On ‘Start A Fire’ or How I Created Years of Work For Myself by Loving Music

To officially rebrand the blog, which will forever tentatively be titled ‘Unapologetic in L.A.’, I will begin by declaring some kind of thesis, which is ‘a deeper look into the film, television, journalism, and creative writing work I have done in my life’, because, as I have been told, a writer ought to write what one knows, and what I know best is the work I have done in said mediums, the path I have taken, and what my experience has been like. And because I feel that the experiences are relevant to people interested in creating their own paths.

I will start by going back to 2007 when I embarked on my first real film project which would ultimately help catapult my career in documentary film and television, and journalism. The project began as a feature length documentary called Cinema Musica about the emerging independent and underground music scene in Ohio. I finally released this project to the public this year after its run of screenings years ago.

During this time I was still in my senior year of high school doing post secondary option studying Film and Creative Writing at the University of Toledo. I wanted nothing more than to make a real film after years of making practice short films (and a horror comedy feature that hides in the darker corners of the internet), so I saved all my money to buy a Canon XL1 camera and a boom mic.

With the help of my then best friends, without whom I could have never survived the mosh pits or hordes of fan girls, I embarked to shoot the documentary in the span of a year. During that time we filmed over thirty live performances and interviews. We traveled all over Ohio and met a lot of amazing people, indulged in their music and did the best we could to capture the power of their music and show the world how much talent existed around us.

Once we felt we had enough footage to make a feature length film, we went into the editing process. At the time the demands of college grew fierce and the project was shelved while classes took priority. It took the better part of three years to edit the film into one cohesive piece. Realistically we shot about two hours with each band, including their entire set and full interview. We were forced to cut down each band to five minutes or less to fit into a time length so that we could submit it to film festivals.

After being renamed Start A Fire and having its run of screenings, I let the film sit untouched for years while I finished my degree and then pursued other paths and projects. Many times over the years people have contacted me about the footage, and I realized that it was finally time to put it online. However, I not only wanted to upload the videos for streaming, I also wanted to revisit the artists seven years later, that is 2014, to see where their music and passions lie now.

Since the first time around I was devastated at cutting the artists’ stories to less than five minutes, I decided to approach a new medium that would allow me more time to truly tell the musicians’ stories, which was podcasting. I was able to revisit some of the artists to explore their current musical endeavors at great lengths, which I felt was a great way to complement the footage from years ago. This process was sort of an experiment in multi-media storytelling, or hybrid content creating, for upcoming projects to see how audiences would respond to real-time ‘behind the scenes’ interviews about their art in conjunction with videos shot at completely different times in the artists’ lives and careers.

There is a part of me that is so passionate to tell the stories of others and their accomplishments, their passions, their trials, and their journeys. While I strive to create my own art, I can’t deny how moved I am by the art of others. Start A Fire was my first real and ambitious project and, seven years later, I see that the project was an early version of what would become a grander vision. Start A Fire led me to years of work in arts and music journalism, more documentary films (such as my forthcoming poetry documentary series), working for an MTV reality series, and a Jennifer Lopez-produced reality series. However, looking back, I see that when the work was my own, I strived to create content that documented art, artists, and artistic movements in different mediums, no matter how rugged or polished the filmmaking or process would turn out.

Looking back on the footage from Start A Fire, I see the work of a broke nineteen-year-old kid that makes up in heart where it lacks in technical quality. I would like to believe that the people who selected to screen it felt the same way. And years later I believed strongly enough that the work of these musicians and their stories were just as important as they were seven years ago, no matter how raw the footage of these independent and underground artists is.

The vision has always been rooted in the work of artists like Andy Warhol or Jack Kerouac. For example, Warhol’s films were often raw reflections of life—and Kerouac’s sketches were profound yet simple. Films and sketches were not either artists’ primary medium, and their projects in these mediums tended to lack technical quality compared to their polished, better known work, but they are tributes to the artists’ voices and styles because they were more immediate forms of expression for the artists to manifest their visions quicker.

This is how I see Start A Fire and the forthcoming poetry series. I see a generation of artists whose work truly evoked a creative landscape—that landscape painted with voices of ambition, strength, and struggle from musicians and poets who had something real to say. Where I play in this is that I couldn’t stand by and let what they had to say go undocumented, so much so that for years I made it a priority to also pay tribute to their art by bringing light to it in my journalism and documentaries, and contribute to the landscape, or ‘fuel the buzz’, so to speak.

On a more contemporary note I think of Richard Linklater’s work in movies like Boyhood or the Before trilogies—exploring the lives of real people and telling their stories over a matter of years. I followed Start A Fire with a poetry documentary which, I’m sad to say, was lost in the shuffle when I was focused on graduating college and then immediately pulled to Cleveland to work on a feature film for four months, and then worked three full-time jobs to save to move to Los Angeles, and then moved to Los Angeles to work in film and TV. I was able to release some of the videos from the series for the Toledo Public Library Poetry Speaks events which highlighted many talented poets from the Toledo area and beyond. I also shot many interviews and intimate performances and readings from the poets. Now, years later, I have been able to revisit the footage and I look forward to releasing it all as a series next year.

Thankfully after Start A Fire I was able to learn how to take the technical quality in my films to the next level with the poetry documentary series and on, but to this day I still struggle with how I shot Start A Fire. Considering that I was a young guy with a growing school loan debt, I think the project stands the test of time, and looking back I am proud of its raw nature, and see it as a testament to independent film and music. Over six hours of videos and podcasts later, I hope to have at least contributed an education of if not an anthropological tribute to a generation of musicians.

I could wax poetic about the year of road trips and shooting the documentary or the years of editing parties and screenings, but I will torture you with the stories and musings of this filmmaker maybe in a future blog.

Start A Fire Series:

Podcasts on iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nathan-elias-start-fire-podcast/id897291062

Press:

http://www.toledoblade.com/Music-Theater-Dance/2008/11/28/UT-students-brave-mosh-pits-to-make-movie-on-Ohio-bands.html

Student filmmaker finds music in the heart of it all

http://www.advertiser-tribune.com/page/content.detail/id/502526/Toledoan-filming-Ohio-bands.html

http://www.toledo.com/index.php?src=news&srctype=Mobile_News_Detail&category=Listen%20Up%20Toledo&refno=1117

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