James McElwee on why his Kickstarter funded Bob Ferbrache doc still hasn't been made

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It's been roughly two and half years since James McElwee raised more than $5000 on Kickstarter to make a documentary on Bob Ferbrache, and the film still isn't finished. After raising the money, McElwee started interviewing members of bands like Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Tarantella, Warlock Pinchers and Ian Cooke, acts who have worked with Ferbrache over the years, but last month, McElwee announced that he would not be able to continue work on the film and pledged to refund the money that was donated.

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"People were really disappointed and angry at me and the whole thing," he points out, allowing that it's "with good reason. I won't deny that."

Going into the project, a film focusing on the lauded producer that was to be titled Bob Ferbrache: the Denver Sound and Beyond, McElwee says he thought he knew what he was getting into. It turned out to be more than he could handle. "I thought I had enough time," he says, "and I thought I had the resources, but as things went on and I talked to people and the ideas kept coming on how it could be done, or what I wanted to talk about, [the project] sort of grew and grew. And the nuts of bolts of trying to set up scheduling and equipment and that sort of thing kind of got harder and harder to deal with on my own. It kind of overwhelmed me. I have a film degree from CU Boulder. It wasn't completely unknown to me what problems I might encounter.

"I'm really disappointed in that I haven't been able to do it," he confesses. "Really boring practical reasons -- work, kids, a girlfriend I used to have -- that all combines, like quicksand, I couldn't get out of to make the movie. I feel like I let a lot of my really good friends down and those that I didn't know who contributed to Kickstarter, and I let them down. I disappointed everybody. There's a lot of people who are mad at me and have every right to be. That's not a fun place to be. I didn't go into this to disappoint people and make them mad and have them be pissed off at me. That was the last thing on my mind."

Over the last year, some disgruntled folks have left comments on the film's Facebook page expressing how disappointed they indeed were in how McElwee was dealing with things and not communicating with people.

"I don't have the stomach for the fight anymore," says McElwee. "My reputation with a number of people is such that I really can't continue. There are plenty of folks that I'm still friends with and that would be happy to work with me, but enough are annoyed with me and don't want anything to do with me, that me continuing to work on the movie would not really be possible or feasible, and for the quality of the project we'd want to make."

While McElwee says he's paid back a handful of people who donated via Kickstarter so far as his finances allowed, he plans to pay back more people over the next few months using his tax refund and money he made working as a sound tech for the Blue Man Group. He also has another idea for the doc and he hopes that someone else might take it over. The plan is to enlist a number of different artists that have worked with the Ferbrache over the years to make short vignettes talking about their experiences on camera, an idea inspired by Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.

"If there's that sort of interest and I can't do it, the thought occurred to me, like, well...," McElwee explains. "And coupled with the fact of the length and breadth of people he's worked with -- the fans of his work -- not just musicians but creative folks of all stripes, [I figured] why not try and have it be instead of one person making the documentary about him open it up to everybody, or as many people as would be interested in making short movies about Bob, that are manageable and that pretty much anybody can do? Five to ten-minute little pieces that covers one little corner of who Bob is from their perspective."

While he's only talked with a few people recently about the future of the film and how it could be done, McElwee hasn't made any sort of formalized plans and in fact, he hasn't spoken with Ferbrache in quite some time. If somehow the documentary ends up going forward, McElwee says he's willing to let people use the equipment he purchased with the Kickstarter funds, including a recording kit, the lighting rig and cameras. He says he still thinks that the equipment should be used for the movie, especially for those people who might want to make something but not quite have the means for production.

"It would be interesting to have the music scene make a love letter to Bob who's been so important to Denver music for as long as he has," McElwee concludes. "And given the breadth of artists he has worked with, it would probably be really really amazing stuff and stuff that I could never possibly think of or create."






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8 comments
bumhead
bumhead

Sooo, if you hadn't been asked to make this explanation people would have continued to be left in the dark?

mcelwee
mcelwee

Excuses, reasons, justifications, rationalizations... At this point, does it really matter? Okay, if you think I'm making excuses, that's totally fine. Whatever. I could've just kept everyone in the dark, refunded the money and not said one word about it. Instead, I was asked, so I explained (without going into gory specifics).

Within two months, I fully expect to have enough money to pay back the folks whom I haven't already fully refunded their contributions to the dollar (regardless of Kickstarter's 10% cut off of the top, or PayPal's charges on the refund). Conversely, I could just go the old school indie film route and max out my credit card to do it. Either way, it'll be done.

As such, the reason I haven't decided to sell the equipment is I reckoned that if folks wanted to go through with the "32 Short Films..." idea, it could be more useful to keep the gear and allow anyone who wants to make a piece to put the equipment out there free of charge for their use (perhaps allowing the individual filmmakers to do more than that otherwise could).


Basically, I think the collection of equipment is more useful together than the money, but as ever, you're more than welcome to disagree.

Justin Headrick
Justin Headrick

it really is too bad, what an amazing story of the music history of Denver all tied together....reminds me of the piece Westword did years ago called something like the Six Degrees of The Denver Gentlemen....

BoomDog
BoomDog

Umm, why wouldn't he sell "the equipment he purchased with the Kickstarter funds, including a recording kit, the lighting rig and cameras" to pay back his Kickstarter investors. All I hear in this article is a bunch of lame excuses.

mcelwee
mcelwee

Swansea-- I assure you that my degree wasn't that expensive. However, I will concede the point that Film School didn't prepare me for was trying to make movies with custody of my three kids part time, and working a day job around that schedule so I could pay rent and child support every month.  As it happened, that didn't leave me time to do much else.

Swansea
Swansea

looks like his expensive film degree didn't actually prepare this man for actually making films

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