Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


"A Nightingale Among Ye": Behind the Scenes

Salt radio alum '06, Sam Greenspan, offers some advice on how to do a non-narrated piece up on PRX's youthcast livejournal.


I bet you're wondering where we've been.

Yeah, the blog's looking a little sleepy lately, but don't let that fool you. Sleep definitely isn't in our vocabulary these days. With all the really substantial due dates, pieces to produce, radio tours and group critiques, I don't think I've really slept for days. Well, slept on purpose, at least. There have been many nights in the past few weeks where I wake up face down in a pile of my transcripts and wonder where I am for a minute. Sometimes, thankfully, it's in my own bedroom. On other, more merciless days, I wake up at a coffee shop or drooling on my desk at Salt.

What do I dream about? Well, have you ever fallen asleep after playing Tetris, only to dream that you're playing more Tetris? Well, that's kinda what happens when I work in pro-tools. I spend hours and hours tweaking regions, cross-fading dialogue with ambient sounds, cropping and moving and copying until, finally, all I can see are the brightly colored regions behind my eyelids. Sometimes, as I fall asleep, I actually HEAR the quotes I've been playing with all day. And in my sleep, I dream about how I can edit them in pro-tools to make a better piece. I once dreamt my subject called me back and told me the story I've been dying to hear from her all semester. Then I dreamt I edited it together, only to wake up and realize I was still on my first draft.

I talked to a couple of other radio students about this phenomenon, and they said they'd dreamt about pro-tools, too. A lot of them see the regions and waveforms in their sleep. One of them said she'd talked about her story so much that even her boyfriend was dreaming about her piece.

Sometimes I think that if our subjects only knew how much we thought about the time we spend with them and how long we stare at and analyze it, they'd appreciate us more. Maybe they'd even let us into their lives a little further. Other days I think it's best they don't know. If they realized I was hearing and seeing our interactions in my sleep, they might not ever let me come back.


you might have to wreck it.

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting on a screened-in porch with a painter who fidgets and a comic-book illustrator who lives in his moccasins and talks to his cat. Both men have ridiculous vocabularies and, ironically, both had a wandering left eye. That's besides the point, though.
The painter is Charlie, I've been writing about him the past month. Dennis is his buddy. They talk to each other about their crafts. During their porch chat Dennis interrupted Charlie to say something that explains much of what the "Salt experience" has been for me these past weeks. Dennis said, "If it isn’t working you might have to wreck it in order to break it open.” Salt ripped my writing away during the first few weeks. Poetry, gone. Artsy language, gone. Clutter, gone. Rip, wreck, rip. I was pissed. Now I'm grateful.
It's hard to put into words what I've had to learn through, well, doing. So instead of babbling I'll leave you with an image.

When I first met Charlie he had just covered his whole painting palette with black. I was startled until he explained that too much color eventually becomes distracting and he has to smother it and start over. I understood when he smeared fresh red oil paint on the black surface.
Wreck it. Strip it down. Start over. And all of a sudden you have something striking. A splash of red cutting through the dark. A compelling story.


What is Salt?

You should all check out the Third Coast Blog on On this blog, short doc award winner, David Maxon, tries to answer the question we've all asked outselves at one time or another: What is Salt?

Also: Who's this guy?

Blogoween: An Audio Post

Here's a brand new audio blog post for your Trick or Treat playlists. In it, I try to answer the age old question: what happens when you dress up a room full of documentarians (and some of their teachers) in costumes? Also, I want to apologize to everyone who isn't a current student-- there are a bunch of things in here that need a whole lot of context. To listen, all you need to do is click on the link below to download the file.

"Blogoween" by Andrea Silenzi