EDITOR'S NOTE: Craig Zobel's "Great World
Of Sound" opened in the U.S. on September 14, 2007 -- here is the feature story
on Mr. Zobel and his film, which was written in January, when the filmmaker was
at the Sundance Film Festival with the film.
The director in New York City. Scammers 'R' Us: actors Kene Holliday and Pat Healy (wearing tie), in "Great World Of Sound", directed by Craig Zobel.
"I can't express to you how thrilled I am", Craig Zobel says about his debut feature length film "Great World Of Sound", which debuts at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20 at the Library Center Theater in Park City. Mr. Zobel, a late-twenties-something North Carolinian, is talking to The Popcorn Reel from New York City, where he presently resides. We speak just days before his film makes its 2007 debut. "The idea is that there are these people out there [song sharks] that prey on the little guy -- that actively seek out people that won't know a lot about the music industry, just prey on them and try to take their money." The practice was "pretty widespread" in the sixties and seventies, the director notes. Now however, because it is so easy to do home recording, very little of the scamming practice remains, though it is not entirely gone. Zobel cites Christian music as one of the most prevalent musical niches where such sharks exist, as well as in the country music genre.
"Great World Of Sound" is about that arena -- where with the promise of fresh new musical talent and (big-dollar signs) scam sharks smell blood and go for the kill. In the film unexpected events take place, and the filmmaker sprung some surprises of his own on some of the film's unsuspecting real-life musicians, whom had come in answering to actual ads that the film's crew had posted. "We did set pieces where [the actors] would interview the musicians." At the time, the musicians -- who responded to ads stating that "record producers were coming to town looking for talent to audition for their record label" -- did not know that cameras were being trained on them. Furthermore, they had no idea that the interviews were part of Zobel's film. "In the [film's] production office -- we made that look like specific locations for the film . . . we actually ended up cutting holes into the walls of the set," the director said.
Some of the set-up was tricky, but Zobel, an engaging, upbeat and humorous young man who prior to directing "Sound" was a production manager on several movies, including David Gordon Green's films "George Washington" and "All The Real Girls", got the actors to "make sure they were sitting in specific places just beyond camera," among other things. "After they [the interviews] were done, we'd take them [the musicians] out and explain to them what song sharking was, that they shouldn't, you know . . . you should never trust these ads." Zobel underlined the difficulty of catching these elusive individuals who perpetrate frauds in the business. "They [the song sharks] change their names a lot," he said. Despite such challenges, the director hopes that his film as well as others pertaining to the issue of song sharking, can be a helpful service to those who would jump to start their music careers. "Telling a story about this, hopefully it alerts other people out there" he said, "if they go into a situation that they can say that 'it sounds like this movie,'" then they can avoid the dangers of the shadier side of the record industry.
As for the filmmaking industry, there was good support for Craig Zobel on his debut film directing effort. Zobel's good friend Mr. Green helped him out by showing up on the set for a few days during production. "I learned a lot," from Mr. Green, Zobel said. Being an first assistant director and unit production manager (on several films including Green's) "really does tell you the nuts and bolts about how to make a movie."
But Mr. Zobel isn't about to recommend that aspiring filmmakers skip film school in pursuit of their goals. "[Film school] can be awesome for people and it can be a great way for people to meet other people . . . and you should go to film school," but he reiterates, "I definitely think that [P.A.-ing on a movie ] helps you to know how [movies] work." For people who want to direct a movie, "I would think you would almost always want to watch other people do it, to get the experience." He is not the biggest fan of DVD audio commentaries, which have been cited by some prominent directors as a helpful source of information. "It's not engaging enough for me to be able to hear people talking about it [making movies]." Though at the same time he doesn't advocate dropping the hammer on them, citing that everyone has their way of learning the process of filmmaking.
(One thing that Mr. Zobel has engaged in the process of is the creation of "Homestar Runner", a website of which he was one of the co-founders and co-creators. It is an eye-popping site.)
"Great World Of Sound" features Kene Holliday, who has acted in several American television dramas including "Law and Order" (Mr. Holliday plays Clarence in Mr. Zobel's film), and Pat Healy, whom fans of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" may remember as the pharmacy employee who hounds Julianne Moore's character about all the pills that she has presented a prescription for. Zobel speaks highly of them both. "Kene Holliday, he came in the first day of auditions and blew me away and was completely amazing . . . out of everybody that I saw, I decided that he was the best." As for Mr. Healy, "I had met Pat on the sets of other movies and always thought that he was a great character actor . . . he was a great guy." The character of Martin that Healy plays in "Sound" was set for Mr. Healy, and no auditions were held for it.
In the seventies, Craig's own father encountered the kinds of problems that the Martin character does in Mr. Zobel's film. "He thought [the process of signing on musicians in the business] was legit and realized that he was kind of scamming people and that he was sort of tricked into scamming people," the director said. The senior Mr. Zobel served as a consultant of sorts on "Great World Of Sound", and was invited on to the film set to explain to the film's participants and musicians "how these pitches worked."
"Great World Of Sound" was "shot entirely in North Carolina." With a laugh and perhaps tongue-in-cheek, the director said that "the money goes longer if you shoot outside New York," citing the high production costs of filming in the Big Apple. Many filmmakers residing in America are shooting their productions in Toronto or Vancouver as way to lessen costs. "Sound" was made on what many in the film industry would describe as a shoestring budget, and all involved with its production hope that the film becomes the "Sound" heard round the "World".
"Great World Of Sound" is produced by Plum Pictures. The film company also has a future Craig Zobel film in the pipeline that is being developed called "Drinking The Straw". "Great World Of Sound" is also produced by Melissa Palmer, David Gordon Green, Richard Wright, and Craig Zobel.
"Great World Of Sound" screens at Sundance on five occasions, beginning this Saturday at 8:30pm (Utah time) at the Library Center Theatre in Park City, and then on Sunday at noon at the Egyptian Theater, among its screenings.
Originally published on January 18, 2007.
Craig Zobel's Homestar Runner site: www.homestarrunner.com
SUNDANCE HOME Logo: courtesy Sundance For more visit www.sundance.org