In the months following prime time television’s shooting season, workers from the Hawaii chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) union catch up on sleep, remodel homes, collect unemployment, and generally get some well deserved rest from the rigorous sixteen hour days they’ve pulled for the last six to eight months. Sometimes after being suitably renewed, they’ll help out on a colleague’s side project; they may even spearhead one of their own. After all, most of them are in the entertainment industry because they love what they make.
Veteran grip and music documentarian Bill Draheim is a lifelong fan of film and music. This is the story of how he and I wrote, produced and shot our own short here in Hawaii: a project we called John E. Dirt.
Hawaii is both tiny and global at the same time. The upshot of this is that everything you find on the continent can be found here, albeit on a smaller, more concentrated level. The independent film scene is no exception and is a bit like a high school drama club with world class talent. While in LA every last person in town – from the pizza delivery guy to the barista who serves you your soy latte – is a
producer scrabbling to make a name for themselves, in Hawaii the film community is much more collegial. There is little of the dog-eat-dog intensity that characterizes “the game” on the other side of the ocean. As I was introduced to the local players, I soon realized how supportive it could be.
One night, about a year ago, Bill and I were hanging out, tossing around ideas for movies over beers. Bill began to describe an image he had had of a man trapped in a room, forced to watch footage of deafening industrial music on an old tube television. His captors by turns cajole and threaten him in an effort to get him to play the music he is subjected to, but every time he picks up his guitar – the only luxury afforded him – he reinterprets the sonic barrage in a mellow, bluesy style. Of course, his noncompliance comes with consequences and there is hell to pay….
I liked it. It was a great idea for a number of reasons. For starters you’ve got your typical exegesis on the eternal conflict of the artist (to sell out or not to sell out, that is the question). But, even better, the premise reflected more timely social issues. Recent events at Guantanamo Bay have cast something of a pall over our smug belief that torture is what other countries do. And the fact that heavy metal music was used as a method of torture on the detainees… well, that sort of symmetry doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Of course, there was a bit of irony in that John E. Dirt the detainee is tortured by his own music.
We wanted to make it a dark film. As we were going to finance everything ourselves, we wouldn’t have to deal with restrictions from outside agencies – if we had the chance to make another movie in the future, we would have to get funding; and that might mean making something more accessible. I had always wanted to try my hand at a movie script, so I told Bill I would take a crack at it.
But the biggest benefit of the premise was a practical one: we would only have to find one room to shoot in.
End of Part 1
Reference Trailer #1
Reference Trailer #2