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This was the question posed by Jennifer Wilson at the BAVC Producers Institute for New Media Technologies Public Conference Day last weekend. Filmmakers (and this includes documentary filmmakers) have a myriad of options for telling their stories. Which begs the question, when does it stop being about the film? Or put another way, when does it stop being only about the film? The narrative spine need not be exclusively encased in a linear, run-time theatrical experience. (Also known as “movie”).

This is going to drive film purists nuts.

We’re not talking about the myth of taking away the primacy of the storyteller/auteur, or letting the audience choose alternate endings to the film, or adding interactivity just for the sake of “being interactive.” We’re talking about how new devices (e.g. – tablets, smartphones), eBooks (downloadable electronic books that blend text, video, audio, social media, etc.), data visualization (graphic representations of people, places and inter-relationships – paired with a timeline/chronology – sometimes presented using mind mapping software), and locative media (e.g. – GPS tagging, story maps, augmented reality apps) could all potentially be additive to the world of documentary storytelling – inclusive of the linear film, but more than just a theater or living room experience.

As a producer/director – I have many choices on how to tell the story of Get It All Out, but for practical reasons – I can’t choose them all. So, we’re working with what we have – and looking to augment the story (not the film) by all available means, when and where the cross-platform instance of the story adds value to the audience’s experience.

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Violet Creighton

Violet Creighton

I first made contact with John’s eldest sister Susan on her birthday in January, explaining the nature of our documentary and how I wanted to interview her.  After a near miss in late February, we finally connected this past weekend.  John and Susan’s mom Violet (pictured above) turns 91 next week, and is more alert and together than some folks a third her age.

Violet & Susan were happy to see us as we arrived, and we had a few quality hours with them that afternoon.  This was the house the John spent most of his childhood in – and we toured the rooms, looked at their photos and watched home movies of John, Susan and Mary Lou.

Mary Lou (or Lou, as John called her) was also a musician, and sang in a band in high school. Sadly, Mary Lou passed away from cancer a few years back, and her husband (whom she met in that band) the year after.

After a couple hours, Susan had to leave for work – but we stayed on for dinner with Violet – making a run to the local restaurant and bring back some fish sandwiches.   We sat at the kitchen table – eating and talking until it was time to go.  It was a very good day.

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Why make a movie about a band very few people have heard of, from 25+ years ago, from Pittsburgh, PA – no less? It’s question I’ve been asked, and have asked myself – and continue to explore – as April 2009 marks the one-year anniversary of the start of “Get It All Out.”

The answer I come back to is basically this: For a brief moment in time, Stick Against Stone was unlike any other band. In the era of punk rock guitars and 3 chord songs, they decided to play 3 and 4 part horn harmonies, with two drummer/percussionists and a bassist – with everyone involved in the writing of the songs. Initially, it was no guitars! What could be more “punk rock” than to have the energy of punk, coupled with a political conscience, a sensibility of spiritual seeking, and a world view that meshed with an egalitarian philosophy about the collective songwriting process – and to do it all without guitars! (The guitars would come later, but still…the spirit of the horns set the direction for all that would come after.)

More akin to the NYC Downtown & No Wave music or British-based punky-reggae-avant-proto jazz mash-ups of the 1979 to 1982, SAS was a fluky fish that had managed to swim far inland from the Atlantic – only to somehow to appear in the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, against all odds.

OK – for any band to be TRULY great - they have to have a signature sound.

• They need an ANTHEM - “Wasted Lives” – check! (a hooky, existential call-to-action/arms that draws you in like a Hoover on a dirty Berber)
They need a timeless BALLAD“Elephants” – check! (a beautiful instrumental poem with goosebump-raising harmonies and the word “classic” written all over it)
• They need LYRICS to capture and reflect the spirit of the times – check! (the Zen-like poem of “Index of Directions” and the oblique yearning of “Moonlight Finds a Face” – both sweeping across the night sky like a low-Earth orbiting satellite built by a Mardi Gras Krewe team high on Ayahuasca while listening to Albert Ayler’s “Spirits Rejoice” on endless loop.)
• They need a CHARACTER, if not a full-blown “Star” to carry the image and message – which brings us to John Creighton (check!). Playing soprano sax (beautifully) and flute (muscularly – more like the assertiveness of Eric Dolphy or Rashaan Roland Kirk than the hippie noodlings of other Art-Rockers we could name) – John’s poetic words and vocals elevated the game to where it wasn’t a game any more – but a seeking prayer and collective invocation of something more than a simple dive bar gig. His time on Earth, on this material plane, may have only consisted of 30 years – but managed to create a lifetime of unforgettable impressions on everyone who knew him.

Right there, you have enough elements to frame a discussion – set against the backdrop of “Morning in America” Neo-Puritan Reagan-era recession and industrial decay, before text messages and the Internet – where sub-cultural pockets of progressive resistance had to actually talk face-to-face to know what was going on. (Lastly, there are many other great songs that will eventually come to light, spanning 4+ versions of the group).

The challenge in telling a story plucked from obscurity, doused in anonymity, fading in finite memories – is that even the participants are uncertain as to the construct of the details, consisting primarily of the events and artifacts that they themselves created. What remains is the jigsaw of DNA audio waveforms and carbon-14 interviews that await the new recording & assemblage of the archivist / archeologist / narrator to excavate, dust and weave together into an imperfect new composite whole. A challenge that the documentary medium was made for, but at the same time – should also be extended into the 24/7 electronic narrative tissue of this time; of post-millennial digital storytelling.

So we blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – but none of these are the complete story. They are the preparation and reinforcement of process – the open diary and journal of the path to a run-time narrative. We acknowledge and embrace the necessity to have both an ongoing online dialog, a conversation about the filmmaking process – and the eventual contiguous narrative of the film itself.

Credits to the song "Body Motion" from the TMI 015 compilation album

Credits to the song "Body Motion" from the TMI 015 compilation album

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