So many indie films these days are made with big name actors and rarely do they live up to their expectations, which is why it’s nice when a movie comes along like Craig Zobel’s directorial debut Great World of Sound which follows two regular guys brought together by new jobs at a Southern production company called Great World of Sound, which they quickly find out is a scam using them as frontmen to convince unwitting musicians and singers to give them money.
Zobel was so dedicated to creating a realistic setting that he set-up actual auditions for unknowing bands and musicians, filming them using hidden cameras, and he even created a fake website for the company to make it look more official. But the best thing he did to make his debut such an entertaining and fun movie is by casting character actors Pat Healy and Kene Holliday (best known for his recurring role on “Matlock”) as Martin and Clarence, the odd couple who are sent on the road to audition these acts and try to get them to shell up cash for a recording deal.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to sit down with Zobel and Holliday, who is just as animated and boisterous as his character in the movie. (You can see Kene’s character in action in this exclusive clip from the film.) We had a fun conversation about the making of this innovative and refreshing film, which was well-received at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
ComingSoon.net: This is your first movie as a director after producing movies for others, so what was it about this aspect of the music business that made you want to make it as your first movie?
Craig Zobel: I thought that the music business in general and this particular part of the talent scout scam was an interesting way of bringing up a bunch of other things. A.) I think it’s fascinating, just as a story, and B.) I think it also lends itself to being able to talk about some broader things without being specific about them, like touch on where people are right now in a certain way. It seemed like a good way to be able to talk about where I was coming from.
CS: Are you both originally from the South?
Zobel: Yeah, I was originally based in Atlanta.
Kene Holliday: I’m out of New York, but I’ll go anywhere that they’re making a movie.
CS: I wasn’t sure if these scams were something done mainly in the Southern region of the country or if it’s known elsewhere. (To Holliday) Did you know about this scam before making the movie?
Holliday: I know about the theatre hustles here in the big cities where “we’re going to discover you” then you gotta go into a workshop and get your photos done and you wind up being an extra on someone’s show, depending on how much they can squeeze out of you. I went through it with a friend of mine. There was a young lady who decided she wanted to be an actress, and I said, “You might want to rethink going with this particular organization” but she didn’t believe me and basically, down the line, she was about $900 with a stack of daggone 8x10s she wasn’t happy with and nothing. She did one extra gig, and decided, “This is not acting.”
Zobel: I’ve heard up here of people, like a friend of mine ended up just totally randomly was told they had a great voice for voice-over work–that’s a whole other scam–“You have a great voice for voice-over work. We just need to record it and make you a demo of voice-over stuff.” They just get them to pay $500 for a demo.
Holliday: You gotta pay for the demo, you gotta pay for the studio time.
Zobel: So there’s the talent scout scam, and there’s ones for models. A guy who works in the film industry who I’ve met since the movie came out, he’s like “When I was a kid, I went to models and tried to sign people up to be models” which was the same scam, and he was like, “And then I realized what I was doing.” (laughs)
CS: I’ve worked in the music business for nearly 20 years and except for the Berry Gordys or Phil Spectors who would sign acts and musicians to make music but then keep all the publishing money, I’d never heard of this scam before.
Zobel: It used to be a thing that was much more widespread, I think, in the ’60s and ’70s, but now it’s much more in the country music scene for some odd reason, I think mostly because in the country music scene, there are so many people who are singers and aren’t songwriters (and vice versa), so they can go and split them up and be like, “Hey, you are a great singer. If you sign with me and pay me some money, I’ll put you together with a great songwriter.” That still happens, and then in the Christian community, there’s a lot of this song sharking that’s still happening. My only explanation that I can come up with for that is maybe you can be a bigger record company, and there’d be no way for me to know whether or not but like in the mainstream, it has gone away because home recording has gotten bigger.
(At this point, Kene tells us a story of the photographer who took his headshots, and how something like the scam shown in this movie so negatively affected him that he stopped playing guitar and quit making music for 25 years.)
CS: The music business is a very tough nut to crack–just like making movies and acting–and I’m sure there are a lot of people who know how many people want to make it and would be willing to pay money to get there. Going back to the movie, you used this interesting process of finding acts by setting up fake auditions and then doing improv around them. Kene, when you came onto this, did you know that you’d be sitting through hours of watching these bands and singers perform?
Holliday: I read the script, and so I’m already thinking this is very cool and there’s a lot of interaction. It’s going to be real heavy and you’d have to be very skilled and adapt on your feet to deal with each situation, because everybody that comes through there, you’re going to be trying to make the sale, but they’re all different, so you’re going to have nuances going on. We did an audition that was improvisation-heavy, and I’m skilled at that. I’ve been practicing stream of consciousness and improvisation since my collegiate training, so it’s not a problem for me. I’ve done professional theatrical presentations, all improvisation, so it was fun for me. One of the things that was unique was that there were people that walked through the door and they’d look at me and say, “You look like that guy on TV.”
Zobel: That did happen, and he’d be awesome. He’d be like, “I get that all the time.”
Holliday: And what we did was that I created five different scenarios–’cause I get bored too–so I’d vary things up, but I had five different scenarios based on who they were, I’d use one of those particularly scenarios, but the main thing was that they’re not here about identifying me. They’re here to be discovered, so as long as I give them anything that will suffice that and throw it back into, “But now, let’s talk about your career.” And then they’re back in. We’d dance around all kinds of scenarios. The door would open and it would be like Christmas and it would be another present. “Oh, what do we got this time?” And some were really good.
Zobel: Most were good, I would say.
CS: Did you prescreen the bands before sending them into Pat and Kene?
Zobel: No, no, we’d kind of know “the next band is like into country music.” We’d know about them, but I hadn’t met them or anything, so things would happen like we’d be like, “Oh, look, the next band that’s coming in is called Ganja.” Whether or not they’re good, I’d be like, “Pat, you should feel uncomfortable with the fact that how do you market something called Ganja?”
Holliday: And I’m going to support him! (laughs) You see a little piece of it in the movie, but there was a huge thing that developed in there. It was great!
CS: How many hours did you guys spend listening to bands?
Zobel: We did it every day.
Holliday: We did almost 75 different acts. That goes from solos to full daggone rock bands, heavy metal bands. We did 75 acts and we had cameras everywhere. Just imagine everywhere you look, behind that shelf, behind that window, in there somewhere and underneath that coffee pot. There’s cameras in all those different shooting angles, and we had approximately 400 hours
Zobel: Yeah, of improv stuff, there’s like it wasn’t 400 full hours, but if you imagine that we were doing three hours at a time.
Holliday: It was a combination of all those cameras, we had all that footage that we had to go through for all those different shots. 400 daggone hours of stuff.
CS: Well, YOU didn’t have to go through all of it.
Holliday: The director did it, that’s why his name is up there.
CS: Did anyone bust you guys and figure out that you were filming the auditions with hidden cameras?
Zobel: On the DVD, there’s one guy who walks into the room, he kind of looks around at all these mirrors, he kind of sits down and he goes, “You’re all trying to play me, huh?” (laughter)
Holliday: There was a few, but not many. There was some. I think we really did a great job of debriefing the talent, not disrespecting them, because you have to take them to the edge. You’re not going to see too many people actually sign something, but we would get them right to the point. They was had! In my head, I made this sale. The thing was that even after they found out that it wasn’t exactly what they thought it was, they would stay backstage there with all the camera panels, and they could see how we were going about doing this. #1, they wanted to be a part of it and be in the movie, and they were admiring all the effort that we were going into to make this thing look so real to them, ’cause they were in it!
Zobel: It was also I think everybody from the camera operators on, never wanted to it’s hard to go and audition for things. My intention of the movie was that you wouldn’t necessarily need to know (about the audition process) I wasn’t trying to make a gimmick movie about this. We were all doing it for the performance. The performance is different if the two of them are pitching to an actor, and that was why we did it. Everybody was very sincere and wanting to respect them. We wanted them to feel like a participant and not anything else, and a couple times we had people come in who weren’t comfortable with their songs and like resing their song after they knew, stuff like that. We were trying to be respectful.
CS: How did you originally find Kene and Pat for these roles? Was there a similar audition process used to bring them together?
Zobel: Yeah, through mutual people that Ken and I knew, he was handed the script and came in and read for it, and immediately convinced me that he was the man for the job. Pat and I met on another movie where I had worked back behind the scenes, and I knew he was really good at improv and that he had the overall demeanor that I thought that character should have, that he could play a guy who is sort of reluctant in certain ways. I knew that he could do it. At the same time as I was meeting Kene, I went out after him basically.
CS: At what point did you bring the two of them together? Did you want to save it for just before you filmed?
Zobel: They didn’t meet each other until the week before we started shooting, so a lot of the chemistry as it grows in the movie is coming out of those guys getting to know each other more.
Holliday: We had to. The reality of the movie had to be supported by the reality of us as two human beings trying to do this job. Now one of the things where we’d finally have a little problem with was we were moving progressively too fast. We were getting too good, too fast, because Pat and I melded just like this. We were jammin’! Craig said, “You have to be a little worse than you are, ’cause you’re getting too good too quick and we have no place to go by the end of the movie!” That makes sense. There’s a couple of them that he just couldn’t use in the movie, because the pitch was so sophisticated, but it was still supposed to be so early on in the movie.
Zobel: That’s the crazy thing about editing. There would be times where there would be something really amazing that would happen, but it would happen in one of the sets that the sets kind of controlled where we had to put them. Like I couldn’t put a scene earlier in the movie because they hadn’t gone to that location yet.
Holliday: Our expertise was not supposed to be at that level until a little bit later in the movie, and it was something we couldn’t control, because it’s improv. So now you have to add onto your improv, not only the sale, but also be bad. (laughs) “You have to be worse than this at it.” That was kind of a gas, too.
Zobel: To answer your question even more fully, because I really didn’t know Pat or Kene, and it was really the three of us coming together at the same time, so we were all getting to know each other. I didn’t know how well they would meld or like each other. I didn’t know one of them more than the other one, so it was all three of us going on this little trip together.
CS: Kene, you seem like a natural salesman, but was Pat suitably awkward at doing that sort of thing, which would be appropriate for his character?
Zobel: Pat’s actually a lot better than this. He’s faking it a little bit. He’s playing a guy who’s bad at it, I think. In a different movie, I think he could be a lot more of a charmer, don’t you think?
Holliday: I began to know his work after working with him. Now, I see him everywhere. He’s got quite a few appearances out there, so I’d seeing Pat and I’m like, “Okay, I know that one. Ohhhh, this is a little edgy one!” He’s got a couple different nuances that he’s absolutely perfected. That’s his professional repertoire, but that’s what we do. We’re actors, and we look forward to opportunities that have the kind of quality of writing that this film had. It presented challenges. It gave me something to really strive for, and have a bunch of fun in the middle of it. Like I said, “Price is Right. Door #1! Whoah! Where did they find these guys?” (laughter) And there would be shots of me standing there looking like “What the hell!?”
CS: Did you ever get the feeling you were being put on the other side of the fence, because I’m sure you’ve done cattle call auditions where the director has to sit through hundreds of people? Did you feel that you now see what they have to go through?
Holliday: I’ve been doing this since 1969, so I know all about this. I was a casting director for a theatre company, so believe me, I know the whole deal. The acting part of it, the improvisational part of it, that keeping it fresh and working against all the obstacles part of it made it a real job, because you could see the experienced artist in me. I see what is coming together here. I see the possibilities. I see the elements of victory in the people, in the material and the way it’s being shot and being put together. You feel it, you see it, so you’re able to continue to press on at a high level of dedication and energy. They didn’t let me down!
CS: I would never have known it was an improvised movie if someone hadn’t told me.
Zobel: Well, to their credit, there was stuff that was written and stuff that’s improved, and they sort of make it all feel the same, which is why they’re awesome. Parts of it were still written. It wasn’t completely that.
CS: But like parts such as when Kene picks up the TV and starts using to work-out, that wasn’t improvised? (Actually, you can see that in the clip linked above.)
Zobel: That was written in the script.
Holliday: Now, they didn’t realize that I’d be as deft at it as I was. (laughter) They hoped I would be deft at it.
Zobel: We did a lot of rehearsal of that to make sure it would work.
Holliday: Yeah, I think one of the great things, and I admire what was going on there, because we can’t always hear. There’s tones and undertones in the scene and in the interchange, and he can hear when something is a little off. What we were able to do through the rehearsals on the written script, was we were able to make our vocabulary our language that we created. There was a language we created in the improv stuff, and we were able to take that written script and make it match up with what we had improved. That way you got these guys being the same people going along, watching them progress, watching the nuances of them change, but they’re the same people. If all of a sudden they start speaking Shakespearean after they’ve been talking hillbilly it’s the same guys. There’s no real distinction.
Zobel: And that was great. That was the most fun part for me in the movie.
Holliday: Yeah, ’cause he could hear when we were reading, and that’s how we blended the two state of minds together, and the vocabulary was really a key.
CS: So you did all the band auditions and improvised scenes first?
Zobel: The auditions were done first, yeah. It was somewhat mixed in with the little girl who does the National Anthem and her dad, that obviously was a written scene in the movie, because she comes back, but we shot that at the same time as all the rest of those auditions. Anything that was in those rooms, even if it was scripted, we did it at the same time, but for the large majority–the beginning and the end of the movie when they’re training and later in the movie, from then on, those were shot after the big auditions.
CS: Spending so much time with Pat in a room, does it get to the point where you don’t have to act like you’re driving each other crazy?
Holliday: You know, Pat tends to get a little edgy when he gets tired. (laughter) In actuality, I was having like the greatest time being there and I had nothing to be unhappy about. You put a wonderful script and a wonderful filmmaking experience in front of me, I’m exploring Charlotte while we were there, because it was an unknown entity to me, so I had nothing to be unhappy about. But there comes times when you gotta make these underpinnings come to fruition. I know I’m feeding a seed here. I know I’m putting something away for a little bit later on. It’s not big, just a little something in there, a little something there, and then we have a pay-off down the line, and it’s great. But it’s really about these guys. We’re both really skilled actors, and I’d enjoy working with this young man. He had me on the floor most of the time. He’d deadpan me! And I’d just fall apart, ’cause he was absolutely perfect. He found some balances here. He made me stop. I had to take my time and see him and hear him, and likewise. Sometimes, he’d get bowled over by me. But it was great stuff, it was really two guys being able to practice their craft.
CS: Kene mentioned this story about the photographer, but have you had anyone else approach you at the screenings, either musicians or people in the music biz, to tell you their own horror stories?
Zobel: Yeah, almost every time I’ve screened the movie–not only musicians, sometimes it will be an actor whose gone through the headshot scam–but the first night at Sundance, the first time we showed the movie publically, guys came and said, “I put down $6,000 towards some of these things, and that’s why I had to make sure to come see this movie, and I think you did a good job in being able to expose them.” Which made me feel happy, because as much as it sounds like a justification, I do think that if this movie can also help people know about this kind of stuff who wouldn’t know about it. Like you said that you had never heard about it before. It’s a sincere hope of mine that in some way that maybe ’cause you can’t go and arrest these people. They’re not breaking any laws. They’ll make you sign something so that everything they do is totally legal, and they change the name of their company often and move often, so there’s not real way to catch these people unless you educate the greater world as to the fact that this is actually a scam in some way. When these people have come up to me and said, “This happened to me, and thank you for making a movie about it.” I mean that makes me feel a little bit like it worked.
Great World of Sound is now playing in New York and should open in other cities in the coming weeks.