Branson’s 108 live shows attract seven million visitors a year. With that kind of business, it’s not surprising to find performers of every ilk trying to make it big in this little city tucked away in the scenic Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri’s bible belt. For this engaging and often heartbreaking film, director Brent Meeske followed the performers of three acts playing at a Branson strip mall—two in actual theaters and one in the foodcourt—through all the ups and downs of three seasons. Offstage, they wait tables, sell gadgets at mall kiosks, perform for tips or meals, and sell CDs at gas stations—all just to make ends meet. [Description courtesy of LAFF]
Directed By: Brent Meeske
Producers: Brent Meeske, Jack Black, Ben Cooley, Justin Moore-Lewy, Charlie Mason
Screenwriter: Brent Meeske
Cinematographer: Brian Zarin
Editor: Brent Meeske
Music: John Gold
Featuring: Jackson Cash, Amber Campbell, Geoffrey Hastings Haberer, Peggy Lee Brennan-Haberer, Terry Wayne, Nita Tate, Eric Eichenberger, Patrick Schuster, Angela Walker, Blake Walker, Jim Mock, Jim Mock, Jr.
U.S.A., 2009, 94 mins, color
[EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling International Spotlight and dramatic and documentary competition directors who have films screening at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.]
What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved since starting out?
In high school, my friends and I made super 8 films, editing with scissors, scotch tape and a flashlight. In college, I studied art until I took an intro to film studies class and switched my major immediately. I joined a group of students who set out to make a 16mm feature film, and have continued down the path of independent filmmaking ever since.
How did the idea for your film come about and what excited you to undertake the project?
The idea for “Branson” came about by accident. I was abandoned by the cast of a reality TV pilot in Branson, and had to figure out the best way to utilize my crew for the remainder of the trip. We had met the cast of “#1 Hits of the 60’s” and decided to shoot some behind the scenes material, which became the origin of the film. I was excited by the discovery of a place where I could tell a story about performers that hadn’t been filmed before.
How did you approach making the film, and were there any pivotal moments of learning during the life of the project for you?
At first the focus of the film was the 60’s show, so we spent a lot of time shooting with all of the cast members, the band, and the audience. We shot the show itself as much as possible. After following them for about a year, we modified the project and began looking for other characters. We shot material with over 50 different performers of all levels before ending up with two performers working right in the Branson Mall alongside the 60’s show.
What were some of the biggest challenges in making the film?
The biggest challenge was finding the characters. I knew there was something in Branson I wanted to make a documentary about, but after the initial success of finding the 60’s show, it was difficult locating the other stories.