Filmmakers in Focus - 24 Beats per Second Special Edition

Written by Jim Kolmar | February 11, 2014

(L-R) Filmmakers Jeff Broadway, Adam Kahan and Alex Steyermark

SXSW Film boasts a wealth of great films concerned with all things musical, and this edition of Filmmakers in Focus talks to the filmmakers behind three music films at SXSW 2014.

Alex Steyermark's The 78 Project Movie reveals an unusual way to record live music. Adam Kahan's The Case of the Three Sided Dream is a portrait of the hugely influential jazz pioneer Roland Rahsaan Kirk, while Jeff Broadway digs through the Stones Throw Records archive with Peanut Butter Wolf and co. in Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton (This is Stones Throw Records)

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Alex Steyermark on The 78 Project Movie

Tell us a little about your film.

The 78 Project Movie is inspired by an ongoing web series that my partner, Lavinia Jones Wright, and I launched in the Fall of 2011. The basic idea is that we give contemporary artists one 3-minute take to cut a 78rpm record of an old song on a 1930's Presto direct-to-disk recorder, in a location of their own choosing, and then film and edit the whole experience into short webisodes. After we'd done the web series for about a year, we felt the need to make a feature-length film which would explore some of the context for our fascination with the early field recordings and also show the musical connections of folks from all kinds of musical genres and from seemingly disparate cultural backgrounds.

So Lavinia and I hit the road, and spent the better part of a year traveling around the country recording and filming musicians in their homes and other locations, as well as filming with some of the incredibly cool people who are the caretakers of our country's cultural legacy at places like the Library of Congress and The Smithsonian. Everyday we'd find ourselves in a new place, lugging the old gear out of the car, up steep hills (when we were in Topanga Canyon), into a chapel in Mississippi, or into a home on the Louisiana Bayou. We were constantly amazed by the openness with which we were received by the artists, and by the support we received from friends and strangers along the way. A lot of generous folks made us meals and let us crash on their floors. We're also extremely grateful to everyone who backed our Kickstarter campaign, which made the film possible in the first place.

Why did you start making films?

I remember as a kid, every time I went to see a movie, being completely overwhelmed by the sensory experience of sitting in a dark room watching beautiful images on screen and hearing the richness of the sound. As a little kid, it seemed so mysterious and otherworldly. To this day, I get so distracted by the sensory experience of it all that I can sometimes lose track of the plot of the story! At a certain point, as a teenager, it occurred to me that there was a person who actually created this experience, and that it could reach large groups of people, and I decided I wanted to do that. My mother was a visual artist and my father is a scientist, so I was also always fascinated with the intersection of art and technology that exists in film. And, of course, we now have these incredible tools to work with, and they're essentially available to everyone: one of the reasons that The 78 Project Movie exists at all is because we have these amazing digital cameras and recording devices at our disposal, they're small enough and portable enough to bring them anywhere and capture these beautiful performances, and then the whole experience can be edited on a computer at home. That blows my mind every time I think about it.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

I've never been, and I'm so excited about it because I can't imagine a better context for having our World Premiere. It was always our dream, and we're so honored and thrilled to be invited. Lavinia has been to the music part many times, and she's told me that nothing can prepare me for the excitement and energy of it all, as well as the overwhelming fatigue, so I'm trying to get all my sleep in now.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I grew up listening to punk rock and opera, in a house where French and English were spoken all the time. As a result, I sometimes have no idea what genre I'm living in.

Adam Kahan on The Case of the Three Sided Dream

Tell us a little about your film.

This is a film about a man named Rahsaan Roland Kirk. If you know who that is, well then you are eagerly counting the minutes until you can see this film. If you don't know who that is, well then after seeing the film, you're going to think - why the?? how the?? How come I didn't hear about this guy sooner!!?? Don't beat yourself up about it, this is one of life's great mysteries - how such a phenomenal and talented force could go overlooked by so many people. We aim to rectify that.

Rahsaan is truly a compelling character. The blurb goes like this: Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a one of a kind musician, personality, satirist and windmill-slayer who despite being blind, becoming paralyzed, and facing America’s racial injustices – did not relent.

Why did you start making films?

I started making films in 1989 in San Francisco with a little Super 8 film camera. My sister's friend Nick the postman got me into it. I used to hunt these gems out at flea markets, junk shops and garage sales. I ended up with quite a collection. My first film was a Spaghetti Western made with bike messengers (bikes instead of horses, locks and chains instead of guns, rival messenger companies for gangs...) Then more cameras, more films, watching every Hitchcock, Fellini, Kubrick, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, John Huston, and weirdos like Herschel Gordon Lewis... I eventually graduated to a 16mm Bolex...and so forth. It really just called to me. I loved the tactile nature of film (real film, before video...) The sound of the film going through the gate. Threading the projector. Splicing. Finding little bits of film, gems you trimmed off, maybe stuck to your shoe or on the floor somewhere (and cursing when you couldn't find them!) Double exposures. Optical printing. Light meters. Trying to account for sunlight and shadow, the mystery and excitement of how your film would come out once developed (I tried to become skilled enough to remove as much of that mystery as possible...) I fully embraced video when it came along, but film, real tactile film with sprocket holes and all, the kind that would burn if stuck in a projector gate - that is what got me into filmmaking. Capturing a story on that stuff. Mystical.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

Nope, never been. What I am looking forward to is closure on my film! I've been working on this sucker for longer than I'd like to say! Would love to find a distributor and get further on down the path of getting this film out there. I'm also in the hole financially, so exposure, distribution, eventually SALES would be a great help. Of course there is networking to be done. And, I've never been to Texas, so looking forward to that (all I know about it is from Richard Linklater's film Bernie). Would love to meet Richard Linklater too. Will he be there?

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

Plenty in the previous questions I think (probably more than you want to know). I play upright bass and am fluent in French. I've been a bike messenger, a crepe-maker, a migrant worker (grapes and marijuana crops, not at the same time), worked as a clerk in a law firm, for corporate TV (presently), editor, good for nothing, chess hustler, punk rocker, wanna-be, has-been, jack of all trades and you've probably ceased reading this. Me and my film need some serious love. Would also like to make a narrative feature on Rahsaan as my next project.

Jeff Broadway on Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton (This Is Stones Throw Records)

Tell us a little about your film.

Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton is a feature-length documentary about avant-garde Los Angeles-based record label Stones Throw Records. Under the direction of founder and world-renowned DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, Stones Throw has consistently released critically acclaimed, left-of-center albums since its founding in 1996. Drawing on live concert footage, never-before-seen archival material, inner-circle home video and photographs and in-depth interviews with the folks who put Stones Throw on the map, the film delves deeper into the label's enigmatic artists, history, culture and global following.

Why did you start making films?

I started making films because I met my best friend and business partner - Rob Bralver - in college. He was/is a huge film buff, and really got me initially thinking about the viability of making films. During our final year at school, we began scheming on how we could just make something feature-length, right out of the gate. I had a family story about a cousin of mine - Mark Sandman of Morphine - I'd always been really interested in. We felt it was something we could tackle in a documentary, and so we did. In 2011, we released Cure For Pain: The Mark Sandman Story.

Have you been to SXSW before?

Yes - once. When I was a sophomore at SMU (in Dallas), I blew my knee out playing intramural basketball. The only time surgery could be scheduled was during spring break, which coincided with SXSW. My friends and I had bought music wristbands weeks prior, and I was hell-bent on still going. About four days post-op, my buddies and I set off for Austin. The trip was not doctor-recommended. I dragged myself around on crutches, high on Vicodin, for several glorious days. I look forward to returning with my film, and under very different circumstances.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

After finishing college, I enrolled in a master's program in Media & Globalization that began at the London School of Economics and finished at USC. That's how I wound up in LA - where I still live.