The 10-Minute Decade


Leane Clifton (Documentary Film Researcher/Assistant Editor)

Income: about $40,000 (expected in 1999)

Health Insurance: none

Rent: $600/mo.

Utilities: included in rent

Phone: $70/mo.

Food: $750/mo.

Transportation: $80/mo.

Leane Clifton thinks she is a cricket. “See, there are two types of people. One’s a cricket and one’s an ant. The ant is constantly putting things away for the future, has everything lined up, and the cricket just kind of goes through life, oh, constantly chirping and singing and running around and not really worrying about the wintertime.”

Clifton, 39, has a scorpion tattooed on the back of her neck. Over the tattoo is a 30-inch-long braided tail which is colored “a combination of Wild Fire and Infra Red but sometimes I use Vampire Red.

“The fact that I’ve worked freelance in film-and photo-related jobs for the last 10 years is an example of how I am a cricket. No full-time jobs you get stuck in. When I had those kind, I would grow to hate them.”

Clifton always wears a hat, most recently a leather fedora, because she was influenced by Fred Astaire in her youth. “I watched all his movies. He had such a debonair attitude.”

She just finished research on a PBS Paul Robeson documentary, for which she earned $25 an hour gathering archival materials like early-20th-century Harlem street scenes. “With research, you take a subject and see all these branches that come out of it. It takes good spatial abilities. I have a photographic memory.”

Film production people work for specific, intense periods. “I’ve been working like a dog but as soon as this job is done, I’m flying to Miami with Monique. She’s the girl I’m going out with. We’re renting a car and driving to Key West and we’re going to lay on the beach and drink piña coladas.”

When Clifton comes back? “I always know there’s another job out there. People think, oh, I’m going to be homeless. I don’t get those fears.”

Clifton was born in Nashville. “This is where the story gets very gothic. I was the second illegitimate child of my mother, and my mother’s parents had thrown her out so we lived in housing projects. When I was two, I was sent to live with my grandparents in Birmingham, Alabama. My mother joined us a little later, got a job as an art director at a TV station. She ordered all the Fred Astaire movies so they’d play them on the Sunday afternoon movie. I went to a school that had the record for the worst racial violence in the country. When I was 16, my father, who I’d never met, shows up. He and my mother decide they want to have a relationship. They move us to Jasper, Texas— where they killed that guy last summer. I thought Birmingham was backward but Jasper was like the ’50s. I went to a little college nearby and after a year and a half moved to Dallas and started working. My first job was in a print shop, binding letters. I’ve worked construction, in airports, fast-food restaurants, a wire-manufacturing plant in the middle of the night. I’ve run a film processor, printed photos for high-end labs. That was $15 an hour.

“I’ve been in New York 14 years. We all think we’re going to come here and be a big success. If you’re not agoraphobic you could make a success in New York. Because it’s very open. They love to exploit new people. They like them when they’re fresh off the boat.”

Clifton shares an apartment with a friend who owns a two-bedroom, two-bath in a Tribeca building where the doorman says, “Have a nice day, Miss Clifton.” “I’m not used to that at all.

“Eventually I want to make my own film— an alternative history of the 20th century. I figure it’ll be 90 minutes, pretty much 10 minutes per decade. It would probably cost $300,000 to $500,000 to license it for all the music and the footage and the use of people’s writings. I’ve been collecting historical footage for the last 10 years. Every job I work on, I gather more information.”

Isn’t that antlike behavior for a cricket who lives in the here and now?

“I’m an anal cricket.”

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