“I was handed a home run story, but I had to run the bases.”
“It’s like you’re starting with a mountain and you carve it down to a little sculpture.”
From the 16th chapter of the Michael Waltrip’s memoir In the Blink of Eye.
‘I drove up in a NAPA deliver truck with a giant blue-and-yellow hat on top of it,’ he wrote of becoming the newest member of the DEI racing outfit. ‘I didn’t so much mind the first question that was asked. I just didn’t like how it was asked.
“Why Michael?” one of the reporters asked in a tone that was nowhere close to flattering. Dale’s answer sounded familiar to me. I’d heard it before, and it sounded just as great as ever.
“Because Michael will win in my car.”
And therein lays the fundamental hook for the Paul Taublieb-directed film Blink of an Eye.
An Emmy-award winning filmmaker based in Malibu, California, Taublieb has been behind many a world-class documentary, but perhaps none as ambitious and demanding as Blink.
Q: You’re the mastermind and director of Blink of an Eye, and it is easy to see that you put your heart and soul into the project. The film was just released, and has already been reviewed extensively. What’s your take on the reaction to the movie thus far?
PAUL TAUBLIEB: My main reaction to the movie, and the fact that it has been so warmly received, is very heartwarming. Almost everybody who has seen it – fans and non-fans – have found it to be a human story that they found compelling. Critically, not everybody loved it, but if you notice, nobody ever says “boring” or that it’s “not entertaining.” Everybody does seem to be engaged by the film and some people raved about it. Yes, you do feel nervous when you put a film out and know that people are going to judge you, but I feel like we’ve done very well with this film.
Q: I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to the hierarchy of film critics and review credibility, but I have noticed that major media entities such as the Los Angeles Times and New York Times have been kind to the film. Thoughts?
PT: Well, that’s what it is very gratifying. There are certain people who are professional reviewers, and you look at Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, and they’re not writing these reviews to entertain themselves or even to entertain their readers. They’re discussing the product from a very professional level. That’s their job. So to get a very positive reaction from both of those, as well as the L.A. Times, which is a movie-oriented publication… when those types of people respect your work and tell you that you’ve done a good job, I think it’s very telling. I wouldn’t consider myself a race car driver who puts himself in harm’s way, but in the nature of the film business: you are putting yourself out there for a certain type of public failure and success. You have to prepare for it. It’s a big boy world and you have to play by those rules. You win some, you lose some.
Q: You’re no stranger to racing. The racing community, from what we can glean thus far, appears to like the film quite a bit.
PT: I would say that the really fortunate thing about this is that many years ago I was officially involved with NASCAR and we used to produce what was called NASCAR Video Magazine. We made about 25 videos about the sport. I have knowledge of the sport of racing. I know the people. One of the things I did in the making of this movie is that I went down and met everybody before we did any of the interviews. I’m not a stranger to this world. Benny Parsons He didn’t know me. Nobody did. Benny said, “I’m going to give you one try. You do one video, and if you do it well, we’ll do more.” That was 21 years ago, and I had a great friendship with him. His pure passion and gratitude for NASCAR was so pronounced.
The bottom line is that Benny was the one who showed me the heart and soul of the sport and said, “Always be true to that and respectful to that.” So coming back 20-plus years later, with now a background in understanding structure in a visual medium, as well as the other half a dozen of these long-form documentaries, I’ve learned a lot and learned that there is a technique to making these things. It’s a skill. It’s not a natural skill, it’s a learned skill like anything else, and the same way that you can be a naturally skilled driver, you still have to put in the laps.
I have made a number of these feature documentaries and I feel like this is the culmination of everything that I have learned in once place. A skill set and a mechanical skill set came true and came to fruition, and I’d like to believe the result reflects it as the best work that I’ve done.
Q: I’ve watched the film three or four times now and the one thing that keeps coming back to me is that making of this documentary had to be a monumental task, with so many moving parts and people and politics.
PT: It’s very typical of complex feature documentaries. Yes, there are a lot of moving parts and it gets very complex. You start with the back part of it all. You need the trust of 10 or 20 people to give you their innermost feelings. So you have that whole hurdle. And when you speak with these people, you’re getting the connective tissue and you’re getting the pieces of building a story. It’s like a regular movie, but you don’t have a script. You have to get the words and know what the story is as it evolves with the interviews, but you also need the little pieces from different voices. That’s the first challenge.
But in this case there was also the huge archival challenge of finding everything! Everybody says they have home movies and videos and photos, but getting it out of people and keeping it organized was a challenge. We probably looked at 2,000 still photographs; we probably looked at 40 hours of offline footage such as racing and interviews. It’s like you’re starting with a mountain and you carve it down to a little sculpture. The real decision-making process is what you leave in and what you take out. The good news is that nobody knows what I left out! Yeah, it was a monumental task.
Q: Another thing about the film that made me catch my breath was just how emotionally-charged many of the key cast members were about Dale’s passing. It’s been 20-plus years and you still got that out emotion out of these very established people.
PT: In the same time, you have to be very conscious and considerate that these are real life people and that you’re not just making **** up and this stuff is going to impact these people’s lives. At the very same exact time, you have to ignore that. You want to do both things simultaneously – you want to be consistent, but you also have to be true to the story.
Q: Which you brought out in your film. Dale Earnhardt Sr. appears to be warm and kind on many levels, but way down deep, he was a racer – and a racer who, toss all else to the side, was almost possessed with his winning ways.
PT: There is a point in the film from Dale where the announcer says, “Why would you do something that would kill you?” Dale just said, “It’s who I am.” Dale even said that he hadn’t been the greatest father or greatest dad, but that he was a racer first. Dale kind of said, “You know, I wasn’t there for my kids.” We worried if we were going to offend Dale Jr and Kelley Earnhardt by putting all this in the film.
We asked Junior about it. We asked, “Junior is that okay if that stays in?” He said, “Absolutely. That’s who he was. Don’t whitewash it. I loved my Dad. He wasn’t perfect and I’m not trying to make him so.” The ultimate compliment that we received from both Kelley and Dale Earnhardt Jr was that they both told us to keep it all in the film. They both have young children, two or three years of age, and they both said, “This is the first movie that we’ve seen about our father that we want to show to our children.”
Q: How was Michael Waltrip when you first took him through the final cut?
PT: The deal with Michael is that he doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears his heart beating out of his chest, you know? You talk about a bleeding heart. His heart bleeding never stops. This was an emotional thing for him. Every time he sees the movie and every time he talks about the movie, he starts crying. He just says, “That’s who I am and I’m not going to change.” It’s amazing. Every single time he gets choked up.
Q: Any particular shot or instance within the making of the movie that jumps out at you?
PT: My favorite shot is Michael and Dale walking down pit road before the 2001 Daytona 500. When Michael walks down the road with Dale, you can easily see he’s a new man. He actually has someone who believes in him, and now he believes in himself.
Showing at theaters for one day only on Sept. 12th. Go to Fathomevents.com to find a theater near you.