Residents of Overland Park, Kansas got an unexpected surprise in the spring of 2013 when beautifully crafted fairy homes with doors custom-built to fit the hollows of trees mysteriously popped up along a heavily wooded walking trail. Intrigued by the story after reading about it in the Kansas City Star, director/producer Sharon Liese set out to make The Gnomist, a documentary with an initial focus of revealing who was behind the construction of these mysterious houses. “I thought I was going to solve the mystery of who was building the homes, but then I learned that so many people were being kept afloat by these homes, that I realized there was a deeper story to be told.”
Evolving beyond a “whodonit” story, The Gnomist follows the lives of three isolated suburban women who find themselves in Firefly Forest each searching for something – an escape from a disturbing divorce, a respite from a devastating injury and a connection to “Little Owl,” a beloved child taken too soon.
Liese called upon AlphaDogs when it came time to complete the finish for the film. “I chose to work with AlphaDogs on this project because they had completed work on a show I executive produced for MTV and they did a fantastic job,” said Liese. “Everyone was so enthusiastic and quickly became part of The Gnomist team. They were passionate about making the film look and sound its best.”
The Gnomist is filmed cinematically with sweeping crane shots far above the branches that move fluidly down to the tiny fairy doors at the base of the tree trunks, introducing this hidden trail in Firefly Forest as a character itself. Liese also had GoPro and drone footage that she really wanted to match to the rest of the film and wasn’t sure if it could be done. GoPro footage can be tricky to work with, as mismatching frame rates can appear jittery when edited into the rest of the film.
AlphaDogs colorist Sean Stack was able to reduce the amount of motion artifacts in the GoPro footage while creating a rich seamless look for the film using Black Magic Design’s DaVinci Resolve for color grading. “The frame rate problems were solved during finishing for The Gnomist and the result was quite rewarding. It was a feel-good moment for me as a colorist, and it just made the whole experience of working on the film even better.”
Audio for the film required extra attention as the majority of the production sound was recorded with lavaliere microphones, which are sensitive and prone to picking up background and clothing noise. Inconsistent dialog levels also presented a problem, depending on where the microphones were positioned on the talent. AlphaDogs audio engineer Curtis Fritsch used multiple plugins in ProTools, finessing the balance between making the audio understandable and avoiding over-processed sound. Fritsch also created a lush sonic background to make Firefly Forest sound more alive. “It was a little tricky, but we ended up having a mix where you could turn your head in any direction and have it sound unique.”
Liese hopes audiences will see the magical power of kindness after seeing The Gnomist. “As a filmmaker, a story like this doesn’t come around often,” said Liese. “The Gnomist gave me an opportunity to capture a whimsical story in a beautiful forest and to unveil a powerful arc filled with mystery, human frailty and hope. I noticed that everyone I met in the forest was dealing with some sort of loneliness, some cases severe and devastating. This film inspires change on a root level, reminding us that the simple act of connecting can change someone’s identity.”
Produced by Liese and Oscar-winning producer Cynthia Wade, The Gnomist premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival in April and will also screen at Hot Docs in Toronto, Boston IFF, Minneapolis and Newport Beach Film Festival and other festivals throughout the year.