Adam Jones and Darby Duffin directed, produced, and assisted in writing the documentary Fish & Men.
The documentary explores the current import and consumption of seafood within our modern economy. The high demand for five species of fish leads to dire consequences for local fishermen, communities, and public health. Fish & Men provides a local and global outlook to the current fishing crisis while also implementing solutions. They advise viewers to be cautious of where their seafood is distributed and urge them to buy locally. Sustaining these fundamental ideals and having chefs implement specials such as “catch of the day” can lead to behavioral habits that improve the seafood supply chain.
Jones and Duffin created Fish & Men to express the effects on the global seafood economy that are threatening fishing communities. Each individual within the film has a direct connection and allows the film to flow and inform viewers. They provide both a personal perspective as well as scientific elements as an additional layer to the story.
Our correspondent Rebecca Eugene spoke with Jones and Duffin about their motives in creating this documentary and what viewers should take away from the film.
The Knockturnal: What made you want to create a documentary based on the global seafood economy threatening fishing communities and public health? How did the idea come about?
Darby Duffin: Ten years ago, while living in coastal New Hampshire, I had an unexpected conversation with a woman who was the wife of a local fisherman. It was through this chance meeting that I first became aware of the grim plight of New England’s centuries-old fishing communities and it was a conversation that would haunt me for the next two years.
During that time, a relentless curiosity drove me to discover how this iconic American trade so intrinsic to the cultural fabric and economic vitality of the region had devolved into a slow, quiet death spiral. Worse, it seemed to be going mostly unnoticed. Seafood still appeared in the local fish markets. But, when you took a closer look, nearly all of it was coming from abroad.
In early 2013, a documentary film contest and reality TV show came across my radar. I had started my career in film production and development in Los Angeles before changing course to a career in communications. But, I’d always wanted to make a doc. This story had all the elements of a great film, so I developed the story synopsis and pitched it. The winner got $250K to make the film and distribution through Vince Vaughn’s production company. I was a finalist out of 5,000 submissions. A proof of concept. But no deal.
After pitching a handful of other producers, it didn’t take long to discover that getting financing for an independent documentary was nearly impossible – especially for a first-time filmmaker. Finally, I reached out to an old college buddy, Adam Jones, who was a commercial director and made a few shorts. I pitched him the idea over lunch and we left two hours later partners.
Adam Jones: I wanted to join Darby in this endeavor because I couldn’t believe this film hadn’t been made yet. It seems so important–and frankly obvious–that if we Americans keep demanding the same 5 species of fish from the sea, because we refuse to change our demands, that those species will become depleted. This conundrum led us to the whole idea that it’s our lazy palate that is mostly to blame, and chef’s have the power to change what we consider delicious, and these forces can actually determine livelihoods of fishing communities, as well as the regulations of the fisheries themselves. It’s a mind-blower, and hopefully that comes through clearly in the film.
The Knockturnal: How does the documentary Fish & Men differ from others films regarding the fishing industry?
Darby Duffin: Our film is very different from other fishing films. Recent fishing films have been a “doom and gloom” story focusing on a very local issue without giving any relevance for people outside the region to care, i.e. how does this impact someone in Iowa? Nor did they present any connection to the bigger global system at work. or offer much in the way of a solution. Other films have vilified fishermen including a very popular recent fishing doc portrayed fishermen as the very cause of the ocean’s problems.
We took on the difficult task of not just reporting on the dire state of the fishing industry but trying to untangle the very complex web of why this is, then attempt to find some rays of hope at the end of the tunnel. Doing this required understanding and distilling all of the regulations and competing interests of fisheries management in the U.S.,but then depicting their primary competition – i.e., foreign fish, which in many countries are virtually unregulated and lack any transparency or traceability. So, connecting the dots from the micro to the macro of the global system was always important.
Finally, our film really turns the lens back on the viewer, the seafood consumer in all of us. We present some innovative opportunities with pioneering chefs trying to lead us back to the promised land of seeking out local, seasonal fish which really is the epicenter of hope. These are the influencers who have the potential to really move the needle on guiding seafood eaters to change their behavior to embrace a “catch of the day” mentality when eating seafood.
Adam Jones: Number one, we celebrate the iconic American small boat fisherman. The history, the nobility, the dangerous and hard work. We do not vilify these fishermen. Secondly, we also offer solutions. We try to reveal hopeful, intelligent ideas and innovation that can apply to micro/macro, local/global situations that keep getting more dire. We believe that we Americans should be eating MORE seafood, but we need to eat the right seafood, and we deserve to know where it comes from, which is fundamental to sustainability. But this takes effort. Effort all the way through the supply chain, and especially with the viewer/consumer. So ask the next time you’re at a restaurant. They should be able to tell you.
The Knockturnal: As the film develops viewers are able to follow and hear from different individuals. What was the thought process when trying to make the movie flow strictly through the dialogue of each person?
Darby Duffin: Early on, we discussed the option of using a narrator or not. We both felt that employing this device would dilute the authenticity that we were striving for. So, we embraced the idea of having our characters drive the story in a more organic flow. In many ways, it’s a much more difficult path to follow. You can’t force the story to pivot when you want because your characters have to take you there. But, most importantly, I think there’s a strong temptation to lead the audience down a predetermined path that you want them to go down. We were not looking to make an advocacy film and I think it can turn into a slippery slope very quickly if one’s not careful.
Adam Jones: Personally as a doc filmmaker, I’ll leave the voiceovers to masters like Ken Burns and Morgan Spurlock. We wanted the stories to be told by the folks who are invested in the first person.
The Knockturnal: What do you want viewers to take away from Fish & Men? What is the goal you want to reach with this documentary?
Darby Duffin: If a viewer walks away from our movie with a deeper connection to the fishermen who risk their lives to harvest our seafood, I think this is a good start. Moreover, my hope is that Americans begin to develop the habit of asking where their seafood came from and seeking a variety of local fish.
Adam Jones: Eat more seafood. Eat American seafood. Eat wild-caught seafood if you can. Ask where your fish comes from. Know your fisherman. Also, American small boat fishermen do not want to decimate the fish stocks, they don’t overfish. They follow rules set by NOAA and the US is the most highly regulated fishery in the world. As we reveal this has been a rocky road and the answers are often murky. Imported fish is where things become questionable because of lax or no regulations, and the use of toxic additives to fish as they are shipped all around the world to and from China with tens of thousands of food miles on them and potential risks to public health. Buy local. Eat something unfamiliar.
The Knockturnal: What kind of challenges did you come across while creating Fish & Men?
Darby Duffin: Ha – so many that it’s hard to think of a short answer here. Every phase seems to have its own unique challenges and we’ve had to wear a lot of hats. Making this film required more perseverance, patience, and sacrifice than I had ever imagined. From operating a camera with frozen fingers on the deck of a boat in January to managing the anxiety of running multiple crowdfunding campaigns to help fill the financing gap – this film extracted every ounce of ingenuity, energy, and adaptability that I could muster. Certainly, financing is a constant challenge. This is a universal experience for independent documentary filmmakers. We had to finance 50% of this film ourselves and so, both of us have given six years of lives and a down payment on a house to finish this film.
There’s way more… watching a drone fall into the sea in Norway, finding a great editor (we eventually did), navigating the festival circuit, licensing, legal, searching for distribution – a seemingly endless line of obstacles to overcome.
Adam Jones: They say you spend 20 percent shooting and 80 percent in post. This is completely true, in terms of both money and elbow grease. Besides financing, the edit was gargantuan, and we didn’t know what we were getting into. The edit took almost 2 years. It’s such an info-rich film, with lots of science and geography and history, etc. It’s a lot to frame and craft into something that the viewer can also be emotionally invested in. This took lots of trial and error in the edit process.
The Knockturnal: During the creation process you had to run multiple crowdfunding campaigns to help fill the financing gap. Which lead you both to end up financing 50 percent of the budget yourselves. What motivated you both to continue? What was the discussion like when making that decision?
Darby Duffin: I don’t think we ever envisioned having to finance this much of the film ourselves – I know I didn’t (ha). We just set out early on thinking we might have a few bills here or there before we got grants and investors. But, we soon discovered how hard it is to win grants and get investors. By that point, we were so deep into the film that there was no turning back. I think we both just eventually accepted that finishing this film was going to require swallowing some bitter pills. But, we both knew we had the makings of a very good film and so giving up was just never an option. We were going to scratch and claw our way to the finish line no matter what it took. I think indie filmmaking requires a level of unshakable resolve.
Adam Jones: The discussion goes like this, “we owe tens of thousands of dollars and we have so much more to do and we’re out of money and our wives are pissed that we keep spending our own and we have come too far to stop so we either fall into the abyss of utter waste and wallow in the doc ghetto, or we proceed. We must proceed.” Maybe not word for word but that’s pretty close. I’m not sure anyone gets into the doc game with the hopes of making lots of money. You have to do it for the love of the craft, the subject matter, and the drive to make something good, or just stop. Just don’t.
The Knockturnal: The entire film took about 8 years to create along with countless hours spent on the film. What advice would you give to other filmmakers and creatives who are interested in creating a project that may take a lengthy amount of time?
Darby Duffin: If you believe in your story and have a deep conviction to bring it to life, then the commitment has to be all in. It will get rough. It will be harder and take longer than you ever imagined. But, if you never give up, you will make it.
Adam Jones: Making a film is hard. Making a good film is harder. And actually getting a film across a finish line and out into the world with some success, well, you’re in the 95th percentile. You can’t possibly know how hard it is so expect it to be hard. Especially your first film. If you have $$ upfront, good for you but most times first-timers don’t. So be prepared to either beat the film into submission or be beat into submission yourself.
Also, edit while you shoot, don’t let 400 hours of footage pile up then plop it onto an editor’s lap and say, ‘go.’