Friday, January 30, 2015

How I'm spending my Friday night

Transcribing quotes. Lots of lots of quotes. This is nothing new for me, but I've never transcribed so much speech from one person at one time. I'll be shocked if I'm not hearing Burt's voice in my head when I'm trying to sleep later.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

From now on, more meetings like this

I can't believe I'm saying this, but we had a three-hour meeting last night that I wish could have lasted longer.
Nothing energizes me like being surrounded by creative, talented people, and the juices were definitely flowing in that room. Sure, we got off track a few times ... but by the time we left, we had a solid game plan in place to keep the progress of our film moving.
The meeting involved me, Jon Pic (pictured), Kenny Linn and the tremendous new addition to our team. And who is that? Stay tuned.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The TIMEs, they are a-changin'

A few days ago, I hinted about a book I've been reading. It is called "God and the Gay Christian" and it was written by Matthew Vines, who is featured in the current issue of TIME magazine.
My friend Sonja has met him. She told me about Matthew and his mission more than two years ago. When she learned of this documentary, Sonja insisted on buying me a copy of his book to enrich my own knowledge, and I'm thankful she did.
When the TIME article came out, Sonja bought me a copy of that, too. I received it in the mail today.
When I tell you about the passionate support system we have for this film, you can put Sonja on the top of that list. She's a lot more liberal than I am, but there is no better friend you could ask for than her. If you're doing something she believes in, there's no stopping Sonja.
I don't dare try to paraphrase what Vines and "The Reformation Project" are all about with a simple blog post. But I do invite you to spent a couple of minutes watching this news segment put together by my friend Hannah. You can watch that here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Nobody had any, in case you were wondering

Now here's a "Throwback Thursday" for you ... Jon and I having coffee at a hotel on a Saturday morning last summer, going over last-minute details before we officially started shooting our film.
This also happened to fall on my birthday, and it might have been the strangest birthday I've had yet. Burt was deathly ill, so our first interview with him was delayed an hour or so. He wouldn't even tell us what room he was staying in until he'd fixed himself up.
After the shooting, I took Burt out to lunch with my son, a high school senior who wants to go into medicine. He watched Burt phone in his own prescription, and naturally thought that was pretty righteous.
I had all kinds of plans to entertain Burt that night, including a free concert by the Little River Band in Andover Central Park. But all Burt wanted to do was go back to his hotel and sleep. He had no idea it was my birthday.
So I went home and started individually thanking everyone who had wished me happy birthday on Facebook.
That got old after a while, so I decided to go to the concert by myself. While I was there, this girl I went to high school with sent me a Facebook message, saying she would let me kiss her for my birthday. I'd been waiting years to hear that, and she just happened to live in Andover, so I drove to her house and took her up on it. And then I went back home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The article that sparked this film

These are some copies of the Andover American, a newspaper that has since been consolidated with Augusta and El Dorado into the Butler County Times-Gazette.
The American was only around for a couple of years, but I am fiercely proud of the work we did when I was editor there. It also gave me the opportunity to write the story of Burt Humburg, which in turn inspired me to make this film.
That article, if you're interested, can be found here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What I've been watching

Most of the jobs involved in making a film aren't glamorous. But watching hour after hour of someone else's home movies - looking for what might be a good five-second segment of B roll - is particularly mind numbing.
This clip of baby Burt cramming an egg into his father's mouth might make our film, especially since his dad is now deceased. Then again, it might not.
I'm thankful Burt's mother Judy let us borrow these, because it's really going to help our film. It's just not exciting. These could be long-lost home movies from the Kennedys and it wouldn't be exciting.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Who did what now?

When I was younger, I decided I was going to read the Bible cover to cover. I think I got about as far as Shem begetting Aphaxad, and Aphaxad begetting Salah, and Salah and bettering Eber, and Eber begetting Peleg, and Peleg …
Well, you can see where I’m going with this. I didn't even make it out of Genesis. To this day, I'm skeptical when anyone tells me they've read the whole Bible. 
But I am about halfway through a book that's teaching me a lot about some of the crazy stuff that happened int the Old Testament. It addresses homosexuality (boy, does it) and as fate would have it, it just happens to have been written by someone from Wichita.
I will follow up on this when I get a better grasp on it, but I think it's safe to say this book is a game changer.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

... And this is how the interview ended

This man giving me a kiss is Monty Lewis, the football coach at Friends University. If you've ever met Coach Lew, this photo will not surprise you. He's a genuine, affectionate bear of a man. If he wants to hug you - as I once wrote in the Wichita Eagle - that hug will be over when he decides it is.
I've always admired Lewis for his integrity, and the way he and his wife Pooh treat their former players like family. He was recruited by and played for Dennis Franchoine, he coached with Urban Meyer - his big-college contacts run deep. But Lewis was always more comfortable with the close player interaction that small college football allows, and his 145-71 record is only a sliver of the legacy he'll someday leave.
Luckily for us, Lewis is also a terrific interview. Burt Humburg, the subject of our film, played for Lewis for four years at Southwestern College and considers him a father figure.
If I may speak for Jon and Kenny, our interview with Lewis last night made us all feel great about where the documentary is headed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What drew me to Jon Pic?

This is Jon Pic. I would first of all point out that if you work with cameras for a living, there are worse names you could have. Anyway, this is him on a bus full of attractive women on their way to a Steampunk Festival in New Mexico last weekend.
I'm still not sure what Steampunk is, even though he has patiently tried to explain it to me. I do know he spent a lot of time taking photos of models, doing ice luge shots with models and drawing a elaborate temporary tattoo on a model's skin.
It was on a complete whim that I called Jon a few months ago and asked him if he wanted to shoot a documentary with me. I barely knew the guy at the time, and I don't recall discussing movies with him before that conversation. I just had a feeling we'd click.
My gut was right; he was completely on board. It's been rewarding to spend time and exchange ideas with Jon. He always tells me what he thinks, even if I don't want to hear it. Don't we all need someone like that?

Friday, January 9, 2015

I almost forgot to read this today

"When you decide on a course of action that is in line with My will, nothing in heaven or on earth can stop you. You may encounter many obstacles as you move toward your goal, but don't be discouraged - never give up!"
- Today's devotional in my new book, Jesus Calling

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What are the odds?

Part of getting this documentary made was having access to the television studio and professionals at KPTS Channel 8 in Wichita. That process started a few months with a phone call to KPTS President Michele Gors.
I mentioned to Michele that the subject of the film grew up in Andover, Kansas. Michele loved that - she and her family actually live in Andover and know the community well. She asked if he still lived there.
"No," I replied, "he's a physician in Iowa."
"Where in Iowa?" she asked.
"It's a town called Mason City," I said.
Michele's hometown? You guessed it - Mason City, Iowa.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

No, this is not what we're going to use

This is a conceptual logo I drew when we were still putting together ideas for the film. Ain't that something?
I used to think it wasn't bad, until I saw our photographer Jon Pic draw a far better version in about 60 seconds ... while he was doodling in a meeting. He wasn't even intending for me to see it.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist and sometimes I think I would have been a good one - until people like Jon Pic remind me they would have been better.
By the way, I still consider "Brain of Burt" a working title for our film. But I've thought about it every day for six months, and it's still our title.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Q&A with Hollis Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a one-person band. This is that person. Her name is Hollis Smith – and somehow, the more I learn about her, the bigger of a mystery she becomes.
I know she turns 31 this week, and I know she recently moved back to her hometown in the Florida panhandle to take care of her ailing grandfather.  She’s proudly Southern. Rather than try to describe her sound - and as you'll see, Hollis isn't a fan of labeling things anyway - I strongly urge you to check out her music here.
Hollis is also a bisexual who grew up in a conservative church. But I didn't know that when I asked permission to use her music for our movie, which is about a homosexual who grew up in a conservative church. Her gritty song “Even Angels Bite the Dust” will serve the story well … and I also talked Hollis into letting us get to know her a little better.

Thanks for doing this, Hollis. How is your new year so far, my dear?
So far it's probably the best start to a year I've had in ages. I have a new hobby I'm thoroughly enjoyin’ and very excited about the new songs on the album due to release in February. I feel great things to come for 2015. 

New hobby - is that the taxidermy thing you mentioned?
I've always been interested in taxidermy and now livin’ back up home, it is very accessible as well as meetin’ a mentor and others willin’ to help me with this new endeavor. My oldest niece gave me an artsy taxidermy book for Christmas which in a way kick started the process. Her boyfriend now gives me "spare parts.” I believe that one should not waste things; this is my way of makin’ use of these lovely creatures.

What was going through your mind when you wrote "Even Angels Bite the Dust?"
Let's just say I was truly put to the test in 2014. Several long friendships I had to end due to how I felt I was being treated. During the time of Angels bite the dust which was spring, had to correct myself, I had to get a five-year injunction against someone whom I thought was my best friend. So basically it just boils down to I don't care who you are, but I care how I'm treated. 

Why do you go under the name “Mr. & Mrs. Smith?”
I switched from Hollis to Mr. & Mrs. Smith in 2010 feeling that it better expressed me as a whole person. I don't see gender, nor do I relate to a single gender identity, since a young age - regardless of upbringing and family beliefs. It has made my life harder but I wouldn't want to be any other way. It took years to feel OK in my skin.
The topic (of the film) is kind of a tricky issue for me. I was raised Southern Baptist and had my grandma tellin’ me homosexuals go to hell. If that is the truth she was tellin’ her own granddaughter that she was going to hell. I am bisexual in the truest of forms. The gender of a person means nothin’ to me …  it's the person. Yes, I have loved women, Yes, I have loved men – but  I as a person do not change from one side to the next.
There is still the lil’ girl in there who went to Bible School twice every summer and loved it and that person in there who still gets teary eyed at church … Now I do consider myself a spiritual/religious person, but due to many factors do not believe in organized religion.

Your website describes your music as "a fiery brand of blues and deep southern noir with experimental plays on sound and song structures, sparse, and haunting." How did your style develop in your head when you were starting out, and how has it evolved?
I suppose when I started out playing which was 15 years ago, I started out writing my own songs. It wasn't until about 2010 when I started doing my own versions/cover songs. Not really sure how I came to the sound that I put out today. It is a never ending journey to stay true to myself and find my sound. I'd say more of "me" comes out sitting at my desk at night playing and writing than any other time. It's always hard for me to describe my music. Though I feel I am getting closer to expressing what I feel is my true genre- raw country type of blues.

What about your lyrics? You're so young, but some of your songs reflect someone who's experienced a lifetime of pain.
Oh gee, like I said on the phone, sometimes I don't feel so young. I started out living and experiencing the adventures of life at 15, travelin’ around the world, livin’ quite a few places. Perhaps I just feel strongly.

Who are your musical inspirations?
Well, first thing that comes to mind is old timers sittin’ on stoops playin’ the blues. Outlaw/old school country, basically any music that gives me goosebumps - that's what inspires me. 

Did you have these old-timers in your life as a kid? Relatives, friends of the family, strangers?
Not really. I more so feel like I was once one of these fellas singin’ the blues or a lounge singer in a dark smoky bar, say in the 20's. Not really sure where these feelins come from  - I just know I have the blues and growls in my gut.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Our first song

When I started looking for music for this film, this is the first song that spoke to me. After listening to it, maybe you'll understand why.

Click here to hear "Even Angels Bite the Dust"

I tracked down the artist, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. As it turns out, it is just one extremely talented person - Hollis Smith, a Florida-based musician who I was pleased to discover is just about the coolest chick ever. Not only did she agree to let me use the song, which was recorded last year, she said our movie's concept really resonated with her. I now consider her a friend, albeit one I've never met in the flesh.

Visit back on this blog for a Q&A with Hollis, whose music was described by one movie director as "Patsy Cline infused with Nine Inch Nails."

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Day of decisions

The temperature is in the single digits this morning - or as I like to call it, "colder than balls."
I was supposed to sing at a church downtown this morning, but since it's a little bit of a drive, the slick roads have let me off the hook.
My daughter told me she's too tired to go to our home church, so I'm off the hook there too.
If I want excuses to just stay inside and watch my beloved Cowboys play their first playoff game in five years, they are definitely there today. However ...
I've got a meeting with our editor Kenny at noon. As easily as I could cancel that with a phone call, we need to keep the momentum going on our documentary.
As long as I'm in town, I might as well hit the gym.
And after that, I guess I'll watch Dallas-Detroit with my buddy Gerry at The Fieldhouse. We used to watch the NFL every Sunday with our little group, back when the Cowboys were a powerhouse. So that's got to be good luck. Right?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why I need to make this movie

Let me just begin this blog with a confession. I'm spiritually disconnected, and I have been since my marriage ended four years ago.
I still pray, I still believe in God, and I'm still a Christian. I'm just not especially passionate about it. And I hate that. If not for my daughter, I really doubt I would attend church at all. (If your teenage daughter asks you to take her to church, you don't say no.)
What's kept my faith alive? People who love me. One of them gave me the book on the left, titled "Sun Stand Still." It's about the huge power of prayer. Think about it - if Joshua had the audacity to ask, "Hey God, would you mind delaying the sunset a day or two?" ... then why be sheepish about asking for a miracle yourself?
The other book, "Jesus Calling," was a Christmas gift from my mother last week. It's great. It has 365 short daily devotionals to keep Jesus front and center if your life, and I've read it every day this year. (OK, it's only the second of January, but stay with me.)
My daughter, my friend and my mom - I'm blessed to have women like that in my life. So blessed that I'm embarrassed, in fact. And I haven't even mentioned my sister, a pastor's wife who I know has prayed for my soul her whole life. (Just kidding. Kind of.)
I bring all of this up because there is good news. Last year I decided I was going to make a movie about another person whose faith was shaken to its core. And I am passionate about it.
Understand, I didn't go to film school and I don't have any money. Nonetheless, it is happening. We have an outstanding photographer and an outstanding editor helping tell me the story.
Furthermore, God is giving me all kinds of signs to push through with this. I can't wait to tell you about them.