Filmmaker News

Mark Borchardt on About Face Director Manny Marquez’ “PSYCHOPATH”

Victor Marquez has a dream.  No, it’s not to retire one day and lounge around on some far-off beach with a tiny umbrella residing in a tall, bright drink; nor is it to hike the outback of Australia with only a backpack slung over the shoulder; neither is it to just slump forevermore in front of a big-screen TV after forty years of good service and a gold watch meet eye to eye.  No, nothing like that at all.  You see Victor’s one and only obsession is with conjuring some backwoods terror at almost any cost, his steadfast vision in life is to create a haunted theme park.  A haunted trail if you will.  And the heartwarming as well as heart-stopping filmic rollercoaster ride of “Psycho Path” (which is also the name of the trail) documents that perilous road of uncertainty to attain a very risky dream.

I had a chance to sit down with filmmaker Manny Marquez (Victor’s nephew) and his beautiful family.  His enthusiasm for life and his work was readily apparent but in short order he put a sinister spin on things when he revealed: “When I was a kid my dad had a best friend…who was a serial killer…and when I was eight years-old he tried to kill me.”  Whoa – how’s that for encountering the fear factor right out of the proverbial gate?  Manny wrote a script based on that fiendish incident and is still seriously considering making a film about it – he plans on making it a dark comedy.  Dark indeed.  And that incident leads to the road we find ourselves on now.

For it was while scouting locations for his “Murder Movie” based on that horrific encounter, that he came upon his uncle Victor’s land and as well as his vision to create the ghostly trail: “Psycho Path.”  Manny became enamored with the land itself and the quest to turn it into something more than a swamp. “The woods itself became a character,” Manny realized as he began to document the earnest proceedings.  He saw his uncle taking on his dream so Manny pursued his own as well.  Manny had been stuck working on truly bad reality shows of which he found had “nothing to do with cinema” –  his true calling.  Now finding himself back in his formative stomping grounds, Manny had something he could sink his real talents into.

It turns out that Victor and Manny both possess the same kind of pesky creative visions, the sort that just won‘t go away until something is thoroughly done about them.  And their interests both happen to fall into the realm of the visual arts.  Consequently, a neat symbiosis occurs as nephew documents uncle.  Victor even bought Manny an ARRI BL 16mm camera for film school – talk about tactile support.  “He’s been an enabler of cinematic mischief,”  he fondly says of his uncle.

In his youth, Victor himself touted around a Super-8 camera and then moved on to video, bringing about short horror films and the like to the small screen.  Manny was very inspired by his uncle’s formative cinematic adventures.  “I wouldn’t be a filmmaker if it wasn’t for Victor,” Manny attests, obviously carrying a deep affection for their relationship.

Initially, Victor wanted to go out to Hollywood to be a special effects make-up artist but the fickle fingers of fate had other plans for him.  Instead he found his calling in his own backyard.  Literally – well, five miles from his backyard.  On forty acres of dubious terrain.

And that brings us back to our story.  Sperry, Oklahoma is the location of said perilous property which one of Victor’s other nephews, David, poignantly deems a “shithole.”  Certainly no condos are going to crop up there anytime soon amid the tangled trees, snakes, mosquitoes and general swamp land.  The property is also near a Civil War battleground and it’s alleged to be haunted.  A neighbor, Robert Sisk corroborates, “You get an immense feeling that you shouldn’t be there…it’s like crossing a barrier almost…you get the feeling something doesn’t want you there.”

If other-worldly manifestations nipping at Victor’s heels weren’t enough, as luck would have it, the neighbors are very unhappy about other mysterious goings-on, those conjured up by Marquez and his colleagues.  And unfortunately the Sheriff owns some of the adjacent land.  His wife takes a petition around to the local residents to get Victor to stop whatever it is that he’s doing – no one seems certain – but they do know that they want no part of it.  A large clan, the Sisk family, doesn’t want any part of it either.  And there’s a lot of them.

Not only that, but Victor of course plans on opening for the Halloween season and that coincides directly with another season: hunting.  The film crew goes around querying the community at hand and they all seem none-too-happy about those parallel events.  One even plans on hiring a lawyer and speculates, “It’s going to get rough on them…it’s going to get real bad.”

I myself thought, man, if your neighbors are against you on top of it all, that’s really a rough, rough thing – my heart just broke.  And if there ever was a time to throw in the towel…but Victor’s got a will of steel and presses forward.  Yet, with the local’s ire stirred, he and his enterprise are summoned to the county board.  This is getting real.  But the local government lets him proceed, temporarily that is, allowing him to prove that his project won’t be a public nuisance, nor hazard.

Victor’s been a sanitation man for over thirty years but obviously that’s not where his dreams lie.  He puts whatever penny he can in the project and after a day’s work of slinging trash bags he looks forward to the only thing he wants to really do: work on that park.  Neighbors, government, weather and the like have not stopped him yet.  But it’s a long road to continuously conjure interest in all the work that needs to be done: lots of land has to be cleared, numerous props need to be built and a general cohesion of scare-worthy terror needs to be created in short order.

On the home front Victor has both his supporters and his detractors.  His father, brother and son all have their doubts and keep a safe distance.  And that son makes it clear to his father: “that’s your dream, not my dream.”  But it’s his wife Suezette, daughter Victoria, and best friend Mike Perry, who stick by him with much needed support, not only psychologically but hands-on, both very necessary to retain the course.  It’s revealed that Victor didn’t marry his high school sweetheart, but rather, his teacher.  Good for him.  And Suezette.  In fact they absconded into the proverbial sunset heading to California with Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” playing all the way.  Talk about a romantic vision made manifest.

But those glory days are long past and with the heavy financial strain bearing down on the family by the scare trail, they even consider putting the fate of their home in the mix as well.  Suezette is still a teacher and when she asks her current students if any of them has any interest in attending “Psycho Path” not one raises their hand.  Man, it’s disheartening when you can’t even rally the kids to your side.  And with familial contentions understandably brewing as well regarding the taxing project, one couldn’t fault the over-burdened Victor if he threw up his hands at any time and called it a day.  But iron-clad warrior that he is, he persists diligently through the storms of challenge.

Well, others do rally to the cause, and enter Kage Hunter, (not his real name but one he bestowed upon himself) a troubled youth from a dysfunctional family.  Suezette found him as a student to be an “Off-the-wall different-type personality.”  It becomes rapidly apparent that he’s really into the world of monsters and special effects.  Consequently, he fits into this project like hand-in-glove and becomes Victor’s ambitious right-hand man.  He’s an enthusiastic ally and carries with him the ideas and energies of the young man that he is.  But on down the line he’s found to be a bit too enthusiastic and rubs some people the wrong way, and after an unfortunate incident, he has to be let go – his own zeal doing him in.  And later on, Kage regrettably passes away.  But that sad note cemented a realization in Manny: “It wasn’t until that Kage died that I realized we had a movie.”  Mr. Hunter’s legacy has been ensured.

A local troupe of actors comes out to the spook park in-the-making, spear-headed by one visionary Tom McCay.  He’s a man of energy and imagination, too, and he wants to do more than just provide thespians it soon turns out as he puts his hand in the broader proceedings as well.  Victor is taken off-guard by this, for he himself is to be the sole visionary – but he can’t really knock what he’s damn lucky to have.  McCay even sets up a party to attract more interest to the cause, but all that’s really attracted is a rain storm and tornado warnings.  But the show must go on, hell or high-water.

Helping hands abound but that doesn’t erase the dire reality of how much more needs to get accomplished by opening night.  Suezette becomes increasingly worried by  the daunting due date and the ongoing stress puts her in the hospital.  Trooper that she is, once checked out, she gets back on-point.  Victor remains one lucky man.  And Manny and crew even put their cameras down behind the “behind the scenes” to help Victor out when it comes down to serious crunch time.  That’s the stuff.

But when Manny did have the cameras rolling over the course of ten years, he eventually shot over 250 hours of footage in nine different formats and he stressed that his film wasn’t any how-to video:  “We’re talking about a man’s life and dreams on the line.”  Ain’t that the truth.

October 1st arrives and so does the aforementioned hunting season.  Shots are heard in the ominous dark one night and the haunted crew surmise that those shots are probably intended for them.  And they are extremely disappointed by the abject turnout, only a few people trickle in.

But wait, hold on to your hats – we’ve come too far to let it all end like this.  Soon, people do start to arrive in gradually increasing numbers.  And even a large contingent of the Sisk family comes out – once the endeavor’s staunchest detractors.  In a surprising, heartwarming twist, they even offer to help out with “Psycho Path” next year.  Wow.

We cut to 2013.  It is the first year that the park has turned a profit, drawing close to 10,000 visitors.  Tom McCay is still on board and he embodies the role of “Trail Master.”  Victor Marquez and family have been granted their victory, albeit a very hard-earned one.

And Manny makes clear of his documentary’s intent: “It’s not a movie about a haunted house, it’s not a movie about zoning laws, it’s a movie about a man and his dreams and failures…and his eventual success.”  Yes, truly, “PsychoPath” the film glows as a loving tribute to his uncle, his family, his coterie of believers and their preternatural determination.

Ultimately, Manny puts forth to the audience at large: “I hope you’ll like the movie otherwise I just made the world’s most expensive home movie…”

Don’t worry, Manny, we all like the movie.

“Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty” written by Mark Borchardt

Johnny Winter has just passed away.  We all loved him and wish him the best in the afterlife as well as condolences to all his family and friends.  He was a true, noble spirit and he will be missed dearly.  Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Greg Olliver who recently completed “Johhny Winter: Down and Dirty” before Winter’s passing.

Greg Olliver, whose last film, a documentary entitled “Lemmy” (co-directed by Wes Orshoski) – a penetrating look into the mad life and times of hard-rocking, trailblazing Lemmy Kilmister from the loud, proud heavy metal trio, Motorhead – once again has turned his concerted gaze to the realm of music.  Even though “Lemmy” was a multi-year odyssey to finish and get out, it didn’t deter Olliver from casting his eye back again on a venerated musician.  This time Olliver caught up with the one and only master blues guitarist Johnny Winter.  But what inspired Olliver to dig right back into the hard rock trenches for another wild ride?

Olliver confirms that the last outing was a “…long, exhausting process of heavy metal and Ozzy Osbourne, and these huge characters. When it was over I wanted to do another music doc.  I was working on some other projects, but I wanted to do more music, and I wanted to do something closer to my heart.”

He didn’t have to look farther than his own home state, “I am from Texas. I grew up in Houston and my dad used to wake me and my brother up by blasting ZZ Top and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and all this Texas blues stuff, so that’s stuck in my blood, whether I liked it or not.  I was looking for a new project to do.  I guess it was 2012 and Johnny was on NPR being interviewed, and I had totally forgotten about him…and he sounded rowdy and funny, and he just sounded like a fun dude.  Then they started playing some of his music and I just got totally psyched…that’s how it started.”

Like Olliver, Johnny Winter was also born and raised in Texas and also grew up in a musical household.   Born albino and nearly blind (his brother, Edgar Winter, also was born albino), Winter revealed that the near lack of one of his crucial senses exponentially ingrained another: that of an indelible ear for music.

Olliver elaborated, “Most people are born fairly normal and choose whatever path they choose, but this dude was born with…everything against him.  I guess that fired him (up) so much where he just knew he had to find a different way to succeed…even as a kid, he was practicing for hours a day on the guitar, and just knew he had to get good at it.  Once he was hooked on that, he was really cocky about it, saying that he always knew he would get out of Beaumont and knew he would become famous.  I feel like he really did know that all the way back then.  It was part of him, and I think his being albino and blind, helps him in all those things.  He said, ‘Fuck it, all those people against me, I am just going to make it and prove to them that I am (the) best, and get out of here,’ and it totally worked.”

Winter got right down to business playing music at an early age.  His first instrument was the ukulele and while still in his pre-teens switched over to the guitar.  He cut his first record at fifteen and started playing out.  He encountered regional success and before most knew him as the famed, long-haired, tattoed axe-man, he actually sported a pompadour back in those early days and was known as Johnny “Cool Daddy” Winter.  It’s an amazing juxtaposition seeing that bygone image of him and then as the Johnny Winter most of us know.

Greg further elaborated on that earlier history and the musicians that populated it, “Before Johnny became big, there was this blues scene down there, where they all played in the same clubs…there was Rocky Erickson, ZZ Top, Johnny, all these dudes hung out and played in these clubs, and partied back there in Houston.  Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) told me they had a lot of good times, but he wouldn’t tell me what the good times were.  I guess those guys knew how to party back then.”

He continued, “I learned a lot from Billy.  Billy and Johnny are both music…blues nerds. Those guys know so much about it.  There are easily five more documentaries in the stories I heard from those guys. There’s so much to it, man…I could barely even skin the surface…it’s really fascinating.”

Winter is renowned for an eclectic mix of blues and rock, though he makes no bones about it, it’s only the blues that he’s interested in.  The rock slant was put upon him for commercial reasons and he wasn’t too happy about that but it was the nature of the marketplace beast that he had to deal with.  Yet, I’ll admit personally, I was far more fascinated by that blues-rock combo, that witch’s brew of incessant intensity that basically eluded the airwaves of a populist radio.  It was a unique form and I appreciated its singularity even though Winter didn‘t.  Hey, I’ve got the records to prove it.

And along the way he got to play with his heroes such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters and even recorded with the latter.

Winter comes off as very likable in “Down and Dirty,“ possessing a southern drawl with an everyman’s outlook, rolling out off-kilter musings as readily as a gambler does dice, which could place him square at your kitchen table for a down-home hang-out session.

Greg attests, “Documentaries are never easy to make…they take forever and you spend a lot of time with the person.  If Johnny was not a fun guy to hang out with, I would have never made the film.  He was a great, fun guy…with this sparkle in his eye, and the stories he would tell (are) just like to me…from a different planet.”

But the hard-rocking life took a toll on Winter.  A two year heroin stint led to a three decades long methadone addiction.  He went through a pretty rough spell later in life while hooked on the alternative drug but with a new manager actually concerned about Johnny’s well-being, the guitarist’s life got back up to speed.  And in a very touching moment caught in a home movie during a Christmas celebration, it’s revealed that Winter’s been off the stuff, having been furtively fed placebo pills for some time.

Greg explained, “I didn’t really know much about that story at all until I was starting to hang with them.  I was already making the film and excited that Johnny was on the comeback and he seemed healthier than what I had read about him, and then that story started unfolding…that to me became the most incredible part of the documentary, like here’s how these guys battle to get him healthy out of this little group of people…and Paul his manager cleaned him up, it’s amazing.

In the world premiere we had in Austin Texas, (Winter was present) people were cheering during that part of the film.  Like crying and then cheering, like a standing ovation of electric applause happened when Johnny opened up the pill at Christmas. People were so into that storyline and were rooting for him.  Winter said it was his best Christmas present ever.”

And in another heartbreaking scene, Johnny Winter is driven to his boyhood home and is invited in by the accommodating current resident, yet he refuses to set foot into the house, it’s just too much.  Too many memories.  Too much time has passed.

Greg confirmed, “He just did what he wanted to do, and I think that’s what attracted me…and what attracts most people to those stories, is that it’s rare that anybody does live a life like that and did exactly what they wanted to do, and not sit in the cubicle and worry about their 9 to 5 jobs, which is much safer.”

I, myself, got to see Johnny Winter at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in the mid-Eighties while he was still in the throes of his almighty powers and what a performance it was – as if he too, had a little meeting at the Crossroads (i.e. as in Robert Johnson‘s mythological get-together).  And I also got to check him out in more recent times where he’d become frail and had to sit for the concert.  Yet he was as methodically possessed as ever before.

God rest your soul, Johnny!

About Face Filmmakers New ESPN 30 for 30 Short

In the newest ESPN 30 for 30 short “MECCA: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous” filmmaker Chris James Thompson has captured a unique, however unlikely, piece of Milwaukee sports and art history lore.  The Mecca Arena, as it was once called, (now the U.S. Cellular Arena) was home to the Milwaukee Bucks (1970 – 88) and the Marquette Warriors (now the Marquette Golden Eagles) basketball teams as well as a venue for other events.

In 1977, the worse-for-wear arena floor was replaced, but it would be no ordinary basketball court because it just so happened that renowned Pop artist Robert Indiana was commissioned to design a new floor – a massive, utilitarian art work.  That in itself, along with Indiana’s $27,500 fee, was a point of contention among many as well as a sense of fascination to others.  Indiana had created the uber-famous “Love” icon which permeated 1970’s American culture, landing on hats, t-shirts and even a postage stamp.  Now he was on to something else.

But until recently, that floor was languishing in a Missouri warehouse waiting to be sold off, until a few determined Milwaukee Bucks fans saved the day.  Andy Gorzalski, Greg Koller, (who initiated the idea and sadly passed away) and his son Ben put themselves out on a financial limb to rescue the floor.  And for one amazing summer night in 2013, that floor was reassembled to celebrate and relive a bygone era.

Chris Thompson, a venerated filmmaker whose last effort “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files,” (picked up by IFC) chillingly retold the grisly account of Milwaukee’s notorious serial killer, this time, along with a bevy of local filmmakers, portrayed a much more positive slant to the city in documenting this magical effort of recapturing the Arena‘s floor.  Chris explained to me this fascinating story of the historic floor and its glorious return to form.

“What happened was Andy Gorzalski, who is a friend of mine and an avid Bucks fan here in Milwaukee…had just put his credit card down to purchase the Milwaukee Bucks basketball court from the old MECCA Arena in the 1970′s in Milwaukee for $20,000…but he didn’t actually have $20,000.”

But that little fact did not stop Andy…

Chris continued: “Even though he’s a hard working guy, he’s not a wealthy person…but he was so passionate about this floor and what it meant to him and having gone to games with his dad when he was a young boy and seeing the court and all his heroes for the Bucks playing on it.  He just couldn’t imagine the court being sent away or shipped off to another country or chopped up…he really was passionate that it needed to stay in one piece and it needed to stay in Milwaukee.”

Obviously, that determination paid off and Chris realized as a filmmaker, that it was “impossible not to get on board with him and see where the story went…You know when you hear from a third party that someone bought a court for $20,000 it seems a bit ludicrous, but when you spend a few minutes with Andy it starts to make sense somehow.”

Upon his first meeting with Andy, the Arena’s history was fondly explained to Chris: Robert Indiana painting the beautiful floor, the Bucks winning the championship, Marquette winning a championship, and many great basketball players playing on the floor and other events that were happening in there, and how it was such a beloved venue, a MECCA in many senses of the word for so many people.

Yet before the intervention of Andy, Greg and Ben, it was amazing that some art aficionado didn’t snap it up first.  Or was it because sports and art somehow don’t generally mix?

Robert Indiana and the floor design he created for MECCA

Robert Indiana and the floor design he created for MECCA

Chris reflected that “Robert Indiana is such a prolific artist, and the project itself was so unique: to paint every square inch of an entire basketball court had never been done before… (it could very well be) the largest pop art painting in the history of the world…There was lots of different opinions on how much it was worth…a single piece of art can be…priceless in some people’s opinions, and it could be completely worthless in other people’s opinions.”

And in reality, what could one actually do with such a massive and cantankerous proposition?

It’s an enormous floor, weighing thousands of pounds and it takes up so much space that there are very few buildings that it could actually be displayed in or even stored in safely.

“That was another part of the story, that more capital-minded art dealers,  salvage people and scrap people thought…it could live on as maybe many different floors for different buildings or different rooms or even cut into table tops or even wall mounted pieces if you cut the wood small enough…which to Andy and a lot of Bucks fans just sounds like a nightmare.”  Indeed.

As to the logistics of the task at hand, Chris informed me that “The floor belonged to an organization called the Wisconsin Center District which owns those buildings, the Expo Center and the MECCA…They were the ones that were trying to sell it and were the ones indirectly that Andy was purchasing the floor through, via a website called “Planet Reuse,” so once they found it that this is a local Bucks fan that was going to buy the floor and wanted it to stay as all once piece, I think they sort of worked in cooperation, realizing, hey there’s some interest here. It would be great to have a single night where we could display the floor again, and all these Bucks fans can come back and remember what this floor looked like in its original home inside the MECCA. I’m not sure financially what the agreement was, but I think they were all pretty friendly because they realized the significance of this night and how important it was to the city.”

And Chris, aided with a lot of enthusiastic Milwaukee filmmakers, helped capture the events surrounding the pilgrimage of the floor to make sure as much could be  preserved of the story as possible.  Along the way, such luminaries as Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks) and Doc Rivers (Marquette) weighed in with fond memories of time spent playing on that court.

Being older than Chris, I had to enlighten him that the arena was also home to the hard rock/heavy metal concert culture in the late 70′s and the 80′s.  So, a lot of people didn’t know the arena as an exclusive sports arena but as a concert venue.  And I related an infamous event to Chris:  “It was around 1980, or ’81, and Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult were on tour and this is when Ozzy Osbourne had left Black Sabbath, and Ronnie James Dio was now their lead singer. Well anyway, a lot of fans were just so vengeful that Ozzy Osbourne wasn’t the singer – that in Milwaukee during the second or third song that Black Sabbath played – someone threw a beer bottle and it hit one of the Black Sabbath members.”

Black Sabbath Riot Aftermath

Black Sabbath Riot Aftermath

“Black Sabbath was taken off the stage and a riot ensued where they tore up the Arena seats, the sound equipment, and everything. That made headlines. That was a huge thing. The mayor I believe banned Black Sabbath from coming back to Milwaukee. Anyway, they ripped up the Arena.”  Those were the days.

As for what’s next on the plate for Chris, he informed me that he‘s been “…really interested in learning about the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Also, the rendition program that the U.S. Government was operating in the early part of the 2000′s in trying to combat the war on terror. I’ve been exploring the idea of making a feature film covering some of those topics, and I’ve done some interviews and a lot of research for a few years.”  Sounds like it’s back to the heavy stuff again.

As to the future of the MECCA Arena, the naming rights were just resold, so it’s a good guess that the venue will be around for some time to come even though it lives in the much larger shadow of the Bradley Center (which is now home to the Bucks).  Ironically, in 2013 a new floor was installed in the Bradley Center to pay homage to the Robert Indiana floor.  Not bad.

“MECCA: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous” premiered on here.

Exclusive Interview – 30 for 30 Shorts: ‘Mecca: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous’

It’s late 1970s in rusting Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Times are tough, and money is tight. Enter New York-based pop artist Robert Indiana and a group of progressive-thinking Milwaukee public officials, led by Steve Marcus.

Using public funds, the officials commission Indiana to design a playing floor for the city’s MECCA Arena, home to the Milwaukee Bucks. Public outcry ensues. What are these officials doing with public funds? And, if they are going to work with an artist, why not a Milwaukee-based artist? Who is this Robert Indiana? Why won’t he let anyone view the floor until his work is completed?

September 1977, the floor is unveiled and outrage turns to praise.  Fans love it. Critics love it. Athletes love it. The whole city loves it. A decade follows and the Bucks win 74% of their games on the floor, which becomes a symbol of the city of Milwaukee.

Mecca Floor

1988 hits. The Bradley Center becomes the Bucks’ new home and the Mecca floor goes into storage. Officials try to auction it off. No one buys it. The once-celebrated, giant piece of pop art, fades into disuse and obscurity.

Fast forward to 2008, Times are tough again. One Milwaukee fanatic, Andy Gorzalski, discovers the floor for sale onlinebeing sold as scrap.

This week’s ESPN 30 For 30 short film, The Mecca, is the story of what happens next—after Andy found it for sale—as well as the story of the floor’s birth and heydays.

The following is an interview with Gorzalski , and Chris James Thompson and Michael Vollmann, director and editor  of The Mecca.

John Murphy: Andy, when you saw the floor for sale, what did you decide to do?

Andy Gorzalski: I wanted to save it.

JM: Did you realize the significance of the floor as a piece of art from a legendary artist? Or, was it more out of memory to save something significant to you growing up?

AG: I think it was combination of both. I’m a pretty big sports nut, but I was also well aware of the art history significance of it. The fine arts component of it was at the forefront. It’s why I was so interested in it.

JM: What did you do to try to save the floor?

AG: It was just sort of bouncing around. It was stored in warehouses and then I came to it. Andy Pair emailed me a link and it said, “Hey, here’s the Bucks’ floor. You can put it in your backyard and play on it.” Then, I clicked the link, and it was on an architectural salvage site.

JM: And so you put up your credit card and got it at this point?

AG: Yep. Twenty thousand dollars. I maxed my card. Looking at it in retrospect, I’m so glad I’m married to an accountant—and that we have good credit, and that I had that high of a limit on a credit card. I didn’t have a lot of cash flow, otherwise I would’ve just held onto it, but I knew I needed to find a long-term buyer. I have this floor in my garage now and I need a long-term solution before I get stuck making all these payments and everything. I contacted the Bucks.

I kind of bounced around the front office there—and they contacted Greg Kohler. Greg owned a place called Pro-Star, which was a basketball court and athletic services company. He was actually the contractor for installing and maintaining the Bucks’ floor and all that stuff, so he had an affinity for basketball courts. But more than that, he was a big cheerleader for Milwaukee—like a big pro-Milwaukee believer. Great things are possible here, you know, and this a symbol of thinking big and thinking crazy. We need to do more things like this, was his way of thinking, so he wanted to preserve it as a symbol of our past and how we have done cool things throughout time and we should continue to. That was his motivation.

So Greg Kohler had the floor and then shortly after that he died out of nowhere. He had a massive heart attack and died.

Then it was entrusted to his son, Ben, and The Pro-Star company. But, the company was going under, they were going bankrupt, they could barely make payroll. The bank was going to seize the Mecca floor.

Ben and his mom pooled money together to protect it. So he and his money are the main owners of the floor.

Although it’s being transitioned into a trust—it will actually be owned by this trust of our Mecca group—I’m one of the executors of that trust. So, even when I’m like 67-years-old, if they want to put it in somewhere or something happens to it, I have to make a decision about it. I’m like the protector of this floor for the rest of my life.

JM: Wow. It’s like you’d adopted a child. Where is the floor now?

AG: It’s in a warehouse about 15 miles north of Milwaukee, but 45 of the panels were on display at the Bradley Center, from November to March, on display as a vertical paneled exhibition of the floor in the lobby of the Bradley Center. That was kind of cool to have an art exhibit in a sports arena again—with historical elements about the floor and Milwaukee that told the story of it.

JM: How did Chris and Michael get involved—and how did it become a film?

AG: I had been shooting footage, but I didn’t want to direct it myself. I wanted separation, because I’m a part of the story. I definitely wanted to have a Wisconsin filmmaker do this, too. I had talked to Barry Poltermann about the film maybe a couple weeks before that and he was just like, “What the hell.” Barry was just like floored by the story and he committed to the post-production on it. So it was percolating and we needed to do something with it. We needed to find a director and that’s when I hit up Chris.

JM: So Chris did you just start shooting or…?

Chris James Thompson: Ever since my last film, The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, got so much press, all these people—I mean, I’m sure you know this, you’ve made movies before—all these people come out of the woodwork and they’re like, “I got a great idea for a movie!” and it’s always a fucking terrible idea for a movie.

I don’t know if I ever told Andy this, but I was just like, “Yeah I’ll listen to it, you know, Andy you’re my guy. I’ll just come hear what you’re up to and whether or not we work on anything together, it’ll be fun to see you.”

So, I go over and hear the whole story and, you know, by the time he got to the point of “I put a basketball court, a Milwaukee Bucks 1977 basketball court, on my credit card for $20,000 and I have one month to find someone to pay for it, because I can’t pay for it… One credit card cycle to figure out what to do with it…

I was sold immediately on doing the film. And Barry was on board and Jack Turner was on board to help produce. It just seemed like such a good team. Then to make it even better, when I talked to Barry, he said, “Yeah, and we’re gonna get Vollmann to edit. So it was pretty perfect for me. In a way it was like you couldn’t lose no matter what because you had this incredible editor in Vollmann, you had Barry as the story wizard behind the scenes, and then you had Jack Turner in New York pushing on the ESPN side for us.

JM: How did ESPN get involved?

CJT: Andy already had a good team of people working with him—young, hungry filmmakers here in Milwaukee shooting some of the backstory stuff. So, we shot a couple interviews and cobbled together a little trailer. We sent that out to ESPN and I think they were pretty blown away, not because the trailer was anything special, but just because the story was so sort of absurd and unlike anything else that they had been covering for their “30 for 30s.”

Because so much of it was verite, so much of it had yet to unfold—Andy and Ben hadn’t had their Mecca floor day event yet, they hadn’t gone to see Robert Indiana yet, they didn’t even know what they were gonna do with the floor, they didn’t know where they were gonna get the money, alot of it had yet to happen—I think ESPN was excited to have a story that was still unfolding, as opposed to just an all talking heads historical film. And that’s where I really like working with Vollmann because, as this stuff was happening, he was saying make sure you shoot this, make sure you get someone to shoot that, we need this, we need that. It became storytelling in real time.

JM: Michael, what is the process like to cut when you don’t have the full story yet shot and in the can? Do you work on structure, or individual scenes, or neither or both or what?

Michael Vollmann: Yeah, when you’re editing for features or television, there is a lot of that going on—editing when you don’t have everything shot yet. When I’m editing short form doc type pieces for AboutFace, we usually have everything in the can and only occasionally do pickups or reshoots. That’s usually a little bit easier, but mainly a little faster.

For example, when we started editing Mecca, we started with hours of shot footage. Andy had the foresight to have several up-and-coming shooters and filmmakers constantly shooting things that were happening now, in the present. I talked to Matt Prekop, my assistant editor, and discussed what was most important to boil down. We had tons of footage of the floor being transported from storage to the warehouse (where it was dusted off) and the event where the floor is reconstructed in the original MECCA Arena. And, Chris shot Ben traveling to, and visiting, Robert at his studio. With all that footage, we knew we had a few things that would make good scenes, but there really was no story yet.

Once the project was actually greenlit, Chris and Andy and the rest of the creative team sat down and brainstormed all the possible people they could interview who could enlighten the history of the floor. From there, a half dozen interviews were shot over the course of one or two weeks. We boiled down each interview from one or two hours to the best 20 minutes or so.

Usually all of these assembles are transcribed and I organize everything crudely on paper first and then throw everything into one on edit timeline and start moving large chunks of footage around while cutting redundancy’s or unimportant information. I think the first time we all watched something together, the cut was over an hour long, sort of a crude assemble. That’s when it finally starts coming into focus a bit about what you actually have and what needs to still be covered.

There’s a bunch of scenes on the edit room floor that we were convinced we would need in the edit. I still feel guilty about a few scenes or interviews I told Chris “we had to have.” He would go out and bust his ass to shoot a bunch of more stuff, I’d play around a bit with the new footage and realize it wouldn’t help the edit at all.

JM: How was ESPN to work with?

CJT: They’re very filmmaker-centric. I think they really stick to their guns on what they say publicly that these are very filmmaker-driven projects. Their notes were coming from a place of concern for the story and for making sure it was entertaining, making sure that people would enjoy watching it, so that was really fun. It felt like working with other filmmakers as opposed to a huge conglomerate or a bunch of lawyers or something.

JM: Andy, how did it feel to be part of the story, in front of the camera, as opposed to your usual role on the other side of the it?

AG: You’re really self-aware. My biggest fear is that I would sometimes be thinking like a producer. If I were interviewing a subject or working with a team to capture something, and I’d think, Ah . . . It would be great if he said this or that . . . You really have to shut all that off. You have to be very focused on not being self-aware or not thinking like a filmmaker. It’s always in the back of your mind a little bit, but if you’re not authentic things are going to suffer. So, you really have to learn to bracket off a lot of feelings.

JM: What do you hope viewers take away from this film?

AG: My big thing I’ve always said is that I love the “pro-Milwaukee-ness” of the story. And, when you look at what a leap of faith it was to do commission this floor in 1977, and the crazy circumstances as to how it actually got executed—they hired Robert and they had to keep it a secret—it’s all this crazy stuff. It actually gets done and it’s a massive success.

At the end of the day, this didn’t take place in New York or L.A. The coolest basketball floor and the most progressive-thinking city was Milwaukee. Not the coast, not San Francisco. I think that’s really cool. Especially at that time, too— the late 70s, in a rust-belt city.

JM: Yeah. And when are you running for mayor?

AG: People ask that. People ask Ben and I that all the time.

You can see The Mecca at ESPN on Grantland.

Andrew Gorzalski is a Milwaukee native and Producer, Interactive, at Cramer Krasselt.

Chris James Thompson most recently directed the IFC Midnight release The Jeffrey Dahmer Files and is a freelance director for About Face Media.

Michael Vollman won the 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival Cream City Cinema Award for his short film Before You. He was also the cinematographer and editor on Thompson’s Dahmer Files, and he is the Senior Editor at About Face Media.


AboutFace Director, Manny Marquez has been spending some rare time in the office lately to catch up on the long awaited film: ‘PsychoPath’. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise some much needed funds the process of editing the years of footage into the amazing story that it will be continues, but these amazing posters are in to tide you off till the finished product is ready!

Manny Marquez Psychopath Poster


A Story About Johnny Carson & Charles Nelson Reilly

Johnny Carson and Charles Nelson Reilly on the Tonight Show

The new American Masters documentary on Johnny Carson debuted last night and it reminded me of a story that I was told by the late, great Charles Nelson Reilly. It was 2004, and Johnny was still alive. We were filming a documentary on CNR and some of us who were working on the film were hanging out at CNR’s house in Beverly Hills, discussing the film.

Charles liked to tell Johnny Carson stories.  He loved the man. In fact, a significant scene in the film, The Life of Reilly, revolved around Charles appearing on the Tonight Show doing the “To be or not to be” scene from Hamlet:

When Charles told stories, you have to realize that he always put the story first… even if it involved a bit of a… let’s just say, evolution of the truth.  One time he would say he had been on the show 103 times.  The next time he would say 105 times.  We settled on 104 times for the movie, but as best we could tell, it was actually 99 times.  I guess he thought 100-plus something had a better ring to it.

Charles lived near the NBC studio, he told us, and he had a tux hanging in his closet standing by just in case Johnny called.  When a guest was a no-show, Johnny called Charles and he came right over.  The conversation was genuine and funny. Johnny would always ask about Charles mother. The clips are a riot.  The loose, rambling, improvisational comedy seems very different than today’s late night world.

But the story Charles told us that night in his house came to mind when I was reading about the American Master film — the complication that was Johnny Carson. We asked Charles why he hadn’t appeared on the show for the last couple of years that Johnny was on the air.  Johnny, Charles explained, had banned him from the show.

The reason?  Charles had gotten a call from his good friend Joan Rivers, asking him to appear on her new show.  He did so. And that was it for Charles on The Tonight Show.

I asked Charles if he ever saw or heard from Carson again?  He had not.  It was the late night death penalty.  Charles didn’t seem upset about it. It was just show biz. Charles mixed us up another Manhattan and went on to tell some pretty good Joan Rivers stories.  “My Joanie” he called her.

But when it came to making the film, we contacted Carson Productions to ask for clips to use in the movie.  Their reply was swift and gracious.  “We love Charles.  Anything we can do to help.”

They sent over several great clips, free for us to use, although the one Charles talks about in the movie was gone… part of an NBC snafu where they bulk erased video copies of several years worth of material.

In the end we barely used the clips in the film, but several can be found on YouTube.  They remind me of good times with Charles Nelson Reilly — a great and complicated talent himself. And his friend, the great and complicated Johnny Carson.

We miss them both.


Chris James Thompson’s New Film Premiering At SXSW

Jeff, a truly unique take on Jeffrey Dahmer, will be making its premiere at the prestigious and super-fun SXSW Film Festival this March in Austin, Texas.  If you’re down there, come out and see AboutFace director Chris James Thompson’s fearless Dahmer film.  Then grab a bite and a drink in one of the world’s most delicious and rocking cities.

Read more about the film via Duane Dudek and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Documentarians & Reality TV

This is an interesting article from the Columbia Journalism Review about documentary filmmakers working in Reality TV… and getting paid for it?!  Unreal!

(Note: They get paid when they work for us, too.)







AboutFace’s Peter O’Brien is tapped by Warner Bro’s for Script

AboutFace Chief Storyteller, Peter O'Brien

AboutFace‘s Chief Storyteller, Peter O’Brien is fresh off his work on Halo: Reach & The Chancelor Manuscript is finding solace from the studios once again.  Warner Brothers recently hired O’Brien for a new action film titled “Line of Sight” about “an elite commando squad transporting cargo while dealing with a global threat”

Read the full text of the press release here.

"The Life of Reilly" Now Available on Netflix

The Late Reilly on Stage in 2004

“The Life of Reilly”, Directed by AboutFace’s own Barry Poltermann and Frank Anderson featuring Charles Nelson Reilly.  (Yeah, that Charles Nelson Reilly) is finally available streaming on Netflix.

The film is “Certified Fresh” and remains among the best reviewed films of 2007, but CNR’s words ring true today more than ever.  Check it out!

Of course you can still…
Buy the DVD on Amazon.
Buy the Bluray on Amazon.
Buy on Itunes.

& connect with Charles on..

What Happens to a Dream Deferred?

Manny Marquez on the set of PsychoPath

Creating independent film is a thankless job.  It’s truly a labor of love, it often takes years of hard work, an unreasonable amount of money for very little return on investment.  Enter Manny Marquez.  For the past 5+ years he’s left the comforts of the northwest every autumn to travel to rural Oklahoma, capturing a touching story near and dear to his heart.  It’s a story about the American Dream about doing what you love even when no one else believes in you.


From the PsychoPath Kickstarter Page:

“Victor Marquez is a garbage man in rural Oklahoma. His entire life he’s wanted to be involved with special FX make-up, and work in movies. His plan was halted when he met Suezette. She was a beautiful blonde, with a fire red Trans Am and an 8-Track cassette player always blasting Heart. The only catch was, Suezette was his high school gym teacher. They eventually got married and raised a family, and Victor put his Hollywood dreams on hold.

25 years later, we find Victor is running a successful garbage route in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. He plans on taking the money he’s saved from the garbage route, and wants to build a haunted house theme park attraction in the woods called PSYCHOPATH. He believes he’ll be able to do special effects, build animatronics, and live his lifelong dream of scaring people with his art. This all seems quite harmless, except the people that live around the proposed theme park are not happy. Some threaten to kill him, others threaten to burn the park down, and when the threats don’t work they take him to zoning court. Victor is granted 5 years to prove to the community that the park will follow all the rules, and not cause any disruptions.”

The parallels between Manny’s story and Victor’s are probably more similar than even Manny realizes.  Both are doing what they love up against tremendous adversity.  For Manny it’s this film, for Victor it’s a “haunted attraction”.  Their perseverance, sacrifice and persistence is inspiring.

From the time of this publication Manny is just over $2,000 short with only 9 days remaining till he makes his annual pilgrimage to the woods of Oklahoma.  You can be a part of this project with as little as a $1 donation, every penny helps.  So far there’s been 50 people who have pledged to the project.  With 50 more grass roots donations we can make this film and Manny’s dream a reality.  You can contribute here.

AboutFace Media Awarded The “Partners In Progress” From Sears Holdings Corp

It's prestigious AND rectangular!

We were honored to win the 2010 Partners In Progress award from Sears Holdings Corporation.  Out of more than 40,000 suppliers and hundreds of entries, we were chosen for our innovative work with Sears-owned Kmart, on the Kmart Design initiative.  Other companies that have taken the award home?  How about Omniture, Wipro, and GE (four years running).  So we’re in good company, obviously.

Less obvious, though, may be what we did to win that award…

According to a Sears press release, “The Partners In Progress program recognizes suppliers for product or service quality, innovation, diversity, and overall market performance.”  Very cool, right?

Yet I still constantly have people saying, “So what do you guys do, again?”

Well… I guess you don’t win awards for innovation when everyone already knows exactly what you’re doing.  Remember the first time you heard about a tweet?

So here I’m going to try to make it very obvious – here’s what we do, period.

AboutFace Media is a content marketing agency. So what does that mean?  Well, here’s our step-by-step, here’s what we do:

1. We make documentary-style video content.  (Check out one of the Kmart Design videos we did with the lovely and iconic Jaclyn Smith here.)

2. We optimize that content and distribute it out across the web and through social media.  (Check out the Kmart Design YouTube channel here.)

3. We keep the message vibrant by keeping the conversation going all over the social landscape.  (Kmart Design Twitter account here, Facebook page here.)

4. We measure the impact and report back to our clients.  (I can’t show you our reports because they’re just for our clients, but suffice to say our clients really like them and that’s REALLY why they give us awards.)

So, in a nutshell, that’s what we do.  I’ve oversimplified it a bit here, but you get the idea.

We work with our clients to understand who they are and what they want to achieve.

Then we go lights, camera, action to capture their stories in a genuine, authentic way – so that consumers out there in web 2.0 won’t smell an ad and run away, but actually embrace the honesty behind the videos and want to watch.

Once we’ve got the videos locked and loaded, we place them everywhere we can, not just on a corporate website, but “out there” in the distributed web.

Next, we keep the building momentum going by adding fuel to the conversational fire – we interact with users in social media, we send videos to influential bloggers, and lots more.

And, finally, we report the results back to our clients, everything from the quantitative (video plays, traffic stats, keyword trending, blog impressions, etc.) to the qualitative (conversation shifts, sample Twitter interactions, etc.).

So, is that innovative?  Are we doing it better than anyone else out there?  Is it award worthy?

I don’t want to brag, but I guess Sears thinks so.

Improving Documentary Video Production with Technology

One of the things I constantly strive for at AboutFace is bringing better images into our production workflow. AboutFace and documentary filmmakers alike, have long been fans of Panasonic products. Their small form and ease of use have been most attractive. One of the drawbacks to these cameras have been lack of DOF options. Traditionally to obtain this look, one would have to use film, use a bulky adaptor, or use other very costly digital cinema cameras. Recently we have been using Cannon’s 7D camera to augment the b-role on our shoots. We have found that having a few more tricks in the bag have been quite helpful. Today while doing my normal morning blog perusal, I came across one of the camera’s that I have been most excited about. I give you the Panasonic AG-AF100.

Here is the gizmodo post. More to come on this camera. However, first looks are very promising.

John Lyons Murphy’s Racing Documentary Heats Up Palm Beach

Yes, there is a pig in that race car.

AboutFace Executive Producer John Lyons Murphy had his directorial debut, documentary Moonshine To The Finish Line: The Unofficial Beginnings Of NASCAR,  premiere at the 2010 Palm Beach International Film Festival last month.  The documentary features legendary drivers such as Bobby Allison, “Tiger” Tom Pistone, and Junior Johnson, and chronicles the wild early bootlegging days of American stock car racing and how the dynamic times and personalities snowballed into the billion dollar business now known as NASCAR.

“When Palm Beach came up, we knew Burt Reynolds was being honored there this year, and I had hung out with Burt at his house when we were doing some cool extra features for Barry [Poltermann] and Frank [Anderson]‘s The Life Of Reilly,” Murphy said.  “So, with Burt being there, and the great reputation of the festival, and of course the weather being pretty enticing didn’t hurt, it kind of just felt like the right time to show the movie…even though we aren’t technically totally finished with the film.”

Moonshine played to great fanfare, reportedly coming in second place, one vote shy of first, for the best documentary feature award.  “Everybody had fun, the crowd reaction was awesome, and we feel like we got the buzz train rolling along here, so we’re not too worried about awards or no awards” Murphy said.  The filmmakers’ next step is approaching distributors in hopes to get the story seen by audiences all over.

“The movie isn’t about NASCAR, per se,” Murphy told us.  “The sport is the setting, but the real story is the people.  Junior running illegal whiskey to feed the family and going to prison for it.  Curtis Turner drunkenly stealing police cars and driving them into hotel pools.  Tiny Lund putting a cheetah in another driver’s motel bed while the guy is out so he’ll get home and find a cheetah in his bed…  It’s stuff like that, not necessarily ‘a history of a sport’ that interested me.  It’s the people, you know?”

The Palm Beach version of the trailer is online at

Collapse now available for preorder from Amazon

Mark your calenders for June 15!

Just a week after it’s release on iTunes, the DVD release of the critically acclaimed film ‘Collapse’ is set to be released this summer. is now accepting preorders for the DVD loaded with extra features including Michael Ruppert’s earth shattering predictions for 2010 and beyond.

Thank you to all whom purchased the film on iTunes already.  We’re currently ranked #3 on the top documentaries on the iTunes store.

Collapse now available on iTunes

Chris Smith‘s terrifying documentary ‘Collapse’ edited by AboutFace‘s own Barry Poltermann is now available on iTunes.

Fans of the movie have been waiting for this moment for months utilizing social media channels to endlessly debate and prepare for the end of the world, trade sustainable farming tips and bond over general paranoia on the movie’s Facebook Page.

While the movie is still being shown theatrically in a handful of cities, you can expect an announcement regarding the DVD release mid April.

You can purchase the film on iTunes here.

You’ve been warned.

THE POOL’s UK Theatrical Release

THE POOL Editor Barry Poltermann and Director Chris Smith in 2009. Photo by Jeffrey Wells. just announced the UK release of THE POOL.  The film was directed by Chris Smith and edited by our own Barry Poltermann:

The Pool received the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was selected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as one of the Best Films of the Year alongside The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Iron Man and Wall-E.

“We shot the film for the big screen – shooting on 35mm and choosing to use many wide shots that allow you to take in the rich environment,” elaborates Smith. “I’m thrilled that The Pool is releasing theatrically in the UK. It connects with audiences and I am delighted that they will be able to see it on the big screen. We’ve had extended runs in the US and Canada theatrically and it has been great working with Mara Pictures to bring it to a new theatrical home.”

“Collapse” Featured in Time Magazine

The January 25th, 2010 issue of Time Magazine showcases Collapse, on its weekly short list of recommendations in arts and entertainment.

Collapse in Time Magazine January 25th, 2010

This acclaimed film was directed by Chris Smith, and edited at About Face by our CEO, Barry Poltermann.

The film is currently in theatrical release and is available on Video On Demand.

About Face’s Peter O’Brien tapped by Paramount Pictures

Variety is reporting that About Face Media‘s Chief Storyteller, Peter O’Brien has been brought aboard at Paramount Pictures to adapt the Robert Ludlum Thriller, “The Chancellor Manuscript.”

Marc Forster, who most recently directed the James Bond film, ‘Quantum of Solace’, will direct and Leonardo Dicaprio is attached to star in the film.

Peter is a great asset to all of our projects, and is always instrumental in maintaining the integrity of story in all of our content. We’re fortunate to extend this level of talent to the message and marketing of our client’s stories, and we’re excited to see this movie take shape as it develops.

Stay tuned for more updates on the movie.

Little Fish "Darling Dear" Music Video

Videostatic just raved about the latest music video from Manny Marquez, one of our favorite AboutFace documentarians who moonlights as a music video director:

“Director Manny Marquez captures the propulsive qualities of the track with this b&w ode mash-up of French New Wave and A Hard Days Night, letting Little Fish singer Juju break the fourth wall and kick some bloody ass all over town.”

The band is Little Fish. The song is “Darling Dear”.

From Manny:

“Music video for Oxford based Little Fish. The video was shot on a Canon 5D as a series of one shot takes. The takes were then cut together in order to utilize the forward motion of the one shot, but take advantage of the displacement of being in a slightly different spot in each take at that point of the song we cut to. Shot in London, England UK”

Directed by Manny Marquez.
DP’s: Paul Street & Lester Dunton
Produced by: Streetlight Films (
Label: Custard / Universal Motown