This article was originally published in the August 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 38, Number 5). The DVD “Throw it Down” can be ordered on this Web site.
From the director, John E. Maher
What got you interested in drum corps?
“I knew next to nothing about this subject when my long-time friend, Producer John Kelly, came to me with the idea. I honestly did not see the appeal at first, but when we started to dig into the story, I got excited. I felt that If we could tell this story from inside the heads of the members, then we had something.
Why did you choose the Bluecoats ?
We had an in with Chuck Bauerlein, a friend of John Kelly’s. He had two children in the Bluecoats. We also wanted to focus on a corps that was in the middle of the pack, struggling to reach the top of the heap.
Many people have said this is the best film ever made on the subject. How could you make “Throw it Down” without previous experience in the activity?
We spent almost a year researching the subject before we started rolling cameras. First, we needed to gain the trust of the corps because we had to have access to all aspects of their life. We asked a lot of questions and did two long interviews with a member of the horn line and with the drum major. We did not go into this with a locked-in script and we kept revising our ideas as we saw new things in the corps.
There is a seamless quality between picture and music in the film. How did you achieve this?
There was a lot of back and forth between the picture editing and the music composition. The editor, Craig Mikhitarian, and I would cut a story island to rough music, then give that to the composer, Martin Fegy, to create a musical score. We would then re-cut the piece to his score and give it back to him for more work on refining the music. We went back and forth like this until it was right.
Associate Producer Chuck Bauerlein:
What was it like having two of your children in the film?
My son, Luke, was “Bluecoat of the Year” in his age-out season of 2005. He spent five years with the corps, playing euphonium and baritone. The experience taught him a lot about life and helped turn him into a mature, responsible person. He learned to be accountable to a collective group, to take criticism from adult instructors and supervisors, to endure stress and pain and to push his limits as a person.
My daughter, Isabel, was in the Bluecoats for four years, but only shared one season of the Bluecoats with her brother, in 2005. It was wonderful to see her in the film as a member of the Bluecoats the summer we shot the film.
I am proud of be associated with “Throw it Down” . . . especially that Luke was chosen to help narrate the film because the Bluecoats played such a large role in shaping his identity. He will always be a Bluecoat. I think the film shows viewers why that makes me proud as his father.
The movie always will be a big part of my family’s history and an important document of a time when my children were coming of age and were members of an elite drum corps. It is safe to say, their association with the Bluecoats played a large role in shaping them to be responsible citizens. I am especially proud of their association with a film that shows why drum corps should be considered a great American pasttime.
From composer Martin J. Fegy:
How do you approach the creation of music for a film about music?
You have to be careful that the music you write does not interfere with their performance. There was a conscious effort to keep my music different and apart from what the corps was doing. There are basically two directions for the original music in “Throw it Down.” One section was the Dream Music that went with the dream sequences and, by its very nature, it was different. Other parts of the score required a more dramatic orchestral treatment where I added woodwinds and strings.
As an outsider, what was your impression of the Bluecoats?
They are very good. The arrangements are excellent and their playing is very tight. When you add the movement, their playing almost has to be second nature. That is quite an achievement.
How was it working with JEM Films?
John Maher is difficult for the most part, but it’s fun. We have a lot of pushing back and forth on things, but he gives me a direction on where the music might fit and I have a lot of freedom. With a documentary, it’s different than with a dramatic film because you’re not playing to emotion too much. You’re not following action directly. It’s a little more abstract. The music is supporting a feeling that the camera is showing.
Editor Craig Mikhitarian:
What was your approach?
I’ve worked with John Maher for many years on many different projects and we’ve developed a collaboration that seems to work. Generally, I come into the project after most of the film has been shot. He comes in with great ideas and I put a pair of fresh eyes on it.
I take the roll of disinterested audience and even have the same lack of subject knowledge that John had when he began the project. That helps us see the forest for the trees and find the universal truth in the story that will appeal to all.
Good documentary filmmaking is finding the story in all that footage, like finding a sculpture within a block of granite.
What kind of footage did you have to work with?
I think there was over 60 hours shot on High Definition video with great stereo sound by Peter Stewart. John was also the Director of Photography on this project and he did a superb job of shooting it. So I had an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
The dream sequences were an unusual touch. How did that idea come about?
John and producer John Thomas Kelly wanted to create a story that was not linear — not a straight documentation of events. The dream idea was a premise they came up with right from the beginning. It was great because it gave us free pathways into the heads of the players, where we were able to explore conflict, struggle and passion, and tell a story with more meaning than the mere chronicle of events would.”
As outsiders to drum corps culture, what were your impressions of the Bluecoats?
I was blown away by the physical and mental toughness these people have. If fact, in the edit room, we had a sequence we labeled “Body by Drum Corps.” The sheer physical conditioning these competitors have to achieve is awesome. It’s like doing a high-level sport. On top of that, you have to play perfect music.
Finally, the director John Maher
What got to me was the passion that the members and staff have. The Bluecoats are a lesson in what it takes to make a dream come true. Having a dream is one thing, but really wanting it and making it come true is quite another. What we find out in the film is that it takes sacrifice and courage, and that’s inspiring.
Thank you all for sharing the “Throw it Down” experience and congratulations on your achievement.
Thank you. I hope everyone sees the film. It’ll make your heart beat a little faster.