David Aldrich, Director:I believe a non-fiction, character-driven film can be as dramatic and beautiful as a narrative film. Parsons is someone who gave up his passion for playing guitars after going to music school and realizing that he was surrounded by a lot of people who were more talented than he was. I think that's a story a lot of us can relate to, but the story didn't end there. Parsons discovers that he has a passion for making guitars, so essentially he figures out another way to be a rock star. It's a great story, and it has all the elements needed for a short character-driven documentary.
Documentaries can be made using stock film footage, interspersed with interviews of experts or talking heads. It’s a simple and effective method of telling a story, but I did not want to use a formulaic approach when I started shooting "Randy Parsons: American Luthier." I was interested in creating a film that had a compelling main character, with a strong story line, and I wanted to shoot it in a way that was beautiful to watch. Can a documentary be made that way? The answer is yes, and I hope you enjoy my film.
Genesis of the Parsons Project:I produced a motorcycle-themed, documentary-style web series from 2007 to 2010. When I started working on the series, I really didn’t know anything about production. The episodes we shot for the first season had a "local TV news" look to them, but as time went on we got better at our craft, and the quality of each episode improved. By the end of the series, we were turning out work that had a very cinematic look.
I wasn’t sure what I would after the series concluded, but it had to something that didn’t involve chasing motorcycles around in extreme environments. So I rented a bunch of DVDs from Netflix in hopes of being inspired to make a film. When I watched Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, "It Might Get Loud," I found the inspiration, and I found the subject of my film.
Jack White referred to his Seattle luthier several times during the documentary. That peaked my curiosity because I live in Seattle. And then, for about 8-seconds, there was a shot of Randy Parsons looking down the neck of a guitar. Parsons had been setting up my guitars for years, but I had no idea he was making guitars for Jack White. I grabbed my telecaster, which needed a fret job, and used it as a pretext for dropping by his shop. While I was there, I told him I wanted to make a short film about his work. Luckily for me, he agreed, and shooting began in 2011.
My debut documentary film was self-funded and edited in my home-studio in Seattle, WA. Inspired by the DIY tradition of indie filmmakers, I bought an inexpensive DSLR and scooped up a bunch of vintage glass on eBay. I partnered with a few friends from the University of Washington, and got on with making a film that would showcase Parsons and his highly sought after guitars.
Production:'Randy Parsons: American Luthier' was shot on a series of Thursday nights -- after Parsons repair shop was closed -- using a Canon T2i camera, a selection of vintage Nikkor lenses purchased on eBay, and one modern Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. The second camera was a Canon XH-A1, which had been Aldrich's work horse used to produce fourty-two episodes of Peckhammer TV. In the spirit of keeping things simple, both cameras were used as they came out of the box, sans rigs and rails and follow focus systems.