Interview Series: Creative Couples: Ken and Betty Rodgers
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
I met Ken when I was a guest on a podcast he co-hosts with a friend of mine, Rebecca Evans, called Writer to Writer. The three of us had such a nice conversation and when I found out that Ken and his wife Betty made movies together, I had to know more. This is such a wonderful love story, and their second film I MARRIED THE WAR, which "gives voice to wives of combat veterans" was featured in several film festivals this year. We more often hear about couples who can't work together, who balk at even the idea of collaborating on making dinner let alone making a film. But that's the one thing about this series that I truly love: hearing from the couples who not only work together but thrive in that space. Couples who are not only creative together, but productive as well. Ken and Betty seem the epitome of this harmonious blend and I believe the key is, as Betty says, they "make it work wherever they are."
We all love a good love story. Tell us the moment you each knew you were in love. Make us swoon!
Ken: When I found I could trust Betty to keep my secret secrets secret and my raw spots protected, when I saw that she understood me as the flawed man I was, wounded and angry and lost, I clanged into her like a slab of steel to a magnet. She accepted me, big and whole hearted and with fierce gusto. And it didn’t take long for me to recognize the incredible powers, not power, that dwelled within her empathy. I think she harbored doubts about my sanity for a while, but then, when she decided to try me out, she was all in.
Betty: We were both relatively new to the mountain village of Cloudcroft, NM. We’d encountered each other around town, but not until the Halloween party in the Red Dog Saloon did the sparks fly. He showed up in his tux and a gorilla mask, and I came dressed as a bag lady. We married three months later and have never looked back. They called it “mountain magic.” I call it the best decision I ever made.
Liz Gilbert said she “married” her writing at 16, and many people think it’s not possible to have two artists in the house. In the beginning, were you of the mind that two creatives would live well together or the opposite?
Ken: We’ve worked together for years. Recognition that two creatives live in this house isn’t a way to me to imagine our life together. Our marriage is organic; she helps me and I help her and we know what the other thinks a lot of the time without asking and we have very little friction. She reads almost everything I write. She helps me. I cannot stress that enough. She has helped me for thirty-seven years. She saved me.
Betty: In the beginning, we didn't think of ourselves as creatives. A photographer and creator nearly all my life, at that point I hadn't practiced photography as fine art. After we wed, becoming a serious creative…actually calling myself a photographer and then a filmmaker…is something that evolved over time, in tandem with Ken growing into his writing life. So we grew into our creativity together, encouraging each other along the way. Along with photography, I have been a publisher of small books and newsletters, a journalist and creative writer off-and-on, a leather crafter, a painter, and a macrame artist. Ken's writing talent and my photography melded into one when we became filmmakers.
Share a little bit about your work—books, music, movies, art—what do each of you do?
Ken: Betty is a photographer and used to paint and draw. She has an artist’s eye, an artist’s mind, metaphor and synecdoche and allegory are native to her and now she makes documentary films.
I write poems and prose and move in the world of doggerel and story. I see the world in narrative; red cliffs, dried blood, the frozen breath of lovers on a cold night. I like to create cell phone shenanigans with a camera and now Betty and I create documentary films together. We’ve made two films related to the costs of war. Some of our subject matter is familiar and some is not and some of it we put out there because the public doesn’t want to see it, think about it, and accept their culpability for war and its aftermath. We first made a film about my company of United States Marines and our ordeal at the Siege of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1968. That one is titled BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. You can find out about the film HERE.
While making that film, it became obvious that wives and spouses, too, of warriors are veterans. They spend their lives trying to help their warriors move back into society and it’s a tough job and so we made a second film titled: I MARRIED THE WAR. See more about the film HERE.
Betty: Ken is an accomplished writer, filmmaker, photographer, and writing teacher. What keeps him on an even keel is the actual writing process. While he is simply happy to write day in and day out, I read his creations and think how everyone should know his work. So often, what he writes is a real eye-opening gut punch. He doesn’t soften reality but tackles it head-on, brilliantly and powerfully. I marvel at where it comes from, which goes to prove the adage that a universe exists between two people.
Since I was a child, I've always promoted and organized creative events, productions, and activities. Just ask my cousins! When we were kids, I’d round them up and coerce them into performing my homespun plays for our parents. This trait later manifested itself as a sales manager, trade show coordinator, and literary arts “fairy godmother,” as I was dubbed. My life’s work has evolved to the post-retirement passion for creating documentary films, and nearly every other endeavor has given way.
What brought you to these outlets/jobs?
Ken: Betty has taken photographs for as long as I’ve known her. We used to travel—we still do quite a bit—and she’d see something and say, “Oh, that would make a great shot.” She’d have her camera in her lap. I wouldn’t stop. My goal was a specific place. No stops, no detours, no deviation from the plan. At some point I grew sensitive to her need to create photos of people, places and critters and maybe out of self preservation I began taking photos, too. I like taking photos. The process forces me to notice details, patterns, which are things useful to a writer.
I started writing in the early nineties because I wanted to manufacture short stories. Along the way, I’ve made a life out of studying poetry, writing prose. Sometimes I submit my work, sometimes it gets accepted. I love short forms. They thrill me with the surprises and power they rip out of my innards. You can read my latest piece in COLLATERAL JOURNAL.
As for films. Initially, we didn’t know anything about making films. We sat around a big table at a reunion of the Marines I served with in Vietnam and a bunch of us from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines began spilling our guts, our war stories about the bloody seventy-seven day Siege of Khe Sanh.
Betty whispered, “We need to preserve these stories.”
I said, “Ok. Check with the Skipper,” –our company commander—“and see what he thinks.”
She did. He said, “Go for it, but just so you know, a lot of people have tried to tell our story and it hasn’t happened.”
On the way home she told me, “I think we should make a documentary film.” I agreed because I knew we didn’t know anything about video cameras and editing and sound production. Making a film would never happen and I wouldn’t have to learn all that stuff. The rest is ancient history.
Betty: The desire to tell story, either through the lens, or through the written word. To celebrate the depth and incredible beauty of the human spirit.
Tell us a little bit about how you work together.
Ken: Filmmaking is very collaborative for us as partners and our art makes strong statements about the effects of war and trauma.
Beyond that, we collaborate with others to make our works: the people who tell us their stories, the video people, the editors, composers, photographers, art designers, computer wizards, tech experts. All of these support us as we support each other in our drive to add to the discussion of what matters in our world.
She edits my writing. I have edited hers. We have done photography shows together. She’s exhibited her photography on the walls of rooms where I’ve concurrently read poetry in front of an audience.
We collaborate on blogging. We collaborate in the garden, and with the vacuum and the spatula.
Creative work doesn’t normally lend itself to a regular routine like punching a time clock. Describe your method for completing projects while also living a "regular" life, raising kids, if applicable, or working a day job. How do you manage your time together?
Ken: We both used to work for others, in offices, with responsibilities to organizations and customers and clients, the folks with whom we worked.
But now we live a life of travel and art, writing, shooting photos, making films, and we work at our crafts most every day, sometimes all day, sometimes not a lot. The schedule is erratic, kind of, but not, I guess, because instead of thinking we’d like to, or we want to, or have to, or we’re going to get around to it—we do it. Every day.
Betty: Our work is foremost. Housework and yardwork are haphazard. We've learned to spend time in our flower and vegetable gardens, and schedule occasional day trips to the mountains or ocean for a change of scenery. While there, we hike and spot birds and wildlife.
How do you support each other’s work?
Betty: I read his writing, give feedback, edit, encourage new endeavors, and even published a bit of his work in the early days. He supports mine by saying "yes" when I have an idea for a project, or want to study a creative outlet, or buy whatever it takes (sewing machine, camera equipment, art supplies). We also pick up the slack for each other when one of us is on deadline.
We all have challenges in our relationships and having the same job can present its own hurdles. What would you say you have to work on the most as a creative couple, in particular?
Ken: We both crave control, we are both good at overcoming obstacles. We each must give and take and help and sometimes stay out of the way and a lot of the time she lets me think I’m the boss.
Betty: I can't think of anything, really. We have worked well together for much of our married life—owning a real estate office, and now as filmmakers—with only a rare burst of conflict that becomes hilarious in retrospect. When collaborating, we each lean toward what we do best: Ken is our business controller, detail manager and narrative expert, while I love to brainstorm, make people connections, and organize events.
And on the other side of things, how does both of you being artists feed or fuel your relationship?
Ken: We talk a lot about creative stuff and we share our work. We critique, we make art together, we edit each other’s creations. We support each other’s need to make things that are satisfying to the wants of our inner beings.
Betty: We are continuously inspired by the other, interested in what they are doing or exploring, sharing our knowledge or process, while also respecting each other's space. We work hard not to intrude on the other’s “voice.”
Couple fun facts:
Ken: We live in Idaho and I buy most of my clothes at Costco.
Betty: Ken can make you a mean latte, and I’ll bake you a pie.
I might take you both up on that!