It’s really hard to find the blessings in tragedy, but they’re usually there if we’re determined enough to search.
    This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing her spirit with those of us that unfortunately won’t ever get a chance to experience it in person.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      All I need to do is look into the eyes of my two nieces and her husband to find those blessings. She’s left me with an ever growing family full of love, life, and God. Your thoughts and words are greatly appreciated, John.

  22. Kevin says:

    Doug, I’m very sorry for your loss. Take care. – Kevin

  23. clive says:

    Sorry for your sad loss.My compliments to your sisters passion.

  24. Bill says:

    Doug, I think you should finish the film. (My condolences.)

  25. ChRiS says:

    My condolences.
    LIfe, as you know, goes on!

  26. jch says:

    Wow. Doug, my sincere condolences for your shocking loss. I hope you and she make an incredible film.

    • Doug Richardson says:

      Unfortunately, it was her film to make. She had the cred to pull it off. Me, not so much.

  27. themovienerd says:

    This was an amazing and oh so sad, absolutely heartbreaking tale of love and gumption Doug.

    “Cred” seems to be your concern in finishing her story. But gumption and love are the only fuels you really need. Which you seem to have in droves.

    Peace and love brother.

  28. David Anderson says:

    Oh, my God! I am so very, very sorry to learn of the loss of your sister. I can only compliment you on bringing Carrie back to life so vividly for the rest of us. You did good by her.

  29. I am so sorry for your loss.

  30. Warriorscribe says: