Journal 1001: Someguy does some journal writing at a screening of '1000 Journals' during SFIFF51. (Photo by Tommy Lau)

Riffling through '1000 Journals' with Someguy

Michael Fox July 28, 2008

In 2000, a San Francisco graphic designer with the humble pseudonym of Someguy had a wildly ambitious brainstorm. He put a thousand blank journals out into the world in stages, opening the spigot on a torrent of contributions encompassing everything from knocked-off diary entries to poignant confessions to obsessively crafted art. Nonetheless, after three years, only a single completed book of 220 pages had made its way back to Someguy. The 1000 Journals project has mushroomed in the intervening years, inspiring both a book drawn from journal entries and a documentary, 1000 Journals, that tracks down participants around the globe and raises a host of fascinating questions about creativity, collaboration, community and communication. We sat down with Someguy and first-time director Andrea Kreuzhage, a German producer who’s lived in Los Angeles since the mid-‘90s, during the first of three screenings of 1000 Journals in the S.F. International Film Festival. What was the genesis of the film?

Andrea Kreuzhage: I heard about the 1000 Journals project when one of the one thousand, #526, had returned to Someguy full. And I saw the pages of this journal posted online and immediately started to wonder what happened with the other nine hundred and ninety nine. Why would this one come back, but none of the others? Why would one complete its journey and of so many others we haven’t heard? I didn’t stop thinking about that for about two or three weeks, and I took notes, whatever I was able to research I researched. I started to try to understand this project, the journey, the people who added to it. That was the point when I contacted Someguy by email, and found out who he is, and sent him what I’d written to this point, and he liked it and we agreed to meet and the next day I flew to San Francisco to meet. As you say, the Internet was an element of the project early on. Let’s talk a bit about technology, because most people will see the film on a computer monitor or TV screen or iPhone. Is that a problem for you aesthetically?

Kreuzhage: Of course, as filmmakers we spend an unbelievable amount of money and an unbelievable amount of time to treat the minutest detail of each frame. I’m particularly proud of this film because it’s HD and we’re very much pioneering a new medium. It’s fantastic to see it projected at this beautiful cinema with the very good projector they have. As to how people take in films these days, the interesting thing is that I’m not really too concerned in the case of 1000 Journals because we are part of the web culture. And both Someguy for the project and I for the film created web sites filled with images, so [people] click on the link and they see a four-page, [or] even a printable, version of the page. I have downloadable images from the film including stills of the art, and it’s all there. So in the case of 1000 Journals, whichever way people want to screen it, if they want to see a little bit more, it’s only a mouse click away.

Someguy: With regards to how the Internet, the web site, affected the nature of the project, I think mostly it’s about community. The people that were attracted to it would pass it along to their friends, and through those connections it became more artists or more writers or more whatever it may be. One of the things I found interesting was that certain journals take on different personalities, meaning if the first person who starts it does a journal entry—lots of writing—people after them do a lot of writing. If someone does crazy artwork to begin a journal, everyone afterwards feels as they have to do beautiful artwork as well. On the web site, sometimes the images that get highlighted are the ones that reproduce better in that medium, which are mostly visual. I could see how it would feel a more skewed toward art and less toward writing. There’s a sequence in the film about these two young women in Australia who paint over other people’s entries. What do you think about people treating your film in a similar way—say, uploading it and doing mash-ups? Just as Someguy had no control once he sent out the blank journals, you would have no control.

Kreuzhage: For people to take this work, which costs considerable amounts of money, and to then mash it up and put it out as their own, of course I would call my attorney. (Laughs.) I just need to give it to you straight. However, if I upload something to the Internet, let’s say to YouTube, and then it pops up at someone else’s site, I’m very cool with this. After two or three weeks [of one’s posts] on YouTube, they show you similarly themed work, so [I saw that] this girl just put up—while flipping through 1000 Journals or while seeing the trailer for 1000 Journals—she made a derivative video in her bedroom just speaking her thoughts. Supercool. Absolutely great. This is perfect. It’s almost refreshing to hear someone in the digital age assert ownership of their work.

Kreuzhage: The film cost [x] dollars. So this is not like a communal, collaborative kind of an I-lay-my-layer-on-top-of-yours enterprise, just by definition. Period. It’s a traditional film about a very fleeting, collaborative artwork. There’s stuff on the Internet, on all these web sites, so people can grab that all the time, and alter it, and then play with it, and add to it, and none of us would ever—we invite this. A lot of documentaries are a document, an ending, but your film feels like a beginning.

Kreuzhage: The film is just one creative result or work in the context of 1000 Journals and the underlying theme here is not one person telling one story. This is taking all our talents and the communities worldwide together, and crafting who we are in this time. Whatever, whichever, way we have to do that. Many people have asked me, ‘So what have you put into the journals?’ I said, ‘I haven’t put a single thing in any of these journals and I’m probably the one person in the world who’s seen and touched most of them.’ Someguy, of course, did all the one thousand, created them, so he touched 1,000 journals when they were virgins. I got to meet them in the field, I got to meet them in the world. [I’m] somebody who takes a camera, asks questions and makes people try to understand what connects us and what keeps us apart. And it’s ongoing. 1,000 led to 1,001 which has now over 4,000 active members with journals out. Kevin Kelley, who we interviewed for the film, said that this could also be described as the ’1,000-Year Project.’ Your grandchildren may find a journal in the attic in the books. We don’t know. As you say, the 1000 Journals project was the seed for 1001 Journals. Has the film become a seed yet?

Kreuzhage: After the second screening we had, a spontaneous journal crew formed, about 10 people, random people, felt like they wanted to get together, write a manifesto and start their own journal among themselves. Of course, this is absolutely delightful. It’s not so much about one page, and then compared to the next page. It’s not a competition. It’s not who makes the nicest page. It’s completely removed from the standards of creation, where somebody creates it and it’s yours and only yours. People put stuff on top of each other, and scratch it away. There’s a scene late in the film of Someguy meeting with Chronicle Books. Interestingly, there’s almost no discussion in the film of art versus commerce. I’m pretty certain that money wasn’t in Someguy’s mind when he began the 1000 Journals project, but did that change as time went on?

Kreuzhage: It’s an excellent question. We spent a lot of time talking about it. I think a very interesting interview is the one preceding Chronicle Books, the one with [the curator] at SFMOMA, who said, What’s the long-term plan with this? She raised the question [of] how to preserve [the journals]. Is it about people handling them? Then they will fall apart. What’s an institution like a museum doing with this? The 1000 Journals project was not about artifacts behind glass, like some crown jewel behind glass no one can crack. This is really about people touching and adding to them. Someguy thinks that no page is ever complete. You can always scribble on top, you can always make your little space on the page. So that’s very counter to what a museum does. Most museums understand that they need to preserve art. So this is from its essence, from its whole gestalt, a completely different animal.

Someguy: I still think [money is] not really in my mind. When the project started, a lot of people were asking why don’t I put ads on it or why don’t I get a sponsor. The whole point was to keep this completely independent of any financial motivation. Once you have a sponsor, once you have ads up there, it becomes something different. The book was sort of the first venture into, Yeah, I want to have more people see it, but I also had to consider, What do you put on the cover that’s going to make people want to buy this book? Because, obviously, Chronicle Books, they’re getting into it because they need to sell books. That was probably the first time that I had to consider, Can this make a publisher money? Can I break even on this project? But at this point, it’s still a money-loser. (Laughs.) It’s not like I’m ever going to recoup the time, or the cost of the journals, even.

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