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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Barak Goodman

Barak Goodman is an Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker whose films include “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy” and “Oklahoma City.” His latest work, “Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation,” premiered as part of PBS’ American Experience series earlier this month.

Where do you come up with your best ideas? 
In the shower. Every other place is full of distractions. 

What’s the best non-material gift you’ve received?
It’s hard to say this without sounding utterly cliché. A strong moral compass, which I owe entirely to my mom. It’s very important to have these days.

What’s the best non-material gift you’ve given?
To my children, I’ve given them the gift of independence.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Building the company that my wife and I have [Ark Media] from our basement 15 years ago, now to a company with 50 people. And the responsibility, which is something I wasn’t prepared for, and still not good at.

I’d like to become an old wise head that other people come to for advice.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
I’ve often fantasized about being a writer on a great TV show. Being in a writers’ room with other people, the camaraderie and collaboration of that experience, would be a lot of fun.

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made? 
I was quite arrogant in my youth, in the beginning of my career. I was quite certain of my own way of doing things. I was set straight by a couple of bosses; I think that taught me humility, and humility is probably one of the most important qualities any creative person can have. You have to be humble. You have to be in awe of other people’s work before yours can be any good at all.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
I’ve been a reporter in war-like situations a couple of times, where I felt there was a certain absence of civil society and no rules. It was a scary and dislocating feeling, that everyone was on their own.

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
I was on a path towards writing. I believe I was heading to long-form writing, even books, and I regret missing that opportunity. Maybe it’s not too late, but when I read a great piece of long-form nonfiction or reportage, I get wistful about the path not taken.

How do you relax?
I love to play and watch soccer. I’m a passionate soccer fan. 

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
India. And in fact, I am going in a few months and I’m thrilled.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
The things that stick are the things that are inconsequential — riding a skateboard down the hill, jumping over this hill of ivy. I didn’t have a great tragedy, or a death, or anything like that to upset the applecart. It’s the little things I remember.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?
Not to conform. To reject the idea of one authority on a subject. I was lucky enough to have teachers who didn’t pretend to know everything, to be the font of all wisdom. They encouraged us to think on our own, and that’s an important contributor to what I do now: Look at a historical event, and say there could be a new take or lens to look at it with.

When you’re stuck, how do you get unstuck?
I’m a big believer in walking away and coming back. I put whatever work I have down; I get inspired by other people’s work. I’ll literally sit down and watch or read what other people have done. And when I come back to the material again, it always looks different.

What’s your proudest moment?
I revel in my kids’ successes. I don’t take what I do that seriously — it’s the profession of a dilettante. I’m super proud of the human beings I’ve raised in my children.

What would you like to experience before you die? 
I’d like to become an old wise head that other people come to for advice. My wife is always joking that she wants to see me in a flannel jacket with patches and a pipe. I think I’ll skip the pipe, but in every other way, I’d love to be that person. 

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