Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interview: Jim Granato
(director of D Tour)

Yesterday, we posted the trailer for D Tour, a remarkable documentary that chronicles Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon's battle with a failing kidney. The film follows Spurgeon's journey, including a Rogue Wave tour while on kidney dialysis, a benefit show at the Independent in San Francisco, and the tragic death of his friend and bandmate Evan Farrell (who made significant contributions to the film). D Tour is screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival beginning this Friday at 9PM. That screening will be followed by an acoustic performance from Rogue Wave. The film also plays May 4 at 3:15 and May 7 at 5:15pm. All shows are at the Kabuki Theater. Director Jim Granto was kind enough to answer some of our questions...

At what point did you want to make this film, and what kind of relationship did you have with the band?
The whole thing started when my good friend Pat Spurgeon called me up and asked if I would be interested in doing something, perhaps a short video, about his return to dialysis. This was right afer he found out he would have to start dialysis again, and the second time for him in his life that he had to deal with kidney failure (Pat's first kidney transplant was 13 years prior). Pat thought it would be interesting to capture his process of performing peritoneal dialysis and share its existence with other patients who were dealing with kidney failure. Apparently its not very common for patients to perform perioteneal dialysis on themselves which allows them to be more mobile rather than the more well known hemodialysis where you must go to a clinic x times a week. I don't think either of us at first saw Pat's role in the band being a big part of this "video" until of course the tour schedules started to come in and that it became apparent how critical this was about to become.

My relationship with the band at first was pretty minimal. I was already friends with Pat, and knew Evan Farrell a little bit from years before. Over the course of the first year or so I started to know Zach and Gram better.

Did you find the band and Pat in particular open to being the subjects of a documentary?
Yes. Of course Pat was open because he initially called me with this rough idea. As long as I've known Pat music has always been the most important thing to him. Establishing Pat's passion for the life of a musician was obviously important. So right away I gave Pat a cheap consumer video camera to capture as much footage from his point of view as possible. There was no funding for this project so I couldn't just go on tour with them and start filming. Pat got a little lazy out there with filming or he just didn't recognize what was important to capture and what was not. I cant blame him because filming yourself and your bandmates with all the mundane activities day to day just doesn't sound too appealing to oneself. Anyway, Evan saw that Pat was slacking a little and decided to shoot a bunch of stuff as well. Between the both of them I got some really good stuff of themselves, the rest of the band and life on the road.

There was a good deal of uncertainty going into the project about what would happen, and then there was a tragic death along the way - how did that change the story, and did it change anything about your approach?
Well, things certainly played out not the way any of us thought it would have. Just like life. And this is a story about one's life. Not only how to survive it with some dangerous risks, but what one does with it, and goes through to keep oneself happy. And then it became a story about death. For awhile we weren't sure if death was going to pop up in this story. And it did twice. Its hard to explain without giving away too much but you never know what you're going to get with documentaries when the story unfolds every day. In our case we thought we had a pretty straight line until it totally took a left hand turn. You just try and deal with it respectfully and with sensibility in regards to the story and issues involved hoping your audience will understand the choices you've made.

What was your process like editing this story together?
At first I was doing everything myself. Shooting, producing, editing. After almost two years of this, off & on, I was starting to burn out. I had edited more than a hour of scenes and a three and a half hour concert film from Pat's benefit show. More things were coming up and I had a sense of what the structure would be but it was becoming overwhelming. I soon hired my friend Richard Levien to co-edit the film with me. He jumped on board immediately understanding what I wanted, and making some great suggestions. He provided such a breath of fresh air into the project and it became easier for me to focus on the other hats I chose to wear as well. We really got cookin' and completed several rough cuts. We screened two of them for audiences recieving enormous helpful feedback. We took some suggestions from people and left some. After a bit of this the final shape had become clear and we were done editing the film after 8 months together.

The great thing about this film is that it isn't just about music but raises bigger issues - was the fact that there is a health care crisis in this country an influential factor for you before making this film?

Yes, but we never wanted to go in and bang people over the heads with it. Audiences are smart and most realize what's going on. With D Tour we just wanted to open the door a bit more with that issue and start the conversation or keep it going.

From your observation, what did this whole experience do for Rogue Wave - I think it would break most bands, but it seems to have made them stronger?
I certainly think it's made them stronger. Sure lots of bands would implode over something like this. Of course we've all seen or heard stories of lots of bands that have imploded over far less important things. Rogue Wave is one dedicated band that treats each other like family. They're certainly not perfect and have to overcome certain obstacles like any of us but they know show biz is not easy. As serious as they all are about achieving success together the more they try to hold on to each other as the momentum picks up.

What kind of emotions arise from screenings of this film? What does it mean to have it screening in San Francisco with the band playing afterwards?
Well, its a very emotional film. Not just for the people involved but for our general audiences as well. So far audiences have responded to the film with a lot of gratitude and some with a change of mind. The organ donation issue is exemplified bigger than anyway we imagined it would be. And so far it has really resonated with people and I've already had many folks coming up to me and telling me how they're going to go and get that little dot on their drivers license. Its been pretty amazing to hear that and so much more.

For D tour to take part in the SFIFF has been pretty special. I've been living in the city for about 13 years going to the festival now and again always having a large appreciation for it. And for my film to make its official SF premiere at the festival is a real honor. All I can say is May 1st will truly be special with Rogue Wave in the house! John Vanderslice is also expected to take the stage and join those guys that evening. I'm so excited.

One of the quotes you have from Pat early on is that he did not want to have an excuse of fallback from following his dream - how do you apply that to your work as a filmmaker and how is that something we can all learn from?

I've got to admit I've subscribed to the same motto- "No back-up plan. If you have a back-up plan you'll take it." Well, there are a lot of choices you can make in this world and there are certainly a lot of pressures coming from all directions. All I can say is that if you love something so much you have to keep it going. Your passion will help you find ways to keep it all afloat. Not everyone is so lucky, but you have to try. Even when it gets really risky.

What upcoming projects do you have?
I've got a couple of ideas I want to work on. There are more documentaries in my future for sure, but as a filmmaker I don't limit myself to one particular genre or type of film. I want to finish writing my screenplay this year and hope that my return to narrative filmmaking will be a welcoming one.

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