Local rapper/poet Virghost Memphiasco (real name: Durand Somerville) will officially unveil his debut LP, The Memphiasco, this Saturday night with a release show at The Daily Planet.
Somerville, 24, is a native of the Mid-South area who began writing poetry and raps sometime in 2008 after befriending a group of like-minded hip-hop artists, including Knowledge Nick, Quake, 901, and Young Yayo.
"I was working on a spoken word intro for Nick's first project which also led to me writing and recording my first rap to this song called 'Higher Ground,'" says Somerville. "901 was so impressed with my verse that he let me join Memphis Boy Productions, and from there I began working on my first mixtape."
"It was a really raw project. I was just learning to record and rap but people really liked it. It's hard for me to listen to it now because I have evolved so much."
Emerging local singer-songwriter Chris Milam officially releases his new double-sided single - "Never In Love"/"Always In Love" - today via Amazon, Itunes, and all the usual digital music retailers. The record features several noteworthy local musicians playing behind the earnest pop strains of Milam, including Jeremy Stanfill, Star & Micey's Josh Cosby and Geoff Smith, Susan Marshall, Dave Cousar, and The City Champs' Al Gamble, and also boasts excellent production from Ardent's Jeff Powell.
Milam, a native Memphian who recently returned to the city after starting his music career in Nashville and New York City, spoke to the Flyer this week about the new record, his busy tour schedule, and more.
Flyer: First off, what brought you back to Memphis?
Milam: Once the touring schedule ramped up I wanted a less expensive home-base. And, of course, I can't think of a better place to call home than Memphis.
Our long civic nightmare is over.
The TNT show starred Jason Lee as Dwight Hendricks, a Memphis police detective moonlighting as a barroom blues and Elvis cover singer. Memphis Beat's formula: Hendricks, his partner Whitehead (Sam Hennings), their boss Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard), and their PD officer buddy Sutton (DJ Qualls) would investigate an episode-standalone crime ostensibly representative of the city, get up to their ears in minor personal dramas, then resolve the parallel storylines in sometimes palatable fashion. Hijinks occasionally ensued.
After topping the box office charts on its opening night and being projected to lead the weekend, Craig Brewer's Footloose stumbled slightly to finish a close second for the weekend to reigning chart leader Real Steel. Footloose's $16.1 million box-office gross was slightly above studio projections of $15 million, according Brewer, but just behind Real Steel's $16.3. It was easily the highest grossing new release, topping the combined box office of competitors The Thing and Big Year.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Footloose got strong marks from viewers, suggesting good word-of-mouth that could help its longevity. Perhaps working against that is that the film's audience was heavy on adult women, the core fans of the original film, and perhaps didn't cross over to male or teen audiences as much as hoped.
A mere three days into its run, Footloose is looking like a minor hit that will more than make back its $24 million production budget, but those fortunes could still change for the better or worse.
It looks like Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer might have his first real box-office hit.
Brewer's new Footloose remake opened "better than expected" yesterday, according to The Hollywood Reporter, ending up at a $5.57 million gross for yesterday and projections for a chart-topping $17 million for the weekend.
If that projection holds up, Footloose's opening weekend could double the total domestic gross of Brewer's previous film, Black Snake Moan ($9 million) and approach the total domestic gross of his Hustle & Flow ($22 million). (Both numbers per Box Office Mojo.) It's also on-track to make back it's production budget — roughly $24 million — in short order.
The final installment of the outtakes from this week's interview with Footloose filmmaker Craig Brewer will throw together a few stray bits about the movie itself:
On Approaching it Like a Revival:
I always tell people the biggest risk I ever took with Footloose was taking it seriously. But at the same time, I tell people, it's also Footloose, we're going to put some cheese on the screen. I saw it in 1984 in a theater and when Kevin Bacon started doing the angry dance there were some chuckles there too. But that's Footloose. I tried to approach it as more of a theater revival rather than act like I was rethinking the whole ting. No, I'm doing Footloose.
I remember being in high school and people wanting to put on The Breakfast Club as their school play. I felt like that on Footloose. So, I decided to change a couple of structural things and make this dialogue a little bit more me. But, how am I going to do the “Let's Hear it For the Boy” montage? How am I going to do the angry dance? It's Footloose, I can't not do those. To some extent it challenged me creatively. This is a popcorn movie, We want to be entertained. But I just chose not to focus my lens on the ultra-cheesy. What I remembered most from Footloose was this argument between Ariel and her father where she said, “I'm not even a virgin”
In the fourth of five outtakes from the current cover story interview with Footloose director Craig Brewer, some material on where he stands with the much-speculated-about Tarzan project and what's going on locally with Brewer's BR2 Productions office.
On the status of Tarzan:
I just finished, actually last night, a polish on my last draft. I still need to turn it over to the studio. I caution any sort of excitement on that with the idea that they might not want to go in that direction. My [take] is a very specific type of direction. You never know, it might be too expensive. It's a weird place for someone like me to be where I want to be excited and think of it as my next movie, but it might not be. You and I have had conversations like that before.
That being said, I really love my script. I know these things are just blueprints for skyscrapers that are to be built later. But I'm still a writer and I want to feel some kind of closure and pride on what I've written, even if it never gets made.
Flyer: Let's clarify exactly what the situation is with Tarzan. Correct me if any of this is wrong: Warner Bros. had the rights and wants to make a movie because the rights are going to expire in the near future. They were soliciting pitches. You gave your treatment of what you'd want to do with it. They liked it and hired you to write a script based on that treatment. You'll turn that script in and it may or may not be accepted, but if it is, the idea is that you will then direct as well.
That's the situation. There are no other directors currently attached to Tarzan. They had accepted pitches on other script ideas and also went with another writer to write a pitch they liked. That was before I came on, so they were like, go ahead. On franchise type of pictures it sometimes doesn't hurt to have multiple writers on it, because one could be a sequel or could be something else.
Continuing with my series of interview outtakes — interesting material that I didn't have room for in print — here's Brewer talking about his goals as new member of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment, and Music Commission.
Brewer had wanted to shoot Footloose in Tennessee, but more lucrative state incentives forced the production to Georgia instead. Perhaps in response to charges that the state commission favored Nashville and East Tennessee over Memphis and West Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslem appointed Brewer and Stax legend David Porter to the state commission, adding some high wattage Memphis representatives. Brewer has more skin in this particular game than just about anyone, and his response when I asked what his goals on the commission would be may surprise you:
I think what I would hope to do is three things.
I don't want to hear any more about 'Let's build a studio here' or a big sound stage. Things that I know aren't really going to be a draw for business. It's not like there's going to be some magical thing we can do to suddenly get major motion pictures filming here.
The good thing about my career is my first movie was $20,000, my next movie was $2 million, then $15 million, and I just made a movie for $24 million. But I also did $5 Cover for $400,000. So I've done it at all these different levels that can be incentivized. A personal opinion on my part —and I'll have to talk to people about this; I don't want to be an alarmist — but maybe we should explore just letting that white whale go and just saying, we need to rethink our incentives. We may not be able to get those movies here. I do think there are three things we can do. And I, of course, want to run this by everybody. The three things I want to focus on:
1. Half a million dollar projects that we do have the crew base for. Focus incentives on smaller projects. There's a whole other world of content — commercials, television, web, music videos — where it takes a smaller crew. We've got the crew base for that, but we don't on the big projects. We go maybe one deep. I think the under $500,000 projects help grow the industry and keep the artists and technicians we have working.
2. Special circumstances: For projects like The Blind Side, which really should be shot here. There aren't many people thinking of Tennessee stories. But if they come around? When there is one like that we should make a special appeal for it. I think it did Tennessee good that Walk the Line was shot here. But I'm not falling on my sword over that.
3. I wish we had a music incentive that was heard around the world. I would say 70-80 percent of my soundtrack was done in Tennessee. The artists and songwriters, they're going to get royalties. Was it done in Los Angeles? No, most of this was done in Memphis, Tennessee, in Nashville, Tennessee. We have the infrastructure. We have the studios. We have musicians and engineers. I think we should focus on that. You can make an argument that that's where you can go all local. I just think we should be specific about what we have and how to get it into the entertainment-revenue apparatus. It plays into everything we want to be. I've had two music videos for Footloose shot in Nashville. Music incentives can also create filmmaking activity.
One by-product of the run-up to Friday's Footloose release has been the transformation — as anyone who follows him well knows — of director Craig Brewer into a one-man marketing team and round-the-clock Q&A conductor via his Twitter feed. Today, returning to Memphis from Los Angeles, he snapped and circulated this photo of our cover-story feature on him, which hit the streets today:
I asked Brewer about his direct-action Twitter campaign in promotion and defense of Footloose as part of our conversation:
The early ’90s were the age of grunge, when the hair metal that had dominated the airwaves of ’80s was pushed aside by scruffy, flannel-clad slackers such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains. But just under the surface there were a group of bands who drew inspiration not from Neil Young and Hüsker Dü, but from the Ventures and Dick Dale. At the head of this surf rock revival were a group of space aliens by way of Auburn, Alabama, known as Man Or Astro-Man?
“We just wanted to do something as completely different as possible,” says astro-guitarist Birdstuff (aka Brian Teasley), who, along with Coco the Electric Monkey Wizard (Robert DelBueno) and Star Crunch (Brian Causey) formed the core of the band. “We had always been from the world of punk rock, and there was an energy to instrumental surf music that we thought was akin to punk.”
The band’s first two full-length releases, 1993’s Is It Man…Or Astro Man? and 1995’s Project Infinity stand beside the classics of the ’60s as blasts of pure, reverb-drenched surf energy. But instead of dreaming of breakers and bikinis, Man Or Astro Man? were using their songs to drop science — or, at least, science fiction. They were geek rock when being a geek was still geeky. Their songs are shot through with samples from golden-age monster and sci-fi movies. They were incredibly prolific, recording 12 full-lengths and dozens of EPs and singles in eight years, mutating beyond the pure surf of their first recordings into a harder-edged hybrid that included vocals and increasingly experimental soundscapes.
Craig Brewer's $24 million Footloose finally opens this Friday after an aggressive promotional campaign that's seen the Memphis filmmaker screening his film across the country and talking about it to pretty much anyone who would listen — or dare Tweet about it.
I conducted a lengthy interview with Brewer about Footloose and the general state of his career, excerpts of which — along with my review of the film — are in this week's Flyer, on the streets today and online tomorrow.
But there was plenty of interesting material we didn't have room for in the paper, so I'm going to post a few additional bits of Brewer interview material here throughout the week, running up to Friday's opening.
First, a quick take on the inherited lead actress who won Brewer over:
Julianne Hough was already attached to the project [when I took it over], but she was attached because she was a dancer and the version they were going to do was much more dance-heavy. They said, you don't have to cast Julianne if you don't want to, but we think you should meet with her, because we're rather impressed by her.
I didn't watch Dancing with the Stars. I didn't know anything about her. But I got a call. She said, 'Look, I'm in the 615. You're in the 901. Which one do you want to do?' I said, I'll come to you. I met her at a coffee shop in Nashville. And I'll never forget her passion. She grew up in Utah, as a Mormon, driving by the Beemis Mill every day, where the original was filmed. She lived abroad in London, as a dancer. She has this kind of context with her family in terms of being a teenager wanting to break out but there still being these rules and expectations, and I found out that this girl had a lot in common with Ariel besides just the dancing.
So I brought in a couple of actors and, for a day, just worked her. Let's do this scene. Now do this scene. Now you need to cry in this scene. For people who grew up in dance, they don't mind being worked to death. They shine in it. I remember leaving thinking, she's it. She's not only Ariel, but I think I just found a new actress.
UPDATE: The Paul Simon giveaway has ended. Enter here for your chance to win tickets to see Paul Simon live in concert at Mud Island Ampitheatre on Saturday, October 29th.
Here are the drawing dates for Paul Simon:
Enter here for your chance to win tickets to see the Zac Brown Band live in concert at FedExForum on Thursday, November 10th.
Here are the drawing dates for the Zac Brown Band:
You can enter as many times as you like for both contests. Winners will be notified via email on the morning of each drawing.
High-profile film-fest favorites, made-in-Memphis local debuts, and a restored print of a cinema classic highlight selections for this year's Indie Memphis Film Festival, which starts Thursday, November 3rd and takes place at three Midtown venues, Studio on the Square, the Brooks Museum of Art, and Playhouse on the Square, and which picked up a new presenting sponsor this year in the form of Duncan-Williams, Inc.
Among the early selections Indie Memphis is releasing this week are local debuts of two recent locally shot films, the documentary Undefeated and the feature Losers Take All. Undefeated, which premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this year, follows three players on the Manassas High School football team over the course of a season. Losers Take All is an indie comedy about a 1980s indie rock band whose music was crafted by contemporary Memphis musicians. Both films will screen at Playhouse on the Square.
Losers Take All trailer:
Among the high-profile selections that have drawn strong notices recently at other festivals are: Melancholia, the latest feature from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, which stars Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress this summer at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance as a new bride celebrating her marriage on the precipice of global disaster. Martha Marcy May Marlene filmmaker Sean Durkin won a Best Director prize at Sundance earlier this year for this psychological thriller about a young woman escaping from a rural cult.
This year's Gonerfest, the eighth installment of local garage/punk label and independent record store Goner Records' annual underground music festival, was perhaps the biggest yet in terms of numbers, drawing fans from across the globe to Memphis for five days of rock 'n' roll insanity.
Goner co-owner Eric Friedl spoke to the Flyer this week via email about this year's festival and what could be on tap for next year.
Flyer: How much time/work/etc. goes into producing Gonerfest each year?
Friedl: It's a lot. Booking bands, hitting up sponsors, making posters & ads, writing the program guide, getting t-shirts and stickers done, producing the extra goodies (this year a giveaway 7" record), coordinating volunteers and bands and equipment and trying to staff the events and the store, and then try to think of what else we're forgetting and plan for any contingencies. The weirdest thing is that the hardest part comes about two months before the event, when all these things have to be already in motion, and then there is a lull while we wait for all the stuff to get produced, and then the festival actually hits and all these people show up and it's a whirlwind of 16-18 hour days. Get to the store in the morning to try to get organized, stay at the club til 3 a.m., get up and do it again. It's crazy and great!