About the Director
When I hopped my first freight train it felt like a catharsis. Venturing outside the defined space of social convention, I discovered an intoxicating freedom. I felt alive and awake. The accumulated tension and stress of everyday existence simply disappeared. I realized immediately that 'catching out' on freight trains is both a physical act and an existential journey.
In reality, I had never been near a freight train before making "Catching Out." I knew that people still hopped trains, and I was intrigued. The film was an excuse to try it for myself. Of course, I imagined old men, lines of character creased into their faces, sitting around campfires and trading stories along with a bottle. I quickly learned that those days were long gone, but the hobo legacy survives on the rails today.
The tramps I met in train yards and at hobo gatherings fell into several general groups: retired oldtimers, stamp tramps, young punks, and recreational riders. When I started riding, stamp tramps were the dominant group on the rails. Vietnam vets accounted for most of the population, and the tramp economy was fueled by social security insurance and food stamps. But the lifestyle was threatened by welfare reform and heightened security in the wake of railroad mergers.
While the stamp tramp population dwindled, a new generation of riders appeared on the rails. Stamp tramps called them the Flintstones: Krustez punks dressed in shades of faded black and decorated with urban tribal tattoos and piercings. Scavenging for food and clothing in free bins and dumpsters, the young riders did not rely on state subsidies. Undeterred by railroad security, they continued to hop trains, often heading to activist and anarchist gatherings.
At the same time, recreational riders were hopping trains for fun and adventure rather than necessity. Often called yuppie hobos, they hit the rails armed with scanners, cell phones and hi-tech outdoor gear. This new breed of hobo also started to use the internet to exchange stories and share information. In fact, I did a lot of preliminary research on-line, and I subscribed to a public email list for trainhoppers.
As a filmmaker, I knew I wanted to document personal stories. Hopping trains is a thrilling adventure, but I felt the film would ring hollow without understanding the individual motivations behind the experience. I spent several years searching for the right characters to animate the film. I wrote to Lee after learning about his hobo zine, and we exchanged many letters before finally meeting in the Oakland trainyard. Northbank Fred introduced me to Switch and Baby Girl when they were camped out at Black Butte. Jessica found me through my website, and we didn't meet in person until we started shooting. I also planned to feature Duffy Littlejohn as a main character but we ran out of time and money during the initial stint of production.
Eventually, the film began to take shape. I decided very early on to shoot on Super 16mm negative with the intention of doing at blow-up to a 35mm print. I felt that projecting on 35mm was the best way to convey the stunning imagery and riotous sounds of a moving freight train. Working with Director of Photography Pallas Weber, we experimented with various cinematic techniques to design a visual style. We used varied frame rates, colored filters and in-camera double exposures to convey the subjective perspective of each chara cter.
During production, the crew traveled between locations in a 15 passenger van loaded with equipment. We were sometimes on the road 10 hours a day. Of course, shooting on moving freight trains presented a logistical challenge. Camera equipment was packed in custom-rigged backpacks to disguise us as common tramps. A skeleton crew including the director, the DP, the AC, and the still photographer filmed on freight trains. Meanwhile, the associate producer and production manager drove the follow van and communicated with the shooting crew via cellular phone and pager to report progress and coordinate rendezvous points. For a glimpse into the making of "Catching Out", watch the short video "The Journey".
After the initial stint of production, I discovered that I was beyond broke. Hovering on the edge of bankruptcy, I hunkered down and worked freelance on commercials to pay my bills. Over the next several years, I continued sporadic work on the film. We shot additional synch sound interviews of each featured character. We captured time-lapse footage and spent hours in train yards and along train tracks shooting b-roll. I also carried a hand-cranked 16mm camera when I hopped trains. In early September 2001 we got the last shot: a friend flew me over the Mojave Desert to shoot an aerial of a freight train for the opening of the film.
"Catching Out" was cut on an AVID film composer. Editor Casey P. Chinn demonstrated creativity and ingenuity as well as great patience and enduring commitment during a process that took over two years. When we finally locked picture in December 2001, I drove all 35,000 feet of negative to Seattle for the negative cut. The Seattle film community has offered generous support during post-production. Clatter & Din donated a final audio mix, Alpha Cine Labs struck a lo-con print, Flying Spot provided telecine and on-line services.
Reflecting on a journey that I started seven years ago, I can only say that it really was twice as long and twice as difficult as I could possibly have imagined. In addition to the support of friends and family, I have drawn inspiration from the train riders themselves. I maintain tremendous respect for the tramps and young punks I have met on the rails. They have the courage and conviction to defy the increasing homogenization and commodification of mainstream society. I hope the film will offer a glimpse into this mutiny where freedom is valued over material comfort. However, I don't advocate that everybody adopt the trainhopper's lifestyle. I simply want to present an alternative to the monolith of consumer culture.
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Producer/Director, Sarah George is making her directorial debut with the documentary film, Catching Out. In the summer of 1993, George stumbled into media production by making a video documentary called God's Trombone. With no prior production experience, she received a producer credit after completing a cross-country road trip and ushering the project through post-production. She considers working on God's Trombone a life-altering experience, and, consequently, she decided to become a documentary filmmaker.
In 1995, George received a grant from the King County Arts Commission to make a documentary about contemporary hoboes. After exploring the topic on her first trainhopping excursion, she became an enthusiastic rail rider. Known on the rails as "San Luis," she has traveled over 10,000 miles by freight. At the 1996 National Hobo Convention, "San Luis" was honored as a "Knight of the Road" by Luther the Jet, the presiding King of the Hoboes.
To support the docmaking habit, George works freelance in the film industry. Her credits include Line Producer of the narrative short films Nice Day for No Rain, Confidence, and Stall. She has numerous credits as a Location Manager, Production Manager, and Coordinator for feature films, episodic television, commercials, and music videos.
In 1997, George received the Pacific Pioneer Fund's grant for "Emerging Documentary Filmmakers." She also received an NEA fellowship administered by the Washington State non-profit organization, Artists' Trust.
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