The phenomenon and tribulations of one of America’s biggest entertainment capitals – Branson, MO – are the subject of veteran doc filmmaker AJ Schnack and True/False Film Festival’s David Wilson’s latest film, currently in production. Also profiled this week are projects from Kickstarter: a profile of “Guard Dog” animator Bill Plympton, the story of a fiery group of Vietnam War protesters, and aspiring musicians who go to Grammy camp.
EDITORS NOTE: “In the Works” is a weekly column taking a look at upcoming films, in addition to projects in production. It spotlights films in development, as well as completed films that are taking creative paths towards distribution and occasionally ventures away from films to look at other types of projects, such as interesting new film distribution, funding, or exhibition mechanisms.
Untitled Branson project
Directors: AJ Schnack, David Wilson
Producers: AJ Schnack, David Wilson, Nathan Truesdell
Veteran documentary filmmaker AJ Schnack (“Kurt Cobain About a Son,” “Convention”) and True/False Film Festival co-founder, David Wilson, are nearing the final shooting phase on a feature doc, spotlighting one of America’s top tourist destinations – and possibly one of its biggest enigmas – Branson, Missouri. The directing duo, along with producer Nathan Truesdell, have been working on the project for a number of years, filming in the conservative community famed for being a playground for “clean” entertainment. Schnack and Wilson made their first exploratory trip to Branson in November of 2007.
“I initially started thinking about Branson after I finished a short I made years ago about a small Missouri town,” Wilson told indieWIRE Wednesday afternoon, adding that he began to think about other towns in the state where he grew up and still lives as subjects. “It’s a larger than life town sent in the Ozarks. After AJ and I met and became friends, we considered working together and we came together on this project.”
Per capita, it’s one of the top destinations for travelers in America, swelling the community of about 7,000 residents, which boasts more theaters than Broadway. “It’s a weirdly outsized vacation destination,” noted Schnack.
“Tourists travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles to this tiny town, most in search of a brand of entertainment that they sense has been lost – wholesome, patriotic, Christian values-based good times,” the pair said in describing the doc, adding that the film takes an intimate look – going onstage, backstage and offstage with four very different families who live and work in Branson – the Presleys, founders of the Branson music scene; the Lennons, American icons who moved to Branson from Venice, California in the booming 1990s; the Tinocos, who are working relentlessly to keep their show alive; and the Holdermans, who find themselves in the midst of a wrenching family struggle. Living and working together, these families find their own future, as well as the future of Branson, very much in flux. In their lives, the film focuses on a collective portrait of one of the most surprising places in America at a decisive moment in its history.
“I went there as a kid,” said Schnack from Los Angeles. “Branson is one of those rare situations where it’s renowned. People know of the city – I think there are even two ‘Simpsons’ episodes set in Branson – but people in places like L.A. where I live now and in New York City don’t seem to know much about it. It’s great for a doc filmmaker to take a subject that has a certain level of renown, but also with a relatively blank slate.”
Following their initial trip, the filmmakers headed to Branson for the Summer of 2008 and honed in on their main subjects. “We lived there most of that summer,” said Wilson, who was recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. ” We’ve made more than a dozen trips back since then, [and] we’ve been working with all of the main subjects for two years.”
The project received its early funding and logistical support after Wilson stayed with a friend in New York City who he knew from Missouri. After describing the idea, the friend – who runs Brooklyn-based production outfit, Space Station Media – offered up help. “Our initial funding came from Space Station Media in Brooklyn. We told [my friend, Matthew Mills] about the project while I was staying with him in New York City and he became very excited.”
Schnack and Wilson have been shooting on the Panasonic HVX. “It’s been amazing…,” said Wilson. “No matter if you live or visit Branson, or even live in New York, Germany the U.K. or wherever – no matter what you think you know about Branson, this will surprise you. I think there are 100 movies in Branson.”
“It’s been really been great for me to spend so much time with subjects over so much time,” added Schnack about the shoot. “The people we’re following, like most people, are very complex and not like what they had seemed at first glance – and that’s what I’ve found about the town itself. It’s changed what my first view of the town was. My views were not reinforced. It’s truly a unique microcosm. I had no idea what we’d find following these show business families in this conservative part of the country. It’s nothing I had expected and constantly a surprise to me.”
More projects, this week all from Kickstarter:
“Adventures in Plymptoons!”
Logline: “Adventures in Plymptoons!” is a documentary film about Academy Award nominated animator Bill Plympton.
Production team: Director/Producer: Alexia Anastasio; Associate Producer: Kevin Sean Michaels; Visual Effects: Mike Gaiss; Assistant Editor: Sam Rappold
About the film: “Bill is an artist who is living his dream life every day. He gives young artists and filmmakers the inspiration to believe they can succeed as he has. I met Bill about 10 years ago when I was volunteering for the Golden Trailer Awards in NYC. He showed me his tie which was normal on the outside and had a naked lady on the inside. I was floored. I always remember that. Since then I had been introduced to his films but it wasn’t until I saw his master class at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY when it finally hit me. I should ask Bill if I could do a documentary on him. I had already edited a feature on Vampira and associate produced one on Ted V. Mikels so it really was about timing, which felt right. I proposed my wacky ideas to Bill and he liked them. Being an artist myself I really resonated with his story, as I also go to San Diego Comic Con and sell my films. It is a way to meet your audience and have a real connection. I make films because it’s fun and that is my priority in life. Bill has a similar reason he likes drawing and loves hearing people laugh. Since I like drawing and laughing, it worked out pretty smashingly.” — Alexia Anastasio
Current status: The film is currently in post-production.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $10,000 by the end of the campaign on October 12.
“Hit and Stay”
Logline: “Hit and Stay” is a documentary about antiwar movement activists who during the Vietnam War attacked the U.S. Selective Service system in an attempt to shut down their government’s ability to wage war. They risked—and often served—serious prison terms. “Hit and Stay” tells their story in their own words.
Production team: Directors: Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk; Produced by Joe Tropea ; Director of photography/editor: Skizz Cyzyk; with additional cinematography by John Scott Braid and J.R. Fritsch.
About the film: “I began this project thinking I was making a film about the Catonsville Nine. They were not your typical war protesters; they were nine men and women—aged thirty- to fortysomething—who walked into a draft board office in Catonsville, Md. back in 1968, removed hundreds of A-1 draft files, and burned them in the parking lot with homemade napalm. Growing up in Baltimore, many people here have at least heard of the Catonsville Nine. After taking a history class on the Vietnam War at UMBC (where I was working on a master’s in public history), I decided that a full-length documentary on the subject would be interesting. I had the chance to meet two members of the Nine when they were on a book tour (yes, two 70-year-old men driving around the country on a book tour) and I interviewed them. It wasn’t long before they began introducing me to people who had taken part in other, similar actions and I realized there was much more to the story. I soon learned that over 40 other actions like the one in Catonsville had taken place all over the country and that the government went to great lengths to infiltrate and destroy the movement these men and women had started. I also learned that many of these folks are still active today, fighting for a variety of causes like ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care reform, anti-nuclear resistance, environmental reform, anti-globalization, etc. To me, this was/is a story (history) that fits perfectly with the histories of the Weather Underground, Black Panthers, and other marginalized segments of the social movements of the 1960s and ’70s.” — Joe Tropea
Current status: The film team is finishing up shooting and headed into post-production.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $20,000 by the end of the campaign on September 11th.
“Happy on the Ground: 8 Days at GRAMMY Camp”
Logline: “Happy on the Ground: 8 Days at GRAMMY Camp” captures the heartwarming personalities and passion of a group of talented teenage musicians whose sole wish is to live a life filled with music.
Production Team: Director/Cinematographer/Editor: Jay Lee; Producer: Angela Lee; Executive Producers: Neil Portnow, Kristen Madsen, Scott Goldman
About the film: “When my fellow Producers, Jennifer Roe and Dan Cotoia, told me about GRAMMY Camp it was my immediate mission to make a documentary. Dan had visited camp the year before and told amazing stories of talented kids. Camp was starting in less than 3 months which normally isn’t enough time to mobilize for a feature, especially in the middle of a recession with no funding. We called in every favor we had and got crews to follow the kids during camp. Campers are housed in the dorms at USC and literally work from 7:00 am until 11:00 pm on their songs. I tried to send crew members (most of whom were working for free) home to get some rest but the kids were so inspiring that everyone stayed the entire time. Anyone who’s ever made a film understands that working a crew 8 days straight for 16 hours a day is unheard of, yet the experience was so inspiring no one went home. As we professionals get older and more jaded about life I think the experience of seeing young people living their dream with like minded souls outweighed exhaustion for us.” — Angela Lee
Current status: The film is currently edited, and the team is raising funds to complete the sound mix and color correction.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $16,500 by the end of the campaign on August 16th.
Also in the works:
Big Beach announced that Hugh Dancy (“Adam”), Kathryn Hahn (“Revolutionary Road”), and Shirley Knight (“The Dark at the Top of the Stairs”) have joined the cast of last week’s In the Works feature profile, “My Idiot Brother.”
Sony has announced that its list of contenders for the role of Lisbeth Salander the English-language version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is down to five. Our own Anne Thompson reports, “The final five Sony tested this week for Salander include three Australian actresses, one American and one French (unidentified). The Aussies are: Emily Browning, who stars in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch; Sophie Lowe; and Sarah Snook.”