Back several months ago a friend asked me if Chatter and Chitter could be in a movie he was helping develop. Surprise doesn’t even began to explain how I felt-I think I was more excited than the girls-they seem to take it all in stride. Of course my first question before agreeing to let them-was what’s it about and what do you want them to do?
From the beginning the details were kinda sketchy-but the over all theme of the movie was to be about old time music and the influence it had (and has) on folks. Once we agreed-they said they’d be in touch when they needed the girls on set.
Turns out during the month of August-me and the girls got to spend 2 afternoons at the big old house in the photo above. Turns out-the surprises weren’t over-they decided at the last minute they wanted me in the movie too-ME? I tried to get out of it-but in the end I gave in and did what they asked-even though I was so nervous I felt like I was back in high school trying out for the cheerleading squad (which I didn’t make).
I recently interviewed Harrison Topp and Bruno Seraphin the 2 major players in creating the movie. Check out what they have to say about the movie and the journey it took to make it:
Who are the primary creators of the movie?
Bruno: The movie was conceived of by Harrison Topp and Bruno Seraphin. We wrote the story, developed the concept, and created all the major characters. We directed the film and did the bulk of the producing. I am hesitant to say we are writers, because the majority of the material in the film was developed by and with the actors, and very little was ever actually written down at all. Forrest Oliphant came on board a few months before shooting started and I feel that he played a major role in the conceptual and narrative aspect of the project, and he also was invaluable in helping with producing.
Harrison: Bruno and myself are the primary writers, directors, and producers of the film. Along the way we picked up people like Forrest and Nando who became important additions.
What’s the movie about?
Bruno: The movie is about a young man from a small mountain town in western north carolina who, through his singular desire to play music, ends of up learning some things about community, culture, place, love and loneliness. It is a chapter of Felix’s life that is frenetic and challenging, both joyful and thoughtful, in which he dances up and down the staircase that he is told leads up to maturity. It’s a story about how saying “yes” to things (because you aren’t afraid to, or because you have no other choice) isn’t always easy but usually leads to enriching and meaningful experiences. And these experiences make you a stronger and wiser person, even if they don’t all add up to one cohesive moral idea. So we have Felix’s personal journey, which I think is pretty contemporary, shot with a pretty contemporary aesthetic and narrative/artistic sensibility, interwoven with bits of history, folklore, and images from another era. Something very basic for me behind the film is the old Faulkner quote – “the past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” the past is all around us; it’s right under our noses; it’s in the words we say, the songs we sing, in our hearts and our imaginations. We said at the start of the film that it takes place from 1910 to 2010. Well, the movie is trying to speak to a current generation of Americans (of all ages) who maybe feel that 1910 plays a role in the way they want to live just as much as 2010 does. Or maybe we are just trying to suggest that such a generation exists. Or could exist.
Harrison: The movie is about a conglomeration of things. It is an homage to the adventurer’s saga and the possibilities/realizations that go along with it. It is also a film about “folk” culture. We did our best to write a fun, accessible, and thoughtful film about our own experience, our research about Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and our interpretation of music and dance as it relates to people like Bruno and I, both native and foreign. The film is ABOUT a young man named Felix Eugene who after finding himself without a home or job, falls into the life of a traveler. His journey exposes him to new ideas, new possibilities, and new troubles. The story took many turns throughout the course of production and I expect will take many more. That is sort of the way we designed it (as a filmmaker I am very interested in the art of improvisation). I’d like the final product to be firmly couched in it’s narrative but also curious and loose enough to inspire thoughtful daydreaming. I hope this description isn’t too aloof or elementary for you. I think that we have made some people weary of our work because they thought we took liberties in the way we chose to represent certain people. I personally don’t feel as if we wronged anyone but the scrutiny of our audience is intense because the subject we’re working with is very precious to a lot of people. This leads into why our film is important. Our film speaks to those of our generation who are attempting to interpret tradition in a pop cultured, globalized, shiftless society that is constantly trying to shake itself free of such baggage as ‘tradition.’ Bruno and I weren’t trying to reenact a time from the past. I think we were more so using style’s inspired by the past to create a world where an expanse of time laid the stage for Felix.
Was the endeavor harder/easier than you thought?
Bruno: Ugh, this is a hard one to be succinct about. I’ll say this – the “plan” was always to be as flexible as possible. From the get-go we knew that we were walking into a culture and a place that we knew relatively little about. So for a year we just learned things and soaked up as much as possible, and let the movie be in the backs of our heads. Felix’s journey is all about saying “yes” as I mentioned (like Jack of the jack tales, I should add) so, we wanted to say yes as much as we could during the film making. So if we liked somebody or some idea or some song, we wrote it in. We tried to never turn down any offer of help or donation. We were absurdly loose in our planning, almost always preferring to improvise and play, which was pretty maddening for some who worked with us, I imagine. Anyway, over the last 15 months the theoretical film took many forms – quasi-documentary, straightforward biopic of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, more of a self-reflective journal type film, – but ended up more like the original idea than I actually ever figured.
Harrison: I think one of the major differences was the inclusion of Forrest as the main character. I think that there is no way we could have written in Forrest as he actually is. But even that was the plan. The difference lay in the actualization of Felix, which Forrest turned into a character we hadn’t been imagining in our heads. To a certain extent that is what happened with many of the characters. And often the improv. of some scenes brought out totally new material as well.
What was it like working with inexperienced actors from the area?
Bruno: It was very interesting! You have positives and negatives to working with actors and non-actors. With actors you sometimes have to deal with egos, which is rare when dealing with craftsmen and farmers. A good actor thinks of themselves as an artistic collaborator on the project, which can be positive – they want to actively contribute and share in your vision, or negative – they become overly controlling or there is friction over creative differences. The people we worked with cared about the project, they weren’t doing it for a career move, or to get experience for a resume, or to make any money, they did it because they thought the project was cool, or fun, or they wanted to help out and support Harrison and I. Relations were almost always good because of this. One huge reason that we worked with non actors is that we didn’t want to have a professional relationship with the people appearing in the film. We wanted to use friends. We wanted this to be a small film, a domestic film, a film made of love and hard work, a film with real stories and real feelings, very non-bureaucratic, very non-professional, even non-economical and non-efficient when necessary – we wanted to be and to celebrate amateurness. Amateur, as I like to remind people, comes from the latin word ‘amat,’ meaning ‘love’.
The main struggle that I had with working with non-actors (and this is serious) has nothing to do with artistic collaboration (I felt that we collaborated very well and got lots of wonderful material and inspiration from the people in the film, non-actors all). Simply put,
non-actors have never been on set before. They often don’t know how movies are made, and I just was not prepared to deal with that. For example, folks with no acting experience sometimes don’t always understand the idea of a ‘take.’ Like, we walk through the action and the dialogue, talk about the feeling of the scene, maybe rehearse it, and then shoot it. Then we talk about how it went, the director says what he wants to be different, what he liked and didn’t like, and we all try it again until we all feel good about it. The idea of getting notes between takes is hard for someone who hasn’t been through this process – people would say ‘I told you I’m not an actor!” and we would have to say, “no, we know! But this is how it works! We’re not supposed to get it the first time!”
Also, non-actors weren’t always prepared for just how much work making a film is. It’s often really really fun, but it is long hours. It tries your patience. Sometimes it seems like it’s moving slowly, like we are agonizing over insignificant details (which to us are highly significant). But even when working at maximum efficiency, film-making is slow and tedious. An in-and-out cameo takes 2 hours. One little scene can take 5. Many people, it seemed, just did not realize what they were signing up for. But in all fairness, neither did we! Here’s the big secret: (or maybe it’s not such a secret) It was our first time! We were winging it! We are young, this is the biggest thing we had ever done. So NOBODY on set was a pro.
Harrison: It was great!!! I suppose I have a bias though. Part of what I love about working with people is seeing how they transform themselves. When the actors are non trained there is this extra little bit that comes out. Sometimes it’s them trying too hard and sometimes it’s unexplainable, sort of a humbleness. Anyways, I really love the style of non-actors undergoing that transformation. Its also fun because we were really just asking them to be themselves. We decided to cast the people we already thought of as characters. I think the major challenge was just acclimating the folks to a film set so they understood the protocol and the process that was happening around them. It was also sometimes tricky to get actors to be concise. There is a lot of rambling because sometimes folks dont know if they’re doing the right things so they just keep going and going.
Would you say your style of movie making is unorthodox? (I remember you saying something about that on your site)
Harrison: It’s hard to say. Our style of filmmaking would have made most of our professors and many of our peers cringe but then again we went to a very formal school. I think the film orthodox is on the way out anyways. Young blood cant afford to make films the old fashioned way, and why should we! There is so much technology out now that makes the old methods seem kind of absurd. Sure, we’re not making Avatar but our stuff is a bit more personal and I think it shows. I think our film is unorthodox in a popular sense but to us we’re a part of something much larger that is picking up speed.
Bruno: Our style of filmmaking is unorthodox because of how central and fundamental we hold improvisation. Aside from the fact that the actual dialogue is improvised, a lot of the story and ideas of the film got developed during production, and as we shot one scene we would rewrite other scenes and so forth. The process itself became the final author of the film, rather than Harrison and I. I really feel that way. Whether it will yield a decent movie, we shall see.
When will the movie be out? Where can folks see it? Where can folks keep updated about the premier-and how things are going?
Bruno: You can keep updated about everything at kazoofilms.org. Also, email us any time or get in touch via the website if you have any questions, comments, concerns, ideas, pitches, plans, daydreams, or whatever. We are shooting to have a completed film this coming spring, with some possible test showings over the winter. Once it is done, we will have as many local screenings as humanly possible, and submit it to key festivals locally, across the country, and internationally.
Very shortly we will begin soliciting donations again (this time, unfortunately, only monetary – although we may have a silent auction or something similar, so perhaps folks can donate crafts and services) but you will get more on this soon. Distribution is very expensive, from festival submission fees to DVD printing, to making posters and promotional materials, the expenses add up.
However, I am currently in the “daydreaming” phase of another film! So if you want to act, or sing and dance, or learn how to use a microphone or a HD camera, or you have a story to tell, get in touch and let’s make a movie together!
Harrison: Well, our website (www.kazoofilms.org) is the best place to be updated. Right now the film is slated for release next summer but we’ll probably do test screenings before then. I’d think we’d both like to push it pretty hard and really see where it takes us. Our local audience probably is the most important but we’d also like to see how we stand up to the competition. That is what film festivals are all about. They are wonderful for exposure but also great snapshots of what is out there right now. If we make it into festivals it shows that we’re doing something right and it’s really encouraging.
Hmmm, of course we still need help. We still need funders and backers but we also need publicists and town criers. It is hard because the film is sort of metamorphosing right now and there isn’t much anyone can really do. But the film still belongs to everyone involved so I’d love to hear what people would like to see happen with it, etc. Opinions are still really great and folks are welcome to add theirs whenever the spirit moves them. It is far from taking its final form.
I’d just like to encourage everyone to check in on the blog from time to time. More than anything I just want to make sure everyone who participates knows that they have my unending thanks!
So will me and the girls make the final cut and be in the finished movie? No one knows yet-but we do know the 2 afternoons spent with Bruno, Harrison, Forest, and the rest of the Kazoo Films gang was big fun-and if given the chance we’d do it all again.