"Chaography": A New Kind of Jazz Film To Be Made
In trying to raise funding for the film, Chang and Tikofsky entered it in the Ultimate Filmmaker competition, the winner of which receives a grant. The project is now a finalist for the award.
But another method is getting public participation. Explains Tikofsky, "I found out about ArtistShare through Maria Schneiderand John Gordon, primarily. I thought it was a good thing for the artist to do because it's the only way they can control their own destiny. Given the problems of the recording industry now and the Internet and the difficulties in raising money, particularly for things that are not going to sell in the millions. Let's face it, a brilliant recording by John or Geoffrey Keezer or Maria is not going to sweep the charts."
Schneider has become pretty much the shining star of ArtistShare, showing albums can get noticed without label backing, winning awards including Grammys.
"Knowing how ArtistShare worked, I thought one of the ways we could open up people's participation in a project like this was to develop a concept like ArtistShare," says Tikofsky. "For example, we're going to film the musicians playing in a real club-like setting. If you gave x-dollars, you could be in the audience and be on film. For x-dollars you could be listed as an associate producer. We thought that might be very attractive and bring in some people and it wouldn't mean you had to give $25,000 or $100,000. But it would have an appeal for the jazz fan.
"To me, it seemed to have some inherent appeal for us, on the film-making end, to be able to raise some dollars. And of course we're going to produce a DVD and a CD from this, which we will sell. We plan to donate some of the profits, if there are any, to the Jazz Foundation. Because I think the project is out there, in part, to help the jazz community as a whole. The foundation is doing such great work this would be a way to bring some money in, to the film and the foundation," says Tikofsky. "I think because of the way we're trying to portray the artists, the artists will see that we are concerned about the music and their lives. Because all of this is being done with the help and the active participation of the musicians."
He adds, "In a sense, that's what the USA is about... this is underlying all of this. The diversity of people who come into the music as players, the diversity of audiences that come to hear and interact with the music. Our unique American phenomenon. In spite of all the interest in jazz overseas, I don't think it's quite the same experience that you get from U.S. audiences responding to people from here who are playing. That's my take on why I'm interested in this; why I think it will work as an artistic venture; why I think it'll be interesting to people in terms of wanting to work with it. I've gotten calls from people who've said, 'Hey, I heard about this. Is there anything I can do?' I think as the buzz goes out more and more, we'll see more of that and it will become a core of people, but a community that builds around that core who want to participate."
Notes Chang, "We're reaching out to the jazz community. We're reaching out to studios. We're working on several fronts to make sure it happens."
There are plans in the works for a website, but for now, people can find out about the film and how to participate at a Facebook page.
"That's probably the easiest way to get in touch with us. It's probably the most up-to-date resource right now, where they can not only get in touch with me very quickly, but find out the latest news on the film. We try to keep people updated as often as interesting news comes up," says Chang.
He feels getting public participation is "a great way to do this kind of thing. Ron's larger objective in getting involved with this particular film is that he wants to see if he can use this as a springboard for a funding operation for many films about jazz, both documentary and fiction. If this film is successful, hopefully it will mean more resources toward recording and archiving jazz on film in many different ways."
Chang and Tikofsky hope one of the benefits of the project will be helping to reenergize interest in jazz music and those who make it.
"That's one of my big hopes," says Chang. "I'm probably an optimist, but I'm almost positive this stuff can do that. It's not like any jazz presentation on film I've ever seen before. It's going to be hip, I think, and it has really cutting-edge music that both respects tradition and tries to push beyond it. And I think it's going to reach more than just the existing jazz community. I think the reception we've gotten at the Ultimate Filmmaker Competition is an advance is indication that there are a lot more people interested in seeing this film made than just musicians and jazz fans. I think if they see how jazz music can really be and how integral it is to a lot of the larger, more philosophical things the country is struggling with these days, this has a chance to reach a much larger audience, much faster than going from club to club."
From his perspective as one inside the jazz music industry and directly affected by its vagaries, Dillard has similar hopes, "especially more so for the general public to see exactly how it is that we operate. The film isn't going to be filled with these stereotypes that you hear about musicians. You'll see the experience... Not just the typical things that people who don't know better generally associate with a jazz musician."
Dillard says there are many young music listeners who think jazz is an arena for older musicians, previous generations. "I like what it's going to be and I like that it's going to bridge the gap, as well," he said. "So many people associate this music with music that only older people play... But there should be something to keep the generations bridged and show what the younger cats are doing. And that's what this movie is going to do. It's going to be a combination of young cats and old cats working together, as we do (in real life). I like what's going to be on the film."
Says Chang, "I loved watching 'Round Midnight and Dexter Gordonand that performance. I think one of the problems with most of the jazz movies we've seen made up to nowthis is something I talked about with our adviser Hank O'Neill, a distinguished jazz producermost of the serious films about jazz have always wallowed in the aspect of how these men destroyed their lives, either from drugs or through some kind of tragic confrontation with the society of the '50s or something like that. I wanted to do something without those issues. They'll all appear in the film.
But I wanted the focus of this film to be about how jazz artists struggle to create their music. The focus is really on the creative side of their lives. How life informs the way they create their music. There are no portraits of idiot savants... All of these artists are dynamic, vibrant characters who are making their choices in order to live the lives they want, in order to play the music they want. That's the aspect of their stories I want to come through most stalwart."
Chang's hopes for the film are grand. "I'd love to see it get a theatrical distribution. I'd like to have it get a good reception at festivals" like Sundance, Slamdance and South By Southwest. "What I'd like to see is that this film gets received well at a couple festivals and particularly ones that focus on music. I really do think that this, in a lot of different ways, ranging from the quality of the musicians to the innovative nature of the way we're telling this story, and the kind of characters that people don't often see in any movies these days that are made in America... I really have a strong belief this is going to get a wide reception in the country. Of course Europe and Asia, where jazz is even more popular than it is here, are places where we want to have a big presence."
"After the theatrical run, we'll see where we go after that. I've had pretty good relationships with people at PBS. I've worked for the Great Performances unit. Maybe they'd be interested or maybe an indie film channel would be interested. Who knows? It's all speculation. Right now, we're focused on making sure the film itself gets made in the way we want it to get made."
"We've talked about using this as a base to build a whole series of films that take the history of American jazz and present it through this kind of approach to film biography," says Tikofsky. "I really have fallen in love with the project and I'm doing all I can to find people and get help and do things to support the work."
The group is excited about the process and very much looking forward to rolling up their sleeves and delving into it once all the ducks are in a row. Chang likes the feel of the project and the way it's shaping up.
"Movies are almost like a snowball," he says. "You spend a lot of time doing the groundwork and a lot of times it feels like you're never going to get to the start of this thing. Then all of a sudden enough pieces fall togethernot all of them, sometimesbut enough of them. And then you can't stop it even if you wanted to. That's what happened with my last film. This film, if anything, seems to be moving along a lot faster than the last one in terms of the reception we've been getting, in terms of getting the people we want involved. All of us are pretty much raring to go."
He recalls that while working on the "City Arts" program at PBS, the group interviewed pianist Cyrus Chestnut. "He was saying, early on in his career, 'I'm not going to do anything stupid that I know I can't do. If there's even a shot that I could do it, I'm going to go for it.' I think that's what I feel about this film. Somehow with the energy and the talents we're going to be able to put together for this film, it's going to turn into something special. I think having worked on the variety of things I've worked on; I have a pretty good sense of how I want the music to work with the story lines and how the different stories fit together. It all feels good. No matter how much of a tightrope you're walking, you have to make sure the tightrope is tight. Otherwise you're going to fall. I think we've got a pretty tight tightrope as our basis right now."
As for Dillard, "I've taken a look at it. I'm ready. I don't know my lines. But I'm ready to go to work."