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Gary Spalding

INTERVIEWEE: Gary Spalding (GS)
DATE: October 10, 2002
LOCATION: Lubbock, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2231

Please note that videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: Today’s October 10th, 2002. We’re in Lubbock, Texas for the Conservation History Association of Texas. My name is David Todd and I’m interviewing Gary Spalding, who has done all sorts of work for the project and I’d like to ask you exactly what was your niche, what was your role in the Texas Legacy Project over the last 3 ½ years?
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GS: Well, a little more than a helper monkey. Lighting and sound, basically. David’s roommate for a couple of weeks. That’s—that’s about it really.
DT: Can you describe what was involved in setting up the lighting for a particular shot? What kind of material you used and how you set it?
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GS: My standard set up would be three Tungsten lights, a K-light, a hair light and a background light. I’d base it on where the person was going to be sitting in relation to the interviewer and that’s—once I have that information, just basically light it till I’m satisfied or nearly satisfied with it.
DT: Can you describe some of the problems that you face when you’re trying to orient the light?
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GS: Well, in this—for this project, it’s a spa—it’s space. Often the ceilings aren’t high enough to put my hair lights as high as I’d like it. For example, this—this light here is set a little bit higher because we have a—a ca—TV cabinet right in front of it so I have to kind of look over it. So I would actually drop it down a little bit more if it wasn’t in the way. I would say the problem’s mostly space. We have the general equipment to do the job; it was just a—usually just a space thing.
DT: I know that you often try to get the color really correct as opposed as just having things lit so you can see them.
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GS: Uh-huh.
DT: Can you describe some of the issues there?
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GS: You know, I just use scrims and—to knock down the intensity of the light and diffusion to knock it down. If—if it’s too—too much light, we call it too hot or if skin looks too white, or you know, you just tone it down to give it a—a more of a smooth—smooth look. And that’s what I’m going for is just smoothness.
DT: Has your approach to lighting these changed over the last two or three years?
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GS: Yeah, definitely. It’s changed over the last few weeks. Just learning, because I work as a—a grip in Hollywood. Just watching what the—the DP’s and the—the gaffers do there; I’m just learning how to look at it better, do it more simply than get the—the desired effect. I’ve realized that the guys in Hollywood that take all this time and use all those lights don’t get as good as results as the guys who do it quickly and efficiently with—with a few lights. That’s—that’s just—that’s just simplified the way I look at it and light it. When I look at it now, I think it looks better than it did. While making it I see I kind of knew what I was doing, but I’m just understanding light intensity.
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My thing now is, when I look at some—at—at the lighting, the first thing that my eye is drawn to, that, generally, is what is too hot. So I know to tone that down a little bit. So just whatever jumps out at me, I tone down a bit.
DT: You mentioned that you’ve worked in Hollywood. How would you compare a very lean documentary production like this and the lighting equipment and process at a huge studio?
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GS: They’re not comparable. Personally, I much prefer this. There’s a lot more—I have more of a creative input than I would on the Hollywood side of things. I’m just a nobody there; I’m a helper monkey. And the subject matter is far more interesting. I mean, I’m there for a paycheck in Hollywood and it’s—what I do is pretty meaningless. Whereas—and I believe in what I’m doing here, so I’m interested in the subject matter and—and it’s easier in some ways, just because I don’t have so much large pieces of equipment to cart around and cleaning up is a lot easier. But, I think, essentially, I just—I much prefer this because I—it’s more civilized.
DT: Tell me something, we’ve talked about lighting in this sort of documentary set up and in Hollywood, but I think what we’ve talked about so far is lighting indoors. Can you tell me about lighting something that’s outdoors?
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GS: I mean, the outdoors has its own challenges. When—when you’re indoors, it’s very controlled. You can turn the lights out, shut the curtains and—whereas outside you’re dealing with the sun. So, you’re dealing with clouds moving in—in front of the sun and the sun popping out from the clouds and then this—o—over time, of course, the—the sun is moving so you’ve constantly got to be readjusting. To keep it even, you have to readjust the equipment and it’s mostly just bouncing light with mirrors.
DT: Smoke and mirrors.
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GS: Yeah. You know, there’s just a matter of keeping an eye on what the sun’s doing and moving silks in to cut down intensity of the top of someone’s head or pulling it out when the clouds come in. You know, just maintaining the even look a little more. Once you set the lights indoors, you can forget about them, but outdoors, you have to keep your eye on everything. So.
DT: Are there any memorable lighting jobs that you’ve done on this project or on others? Can you explain why you liked it or why it was a bust?
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GS: The recent group of—about the last three interviews we’ve done on this tour, indoors, I’ve—I’ve enjoyed because I’m preferring the way my lighting looks. I would say the most memorable outdoor lighting for me was—was Andy Sanson—Samson—don’t re—can’t remember his last…
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GS: Because I was just particularly—because I was actually bal—we were under a tree, so I was actually bouncing light from one mirror onto another mirror and moving that into—you know, as I was actually—you know, I suppose more tri—smoke and
mirrors involved. I mean, I—I was just satisfied with the fact that we were under a shady tree but I was able to bounce light from somewhere away from the tree—under the tree and then onto the—onto his face, so. And then maintain it pretty evenly. So I—that’s—that’s the one of the outdoor ones that stands out.
DT: And have there been any that were really dissatisfying?
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GS: A lot. I’m very hard to satisfy. Very seldom I’ll look at something and be complete—you know, eventually I have to say, all right, that’s good enough, but most of them I’m not satisfied with.
DT: What’s a typical shortfall for a lighting job?
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GS: It’s generally something to do with the background or the hair light. You know, the light might be—the person may be moving a lot so the light is set in one particular way and he’s moving so much out of the way that it’s just kind of—the light’s in the wrong place. And I don’t know if it’s noticeable to other people, it’s just very noticeable to me. Or if I—I look at something later and the light was too hot, you know, I hadn’t
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knocked it down enough. But, you know, I mean, it’s—it’s a whole range of things, it’s—it’s basically to do with shadows and light. You know, I mean, I maybe always look at the face and think, well, there’s too contrast here, there’s too much nose shadow, the light was too high, there’s too much shade under the chin and they—maybe they were overweight and that enhanced that fact or, you know. I mean, there’s just some things I look at and think, well, next time I get a person like that, I’m going to have to do it differently. So it’s all just learning.
DT: So part of it is how you bring out the best features of somebody. Can you maybe give me some examples? You said that if somebody’s overweight, there’s one approach. If somebody’s short, tall, I guess there are other things you have to consider.
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GS: Yeah, I mean, it’s just basically the height of the light, the angle of the light that’s hitting them. You know, if you want to—I—it’s hard to say because there’s—there’s so many variants, but you know, but like scars or something like that. You—you don’t want to put the light in a way that it’s casting shadow the c—the scar’s making shadow on itself because then it’s really noticeable. You want to smooth that out, so you want to have as little shadow as possible on the scar. I mean, it’s just—it’s again, it’s just light
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and dark and you know, you want to, you want to, you know—if you have someone with a—the eyes are deep-set, you don’t want the light too high because then you got shadows casting on the eyes and you want a—you want those to be open because that’s essentially what people are looking at. And you want that to be as lively and alive as possible.
DW: How about everyone’s worst nightmare? People with eyeglasses.
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GS: Yeah. Well, people with glasses is a different thing, I’m getting better at dealing with that. That has to do with the height and the angle of the—the K-light because, of course, the glasses are reflecting everything. So you don’t want the reflection of your light in the glasses because you want to be able to see the eyes. So sometimes you have to forego the nice eye light just to be able to see the eyes. You know, you just want to have the glasses be clear. And you know, and various little things like that.
DT: It’s interesting; we talk about the eye light as being so key. I was visiting somebody who’s Japanese and they were saying that, for their culture, the sign of life and their individuality comes from their mouth and not from their eyes. But it seems like in the Western world, it’s the light in their eyes and the color of their eyes and how their eyes move. Is that something that you really try and focus on when you’re lighting somebody is how their eyes look?
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GS: Well, I—you know, I try and be even across the whole face, but I def—you definitely want—if—if there’s no light in the eyes, it’s—person is look—it’s—it’s—I just say is dead, there’s just this dullness because what you have is these dark pla—you know, it’s just dark spots on their face. And what you want to do it, you know, there’s moisture in eyes. And so that’s what, you know, that’s what lights. I mean, ev—even when you’re talking to someone during the day, you know, as Westerners, I suppose, we
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look at their face a lot, and if they’re always in the shadow and dull, you—I mean, they say windows are the eyes to the soul. Well, you have to be able to look in the windows, so. I mean, that’s—that’s what I try and do, just make sure that the eyes pop out.
DT: That’s helpful. I guess we also want to hear the soul and you’ve been doing the sound for this whole project. Can you tell us anything about the equipment you’ve used and the approach you’ve used for that?
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GS: It’s pretty simple. I just have a Shure—a little Shure mixer and depending on the situation, we have a Lavalier mike or we have a mike on the boom. It’s relatively simple, it’s basically get the right level for the camera and leave it there, make any adjustments. I mean, sometimes a person warms up their voice gets louder or they get more animated or excited about what they’re talking about so you have to turn it up or down a little bit, but there really isn’t a whole lot to it.
DT: If the sound is too high or too low, what happens? It doesn’t pick up, or you get interference?
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GS: Well, if it’s too high, you might get distortion, which you can’t get rid of. So you want to keep your levels at a range that—and I—it’s—it’s smoothness, so you can, you know. Nice volume, it’s—it’s really simple.
DT: What if you’ve got, and we’ve done just a few of them, but we’ve had three or four interviews with two people. How do you do sound for two people?
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GS: Depending on the situation. I mean, we’ve done walk and talk type stuff where you still have to boom each one individually, but we’ve had some that we’ve set up—I can’t remember how we did those. I mean, we either had a—a boom in the middle that was picking up both of their voices or perhaps they both had Lavelier mikes on or something, but.
DW: The question I have is, if the majority of your work is on large budget or Hollywood style films, what techniques have you been able to take from the professional television and motion picture industry and transplant onto what you do here?
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GS: I would say how to take care of the equipment. You know, I’m—I have a pretty specific way of putting things away and—and dealing with them, and where to put them down and where not to put them down. I like to put my stuff in one area to work with, so it’s efficient, so I can just go to one place and—and work rather than have it spread around. As far as techniques, I’ve learned the importance of—and how simple Chimera’s make lighting. Gives a nice even spread, you don’t have to worry about the light being so focused. I use a Chimera on the K-light and the hair light, whereas on the hair light, I
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didn’t used to, I just use a small light and focus it and it’s a lot quicker. It’s—it looks a lot nicer because it’s a—an even spread soft light rather than a focused hard light that I’m always trying to step down. That would be the lighting side. You know, just by watching I’ve just learned how to do things more simply. That’s about it as far as the—the big productions. I have to—I’ve learned that I need to eat every six hours. Being in a union, they’re pretty strict about that sort of thing, so, you know. That’s about it.
DW: The second question was?
DT: Let me ask one more question about actually the technical production of this stuff. We typically have two interviews a day. Interviews take two hours and we are always pressed for time. How do you make it so that it’s a quick set up and a quick breakdown?
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GS: I would say, sort of what I had just been talking about, where I like to keep—I pack the tr—the van in a certain way so I know exactly where everything goes every time so I’m not worried about where things go. You know, I know exactly what equipment
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we’re going to need, typically, so I bring out what I expect to use and maybe an extra C stand in case I have to set a flag I wasn’t thinking about, that maybe the light spilling somewhere I don’t want it. And I mean, David and I have been doing this for so long, we have it pretty much down. He knows what he’s dealing with, I know what I’m dealing with and we just take it out and put it away. So I’m—it’s just—it’s just a matter of doing it enough that we have it down and know what we’re going to need that we don’t have too much extra. You know, I don’t—try not to forget something. I mean, every now and then, I do. It means an extra trip to the van.
DT: Well, you mentioned David Weisman. Can you explain how you divide the work between David’s responsibilities and yours and where they overlap and how you all help each other as well?
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GS: I think, primarily, I deal with the lights and the grip equipment. Primarily, he deals with the camera. And then, we kind of have an overlap with the sound equipment. He’ll pull out the mixer, attach it to the camera, and depending on where we are in the setups, either he or I will attach the mikes to the mixer and get that going.
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I mean, that’s—that’s kind of where we overlap. The boom, I’ll typically put it up on a stand while he’s sort of taking out the mixer and the—handling the—the cables and stuff like that. So I’d say sound, we def—we definitely have an overlap. And lighting, once I’ve got the basics, I’ll ask him if he likes it, if there’s anything else he’d like different because he’s—he’s basically setting up the background and the pr—you know, the props in the background, that sort of thing, so. There’s a little over—overlap at the end just to make sure that we’re both happy and satisfied with what we’re looking at.
DT: Did you have any other question about production?
GS: About the production itself? No. I think the production is pretty thorough.
DT: OK. I’d like to follow up with a question about what you’ve learned, gained from the project or on the flip side, things that you’ve been disappointed about in the project over the last three years?
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GS: There’s two main things. The first is, when we first came on to this project, David and I had been doing stuff like this before. We’d been interviewing
environmentalists and your—your government P.R. guys, the guys who are good at saying nothing with a whole lot of words. So when we first came on the project and we were listening to the people—although the—the areas were—were different, the—the basic problems are the same. It’s the dealing with the bureaucracy, dealing with these corporations that have a lot of money and so it’s hard to—to fight, you—to fight that. And when—when we had been—we’d been together, I think, pro—what, about three years? And I think the first year of that, I spent being depressed. Because it just seemed
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there was so much bad news and it was such an uphill battle that we were doomed. Then for the next two years, I just learned how to deal with that. I mean, I accept it and do my job and try to live my life and not be too upset, you know, not carry that all on my shoulders all the time. And I think—so initially, when I came onto this project, it was more of the same. It was like, well yeah, there’s these nice people on the right side, doing what they should be doing, and here’s the bad guys making it impossible for everybody. You know, and—but I think that over time on this, I have definitely—now I
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have this feeling of hope because I think there’s a lot more people aware than I originally thought. And we are fighting this uphill battle, but, I mean, over time my philosophies have changed a little bit. But, definitely I think, we come to Texas and there’s this many people involved in trying to improve the environment and conserve and get a message out that—there’s this many people in Texas, well, that’s a large country. You know, there’s at least this many in every other state and it’s a movement that’s larger than I originally thought and I think that the message is reaching a lot more ears than I originally thought.
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So I definitely—you know, I mean, other than the technical information that I’ve learned, I think the—the main thing is that I have now a feeling of hope that we can actually turn it around. That’s if George W. and his cronies don’t kill us all before. I definitely think peace would help the movement go a little quicker, you know. And then I think the second thing, it’s just a personal thing, it’s—you know, I’ve always been into animals and viewed them as—as equals in a way. And that they’re these living, breathing beings who have as much right to the world and its resources and a decent life as we do. And
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you know, I—we’ve been to these stockyards and these pig factories and, you know, I was definitely—definitely not a nice place to be. And this just—these animals are going through their own personal Holocaust day in, day out and the only reason that—that I see that they would ever stop the practices that they’re—that they use to raise and slaughter these animals is because of the effect it has on humans. You know, as far as pollution or, whatever, the smell. Nobody seems to care that these—these beings are going through this nightmare, I mean, an incredible nightmare. If we wrote a story about it, about a
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human going through it, it would be this terrible thing. But people just don’t seem to care, I mean, meat comes from a supermarket. You know, they don’t seem to care that, well, the animal had no life before they killed it. You know, which I think is a tragedy, and that it’s a shame that people have lost sight of these beings, you know, and that they have feelings. Well, I suppose some people don’t believe that they do, you know, but they have these complex societies that they live in in their natural habitat and I think we should at least allow them to have that before we kill them. You know.
DT: You talked about some of the wildlife and some of these animals that we consider livestock. What do you think about the people you’ve met and their own lives and attitudes and personalities?
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GS: I like them. I mean, they—they come from all different walks of life and have very different personalities, but they all have—they’ve all recognized certain things about life and the planet and nature and conservation, so they’re all on that same road. And I
think that I’m more likely to meet ranchers or farmers that have a different attitude about respecting animals, I mean, from—from various—for various reasons, but, I mean, the—the majority of the people that deal with livestock seem to be in agreement that you treat the animal in the humane way and, you know, you’ll get a better—you’ll get a better product and you’ll have a happier—happier animal. I mean, I think they understand that there’s sort of the natural way to do things and the unnatural way. And they, you know—
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I—I—I just think they’re all good people who understand the—the bigger picture. It’s not just about their bottom line.
DT: And what about the people in your own life, whether it’s David Weisman or Trey or Jamie, do you see them differently or do you feel like you relate to them differently after what you’ve learned from these people?
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GS: Not really, I mean, because I go and I talk about it. I’m definitely opinionated, so I know I’ll make my opinions known. And there’s certain people, my brother, in
particular, who just thinks I’m exaggerating, doesn’t grasp the fact that I’m really not exaggerating, that I—I actually don’t know how bad it is. You know, he just seems to think that politicians are—are, you know—are in it for us and they’ll make sure that it all comes right and technology is, you know—he just thinks it’s all going to be OK. Which frustrates me, but I think Trey, he’s just having a fun. He’s done—he’s learning about nature the right way, he’s getting to play in it and enjoy it. You know, he has three wooded acres to—to play in and, I mean, he’s barely explored that at his age, he has—he
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has no idea what’s beyond the trees, you know. So. And m—and Jamie, my wife, is—she’s basically shares my opinion. She’s not a—she’s not exposed to it as much but she understands the value of clean air and nature and you know.
DT: Have you actually changed the way you think when you have to make a personal decision about purchases, products, lifestyle choices? Do you find that after the years of listening to all of this, you make choices in a different way now and have you made any choices that would reflect that, that are different now than five years ago?
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GS: I do make choices, I—I find that I’m more conflicted most of the time than actively doing something. I mean, for example, we moved from Los Angeles to Columbia Falls, Montana and they don’t recycle. They don’t have the facilities, so the only thing you can recycle is basically cardboard. All your mixed paper gets thrown away, there’s stuff that we used to recycle in L.A. that we can’t now. So, I mean, I’ve—I’ve even gone as far as saying, well, I wonder if it would be profitable to start a recycling center? You know, I don’t know, I’ve got to investigate it more, so I found
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myself conflicted because I’m throwing things away that I know needn’t be thrown away. And then, we’re doing work on the house, I go to Home Depot because at Home Depot I can get my tools cheaper and my lumber cheaper and I understand exactly the reason why, but then again…
DT: Why they’re cheaper.
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GS: Yeah, because of the—sort of these—the—the corporate nature. You know, it’s not—it’s not the—the Mom and Pop hardware store can’t provide me with the stuff
that—that inexpensively and in one way I want to support the Mom and Pop thing, but on the other hand, it’s like, well, ten dollars for a level is significant, you know. So I’ll tend to go to Home Depot and get it. So I—it’s—it’s confl—I—I’m just more conflicted about the things I do, not necessarily completely changed what I do. I am—I have changed the way I eat, you know, I tend to buy organically grown and which is—I’m finding it harder to get in Columbia Falls, which is a—a largely agricultural area. You
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know, it’s—it’s kind of silly that it works that way. It costs me more to buy the stuff there than it did in L.A. Yeah, and like, I mean, that’s about it. I—I’m conflicted.
DT: Let me ask you something. David and I both grew up in the United States, in different parts, David’s from the east coast, New Jersey and New York and I’m from Texas. But you have a very peculiar, interesting background, you growing up in Zimbabwe, in many ways a developing country. And I’m wondering what your attitude is coming to the United States that’s this dynamic economy with incredible consumption levels and standard of life. What’s your reaction and how’s it changed since you’ve gotten somewhat assimilated here?
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GS: My first impression when I came to the U.S. was everybody was spoiled and nobody ever had any discipline in their lives. My college experience, I was—I spent a lot of my time sort of looking at people with disdain, I couldn’t believe the disrespect they
showed the teachers, I couldn’t believe the—this—how childish they were. You know, I was thinking, for their age they—they should be more mature, but I mean, that was some of my initial impression. I couldn’t believe the luxuries here, and not partic—not really being aware, environmentally or anything at that point. I mean, that was just a big treat, I couldn’t believe how—you know, people were complaining about the price of gas and I’d be laughing, filling my gas tank because it only took a, you know, a few dollars whereas in Zimbabwe, it was a lot more expensive. So, you know, and now that I’ve learned that,
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well, 5% of the world’s population consumes 60% of the world’s resources and produces 60% of the pollution and pr—and consumes 90% of the world’s cocaine production and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I mean, there’s this—there’s also this, I feel conflicted because one—so I can—I’m not a citizen, so I can turn around and say, well, you Americans, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh. But, I’m part of it, I’m part of the consuming and, you know, I didn’t go buy a yacht or anything. I have a nice big, 2400 square foot home with a hardwood staircase, and you know, so. I—I wish there were more alternatives, I
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wish that it was easier not to have to sort of buy into a system that I know is—is conflicted, I don’t know. It’s—but my impression is still Americans very spoiled, very undisciplined and don’t realize just how good they have it. And I think they don’t realize how—they’re not—America’s not as free as Americans think it is and I think they only think that because they haven’t been other places. You know, it’s a lot freer than Zimbabwe, but I think that there’s sort of this 1984 thing of new speaker whatever where you’re sort of limited. You’re—you’re fed only a limited amount of information so that you’re limited in your ability to think. You know, and I think that that’s a—not enough Americans are stepping back and thinking enough about what the government is doing. It’s definitely the people have lost control of the government, but they’re still being told they haven’t. And I think too many people are still buying it.
DT: Well, given your awareness of the environmental problems here, both from up close where you’ve talked to all these people, and also from afar, being from a foreign country, and then knowing some of the limits on the government here, what do you foresee for the future? What are the challenges and opportunities?
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GS: I don’t know. It’s—well, there’s a lot of turmoil going on right now so I’m a little less clear than I used to be. I think things are going to change one way or another
whether Bush starts war or doesn’t. The challenge is getting everybody aware and—and, you know not—I don’t know, getting some—getting the right people in government who don’t get corrupted by the money and the corporate—corporations being more, you know, just concerned about the environment rather than their bottom line. And then I guess the—the big challenge is getting that to happen. Hopefully, there’ll be a huge revolution, you know, probably not as violent as I envision it, hopefully, there’ll be a
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change in, you know, globally, in the way people think, but especially here. Because I think that most other places—most—first of all, places—Eur—Europeans is kind of what I’m—I’m thinking about—tend to understand a lot better the—the—the problems that are here and—and that Am—America definitely is behind in the environmental movement. The Green Party doesn’t exist here, which is a shame.
DT: Well, you have this young strapping boy at home, what sort of advice would you give him as he grows older and tries to confront some of these problems and deal with the challenges?
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GS: I don’t know. Just—I just want to make—try and make him aware that, well, give him an awareness of how wonderful and important nature is and, I mean, you brought it up earlier, I’ve always believed in—in people being treated fairly. And not only people,
animals and everything else, to give him this—so, you know, that—that we need to be concerned about other people and places and see what he can do with it from there. You know, kind of show him what I’ve been doing and hopefully he’ll have an interest in it, or even be conscious enough that he’ll just take it with him in whatever he does.
DT: You’ve been fortunate to travel all over Africa and the Far East with David Weisman and even in, kind of odd places in Texas. Do you have any favorite spot that you enjoy visiting or thinking about?
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GS: I have several. The first place in Zimbabwe is a place called World’s View. It’s in the Matopos area which is sort of south of the country and it’s this granite outcrop—I w—I wouldn’t know what—what to call it but, you’re—you’re basically looking down into a valley and it looks like you can see the world because it’s such a vast view and just incredibly beautiful and it’s really, in my mind, is—is where everything beautiful about Zimbabwe, as far as nature. More recently, in—in here, I would say one of my new
00:37:06 – 2231
favorite places is Glacier National Park. I live just near it now and just, if you want spectacular, grand beauty, I mean, that’s the place to go with the snowcapped mountains and mountains and lakes and, I mean, it’s just—it’s huge. And then, I have a—just a personal spot in my three wooded acres, there’s just a little spot I like to go to, just to get away from—from everything, you know. I’ll just go off there by myself and spend a little time, just a few minutes, whatever, and it’s just very quiet and the squirrels and birds and…
DT: Pigeon?
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GS: Well, he’s not there. Just me and, you know, it’s just—just my own little spot of nature right in my yard which is—I’m very thankful to—to have the opportunity to have it.
DT: Anything you’d like to add?
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GS: Not really.
[End of Reel 2231]
[End of Interview with Gary Spalding]