Thursday, 1 August 2019

Interview with filmmakers Eric Harabadian & Lisa Hagopian

Paradise Boogie will be screening at the Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival

How did you get into making films?
Eric Harabadian: Well, it’s been a long and twisted road. For me, it all started with making Super 8 movies for my family, friends and school projects. It was everything from trips to Hawaii and family picnics to crude animation and experimental music videos set to Pink Floyd songs. I would sit there with my little Baia film editor (which I still have) and literally cut and splice film together. My proudest moment in high school was producing a documentary called “The Rouge Report” about a heavily polluted river that was prominent throughout the Detroit, Michigan area. When I met my wife and co-producer Lisa in the mid-‘90s we found we had a love for film, music and all things creative. We went on to produce a cable TV show and some music videos. But around 2007 we realized we always wanted to make a feature film. That led to a first feature documentary completed in 2016 called “Nothin’ but Music” and the current follow up “Paradise Boogie” in 2018.
Lisa Hagopian: I was the type of kid who stayed in after school and watched old movies on TV every day. I was in the film club in junior high school. We would see films like Night and Fog, a documentary about the holocaust and The Red Balloon. Fast forward to my senior year in college when I was bored with my major so I took two photojournalism classes as electives and I was hooked on photography and documenting our world. I just went on from there to self teach myself with a few classes here and there to learn what I could about video and film production.

What inspired you to make your movie?
Eric: “Paradise Boogie” is a documentary about the past, present and future of the Detroit blues scene. Frankly, being a singer-songwriter/guitarist that has played for over 30 years in the city I thought I knew a lot about the Motown blues scene. However, making this movie made me and Lisa realize how much we didn’t know about the scene. Doing our research we soon found out we were sitting on a goldmine in terms of uncovering what turned out to be a musical diamond in the rough. Detroit is a city certainly known for its rock, soul and pop superstars, with blues, perhaps, being relegated to American cities like Chicago or New Orleans. But there is a rich and storied history of blues artists from Detroit and we tapped into that story.
Lisa: We were burned in a collaboration project that we worked on with someone who called me an interloper in the film realm. I guess I needed to “prove” I could do it!!!
Q: How has your style evolved?
Eric: I think we are evolving in terms of our storytelling, editing and camera work. Our first full-length feature “Nothin’ but Music” took over six years to complete and there was a learning curve, with different cameras, recording formats and audio gear utilized. We did our share of research for our first feature, for sure, but really came into our own on “Paradise Boogie.” I think we were just able to hone in more swiftly and assuredly on everything from acquiring background information on various subject matter to editing and selecting the best parts of interviews to include. Also, we took the advice of a
fellow writer and filmmaker who advised we pare down the amount of talking heads and focus on a strong thread throughout our film that the audience can follow. We found that in the relationship between 81 year old blues veteran Billy Davis and 11 year old harmonica prodigy Mighty Michael Mendelson.
Lisa: We’re trying to get away from spelling everything out for the viewer. I’d like the viewer to pay attention and think a bit about what they’re observing. I’d like the viewer to interpret the story in their own way rather that tell them exactly what it is they see.

Tell us any strange or funny stories while making the film?
Eric: I don’t know about strange or funny stories, per se. But there was a veteran blues harmonica player from Detroit that received world-wide acclaim and was very influential. We really wanted to include him in our movie “Paradise Boogie.” And we talked to him at length on the phone at least three times. But I don’t think he trusted what we were doing. He was friendly enough on the phone but had been burned in bad business deals in the past, and was very wary of unscrupulous characters, of which we were NOT! I guess we also found out there was a lot of drama and “diva-dom” in some of the blues world as well. In other words—a lot of egos! It took a little navigating to get to the right people, but I’m very happy with whom we interviewed and the final result.

The Misrule Film Movement and Pink8 manifesto bring what to mind?
Eric: My understanding of this is basically that the alternative and underground film movements are growing. And it is more accessible as ever to shoot, edit, produce and distribute your film outside of the corporate system. The Straight Jacket Film Festival is all about directing and producing films outside the box. And, frankly, both Lisa and I being true independent artists and filmmakers, middle aged and self-funded seem tailor-made for what you’re trying to do here. We are definitely different and unique!
Lisa: As we are true “outsiders”, honestly, without “Googling” Misrule and Pink8, I had no idea what these were. But as background, one of my favorite films is “A Woman Under the Influence” directed by John Cassavetes. Not only do I love the story and Gena Rowland’s performance, it is so inspiring that they did whatever it took to make their films. This included using their own home as the set.

What can we expect from your next film?
Eric: It will be something totally original again. We’ve done two music-oriented films now so we might go for some other subject matter. But, rest assured, it will be something produced from our heart and soul and will be compelling. We are both very interested in race, ethnicity-- human stories! It will, hopefully, be something significant and will make some sort of an impression on people’s lives. I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious but we want our films to register with people and have them feel something positive.
Lisa: I think something that has nothing to do with music, this time. We do film as passion projects, we’re not looking at what is the hot topic of the day or what will make us money. I’d like to do something a little more “artsy” or experimental rather than a straight up, straight forward documentary.