I have a tricky relationship with musicals. I find it somewhat difficult to maintain my suspension of disbelief under the best of circumstances. The somewhat schizophrenic aesthetic of most movie musicals usually shatters my ability to embrace the fantasy.
I was intrigued by the concept of a crowd-funded indie musical. Indie film is often marked by some form of restriction on production and that restriction is often budget. The notion of producing a low budget indie musical crested "ambitious" and veered on the precipice of "audacious". Original music. Choreographed dance numbers. Theatrical lighting and sound. Spectacle doesn’t come cheap, and a hell of a lot of sweat equity is required to make up any deficit in your budget.
How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song tells the story of Joe (Joe Schermann), a struggling musician in New York waiting for his big break. He’s waiting for the perfect show to arrive which will celebrate his unique musical genius. His live-in girlfriend Evey (Christina Rose) is an aspiring actress toiling through the competitive and brutal theatrical audition scene.
Joe is a fanatic about his craft, and when his friend Gunther (Mark DiConzo) presents him with an opportunity to write the music for an upcoming Off-Broadway show it would seem to be a perfect fit for his girlfriend. Unfortunately Joe has recently been "inspired" by sultry songstress Summer (Debbie Williams), and he's starting to use her as his muse instead of Evey.
What follows is an excellent examination of the conflict between relationship, commercialism, and artistic integrity.
HDYWAJSS is creative, fresh, and inventive. It understands its limitations, but it never loses sight of its goal. There’s a story here which is deeply personal, and is identifiable to any who toyed with the idea of becoming a performer. You’ll get a glimpse of the struggle, the desire, the shallowness, and the celebration of capturing a perfect performance moment. Those moments you live for. The moments which make all the rest of the crap you deal with worthwhile. The desire to create those moments.
It’s clear Writer & Director Gary King has bared a small part of his own soul in writing these characters, and he crafts an effective ensemble. In producing this original piece, he’s chosen a smart path in bringing it to life, namely our journey through a Movie Musical focusing on people trying to produce a Stage Musical. With so much of the film featuring the audition and rehearsal process, it tremendously helps the audience overlook any small flaws.
Many in the production were responsible for multiple jobs in bringing this film to light. Christina Rose is vivacious as Evey, and she does a phenomenal job as the film’s lead choreographer. Her dance numbers are fun to watch. Joe has moments of genius superiority with light sprinklings of Woody Allen-isms. He was also responsible for the film’s music and lyrics. It makes his portrayal of “Fictional Joe” all the more interesting to watch. He demonstrates a young man at a turning point. He could become a Mozart or end up a Salieri.
The cinematography is capable, though I find it does suffer from a bit too much of that indie "absurdly-shallow-depth-of-field" which drifts in and out of focus. In personal scenes, quiet moments between characters, we’ll unnecessarily transition from steady shots on tripods to floating camera work. I feel an opportunity was lost here to make a choice. That “Real Life” could be steady and “Musical Life” could float.
Near the middle of the film however, when Joe delivers a series of searing musical tributes, we’re presented production value which rivals many better financed films.
That’s maybe what helps HDYWAJSS rise above. Not only do you see practically every penny of the $50,000 it raised on Kickstarter up on the screen, but you also see the collective blood, sweat, tears, and love of a dedicated ensemble (many wearing multiple hats) filling in the gaps. It's no surprise that the film and Gary King have already won a number of festival awards for this endeavor.
Returning to my opening point, there’s just something really ballsy about producing a musical on a shoestring budget. All the more satisfying that it genuinely works as well as it does. For those that appreciate the intimacy, the “warts and all” approach of films like Once, and those who enjoy a little Broadway, How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song is one I would certainly add to the queue.