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Spotlight On Music In Appalachia - Chitter & Chatter Are Headed For Hollywood - Well Maybe

Blind Pig & the Acorn in the movies 
Back several months ago a friend asked me if Chatter and Chitter could be in a movie he was helping develop. Surprise doesn't even began to explain how I felt-I think I was more excited than the girls-they seem to take it all in stride. Of course my first question before agreeing to let them-was what's it about and what do you want them to do?

Old time mountain music movie 
From the beginning the details were kinda sketchy-but the over all theme of the movie was to be about old time music and the influence it had (and has) on folks. Once we agreed-they said they'd be in touch when they needed the girls on set.

Turns out during the month of August-me and the girls got to spend 2 afternoons at the big old house in the photo above. Turns out-the surprises weren't over-they decided at the last minute they wanted me in the movie too-ME? I tried to get out of it-but in the end I gave in and did what they asked-even though I was so nervous I felt like I was back in high school trying out for the cheerleading squad (which I didn't make).

Kazoo films 
I recently interviewed Harrison Topp and Bruno Seraphin the 2 major players in creating the movie. Check out what they have to say about the movie and the journey it took to make it:

Who are the primary creators of the movie?

Bruno: The movie was conceived of by Harrison Topp and Bruno Seraphin. We wrote the story, developed the concept, and created all the major characters. We directed the film and did the bulk of the producing. I am hesitant to say we are writers, because the majority of the material in the film was developed by and with the actors, and very little was ever actually written down at all. Forrest Oliphant came on board a few months before shooting started and I feel that he played a major role in the conceptual and narrative aspect of the project, and he also was invaluable in helping with producing.

Harrison: Bruno and myself are the primary writers, directors, and producers of the film.  Along the way we picked up people like Forrest and Nando who became important additions.

What's the movie about?

Bruno: The movie is about a young man from a small mountain town in western north carolina who, through his singular desire to play music, ends of up learning some things about community, culture, place, love and loneliness. It is a chapter of Felix's life that is frenetic and challenging, both joyful and thoughtful, in which he dances up and down the staircase that he is told leads up to maturity. It's a story about how saying "yes" to things (because you aren't afraid to, or because you have no other choice) isn't always easy but usually leads to enriching and meaningful experiences. And these experiences make you a stronger and wiser person, even if they don't all add up to one cohesive moral idea. So we have Felix's personal journey, which I think is pretty contemporary, shot with a pretty contemporary aesthetic and narrative/artistic sensibility, interwoven with bits of history, folklore, and images from another era. Something very basic for me behind the film is the old Faulkner quote - "the past isn't dead. It's not even past." the past is all around us; it's right under our noses; it's in the words we say, the songs we sing, in our hearts and our imaginations. We said at the start of the film that it takes place from 1910 to 2010. Well, the movie is trying to speak to a current generation of Americans (of all ages) who maybe feel that 1910 plays a role in the way they want to live just as much as 2010 does. Or maybe we are just trying to suggest that such a generation exists. Or could exist.

Harrison: The movie is about a conglomeration of things. It is an homage to the adventurer's saga and the possibilities/realizations that go along with it. It is also a film about "folk" culture. We did our best to write a fun, accessible, and thoughtful film about our own experience, our research about Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and our interpretation of music and dance as it relates to people like Bruno and I, both native and foreign. The film is ABOUT a young man named Felix Eugene who after finding himself without a home or job, falls into the life of a traveler. His journey exposes him to new ideas, new possibilities, and new troubles. The story took many turns throughout the course of production and I expect will take many more. That is sort of the way we designed it (as a filmmaker I am very interested in the art of improvisation). I'd like the final product to be firmly couched in it's narrative but also curious and loose enough to inspire thoughtful daydreaming. I hope this description isn't too aloof or elementary for you. I think that we have made some people weary of our work because they thought we took liberties in the way we chose to represent certain people. I personally don't feel as if we wronged anyone but the scrutiny of our audience is intense because the subject we're working with is very precious to a lot of people. This leads into why our film is important. Our film speaks to those of our generation who are attempting to interpret tradition in a pop cultured, globalized, shiftless society that is constantly trying to shake itself free of such baggage as 'tradition.' Bruno and I weren't trying to reenact a time from the past. I think we were more so using style's inspired by the past to create a world where an expanse of time laid the stage for Felix. 

Was the endeavor harder/easier than you thought?

Bruno: Ugh, this is a hard one to be succinct about. I'll say this - the "plan" was always to be as flexible as possible. From the get-go we knew that we were walking into a culture and a place that we knew relatively little about. So for a year we just learned things and soaked up as much as possible, and let the movie be in the backs of our heads. Felix's journey is all about saying "yes" as I mentioned (like Jack of the jack tales, I should add) so, we wanted to say yes as much as we could during the film making. So if we liked somebody or some idea or some song, we wrote it in. We tried to never turn down any offer of help or donation. We were absurdly loose in our planning, almost always preferring to improvise and play, which was pretty maddening for some who worked with us, I imagine. Anyway, over the last 15 months the theoretical film took many forms - quasi-documentary, straightforward biopic of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, more of a self-reflective journal type film, - but ended up more like the original idea than I actually ever figured.

Harrison: I think one of the major differences was the inclusion of Forrest as the main character. I think that there is no way we could have written in Forrest as he actually is. But even that was the plan. The difference lay in the actualization of Felix, which Forrest turned into a character we hadn't been imagining in our heads. To a certain extent that is what happened with many of the characters. And often the improv. of some scenes brought out totally new material as well.

What was it like working with inexperienced actors from the area?

Bruno: It was very interesting! You have positives and negatives to working with actors and non-actors. With actors you sometimes have to deal with egos, which is rare when dealing with craftsmen and farmers. A good actor thinks of themselves as an artistic collaborator on the project, which can be positive - they want to actively contribute and share in your vision, or negative - they become overly controlling or there is friction over creative differences. The people we worked with cared about the project, they weren't doing it for a career move, or to get experience for a resume, or to make any money, they did it because they thought the project was cool, or fun, or they wanted to help out and support Harrison and I. Relations were almost always good because of this. One huge reason that we worked with non actors is that we didn't want to have a professional relationship with the people appearing in the film. We wanted to use friends. We wanted this to be a small film, a domestic film, a film made of love and hard work, a film with real stories and real feelings, very non-bureaucratic, very non-professional, even non-economical and non-efficient when necessary - we wanted to be and to celebrate amateurness. Amateur, as I like to remind people, comes from the latin word 'amat,' meaning 'love'.

The main struggle that I had with working with non-actors (and this is serious) has nothing to do with artistic collaboration (I felt that we collaborated very well and got lots of wonderful material and inspiration from the people in the film, non-actors all). Simply put,
non-actors have never been on set before. They often don't know how movies are made, and I just was not prepared to deal with that. For example, folks with no acting experience sometimes don't always understand the idea of a 'take.' Like, we walk through the action and the dialogue, talk about the feeling of the scene, maybe rehearse it, and then shoot it. Then we talk about how it went, the director says what he wants to be different, what he liked and didn't like, and we all try it again until we all feel good about it. The idea of getting notes between takes is hard for someone who hasn't been through this process - people would say 'I told you I'm not an actor!" and we would have to say, "no, we know! But this is how it works! We're not supposed to get it the first time!"

Also, non-actors weren't always prepared for just how much work making a film is. It's often really really fun, but it is long hours. It tries your patience. Sometimes it seems like it's moving slowly, like we are agonizing over insignificant details (which to us are highly significant). But even when working at maximum efficiency, film-making is slow and tedious. An in-and-out cameo takes 2 hours. One little scene can take 5. Many people, it seemed, just did not realize what they were signing up for. But in all fairness, neither did we! Here's the big secret: (or maybe it's not such a secret) It was our first time! We were winging it! We are young, this is the biggest thing we had ever done. So NOBODY on set was a pro.

Harrison: It was great!!! I suppose I have a bias though. Part of what I love about working with people is seeing how they transform themselves. When the actors are non trained there is this extra little bit that comes out. Sometimes it's them trying too hard and sometimes it's unexplainable, sort of a humbleness. Anyways, I really love the style of non-actors undergoing that transformation. Its also fun because we were really just asking them to be themselves. We decided to cast the people we already thought of as characters. I think the major challenge was just acclimating the folks to a film set so they understood the protocol and the process that was happening around them. It was also sometimes tricky to get actors to be concise. There is a lot of rambling because sometimes folks dont know if they're doing the right things so they just keep going and going.

Would you say your style of movie making is unorthodox? (I remember you saying something about that on your site)

Harrison: It's hard to say. Our style of filmmaking would have made most of our professors and many of our peers cringe but then again we went to a very formal school. I think the film orthodox is on the way out anyways. Young blood cant afford to make films the old fashioned way, and why should we! There is so much technology out now that makes the old methods seem kind of absurd. Sure, we're not making Avatar but our stuff is a bit more personal and I think it shows. I think our film is unorthodox in a popular sense but to us we're a part of something much larger that is picking up speed.

Bruno: Our style of filmmaking is unorthodox because of how central and fundamental we hold improvisation. Aside from the fact that the actual dialogue is improvised, a lot of the story and ideas of the film got developed during production, and as we shot one scene we would rewrite other scenes and so forth. The process itself became the final author of the film, rather than Harrison and I. I really feel that way. Whether it will yield a decent movie, we shall see.

When will the movie be out? Where can folks see it? Where can folks keep updated about the premier-and how things are going?

Bruno: You can keep updated about everything at Also, email us any time or get in touch via the website if you have any questions, comments, concerns, ideas, pitches, plans, daydreams, or whatever. We are shooting to have a completed film this coming spring, with some possible test showings over the winter. Once it is done, we will have as many local screenings as humanly possible, and submit it to key festivals locally, across the country, and internationally.

Very shortly we will begin soliciting donations again (this time, unfortunately, only monetary - although we may have a silent auction or something similar, so perhaps folks can donate crafts and services) but you will get more on this soon. Distribution is very expensive, from festival submission fees to DVD printing, to making posters and promotional materials, the expenses add up.

However, I am currently in the "daydreaming" phase of another film! So if you want to act, or sing and dance, or learn how to use a microphone or a HD camera, or you have a story to tell, get in touch and let's make a movie together!

Harrison: Well, our website ( is the best place to be updated. Right now the film is slated for release next summer but we'll probably do test screenings before then. I'd think we'd both like to push it pretty hard and really see where it takes us.  Our local audience probably is the most important but we'd also like to see how we stand up to the competition. That is what film festivals are all about. They are wonderful for exposure but also great snapshots of what is out there right now. If we make it into festivals it shows that we're doing something right and it's really encouraging.

Hmmm, of course we still need help. We still need funders and backers but we also need publicists and town criers. It is hard because the film is sort of metamorphosing right now and there isn't much anyone can really do. But the film still belongs to everyone involved so I'd love to hear what people would like to see happen with it, etc. Opinions are still really great and folks are welcome to add theirs whenever the spirit moves them. It is far from taking its final form.

I'd just like to encourage everyone to check in on the blog from time to time. More than anything I just want to make sure everyone who participates knows that they have my unending thanks!


Kazoo films makes a movie in western nc 
So will me and the girls make the final cut and be in the finished movie? No one knows yet-but we do know the 2 afternoons spent with Bruno, Harrison, Forest, and the rest of the Kazoo Films gang was big fun-and if given the chance we'd do it all again.

You can get a small peek at the movie by watching their first trailer below-don't forget to stop the music player in the top right of this page before starting the video.

Oh and if any of you are wondering-they got to wear the boots.

Cowboy boots in western nc 


p.s. Click here for another one of my favorite old gospel songs.

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I just know ya'll will make the cut. You and the girls are so talented. Can't wait to see it.<3

What fun! What a wonderful experience. I hope you make the cut and I have the opportunity to see it.

How exciting! I can say I know movie stars. I hope you make the cut.

Wow -- talk about exciting!! (And lovin' those boots!) What a wonderful experience and the anticipation!

That should read...Chitter, Chatter and Tipper are going to Hollywood!
I'll bet you all had a blast.
You've definitely got my curiosity up.
I hope all three of you make the cut!!

this is way beyond exciting!!! and they got to wear The Boots. i got excited when i saw the goat in the movie, since i am first and foremost an animal lover. congrats to all of you

Movie stars...what will you girls get into next. LOL!!!!

so cool!!!! :)

Oh, what a wonderful opportunity for you and the girls. I cannot wait for the movie to come out! How exciting.

Howw exciting for you and the girls to be in a film. I hope it is very successful and you will be up on the big screen.

Great interview,Tipper. The guys sound like nice young men. I wish them well.

Looking forward to the movie Tipper...
By the interview it sounds like the movie could be an interesting mix of generations...gaps and bridges..LOL..contemporary and traditional...many parts to complete a whole...
One can try to shake tradition from their past or change it in some way but in their attempts to do so their past heritage will conform to their lives without most even being aware that it is happening...don't you think so?
Thanks for your interest in everything about our Appalachian work hard...
and you and your girls will be an asset to the film, I am sure...

Tipper--Br'er Don mentioned the inescapable link to Judge Alley, and readers of your blog might appreciate the chance to read his book, "Random Thoughts and Musings of a Mountaineer," if they can find it (it's highly collectible). He is pure poison on the writings of Horace Kephart and Margaret Morley.
As for the starlets in waiting, reckon I'll just be proud to say "I knew them back when they were just simple Brasstown belles." Or there might be the other perspective, the one taken by wonderfully colorful "Uncle" Mark Cathey, the most famous of all N. C. mountain trout fishermen. When Tom Mix invited him to participate in a Hollywood production, Cathey's pithy pronouncement was: "I ain't lost nothing in Hollywood."
Jim Casada

DAANG!! The camerawork and the feel of that clip are really good. I get a good feeling about where the film is heading, and I'm happy you got to be a part of it, Tipper. Also interesting to hear about the experience with trained and non-actors. Fantastic.

Sounds like it was fun and interesting. I hope it will come out next summer as planned, I'd love to see it!

Uh... my first question is "Can I buy that house?????" I love it!

How exciting about being in a movie... SOOOO COOL!

What fun! You uns are going to have to be careful now, not to get above your raisin'! ;-)

How exciting!! It really sounds great.

Years back my husband and I were part of the making of "Foxfire", a Hallmark movie filmed in GA, staring John Denver, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronin. What fun that was ... a crowd/concert scene that took 6 hours to film and lasted maybe 3 minutes when all was said and done. It's an experience I'll never forget!

I've never used the following phrase in my life, but since you are going to be a big shot movie star, I reckon I'd better slick up my mountain hoosier speak, so here goes:

"Waaaay Cool!!!"

My granny always said that fatback and crock pickles would make a person known for miles around. Here I always thought she just meant that they caused gas, little did I know that those are the very things that'll make a person famous!

Congrats to you and your girls. Now that you went and got famous on us, I hope you remember all of us little acorns out here in interweb land! :-)

Congratulations! This sounds like a great experience, Tipper. I'll be looking forward to hearing all about it.

I hope you all make the cut!

Aghhhhh, now your really gonna be famous, a Hollywood celeb and all. Will you have time for the little folk still?!

Hey I hope it all turns out well and that joint "ownership" makes for a good project and that there are several festivals on the horizon AND that the film is well received. WooHoo.

This sounds like a great movie, I can't wait to see it! I very much enjoyed the interview, and the teaser was excellent, it looks like a beautiful film! Congrats to the Blind Pig starlet trio!

Great! Can't wait to see it!

What an awesome experience Tipper, I'm sure you and the girls loved every minute of it. Really enjoyed reading the interview. If they sell DVD's of the movie I'm buying one.

Wow - possible celebrities living in Brasstown. Better get your fingers warmed up for autographing! Very neat stuff, Tipper, and am happy for you'uns.

Surely the use of Felix Eugene can't have been random. The full name of Judge Alley, who I've mentioned to you (and I think in the post on fences and flowers) was Judge Felix Eugene Alley. You might want to do a follow-up question to ask about that.

How exciting, Tipper!

What a nice surprise! And it couldn't happen to a nicer family.
You have become a special friend of mine and those beautiful girls
deserve their walk in life. Go for
it! And Good Luck. I know that its
been trying at times for you to drag the kids to events all around, while loving it at the same time.
My favorite video and song Paul and Pap and you do is 'Just a Touch of the Past.' ...Ken...

How exciting for ya'll to get to do this. Am looking forward to seeing the movie.

I'm so glad Bruno and Harrison included the girls and you in on the movie. Thanks for sharing the interview, it just makes me more interested in seeing the movie.
;-) Keep sharing the music.

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