An Interview with the Co-Directors of Masters of Resonance
There’s a kind of quality by which you recognize a great piece of work precisely because it involves something you haven’t seen before, but it comes with the familiar feel of finding a gift or treasure – you can sense the value in its rarity before you even know what it is. This becomes a motif in Masters of Resonance (2018), where it’s aptly described as going from “epic to sacred” – an accurate account of what happened to co-directors Bout, Driessen and Hofman as they set out to tell a simple story about an overlooked corner of the manufacturing world, and unwittingly entered the wonderland of “wood whisperer” John Good, the genius behind DW Drums, learning the secrets that would revolutionize the drumming industry. To bring in the words of director/co-producer Jeremy Bout: “it all starts with a good story.”
Together with Bout, Larissa Hofman and Francois Driessen form Edge Factor, the production group responsible for a series of documentary shorts, features and a 10-episode television series (The Edge Factor Show, 2014) that champion a powerful blend of themes on education, manufacturing, innovation, overcoming adversity and pushing past one’s own “edge.” It’s hard not to be moved by the sheer grit in stories like that of the biker who lost his leg, then set out to design his own prosthetic knee. With their latest documentary, Bout, Hofman and Driessen once again share a contagious passion for the magic in “making,” and a pointed desire to show there’s as much art in manufacturing as there is technology or science.
As its title may or may not hint, this is a film about the mysteries of sound – a trickster medium that straddles the immaterial and physical worlds; a property with magical dimensions, if you will, that thrives on striking just the right type of contact between two materials. If you’ve never thought about sound in this way, hold tight: it will be a testament to the breathless artistry of the sound designers (Mark Vogelsang, Nathan Scofield) that Masters will quickly whisk you to such lofty places.
In addition to the incredible narrative talents of Jeremy and Larissa, with masterful editing and FX by Francois and his team, the film treats us with conversations with drumming luminaries who have worked with the biggest names in the industry: Blair Sinta (Stevie Nicks); Kimberly Thompson (Beyoncé); Tommy Clufetos (Alice Cooper; Black Sabbath); Fausto Cuevas (Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah); and “the most recorded drummer in history,” John “JR” Robinson (Daft Punk; Madonna; Michael Jackson; Eric Clapton and more). This is to say nothing of the story Neil Peart himself brings into the mix. In fact, one of the more fascinating aspects of this film is its fractal-like nesting of audiences and admirers. You, too, will join the end of this line that reaches back more than three decades – to an event that first seemed like a failure, but, as with the biker who built himself a new knee, came bearing unexpected gifts.
As an invaluable documentary contribution to the history of the music industry, Masters of Resonance pairs fortuitously with Canadian Ron Mann’s Carmine Street Guitars, which also premiered this year. Not your typical rock flick, however, Masters penetrates the image of music as an eternal force for gathering and celebrating community to reveal the traces of sound as material conduit, reverberating whispers from our collective, evolutionary past.
While these brief comments don’t do justice to the film’s agility in eliciting emotions of fascination and awe through interwoven narratives and considerable depth of attention to aesthetics and technique, I’ll let the words of the filmmakers themselves invite you to follow their work, and their larger educational project, further. In the conversation that follows, I spoke with Jeremy, Francois and Larissa about story development, sound and visual design, and what it was like collaborating on the film.
Somewhere in the voice over, Jeremy mentions that the film took on a life of its own. Can you talk about the original conception, and what it was like to plan or write this as it evolved? Also: how did you meet the “Wood Whisperer”?
JEREMY: The film grew. We started out wanting to shoot a small TV format doc and then the doors to this story just kept opening. The timing was just right. As we were with DW, the crafting of the R40 kit happened right at that time. And then the door opened to us interviewing with Neil Peart (*which is a really, really unique opportunity). We knew we were onto something, and as the story unfolded it just kept growing.
FRANCOIS: We actually did four cuts on this film. Originally, it also included a whole section on Taylor guitars too. And then the concept of the “Power of Music” started growing on us. This is such a fascinating story, and there are so many other things that are linked to this story. It really is better fit for a whole series! But to do the story justice, we had to distill it back until only the golden thread that weaves the core together was exposed. We ultimately took all of the other parts that the story grew into and decided to package them as standalone productions.
JEREMY: Meeting Neil was great. Rare, important for sure. BUT it was really John that was the reason that the film was made. I really felt this is a man that the world needs to meet. I was confident others would fall in love with and respect him as much I did after working and filming so much with him. I just wanted to do justice to the insane work of Mr. John Good.
This film is quite accessible, despite its niche topic - you don't have to be a percussion or rock fan to love this story and fall in love with the creative processes and achievements at play. Were these conscious decisions you made at the outset?
JEREMY: This is not just a story about a drum maker. It is an idea that lives inside each one of us. The hunger to be excellent everyday. Not just to exist, but to excel. We reworked this story many times because it was a very difficult balance. To earn the respect of the drum world by respecting the artists and the instrument, but also to allow a non-drumming world to look into and feel inspired by this journey we take them on in the film.
FRANCOIS: A lot of groundwork for Edge Factor films’ aesthetic and style have been laid in the past with previous films I’ve directed with Jeremy. Larissa really had a vision to make the film more “analog” in a way, and that inspiration was the secret sauce for striking the balance for what we ended up with.
What it was like working in collaboration? Were you each drawn to the focus on "makers"?
LARISSA: Edge Factor is connected to many people, because of the way we humanize the mystery of the manufacturing world. Why, you ask? Because makers drive the economy, then push back the edge of new innovation; they’re the future. We have taken millions of people "behind closed doors" in other films and we have earned the opportunity to tell stories. People open up to us because they trust our brand to do justice to them.
FRANCOIS: Each of us brought a piece to the puzzle. Jeremy opened doors, and then Larissa sculpted the story, and I took that vision and made it materialize from the mountains of raw material that came back from the shoots. It was almost a dance of handing over rolls as the materials changed hands. It’s not the conventional way of working. And can really only work if all the players in the process have a vision for the overall success of the project, and are willing to place it above any personal vision they might want to stamp into it for themselves.
Going back to sound and visual design: is there a story behind the opening sequence? A lot of work went into the editing here – it's an incredible opener - strange, adventurous and captivating, while not giving much away about the film itself.
FRANCOIS: Thank you. Yes. Absolutely. The opening sequence was really originally a teaser - almost like an artistic short to tell the story of the death of tree that became resurrected into a transcendence of a musical instrument. There are a lot of intense moments in this film, and as a director/ editor, I don’t want the audience to have to wait 45 minutes to discover that. Jumping right to the action, and then dialling it back to the prelude is something I really enjoy. I’ve found myself inspired by other cinematic storytellers as they warp through time to awaken the desire to participate in a story, and it has become a bit of an auteur stamp for myself now, too.
I wanted to capture a level of intensity that warrants the events that lead to the death of this amazing tree, which rested in the darkness of a bog for 1500 years in silence. It felt natural to dial the pace down to almost zero, and then ramp it right back up again to where the events that would have to follow would be as intense as the first, to re-shape and craft the raw material of a tree into a drum.
Conceptually, the inspiration was drawn from the idea of forging a sword from raw materials. It is a complete transformation, intense and violent - and to achieve that level of transformation, intense processes have to be involved.
Is there anything else you’d like viewers to know about the film that hasn’t been discussed in other press yet?
JEREMY / LARISSA: The film is a poetic message: Get up, get going, go do.... You never know what will happen when you actually take that first step. Go watch the film - and someday I hope you will let us tell your story.
FRANCOIS: What a lot of people don’t know is that I actually almost gave up on the drum solo we had from Neil Peart. Simply because this is a drumming film, about great drum makers, with a solo of one of the greatest drummers of all time… Yet all we had to work with was a location recording done with a single shotgun mic!! (You just don’t record drums like that). Having a drum solo that sounded like crackers in an alley would have sunk the film! Amazingly, between the hands of Nathan Scofield and Mark Vogelsang they were able to process the sound to a place that holds its own against the multi-mic studio recordings that the audience would expect from a film like this. The technology to do this sort of thing was just not available a few years back… So now we’re sitting with a gem in the film that would otherwise just not have been possible at all. I love it! Every time I listen to that solo we all smile from ear to ear, and no one in the audience knows why...
Finally: what’s the film’s connection to southwestern Ontario?
LARISSA: Have you ever asked: "When in real life will I ever use what I am learning in class?" Edge Factor is working with many local schools to help take stories like Masters of Resonance (one of many films we have produced) to extract a “STEAM” teachable moment to help students realize that science, engineering and math all come alive in the art of a film like this. The film is part of the bigger mission that Edge Factor is on to help students consider careers and learning in a new light.
FRANCOIS: Also, a lot of the artistic shots for the forest were shot in Ontario, in and around the London area and the Niagara escarpment. We had no budget to fly to Romania, and we were fortunate that those forests are very similar to those we could find in Southern Ontario!
Both the production (Edge Factor) and post-production house (FireTrigger) are located in Southern Ontario. So this is our home.
Catch the repeat screening of Masters of Resonance Saturday Oct 27th, 3PM at the Good Foundation Theatre. Tickets available online and at the BOX OFFICE in London Library.