Craig Brewer Unveils $5 Cover, a Web-based Project Focused on Memphis Music 

Director Craig Brewer went public yesterday with a long-gestating project rooted in the Midtown Memphis music scene: $5 Cover, which begins shooting July 18th with an all-local crew and cast and is being produced by Brewer in partnership with MTV New Media.

A planned series of 15 inter-linked short films (roughly eight minutes each) involving people and places in the Midtown Memphis music scene, $5 Cover will be seen online and via other new media outlets.

Brewer has been planning this project for years. The first time I talked to him about it was the fall of 2002 — prior to shooting on Hustle & Flow — when we met at Midtown coffee shop the Deliberate Literate to discuss his short film Natural Selection, then set to screen at that year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival. I included an aside about the concept, then called Bluff City Chronicles, in that year’s Flyer cover story on the festival:

Now, Brewer says he is determined to create a two-pronged career for himself, making larger-budget films for studios, which naturally entails compromise, and making locally shot digital films, à la The Poor & Hungry, basically for himself. Along these lines, Brewer is mulling over what he considers a "seasonal" series of films he's calling Bluff City Chronicles, the first of which he hopes to shoot between now and the start of production on Hustle and Flow. Inspired by European art cinema, particularly the work of late master Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Decalogue, the "Three Colors" trilogy), Brewer says these new films will be a departure from the tight plotting that marks The Poor & Hungry and Hustle and Flow.

In the intervening years, Brewer’s concept of loosely plotted indie films has evolved in response to changing technology. Brewer now envisions an interactive, multimedia product that will help Memphis culture promote itself to the world.

The series of partly scripted, interconnected “webisodes” will each focus on a local musician playing a slightly fictionalized version of themselves, with each installment also built around a particular song by that artist.

The planned first episode, for instance, is called “A New Drummer,” and will star singer Amy LaVere in a romantic triangle with North Mississippi Allstars drummer Cody Dickinson and Memphis actress Claire Grant. When LaVere breaks up with Dickinson, she goes searching for a new drummer, with her song “Killing Him” at the center of the story.

Other local musicians slated to be featured in episodes include Lucero frontman Ben Nichols, rapper Al Kapone, Snowglobe’s Brad Postlethwaite, and River City TanlinesAlicja Trout, among others.

The 15 episodes will all occur within the same semi-fictional world, with characters overlapping and with a few non-musician local actors playing entirely fictional characters. For this duty, Brewer has dipped into his “company” of Memphis actors with Grant (from Natural Selection and Black Snake Moan) joining Jeff Pope and Claude Phillips (both of whom appeared in Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan).

With the Bo-KeysScott Bomar again collaborating on the music, Brewer’s crew will also be a who’s who of local filmmakers: Morgan Jon Fox as assistant director, Mike McCarthy as script supervisor, Nathan Black as director of photography, and Brent Shrewsbury as camera operator. Brewer’s longtime assistant Erin Hagee will serve as production manager for the project.

Shooting starts July 18th with a free concert (there’s no cover for $5 Cover) at the New Daisy Theatre featuring Al Kapone and Muck Sticky. Subsequent shooting will occur at local venues such as the Hi-Tone Café, Young Avenue Deli, and Java Cabana. Brewer hopes to have shooting finished by August 22nd and post-production rapped up by October, with a web launch of the series hopefully occurring soon thereafter.

Ultimately, Brewer sees the $5 Cover films as an entry point for a broader Memphis music/culture experience, with links, downloads, and an interactive city map. He also has hopes it could become a template for a new franchise — sort of a music-centered, online answer to the MTV staple The Real World — which could feature other filmmakers presiding over $5 Cover projects in their own cities, with Brewer as executive producer.

-- Chris Herrington

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