We talked to Dicky Dahl and Melissa Laurie, the creators of the XRAY TV series Crazy Possible, about artistic disillusionment, environmental preservation, and cool ranch Doritos.
Before we talk about the show tell me a little about yourselves. How long have you been involved in filmmaking?
Melissa: This is my first film project, I have no previous experience in it.
Dicky: I’ve been working as a filmmaker, I stumbled into film a long time back I guess in 2000 I ended up partnering on a feature documentary about Ramblin Jack Elliott called The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack and I’ve been trying to make it as a filmmaker ever since *knocks on wood.*
Melissa: It did festivals.
Dicky: It won an award at Sundance and was in theaters. The director of that and I were married and we moved to L.A. and worked for several years at making another film that eventually stalled along with our marriage, and then moved to Portland and made my first film about that transition, about starting over sort of a midlife crisis or coming of age story *laughs* called The Curio.
Melissa: And it’s a character in Crazy Possible
Dicky: The film is?
Dicky: It’s alluded to certainly because after The Curio, that’s where the story of Crazy Possible picks up after I completed The Curio and got together with Melissa. I was feeling jaded about the whole thing because I got my hopes up about the film and it ended up getting very poor reception out in the film festival scene. I’m also the founder of something called Great Notion filmmaker collective. Which is a number of local feature filmmakers who came together to pool our resources and promotional efforts. I’m kind of jack of all trades filmmaker.
People talk all the time about dropping everything and going on a big trip but people rarely actually do it. What made you guys actually follow through?
Dicky: I think it was kind of disillusionment on both our parts
Melissa: We were very burnt out with the path we had been on, for me it was, when your current life becomes untenable you just cannot proceed on the path that you have been on and it’s confusing still to me even. There are times where you stop just being aware of the problems in your life that need to be changed and you start just taking action. So this trip for me was a very significant taking of action, changing on the most fundamental level the way I had led my life. So we decided to go out into nature as a point of early connection for us, but also because I think there is something very healing and therapeutic about being part of a large ecosystem that’s not just man made. So we were very intentional about not just trying to travel and see sights but to simplify our existence and just sort of reevaluate the lives that we were leading. For me I quit a career working in Non-Profits and social justice which I had been doing for about 15 plus years, I was very serious about the work that I’d done and I still think that it matters but I reached a point where I couldn’t work in a cubicle anymore knowing that it wasn’t really making me happy knowing that it wasn’t causing the change in the world that I wanted to see.
Dicky: I think a big part of the bond between Melissa and I was out love of the outdoors and nature, that’s really how we came together actually, through this thing called adventure club, which I kind of piggy backed on, it was Melissa and her friends who were going out hiking every weekend and I joined up. So we had a big love of camping, so when Melissa started talking about quitting her job we started daydreaming about going on one really long camping trip. For me it was good timing because I was coming off making The Curio and really not feeling jazzed about sitting down and getting to work on another feature even though that’s kind of what I assumed I was going to do. At that point I was just feeling really disillusioned about that whole deal and just so much time and effort and I was feeling a little deflated about the whole trajectory of The Curio. I had just sort of lost my way in terms of what that whole trajectory was supposed to be. I started out making The Curio and my whole goal was just to make a film and to be able to succeed in just doing that seemed like a very lofty goal, and along the way as is probably often the case, I got caught up in the idea of the film doing something and making some waves and getting some and getting some accolades and getting some applause in the film festival scene and none of that happened. So the idea of getting out into nature on this extended trip and shooting, just shooting for the sae of shooting and just making art for the sake of making art again felt very refreshing.
Melissa: I wanted to experiment with actually liking the life that I was leading. I believed to be a certain thing to be successful, to be safe, and I had this realization that that was a fiction, that I could make different choices and I had never done anything like that before. So in many ways it was an experience an experiment of process of trying to create a new truths about your life I guess.
What was it about the continental divide trail that made you want to hike that specifically?
Dicky: Well when we decided we were going to take off on this adventure, wen wanted to go backpacking, part of the idea of the trip is that we wanted to push ourselves a little further, do some multi day backpacking and we just wanted to find a central framework for the trip. So when we found out about the continental divide trail it was something new to both of us.
Melissa: It goes through some of the most beautiful country in the United States.
Dicky: Country neither of us had spent much time in, and as we dug deeper into researching the trail we became attracted to it as something of a metaphor for the mission we were on in our lives as well, as we put it in our trailer or whatever, to blaze this path between the security of the east and the freedom of the west., because the continental divide is sort of the dividing line between the west and the east. It seemed like an apt metaphor for the balance we were trying to find in our lives.
The show isn’t just about your adventures, you also take time to highlight development that’s threatening the preservation of the trail. Has environmental preservation always been something that is important to you?
Melissa: You know it’s funny I’ve always been very much an urbanist, my degree is in public health and I’ve done work around inequality and environmental stuff hasn’t really been my calling, and it’s funny through doing this work, through going on Crazy Possible and just really spending time in nature it has made me so much more of an environmentalist than I was before. I always understood intellectually that they were connected, that you can’t have a healthy community without having an ecosystem that is not polluted, I understood those things but now it has become so much more of a passion or a motivating part of my life. Then with the trail itself part of it is an issue of
Dicky: In our research of the trail one of the reasons we became attracted to it was because its not a completely secure trail, there are gaps in it and there is something of a fight going on to defend the trail from development along its path. So the idea that it could benefit from increased awareness about it became another attractive part of the trip for us.
Melissa: We feature in the series the president of the American Long Distance Hiking Association, who is the Continental Divide trail ambassador for the Continental divide coalition, which is the group that’s doing a lot of the lobbying on behalf of the trail. They also do the preservation and maintenance, so they maintain the trail and we were really happy not only to bring attention to the trail but the stewards of the trail and their work.
Dicky: We should say it’s not really a part of the central narrative of the web series
Melissa: It’s not an advocacy piece
Dicky: It’s really more a story about our relationship with the trail and each other, but we hope that by highlighting the beauty of the trail to help raise awareness and we are hoping to have some kind of partnership with the continental divide trail coalition where they host it on their site as well and promote it.
I really like the title “Crazy Possible” where did that phrase come from?
Melissa: It’s so close to the mission of what we were trying to do, as Dicky described we had commitments..
Dicky: It was about two years ago now, we were out camping on the deschutes river and we hatched the plan for Melissa to quit her job and for us to take off for like three months to go backpacking and it seemed like a pretty crazy idea but yet possible if we really set our minds to it. It did take a lot of hard work and determination to make it happen, a lot of preparation.
Melissa: I think we thought it would take us three months to get it all organized and I think it took closer to nine or six?
Dicky: I don’t know, it was more about just making this kind of thing happen in our lives for the long term more than completing the trail or anything like that.
How did you initially get hooked up with XRAY TV? What made you want to get involved?
Melissa: Both of us were big fans of the radio station and thought it was really needed, as people who listen to the radio here. I also just really love the spirit of supporting community, supporting creatives, so when they started the film collective we just answered the call.
Dicky: We were a little adrift I think with the project. Initially our idea was to have the whole project be self contained to the trip. We were going to upload episodes along the way on our journey, like go backpacking upload straight away then go back on the trail and that just proved really logistically super difficult. So when we ended up coming home with exactly what we didn’t want really, which was all this footage and another big project sort of hanging over our heads. So when we found out about the XRAY TV deal, it kind of opened up this avenue for us to get re-energized about the project and be excited about having XRAY TV as the platform. I lied the idea of making the project much more than figuring out how to distribute it, so it opened up a door in terms of distribution for us that was much appreciated.
Melissa: It gave us access to colleagues, people who support our work and offer lots of feedback which we find really useful. It connects you to a community The act of making it gave us a community and so hopefully we’ll be able to share this project beyond just friends and family.
Dicky: That’s the best part about it, feeling a part of this community that is XRAY TV.
Melissa: It could be so lame, like we could be working with Doritos or something.
Dicky: That’d be Cool Ranch.
Melissa: It would be Cool Ranch. It’s just so sweet and precious and wonderful to be working with people whose work we respect we think that’s really important. We like that their visionary and ambitious in all the right ways.