Inspired by Studs Terkel’s working class stories doc maker Daniel Kraus embarks on WORK series

While Daniel Kraus has made three features, he’s now concentrating on the cinema-verite documentary. The WORK series, as Kraus terms it, is inspired by the writings of Studs Terkel and his books on ordinary people’s occupations.

The second film in the WORK series, “Musician,” is about Chicago jazz genius Ken Vandermark as he composes, rehearses, and cobbles together gigs.

Kraus’ previous WORK doc, “Sheriff,” aired on PBS’ Independent Lens series and will be released on DVD by Facets in the fall.

“Musician” was shot over several weeks in Chicago, parts of the Midwest and Canada. Vandermark will accompany the film for a week-long run at NYC’s Pioneer Theater in September.

Rob Christopher recently chatted with Kraus about his background, methods and the importance of staying busy.

REEL CHICAGO: How did you get into filmmaking and why specifically have you chosen the documentary field?

DANIEL KRAUS: I’ve made most of my adult living as a writer, so it’s kind of counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

It comes down to “Jefftown,” a feature-length documentary I made as a senior undergrad at the University of Iowa. I was ambitious, and I knew I didn’t have the resources or talent pool to pull off narrative work.

Then I met my eventual subject (a controversial guy with Down Syndrome), made the movie, and then suddenly it got shown at all these festivals (Slamdance and the New York Underground Film festival).

RC: What was the genesis of the WORK series?

Kraus: I was editing “Sheriff” when it hit me?and I knew right away it was one of those Big Ideas you only get a few times in your career?the idea that I could take the stark aesthetic of “Sheriff” and apply it to other jobs.

I figured it was a lost cause, since “Sheriff” was a kind of personal project I didn’t really expect anyone to like. But it did well, got picked up by PBS, and suddenly the series idea had some validation.

RC: How did “Musician” come about and specifically how were you able to get Ken Vandermark on board?