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FILM THREAT: SOUND IT OUT – A certified Film Threat in Progress

March 17th, 2011  |  Published in Reviews

Original Article on Film Threat

This week we head to the UK for our latest Certified Film Threat in Progress. Jeanie Finlay is currently crowdfunding her latest film, “Sound It Out,” on IndieGoGo and, amidst her still hectic filming schedule, she took the time to answer some of my questions…

Assume no one at Film Threat has heard of you: who are you, how long have you been making films? What films have you made?
I’m an artist and filmmaker living in Nottingham, England.

I made large scale video work and interactive documentary artworks for galleries and the web for years before making my first film for broadcast, “Teenland,” in 2005. I was completely thrown in at the deep end (directing a 60 minute film) and haven’t looked back. I felt I had found the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I’m interested in making intimate, moving and funny films about outsiders, fans, pretenders, and people who change how they look in order to feel differently about themselves. I’m obsessed with music and it runs through all my work like letters through Brighton rock.

My previous films include feature documentary “Goth Cruise” for IFC (USA, 75 min) and – the most downloaded title ever on IFC – the critically acclaimed “Teenland” (BBC4 60 min) and recently “Nottingham Lace” for BBC World. I’m currently in co-production on two feature documentaries, “The Great Hip Hop Hoax” with Met Film for BBC Scotland and “ORION: The Man Who Would Be King,” with Quark Films.

At the moment, I’m about to start post on “Sound It Out,” my first foray into crowd funding.

What is “Sound It Out” about?
“Sound It Out” is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside. (45-60 mins)

Director: Jeanie Finlay (Goth Cruise – IFC) Starring: Tom, Kelly, David, Daniel, 70,000 records and the good people of Teesside

A distinctive, funny and intimate film about men, obsession and the irreplaceable role music plays in our lives. “High Fidelity” with a Northern Accent.

Sound It Out Records is tucked just off the high street in Stockton-on-Tees, one of Britain’s most deprived towns. The shop has kept going while many other local record shops have passed away to the great high street in the sky. Struggling to keep afloat in the face of recession and changes in technology; it is an old fashioned enclave in an old fashioned town.

Tom is at the helm of this distinctly (99%) male environment, and our guide through the film; a shop-counter philosopher, he knows each and every one of the 70,000 records in his tiny shop and his clientele trust his word. “When I look at the records on the walls, I can hear them all in my head, it’s memories, all of them, every single one.”

Filmed over 18 months, the film gives an insight into today’s vinyl addict and today’s Teesside, offering a window into the North East. We meet an eclectic stream of visitors to the shop and accompany them home to witness them listening to their new purchase, or played as part of a DJ set.

“I sell hard music, it’s a hard area” The Status Quo man, the shy accountant with a tidy record collection, The metal head teenagers, the lone female customer, the junkies, the blaggers with carrier bags of stolen goods and the Makina fans; there’s always the Makina fans. What compels them all to keep coming back and will it be enough to keep the shop open?

I’ve confirmed what I always suspected – it’s so much more than just music and records. Vinyl holds memories and maps the soundtrack of people’s lives. You probably can’t remember when you downloaded an mp3 but I bet you can remember where and when you bought your first single, or the LP you fell in love to. People gravitate to the shop for a number of reasons, for Tom’s expertise, for the music he stocks and to just simply hang out in a place where they fit in.

Tom ends each working day with a defiant cigarette in his public, private place. With 10 independent records shutting a week he’s not sure how he would survive without it all but for the moment he’s where he belongs, among the fans, the collectors and the reassuring black discs laden with memories.

SOUND IT OUT – October Trailer from Jeanie Finlay on Vimeo.

Where did the idea for “Sound It Out” come from?
I grew up in the North East, 3 miles from the shop and went to school with Tom. For years I’ve been going in and threatening Tom “I’m going to make a film about your shop one of these days.”

I’d just got married – We sold most our record collection to finance our wedding. Tom was mortified when I explained “I don’t need to keep the record -I want new memories”. His extreme reaction confirmed for me that vinyl holds emotion for some people. It’s more than just music.

His shop Sound It Out Records seemed the perfect microcosm to make a film about men, music and the northeast. Teesside has changed a lot in the last few years with the decline of the steel industry, ship building has gone, ICI shut down. The analogue vinyl seemed like a perfect symbol of this gone and lamented industry. The area has a very strong regional identity and accent; it’s really it’s own distinct place.

I’d finished “Goth Cruise” and knew that raising full production finance on my 2 feature docs was going to take a while. I wanted to get going on a film I could just start making with minimum investment. If you’re a filmmaker you need to make films!

I also felt inspired by my American friends Mike Steinberg and Stewart Copeland whom I both met at Big Sky Doc Fest in Montana. Like a lot of American filmmakers, and in contrast to a lot of UK/European filmmakers – they just get on and make films with what they have.

I liked the idea of shooting observationally and shooting on my own. Up to now I’ve always worked with a crew, usually a cameraman and sound recordist. It has been both scary and liberating to shoot on my own.

Why is it important that this film gets finished?
I do think it’s going to be a good film! The people I have filmed and interviewed have been incredibly generous and giving with their testimonies. Opening up about their love for music, what it means to them, their lives and their inner story. It’s been by turn, funny and incredibly moving.

It’s also important to capture Sound It Out in all its glory while it’s strong and thriving. Its future is in no way certain. Independent record shops are an endangered species, in the last 5 years over 500 have closed in the UK alone. All of the record shops I grew up with in the area have gone to the ‘high street in the sky’ and are no more. This is something that’s happened all over the world and I think will speak to anyone who bought a record in a shop that was special to them.

The budgetary cuts announced by the Con/Dem government last week were the harshest in decades and Teesside was identified as the area to be worse hit by the cuts in the whole of the UK. Given the harsh economic climate and an uncertain future can Sound It Out weather the storm?

It’s a cultural haven and it’s vital to capture that.

From the outset I’ve been ambitious to not let the low budget get in the way of how I want to make the film. I asked all the people that I would choose to work with on a fully funded feature documentary. They are all my first choice! They have very generously taken token fees and helped arrange support in kind to get the film finished.

I’ve been overwhelmed by just how much support I have received in order to get the film made – from amazing funders, to record companies and artists who have donated music for gratis or very cheaply, Broadway cinema who have donated space to edit in and Sally Hodgson who has been working as PMD in an amazing capacity, helping the film find its audience.

I owe it to everyone involved that the film is finished and is good! (no pressure)

Why did you decide to crowdfund?
I really, passionately wanted to make the film. I’d been filming for about 12 months unfunded but wanted to get serious and spend more time in the shop. I didn’t want to go through the long, slow dance of meeting with broadcasters and trying the raise money the “traditional way” – crowd funding seemed like an immediate way of connecting with an audience and raising a “get on with it” shoot budget. My friend Charlie Phillips at Sheff Doc Fest also persuaded me that it could be a good fit for this film. I had nothing to lose by trying it as an experiment!

Do you have other financial resources or investors in place beyond the crowdfunding?
“Sound It Out” has been commissioned as an artwork for Sideshow, which means a small but vital investment in the film.

I’m participating in the very first crowd funding pitch at Sheff Doc Fest next week. There’s a prize of £2000 for best film. Wish me luck!

We’re trying! Private finance/investment is completely new territory to me and, I think, to a lot of British doc makers.

The traditional route has always been to secure a broadcast commission and I am also meeting with broadcasters to see if I can sell the film for broadcast.

If it doesn’t get picked up I actually don’t mind – I like the idea that this is a completely independent project that will be released on dvd and sold like an independent single in record shops.

Why did you choose IndieGoGo over another crowdfunding solution?
I tweeted to see if anyone had had any experience with crowdfunding. Danae from Indiegogo got back to me within about 5 minutes and was incredibly supportive and helpful. She completely won me over. Also they were one of the few crowd funding sites that used paypal so I didn’t need a US bank account (like Kickstarter)

Where is the crowdfunded money going? Equipment, travel, post-production, etc.?
It’s paying for the edit with “Teenland” editor Barbara Zosel, stock, drives, sound mix with the amazing Pip Norton, studio, grade, music clearances and delivery! If we’re successful it will also pay go towards dvd production.

Director Jeanie Finlay

Since this is actually the second phase of crowdfunding for the film, and your first phase was successful, what lessons did you learn in phase one to help make phase two successful as well?
Oh my goodness, so much!

The main one and a very hard one for me. I had to put my British reserve to one side. When I launched the first campaign, I just put up the trailer and we raised about 10 pence. I attended the Seize the Future workshop by Peter Broderick and Sandi DuBowski and took advice from IndieGoGo old hand John Trigonis. They all told me – “put yourself in the video.” I made a new trailer with me pitching the film and we got some bigger partners on board to help us bang the drum – in particular Record Store Day. It made a world of difference. In round 1, Andrew Riggs, a US soldier serving in Iraq, saw the link on RSD and came on board as an associate producer with a donation of $2000. It was completely overwhelming that a stranger would come on board in such an act of faith. It was amazing and completely terrifying at the same time!

Find audience and partners out in the world – filmmakers funding other filmmakers is not a sustainable model.

Design good perks.

Thank your backers and find out why they funded. It’s good to know why people funded.

Don’t be afraid of asking for help! Sally Hodgson came on board as PMD and it has been so much more fun and productive to work with someone else.

How do you maintain the proper momentum to achieve your goal?
I just absolutely believe in the film. Every new donation or music clearance I get sorted just pushes me on and on. I do think if you are passionate it’s infectious.

If you do not hit your financial crowdfunding goal, what then?
It can’t happen.

Sell a kidney?

There will be a way to get the film finished – I will find it! I’m absolutely determined.

In a perfect scenario, where are you and your film a year from today?
“Sound It Out” will be packaged like a 7” gatefold single and released for sale in every independent record shop in the UK and further afield on International Record Store Day 2011. We’ll have shown the film in a series of hidden-treasure record shops.

Me, I’ll have bought a record in every one of those shops and will be making a new film.

Why should someone give your production money?
It’s a film I feel very passionate about making. A unique film about a very special place that might not be around for ever. We have a brilliant team of crew and backers on board – come and join us and help us finish the film!

As Olly Wood backer #108 puts it: “Click the link, watch the clip, nod in agreement, fund the film. Easy as wink.”

SOUND IT OUT – from Jeanie Finlay on Vimeo.

If you’d like to know more about “Sound It Out,” or we didn’t ask all the questions you’ve got, go ahead and comment below or head over to the “Sound It Out” IndieGoGo page and comment there. Next week we’ll be back with a new project for you to check out but, until then, we hope you enjoyed this closer look at Jeanie Finlay’s “Sound It Out.

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Glimmer Films in association with Sideshow present a film by Jeanie Finlay; SOUND IT OUT.

Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.

SOUND IT OUT is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside, North East England.

A cultural haven in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, SOUND IT OUT documents a place that is thriving against the odds and the local community that keeps it alive. Directed by Jeanie Finlay who grew up three miles from the shop.

A distinctive, funny and intimate film about men, the North and the irreplaceable role music plays in our lives.

High Fidelity with a Northern Accent.