After Career Making Docs for Others, Local Filmmaking Couple Focusing on Social Good

Mar 11, 2019

Romances on film sets go back to the silent era. Rarely do we hear about romances like that of Gloria Bailen and Curt Worden.

Bailen and Worden had both worked behind the scenes for ABC television—Bailen as a producer, Worden as a videographer—but didn’t really know each other. Bailen’s friends recommended him and she hired him, 26 years ago.

From 2008, Curt Worden and Gloria Bailen in New York City during the production of "One Fast Move or I’m Gone, Kerouac’s Big Sur.”
Credit Curt Worden/Gloria Bailen

“I was a freelancer and I was doing a video, and I needed a crew,” Bailen recalled.

Before the couple moved from New York City to Black Mountain, they filled their lives making short news documentaries for TV. They collaborated on a piece about deportation for Ted Koppel’s “Nightline.” They probed the trend of elderly people having to care for their grandchildren after the kids’ parents are imprisoned. They spent a week in a monastery covering the challenges of enticing women to become nuns.

In all their years living and working together, they’ve made just one project from their own vision, from conception to screening—a documentary about Jack Kerouac’s novel “Big Sur.” Black Mountain College Art Center screens "One Fast Move or I’m Gone, Kerouac’s Big Sur" 7pm March 21. Bailen and Worden will talk with the audience after the screening.

“The reality is a lot of our work was done for capitalist interests,” Worden said. Mentioning “I’ve covered wars all over the world. We’ve done maple syrup stories in Vermont. We’ve done work for nonprofit organizations, corporate work, educational. The kind of work we want to do in our future is more based on a moral compass, doing things that are beneficial to our society, and part of that is a little soul searching for ourselves.”

Bailen found her way into television production after dancing professionally in New York ballet companies. Worden started working in television 50 years ago.

In 2008, they raised $750,000 for the film that became “One Fast Move or I’m Gone, Kerouac’s Big Sur.” They were drawn to the back story of the Kerouac book and, unlike the book “On the Road,” in which Francis Ford Coppola owned the film rights, the rights to “Big Sur” were available. For the first time, Bailen and Worden took on a project designed not for television, but movie houses.

The film mixes archival footage and fresh cinematography of Big Sur with interviews and selected readings from the novel by Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Sam Shepard and others.

“We had to change our mindset going into this film so it wasn’t just a broadcast television documentary,” Worden said. “ Working in broadcast—the short soundbite, the quick cuts—there’s zooming and a lot of things that happen that aren’t necessarily (like film work). In our discipline in making this film, we took a more cinematic approach to it. You won’t find a zoom in this film. We put our settings in places that helped tell the story and took our time with each individual and let them expand to tell the story.”

In the end, Atlantic Records—a music company—distributed the film, which only made it into about 50 arthouse cinemas around the country, while Atlantic put more marketing muscle into the soundtrack by pop artist Ben Gibbard.

But it lit a pilot light for Bailen and Worden, who determined with their move to Western North Carolina to fully step away from work for television and find a way to realize their own shared vision.

“I almost do not tell people I was in the news business because it has a bad connotation,” Worden said. “In that time, when we were in our heyday of filmmaking for news organizations, we felt it was a journalist calling and we were doing things we felt had integrity.”

They’re looking into producing a documentary exploring women’s choice of whether to have children. Bailen and Worden have two adopted children who are now grown.

“We want to do things that are socially beneficial,” Worden said. “We want to do projects that have real meaning and can shape people’s lives for the positive.”