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Jan 2002 / media shoegaze :: email this story to a friend

Under the Radar
By Matt Meyer

It started with the idea: document local music. The fact that it would be a documentary film was secondary. "Local music" had been my labor of love for a decade. Time to step outside my little bubble and have a look around. The original idea started around '97 or '98 and I still have the initial scribbled notes:

movie documentary — stl music

  • time span: new year's to new year's
  • follow selected bands, compare/contrast
  • ref angle: how to/who does what, emphasis on DIY
  • interview moms of younger artists and older artists w/kids
  • absolutely no cover bands allowed
  • media segs
  • feature both established bands/starting bands

Matt Meyer Making a film is never easy. Not even for experienced filmmakers. Even though a documentary is probably the easiest kind of film to make (stay out of the way, follow the action), I was a rookie to filmmaking. No, strike that, I was beyond rookie. I was pee-wee league. The only training I had was a film appreciation class (I'd paid attention while the jocks made fun of our lesbian teacher) and a grueling TV production class (which only instilled a TV-aversion disorder in me). Luckily, my friend Eric Stanze had made several DIY horror films and was available to coach me through the endeavor. In a sense, he became my OBGYN. "Doctor" Stanze would coach me through my pregnancy (filming), and would be there to deliver (edit) my baby. In Eric, I found an invaluable resource.

Technically, it started with the camera. Eric and I discussed budget and options. Considering low budget, dimly lit clubs, portability, long running time, cheap tape cost, and audio/video quality, miniDV proved to be the champ. I picked up a Canon miniDV for about 1G and I was set. Then the fun began. And I mean that. Perusing the local listings and jumping out to see bands was truly an exciting experience. Some of the best stuff happened when no one was in the club. I can remember one night when the audience consisted of myself and Hank from Tomorrow's Caveman. We witnessed one of the loudest and best rock'n'roll shows of the year. But if you wanna see what happened, well... it's in the film.

Through the course of the year, I learned oodles. Some people just hate cameras! My approach not to affect or contaminate the environment (and just be a fly on the wall) still found heads ducking into dark corners, or the occasional, "That guy with the camera's bugging me!" Huh? You'd think I was filming "Cops"! Convincing interview subjects that the film was non-Ded Bugs related was equally difficult. Sometimes the dirty Bugs word would pop up and ruin an otherwise good quote. At other times I felt the suspicion (mainly from those who didn't know me too well) that this was part of some grand scheme to promote the band. Can't a guy make a documentary, fer chrissakes!?!? Those were the two biggest hassles I met. And as the year progressed, they faded. My interview technique improved and I helped my subjects relax a little more. And I think word finally got out that this really was film about OTHER St. Louis bands.

STL 2000 Things were as smooth as could be on the technical side. No catastrophes. As the year progressed, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the "live to DAT" audio. In a couple of instances, the vocals were simply not loud enough. I eventually expanded to 8-track ADAT. The advantage to the 8-track ADAT was that I could take the audio home and mix it, and not have to mix on the fly. Recording a live rock band is easy 'cause everyone's got amplifiers... except the singer. I found it difficult to isolate the vocals. Board sends were often noisy, IF the club's board had a send at all. My fave vocal technique was to duct-tape another mic to the singer's live mic. If you look closely, you can spot this in The Cripplers' tune. This old-hat technique worked great! I was quite pleased with most of the audio all year. I had to splice one DAT tape that was accidentally eaten, but even it turned out alright.

After December 31, 2000, I handed off my miniDV tapes to Eric for transfer and a process called "film-looking." The transfer was done onto BetaSP and VHS window dubs. When the window dubs were finished, Coach Eric and I sat down for many nights of looooong viewing. I'd compiled 30-something hours of footage. My goal was to whittle it down to an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. Once we picked out all the good stuff, I indexed it in my PC, then started making executive decisions on what had to be killed. At $500 to $1000 per day, I knew editing would be my biggest expense. The more I planned on my own, the less time and money I'd be spending in the edit suite. By the time I showed up for editing, I had the film completely planned. Apparently, I am a poor judge of time. The film ended up being around 1:45. But that's okay. I'm not selling to Hollywood or even a national distro. If you've made it through the film, thank you for your patience.

I am surprised this film made it out. I am surprised this film came in just a little under budget. Distribution plans? Well, I don't think anyone outside of St. Louis would be interested in seeing it. It's for St. Louis. My first and last film. I've received a lot of positive response and that's great. I'm sure there will be negative response, and that's great, too. I hope someone that knows their shit about making films (or even someone who doesn't) will see it and sincerely say, "I can do better."

In his spare time Matt "Bug" Meyer is a singer/songwriter/guitarist for DeSoto's Ded Bugs.

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