Have you ever imagined someone would take the very thing youíre most interested in, travel far and wide in search of concrete answers, chronicling the persons and places they encounter, and present it all back to you in the form of a documentary film? Well, thatís precisely how I feel about Speaking in Code, a film currently in editing stages, conceptualized, executed and lovingly nurtured chiefly by the wonderful duo behind Boston’s sQuare Productions.
Iíve been lucky enough to watch director/producer Amy Lee Grill and her husband, co-producer David Day in action, early this year as they shot footage in Miami and later in Barcelona, interviewing the principals of the independent dance music massive, capturing moments in musical togetherness while showing subjects both profound and simple. Amy recently took the time to flesh out a few of my questions about the project after the crewís most recent trip to Europe. Check out the trailer before you read on.
They still need bucks to finish this thing, as youíd imagine homegrown independent film goes. So if youíve always wanted to be a movie mogul, hereís your chance. A fifty-dollar contribution will go toward any manner of sQuareís mounting expenses, and land you a special thanks in the credits. Head over thattaway for details. East Coasters keep an eye peeled for the next benefit, coming later this month.
When you say Speaking In Code isn’t about the music, what do you mean?
ALG: Well first and foremost Speaking In Code is a film about interesting people. Certainly the music is the binding force and colorful backdrop to the film, but we aren’t focusing or delving into the details, specific sound quality, influences, process and history of a genre beyond info that is delivered in a way that serves character development and basic context. We are much more interested in painting the underground electronic music scene with some broad strokes and then getting more in-depth with particular character and label stories to get a sense of place and people. We want to invite the viewer into this world and get to know, love (or whatever) and feel for the DJs, journalists and promoters. We want the viewer to care about what happens next for Modeselektor or Philip Sherburne or Robag Wruhme because they’ve all experienced life changing events over the last year – and the viewer will experience it with them – through tears, goofy antics, fear, excitement and vulnerable moments.
There is a historical element to the film but it has more to do with actual history and how it affected the indie electronic scene and its ability to survive and/or thrive as a subculture…the effects of the Berlin wall coming down, the dot com boom bust and now this uber digital age we live in. All this told of course though the people who lived it and felt changed or moved by these historical events because it changed their lives in relation to their music scene.
What has the reaction been from the artists when they realize the aim of the project?
ALG: Well during the first six months of production, although I hoped the film would develop into a strong character piece, I did not explicitly explain that we hoped the film would be more about people than the music since I was still camera testing several people and didn’t want to make them nervous or feel weird.
Now that we’ve narrowed it down to a core cast of characters that we’ve built trusting relationships with, I am and have been even more open about the themes and aims of the film with the people who we’ve chosen as main characters. The characters after all are absolutely collaborators in the project and we need them to buy into the character focus in order for it to work.
All of the main characters are 100 percent supportive and are very intrigued and as far as I can tell they find this project to be an unexpected but welcome surprise. Many of them are media savvy (but not jaded and complacent) and certainly appreciate art film and real documentary film. The more we work with them, the more they understand that we are making a real film, not genre, DJ worship trash, boring insider information or surfacey-banal ‘cultural’ observations that amount to showing people fucked up on e talking about unity and the evolution of humanity. That shit makes me want to vomit.
Amy talks about the project’s status and some surprises after the break.
What’s the completion status? What do you need (other than a briefcase full of money) to get done? How much time?
ALG: Well, its true that we need a briefcase full of money, but we also need support from people who have been following the project (we got 23,000 hits on our website last month!). And we need the support of individuals in the electronic music and indie film communities who would like to see the film made. There is a grassroots DIY component to the film thematically speaking but also in terms of the reality. This film can’t be made without grassroots support. sQuare productions does not have deep pockets. Although we are seeking private investments and are very serious about not taking corporate sponsorships…until we find another producer to work with us on investor agreements and business plans we have to rely on small donations, small investments, and what little credit we have left.
Many people are probably curious about why we need money. To be able to complete production there are plane tickets to buy, tape stock, cab fare, car, camera rentals, gas, etc. and after volunteering his time for a full year our director of photography has rightfully reached a point in the project where we must pay him a day rate when he works.
We need to start editing the film in full as soon as possible. I have been editing trailers and segments on my laptop and a few Lacie hard drives but to edit a feature length doc with over 216 (by November when we wrap production more like 240) hours of footage we need to purchase a g5 and a few terrabytes of media storage. We also need to be able to pay an assistant editor/logger.
In the meantime I am looking for volunteer loggers to watch and log tapes in Final Cut Pro.
Perhaps our highest priority is finding a qualified and experienced film producer who can help us negotiate and secure investments. We do have prospective investors but they are understandably looking for legal and business documentation and information that a producer would be best be suited handling.
In terms of other needs – we are now actively open to doing blog and traditional press now since we are looking to the blogosphere to rally support around this grassroots online fundraising effort. The direction of the project is now clearer than ever and over 75 percent of the film has been shot so I am totally comfortable answering questions journalists may have about the film.
Oh, and the goal (dependent to a certain extent on funding) is to be completely finished with the film by April/May 2007
And hopefully make the Toronto film festival submission deadline.
What did you discover as you went along with the project? Did the focus change at all as you found these things out?
ALG: Shew. This is a big question. We discovered almost everything as we went along with the project. The genesis of the project was research and exploration through traveling, meeting people, interviewing and shooting. I believe in organic progression in life and in documentary filmmaking. We entered production on the film with open minds and a keen sense of observation. We found the stories and developed the themes from there – there is only so much online, DVD and library research you can do. To find good characters you have to spend time with people on and off-camera asking a lot of questions and observing. I also did a lot of casual research in New York which contributed to concept development. ‘Casual research’ basically meant going out and participating more actively in the scene, scouting characters and locations, finding information through casual and natural conversation… and as for the focus shift, there are certainly a few key thematic strings that have existed as ideas since the earliest days of production, but most of the content that will make the final cut in the film has been shot in the last eight months (we started production 14 months ago).
What have been the best moments so far? Anything you’ve missed that you would have love to have been filming?
ALG: The best moments so far happened in Europe this summer. Watching Modeselektor approach the gigantic Sonar by Night stage…shots of the sea of people moving to them and watching as they won over thousands of fans was utterly captivating. It made me want to cry (in a good way) and scream (in support) at the same time. I did have tears in my eyes during the beginning of their performance. They were so nervous on the long shuttle ride out to the massive Sonar compound and it was such a signifier of them arriving in a sense – making it to a certain level in their career and they are so thankful and excited. I feel totally lucky to be able to be there for those moments (with the camera). Total fucking chills.
There are always things that people say off camera that they would probably never say on camera, but really most of these things are insider gossip items that might be interesting to me in the moment, but would never have a place in the film since we are making the film accessible to a wide, non-insider audience (although of course insiders will enjoy the film as well). There were some really outrageous moments with Soren from the Wighnomy brothers that we didn’t shoot in Amsterdam, but we have other really out there and exciting, funny moments with him. I try to have a ‘no regrets’ policy and outlook on life and the film. We can’t capture everything and we can’t always be rolling (try as we may). Since we spend so much time with the main characters even when we miss something we usually end up getting something similar or better later.