From The Archives: A Beautiful Flower Growing in a Crack of Concrete – Wetlands Preserved with Jonathan Healey
Jonathan Healey behind the camera, while Dean Budnick interviews Dave Matthews
Part II Soul Shakedown Party
“I need your concentration
Just to feel your vibration” – PHISH, Chairman of the Boards and Big Red, Nassau Coliseum, 2/28/03
RR: What is your background in production?
JH: I started attending the Walter Cronkite School Of Broadcast Business Management at Arizona State after I recognized a void in the live music landscape Video. Back then, I wanted to be a station owner/manager and, perhaps, create a live music-oriented cable channel. The Internet was in its infancy. I launched an on-line music show dubbed Groove Tube. After college, I worked for [Saturday Night Live founder and executive producer] Lorne Michaels at his college-oriented cable network, Burly Bear Network. I wanted to get into the business any way I could, so I took a sales job assisting the sales team with their spot advertisement efforts.
I eventually found myself as a Director of Marketing, working on PR initiatives, as well as the company’s corporate and consumer branding objectives. It was at this time I started working with a lot of still photographers and started to enjoy what these folks did for a living. I started writing letters to jambands, for the most part, asking if I might take photos for Burly Bear’s website and, in some cases, write some editorial. Widespread Panic gave me my first break at Fleet Pavilion in Boston giving me the opportunity to shoot the first three songs of the first setsomething I’d become utterly familiar with in the years to come. Later, guys like Kevin Shapiro would offer opportunities with Trey Anastasio and the Vermont Youth Orchestra or Vida Blue. Eventually Chris Zahn and Jake Szufnarowski permitted me into Wetlands to photograph the Disco Biscuits, John Scofield and Soulive/Lettuce.
I spent a year or so only photographing bands and portraits of fans and became a little restless. I wanted to do more with my art. I reached out to Andy Navarro who, at the time, was managing Tom Marshall’s Amfibian. I told him my situation I’m making the move from still photography to video and I’d like to film Amfibian’s next performance at Wetlands Preserve and create some sort of short documentary or story for Burly Bear’s website. He obliged and I ended up creating a wonderful four-part series showcasing interviews and performances from Amfibian’s 2000 Wetlands Preserve and Higher Ground shows.
It was after that piece that Burly Bear gave me a lateral move within the corporation and offered me the Producer role for the Burly Bear Comedy and Film Festival. It was a great opportunity for me since it merged incredible amounts of marketing efforts with not only live production, but television production, as well. This event traveled from college to college showcasing up-and-coming stand-up comedy and comedic short films. We were kind of like a band. We traveled around in two 15-passenger vans, advanced shows, managed/booked talent, had load-ins and load-outs, and videotaped everything for on-air interstitials and industrials. I took a very hands-on approach with the videotaping, photography and audio recording for these events and realized I wanted to be working in production full-time.
Once the tour ended, I decided to leave the company and pursue my interests full-time. I took almost one year off learning how to edit, compose shots, and animate video and stills. During this time, I called upon a lot of my friends in the industry to help me out with jobs. I took anything I could get: still photographer on movie sets, editing EPKs for athletes, producing corporate films for various ad agencies and so on. I was really intrigued with all the new DVD technology that became readily available to consumers and took the bull by the horns since now bands could be offered increasingly cheap rates to produce, film, edit and author concert DVDs. Vermont rockers, RAQ and Seth Yacovone Band, reached out to me. I created some in-house concert DVDs for each of them that really gave me the opportunity to showcase my talents to other bands and companies.
Come 2002, an old contact of mine from Burly Bear Network, Nick DeNinno, was currently working with National Lampoon Networks and was searching for a producer to re-launch their music magazine show, AV Squad. I took the job and I’ve been producing the show ever since. It was that year, I also began working for the Jammy Awards.
RR: How did you get involved with Dean Budnick and Wetlands Preserved?
JH: When I was living in Boston, Dean wrote The Phishing Manual: A Compendium to the Music of Phish. After reading it, I thought it would be a nice Christmas gift for some friends of mine. I reached out to Dean, asked if I might get these books signed and he obliged. We met up at John Harvard’s Brew House, in Cambridge, MA, had lunch and talked about all sorts of music-related topics. We stayed in touch by trading bootlegs and even catching the occasional moe. show at Boston College, or a Mike Gordon signing at the Harvard Bookstore.
I transferred to Arizona State and kind of lost touch, but when I returned to New York, I saw Dean at a Relix re-launch party at Spa, in New York City. It was there that I mentioned an idea for the Jammy Awards. Why not introduce video nominee montages and give the awards portion of the event some additional excitement? I think Peter Shapiro and Dean kicked the idea around for a Jammys or two, but I eventually received a Budnick/Shapiro tag team phone call, in 2002, that the idea was green-lighted. I spent a couple months working directly with Peter and Dean, cutting together high-end motion graphics for jumbotrons. And, now for some shameless self-promotion: there’s an excellent photo of the inaugural screens in the June issue of Relix (“Jam of the Titans”). About a year and a half later, during a brief Jammys hiatus year, I received another Budnick/Shapiro tag team phone call. I thought they were going tell me the date for the next Jammys, but, instead, they were more interested if I owned camera, lighting and audio equipment. I did. That’s when they shared with me their concept for Wetlands Preserved and asked me to shoot and edit the film.
RR: What was your role on the documentary?
JH: I served as Director of Photography during production and Editor in post-production. It was my job to light each interview, videotape it, as well as record sound. That’s sort of my niche in this business. I’m like the Keller Williams of videography a one-man crew from soup to nuts. I really enjoy it, though. It’s a great daily exercise to try and create something different for every interview whether it’s the setting or the lighting and I believe I accomplished this in Wetlands Preserved. I tried to give every person their own cinematic feel based upon their role with club. For instance, John Dwork was highly involved with the club’s lighting. His interview features incredible contrast as well as use of color gobos (light patterns) in the background. Sublime’s Eric Wilson performed at the club, so we filmed him in the foreground with his crew loading in and setting up at a nightclub in the background.
As for post-production, I worked directly with Dean putting all of his notes and ideas together in edit. It really is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together and getting the perfect fit to tell the best story. In addition to editing clips together, I was responsible for most of the non-musical animations. I spent a lot of time creating the various animations that call to different photos, or advertisements, or video while a person is speaking. Wetlands Preserved probably had one of the smallest crews in the history of cinema, so everybody had to play a lot of roles.
Part III The Men with a Movie Camera and an Editing Machine
“a film that need only be seen once to be understood and enjoyed but demands to be studied on an editing table to be fully appreciated. The Man with a Movie Camera has the remarkable effect of encouraging the viewer to identify with the filmmaking process.” – The A List, edited by Jay Carr
RR: How much film did you have to review?
JH: Ugh. Tons! We videotaped about 80-hours of interview footage featuring 100-interviewees. I would output “dailies” onto DVD, for Dean, who in turn had to watch every interview, with a time code, and then send me the timings for each clip he wanted to use. I’m blown away by Dean’s directing talent to generate the Wetlands story in the fashion that he did. In essence, Dean served to log all of the content in addition to his directing role. Dean also reached out to Wetlands photographers who documented the countless concerts and events held at the club. We accumulated thousands upon thousands of still photos and about ten hours of archival video. Again, Dean reviewed everything and made the crucial decisions as to when and where to present this material. All the while, though, Dean gave me the freedom to alter or tweak, and in some cases, completely change the delivery of these images. In computer terms, there’s almost a terabyte of content residing on my machine.
RR: How did you choose the edit sequence? What were some of the challenges in choosing the material?
JH: The concept of the first cut was to take everything relevant to Dean’s idea of the Wetlands story and incorporate it in the edit. This resulted in a two-plus-hour film that was much too long; however, the story was there. We needed to simply cut it down under 100-minutes and still retain the important components of the feature. The next step or steps, rather, were several versions of the film 120-minutes, 110-minutes, etc. It became increasingly more difficult between the 100-minute and 90-minute phase. We really needed to “kill our babies” and that’s the hard part of the editing process. [Author’s Note: No real babies were harmed in the post-production of Wetlands Preserved.] It’s a practice where some of your favorite bits of dialogue, or an animation sequence you spent days working on has to be cut. This is the method we used to hit our ideal film length.
As for the story arc, it was Dean’s job to write a plot using chapters so viewers can easily understand the components of the club, the musicians who played there, the activism that was taking place, as well some insider anecdotes from former denizens. The film is broken up into an easily digestible format even for a Wetlands novice: the concept of Wetlands, the building of Wetlands, the club’s vibe, understanding Larry Bloch, the music that was created there in all its varieties, examples of the various social justice actions, TriBeCa and, yet all the while punching in highly-animated musical sequences.