Local filmmakers pay tribute to "Big Star" in new documentary film | News

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Local filmmakers pay tribute to "Big Star" in new documentary film

JACKSONVILLE, Fla -- The band called itself "Big Star" and their first album "#1 Record." In the end, the critically acclaimed band never reached the heights that most felt it should, breaking up after just three years, in 1974. 

But the band's sound helped shape alternative music for past three decades, and has influenced musicians as varied as M Ward, Cheap Trick and R.E.M. 

Big Star's lead singer, Alex Chilton is perhaps the best known band member. He led the Box Tops when he was just 16, singing their No. 1 hit, "The Letter." But it was his musical synergy with guitarist Chris Bell that most credit with carrying the Memphis band into the annals of rock history.

Rolling Stone magazine has called Big Star the "quintessential American power pop band" and "one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock & roll."

The band is also the subject of a new film by Jacksonville natives Drew DeNicola and Danielle McCarthy, graduates of Stanton College Prep and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts respectively. The two filmmakers are in town for a special screening of their film, "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me," at 7:30 p.m. at Sun-Ray Cinema in Five Points Saturday Night. They recently engaged in a little email banter with First Coast News.

FCN: How often do you get back to town ?
DeNicola: Well, more often now that my sister has moved back and I have a little nephew.
McCarthy: I like to get back as much as I can -- usually 2-3 times a year to visit family and friends. I definitely miss home the most during the long, cold winter months!

FCN: Has city progressed since you lived here? How (or not)?
DeNicola: It's certainly grown! Progress is a much more difficult thing to gauge. I think it's very difficult to have a really cosmopolitan community in a city that's so big and spread out as Jacksonville. And I don't think a lot of people here are particularly interested anyway. I do see some encouraging things when I come back and I know many people I grew up with are still here keeping the faith.
McCarthy: Honestly -- I've been gone 16 years so all I see are brief glimpses when I come back to visit and when I do come back I spend most of my time in Fernandina Beach since that's where my family still lives. But I followed all the happenings with One Spark online and was very happy to see an event like that happening in Jacksonville. That's a very positive sign of progress in my opinion! That and the fact that downtown is no longer super scary is also huge progress.

FCN: Filmmaking: everything you hoped or near death experience?
DeNicola: I've been trying to be a filmmaker for 11 years. I've had three other documentaries in various stages of development but I suppose everything finally aligned for the Big Star documentary. You have to devote your entire life to a project and that can be debilitating. It's all about finding the right balance between your personal projects and your bread and butter to pay the bills. Most people I know in creative industries are constantly working to create that balance.
McCarthy: Haha - a little bit of both? There were a lot of challenges along the way and many moments where I really wondered if we were ever going to make it through all the flaming hoops but on the flipside I've made so many wonderful friends while making this film. And so far the fans have been overjoyed by the film so that really is the barometer of success at the end of the day. Make the fans happy and everything will be OK!

FCN: What is your favorite Jacksonville live music memory? Best show you saw here?
DeNicola: Rolling Stones Steel Wheels tour at the Gator Bowl. I was 14 years old.
McCarthy: Oh that's a tough one! Since Jacksonville wasn't  necessarily a top tour destination so when a band I loved came through I had to be there -- even if my parents had to drive me there. I saw Nirvana with my brother in 1993. That was a highlight for sure! I also have to get a shout out to Einstein's a Go-Go for all the nights I spent there over the years. Most of the time it was just a DJ playing records but I was introduced to so much amazing music and great people from hanging out there.

FCN: What's your favorite music documentary?
DeNicola: "Hail Hail Rock & Roll," The Chuck Berry Story. A great portrait of very difficult, uncompromising rock icon by Taylor Hackford. But the story behind the making of the film is even more compelling -- that's on the bonus discs.
McCarthy: Another tough question! Well "Gimme Shelter" is undeniably amazing and hugely influential. "Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story" was terrific. "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" was almost too crazy to be believed!  My friend Margaret Brown directed "Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt" which had a huge effect on me. She really encouraged me to try to make the Big Star doc in the first place.

FCN: What's next -- more music docs? Any other bands you'd like to target?
DeNicola: I'm trying to create a series of short music documentaries. I believe everyone has a good story but not often enough to be feature-length. The Big Star documentary was a massive undertaking so short-form is very appealing to me right now!  
McCarthy: Well I'm going to take a vacation from producing first. I have no plans as of now. Music docs are so hard because licensing the music is so tricky. We got really lucky with Big Star, but even still, it was insanely hard. My advice to anyone making a music doc is to make sure you have all the music locked down and you know roughly what the costs will be before you even shoot a frame. Getting the rights to the music can make or break a film and has kept many great music docs from coming out. So if I did so another music doc I'd choose my subject wisely....


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