Local videographer A.D. Weighs creates a series about difficult conversations

ON THE RECORD: Videographer A.D. Weighs turned a passion for thoughtful conversation with people from all walks of life into a video series that addresses hard-to-talk-about topics such as racism, police misconduct, suicide, rape culture and toxic masculinity. His guests include “everyday people” culled from friends, acquaintances and those he meets on social media. Photo courtesy of Weighs

Most of us, at this point in the evolution of social media, don’t put much stock in memes (or gifs or snarky comments) as means of winning recruits to our side of an argument. But, “Sometimes having conversations, especially when you can do so respectfully, can help change people’s perspectives,” says local videographer A.D. Weighs. “I’m not saying everybody should think like me — I’m saying everybody should think.”

Weighs was on Facebook when he saw a post by someone questioning the merits of Black Lives Matter protests. Weighs offered his thoughtful perspective, to which the poster replied not with a barrage of insults or counterarguments but, simply, “Good point.” In that moment, Weighs realized he had to launch his passion project — “Weighing in with A.D. Weighs,” a video series of conversations on tough topics. The series, which launches this month, can be viewed at ridgejournal.com and at Weighs’ YouTube channel, avl.mx/5b6.

A native of Detroit, Weighs relocated to Asheville five years ago. It was supposed to be a temporary move but “after my second day here, I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere,’” he recalls. “The scenery is beautiful, and I love weird people. Weird people are interesting — every time I see them, I want to grab them and put a microphone in their face.”

For Weighs, the impetus to interview others is a natural reaction, but he’s quick to admit to being self-taught. Years ago, after hiring an artist to make a video for some hip-hop music he’d produced, Weighs was dissatisfied with the result. “The money I spent on him, I could have bought a camera and learned to do it myself,” he says. “So, I bought a camera and learned to do it myself.”

The investment paid off: Weighs has been hired for so much video work (a recent example is his film of local poet Justin Blackburn performing the spoken-word piece “White People US”) that he’s leaving a day job in construction to pursue creative work full time. And with that career move, Weighs is also gearing up to release the first installments from the “Weighing in with A.D. Weighs” series.

Episodes include topics such as racism, police misconduct, suicide, rape culture and toxic masculinity. “All the conversations are tough — it won’t be celebrity gossip,” Weighs says with a laugh. In fact, his interview subjects won’t include famous people for the sake of attracting viewers. He’s already filmed segments with Blackburn, spoken-word artist and social justice activist Nicole Townsend, yoga teacher and wellness activist Daniele Martin and designer and environmentalist Michelle Lupia, among others. Not all of the interview subjects, it’s worth noting, are political liberals, and some will voice opinions that are likely to offend sensitive viewers.

“This is how it happens: Someone will post something on Facebook or say something in a conversation that I think is interesting,” says Weighs. “I’ll ask them more questions, and if I think they have a unique perspective, I want them to be interviewed. If it’s something I haven’t heard before or an interesting take on a certain topic, I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

He continues, “I want it to be regular people. I don’t want people to decide whether or not they’re going to watch it based on what guests I’m going to have on. … I want people to want to watch it because of the topic, and they hear everyday people giving their take on it.” Celebrities, he says, can be polarizing because a viewer might not tune in simply because they don’t care for the famous person.

Weighs also eschews standardized formatting and talk show-style sets, aiming, instead, to shoot the 15-20-minute videos in a variety of Asheville locations. And, while much of the creation of the “Weighing in with A.D. Weighs” series will be DIY — including Weighs crafting the music himself — a number of collaborations have also come out of the project. Arts resource guide Ridge Journal, for which Weighs writes, is lending support, and violinist Madelyn Sovern will add her talents to the soundtrack for the shows.

Beyond those contributions, what surprises Weighs is how many people are willing to share their opinions for the show. “I thought it would be difficult to get people to talk on camera,” he admits. “Some people are shy, but I’ve had far more people asking me if they could do it, like they’re excited to do it.”

He adds, “I don’t like asking people for favors because I don’t like to burden people. It turns out that’s all in my head: It’s not a burden.”

Weighs does hope the series will be meaningful. “The easiest thing to do is get on video and tell jokes or talk about celebrity gossip, but I don’t want to do the easy thing,” he says. Instead, he’s offering insight into what he believes is a needed skill in Asheville and beyond these days: “This, right here, is the template for how we’re going to have uncomfortable conversations.”

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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