With only 32 hours left to finance documentary about the lunatic genius record producer and godfather of DIY recording, filmmaker Susan Stahman writes a special edition of Blurt’s The Bully Pulpit column.
By Blurt Staff
Last week we told you about A Life in the Death of Joe Meek, a biopic about the late, legendary 1960s record producer and songwriter. Well, with 32 hours to go, the filmmakers have raised $33,705 toward their $40,000 goal. That means that they need to raise $6,295 in order to receive any funding at all from Kickstarter. That means that Blurt readers helped filmmakers Susan Stahman and Howard Berger raise $10,000 last week alone.
Stahman submitted a special guest column for Blurt‘s “The Bully Pulpit” in hopes of raising more money for the film. In it, she describes the nine-year-old, completely DIY passion project and explains how the movie, which began as a narrative feature film, led the her and Berger down “an endless creative rabbit hole” and became much more than a simple biographical documentary.
So give it a read (after the poster) and check out the Kickstarter trailer (after the story) below. Hopefully we can push the film up to its goal and see this fascinating film sooner than later.
LET’S DO THIS: NINE YEARS AND THREE THOUSAND MILES TO JOE MEEK
By Susan Stahman
We were approximately 3,000 miles apart and completely
dissatisfied with our respective careers, when we finally made the decision
that would change and shape of the rest of our lives to date. “Are we gonna do
this? Let’s do this.” That was in the fall of 2003.
After nearly a decade in the making, with the two of us as
the only production crew, it’s more than safe to say that A Life in the Death
of Joe Meek is no longer just a music documentary about the UK’s first
independent pop record producer. First conceived as a narrative (inspired by a
’95 Pulse magazine article we had
read on the pioneering producer), it didn’t take long for the film to grow
fairly strong legs of its own and stumble into an endless creative rabbit hole.
We quickly realized the story we wanted to tell was not a simple biography, but
actually a compendium of fascinating, dovetailing lives and an illustration of
a fragile, emotionally savage world we were given the privilege to uncover
instead. This process of discovery and documentation has been far richer, more
interesting, and more rewarding than either of us could have imagined.
Joe Meek (a rural Newent farmer’s kid who, straight out of
the womb, grew up obsessed with sound and recording) is quite a perplexing
figure – a creative agitator and forward-thinker having most recently gained
the posthumous honor of being named the #1 record producer of all time by NME, beating out undeniably huge
contemporaries such as Quincy Jones, Phil Spector, and George Martin who,
ironically, used to be Meek’s supervising producer during his early days as top
engineer at IBC Studios. At that time, in the late 1950’s, recording practices
were literally — strictly — by the book (his boss was Allen Stagg, the man
who notoriously shut the power off on Pink Floyd during the recording of Dark Side Of The Moon at Abbey Road at
the exact minute their session exceeded the studio’s daily hours of operation).
Joe ignored the directives of studio heads-of-staff and the “scientists down in
the cellar” in the technical department and, instead, employed extreme
techniques to catapult, front-and-center, the sound of his recordings. One
prime example can be heard on Humphrey Lyttelton’s “Bad Penny Blues”.
Joe’s use of close mic-ing on the piano and drum-brushsticks was a radical
approach that not only got the track into the Pop Top 20 (trad-jazz never made
it to the pop charts), but also went on to directly influence “Lady
Madonna” by the Beatles and their producer, George Martin (Humph told us
that though George Martin was the credited producer on the “Bad Penny
Blues” session, he wasn’t present – it was Joe’s show all the way).
How was Meek rewarded for such bravery and
commercial-oriented insight? He was eventually alienated in the workplace
through the use of an encouraged homophobia (Joe was gay during an era when it
was criminal to be so) as a tool to force Joe’s decision to move on.
By the early 1960s, after having broken away from the major
studios, Meek was recording #1 chart hits from his own independent converted
home studio in a then-dodgy area of London.
One of those hits included his masterpiece, “Telstar” by the Tornados (a song
that he had written and a group that he assembled) which is still the most
internationally successful and covered pop instrumental ever recorded. Despite
his many lasting contributions to the music recording industry and to the
various developing genres and cultures of the pop/rock universe, Meek’s tragic
death and murder of his devoted landlady (at his own hand) kept his story
either largely unknown by the general public or tightly wrapped in cloak of
mystery, sensationalism, or just plain misinterpretation.
After conducting over 100 interviews with those closest to
him, including friends, family, colleagues, critics, and a few huge musical
artists (including Jimmy Page, Steve Howe, Alex Kapranos, Keith Strickland,
Edwyn Collins) who both worked for him and/or were inspired by him – we are
closer than ever to being ready for the film to see the light of day. Despite
wanting to snag a few more essential interviews (David Bowie, Rod Stewart and
Ritchie Blackmore have proven temporarily elusive), and needing a whole lot of
post-production work, we are confident we now have enough in the project to
drive home the fact that there is much more here than meets the previously
jaundiced eye. As previously stated – Meek’s story is not just a music
documentary. It’s a movement. A movement for inspired upstarts, towards radical
thinking and corporate disruption. Most importantly, it’s a film that
celebrates the independent spirit, not only through its subject, but through
its completely self-financed, DIY production.