Blog VII: Filming the Nevelson Conservation Project — the Art of Documentary Film

By Thom Mozloom

Louise Nevelson was no stranger to the camera. More than an accomplished artist, Nevelson was a larger-than-life personality. From the 1950’s to the 1980’s it could be argued that Louise Nevelson was as important a figure to art as she was to the “art-scene”.

This was certainly top of mind when The M Network, and our very good and talented colleague, still photographer Sid Hoeltzell, were brought on to document the conservation treatment of two of Louise Nevelson’s sculptures in the collection of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).

The M Network film crew captures the arrival of Dream House XLIII (1973) at Caryatid Conservation studio. Photograph by Stephanie Hornbeck.

The M Network film crew captures the arrival of Louise Nevelson’s Dream House XLIII (1973) at Caryatid Conservation studio. Photograph by Stephanie Hornbeck.

In film and photographs, through words and images, our goal is to ensure that the compelling story of the pieces’ conservation is appropriately captured. The idea of this type of documentary is to weave together a tapestry of expert interviews and beautiful pictures that tell a single, cohesive story.

It’s not unlike Louise Nevelson, herself, wandering the streets of New York City, coming across seemingly disparate pieces of pre-used wood, nailing and gluing and binding them all together into a singular and beautiful structure, covering the entire piece in a layer of flat black uniformity.

In this case, our pieces of “found wood” are brilliant minds, gifted conservators, passionate artists and curators and a host of very talented people who carry more knowledge about Louise Nevelson and her art than we could ever hope to attain. Topping this off is a pair of stunning Louise Nevelson sculptures bathed in the brilliant, natural light of the Caryatid Conservation Services studio.

The M Network readies for filming in Caryatid Conservation studio. Photograph by Stephanie Hornbeck.

The M Network film crew readies for filming in Caryatid Conservation studio. Photograph by Stephanie Hornbeck.

It is now our job to fit all these fantastic pieces together into one unified, compelling structure that does justice to both Nevelson’s art and to the people who have dedicated so much of their time, energy and resources to conserve them.

For our part, there are certain challenges in helping a black structure anthropomorphize on film. There was a concern that the darkness of the paint might hide many of the shadows that give the pieces their very form and character. In addition, because they are painted black, we thought it might be difficult to show on film the very damage that has prohibited the sculptures from being exhibited by the Museum.

To mitigate this, our team is using a combination of extremely fast, prime lenses that let in an enormous amount of light in a short period of time as well as compound macro lenses that allow us to narrow our depth of focus and bring out even subtle details. Our strategy is to combine this unique filming technique with powerful image manipulation software in order to create the vibrant, potent images.

In our initial filming, the results have been stunning.

Solving some of the visual challenges, however, is just part of the process. In order to tell the right story, and tell it in a way that is engaging, the entire documentary team had to become students of art and art conservation.

Our writers, directors, photographers and designers all have had to dive into the world of conservation, understanding not only the processes, but also the code of ethics, as well as the various philosophies. And herein lies the real story.

Once all of the footage is shot and all of the interviews are done, we will have 50 to 60 hours of footage to go through.  Frame by frame, and question by question, our writers and editors will comb through the footage, like Nevelson combing the streets of New York, seeking out only the best elements, only the components that best fit within the artist’s dream.

This footage will then be “glued” together using the latest computer editing software. But even then, the final piece will hardly be done. No – all of this work is done only to create what we call a “rough cut”. It is the structure without the acrylic. Naked.

Music and sound effects, graphics treatments and colorization, these will act as the layer of unifying paint that make all the elements of our film into one cohesive work.

Rustin Levenson (left), Naomi Patterson (center) and Corey Smith Riley (right) examine Dream House XLIII. Photograph by Sid Hoeltzell.

Rustin Levenson (left), Naomi Patterson (center) and Corey Smith Riley (right) examine Dream House XLIII. Photograph by Sid Hoeltzell.

Days will be spent selecting tones and tempo of music, while sleepless nights will be spent worrying over banalities, such as what font should be used for the name supers and to what color temperature to balance each shot.

If done correctly, none of this “paint” work will ever be noticed. The casual viewer should never recognize a single track of music or remember the color of the font lest those things take attention away from the bigger story.

In the end, a dozen or so people will have spent hundreds of hours over the course of months in order to create a small film that will only ever be shown to a handful of people …  and the world will be a better place for it.

Such is the art of documentary film.

To see a short video of the arrival of the sculptures at Caryatid Conservation’s studio, click on the following link:


And click on the link below to catch the conservators at work:


Both videos were created by The M Network.

Next week, we will feature a blog about the art historical significance of these two Nevelson sculptures by Pérez Art Museum Miami Chief Curator Tobias Ostrander.

Thom Mozloom is President of The M Network, a creative services company headquartered in Miami. The M Network’s film on the conservation process of the Nevelson sculptures is slated for completion in October 2013.

For questions or comments regarding this blog, please leave a comment below, or directly contact the editor, Jillian Ambroz, at


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