The creative process – with its joy and disappointments, its triumphs and tragedies – is for many artists an intensely private experience. The writer in front of a computer or the artist alone in a studio has the privilege of privacy. This is not the case for those who express their art in song, but the struggles are often the same.
Grammy nominated filmmaker Victor Mignatti, both in what he has created and how he created it, distills priceless lessons for those who dare to place their work in the public spotlight and try to get it right This Time. In so doing he illuminates why some artists succeed, others only struggle, and why some are their own worst enemy.
The idea for the film began with a phone call from Mignatti’s friend, record producer Peitor Angell who told him he was producing the first album in 23 years for the legendary Sweet Inspirations, and for Pat Hodges, his first album in 25 years.
The Sweet Inspirations, or as they were known in the industry “The Sweets,” were perhaps the most successful backup singers in recording history. You’ve heard them on “Spanish Harlem,” “Moondance,” “Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” ”Son of a Preacher Man,” and many others. They provided backup sound for Elvis during the last seven years of his life and recorded albums on their own from 1967 to 1979.
Pat Hodges, in Hodges, James and Smith, had known a moment of fame in the 1970s, but was homeless in south Los Angeles.
Bobby Belfry, a hit in the New York cabaret world, was struggling to find wider recognition.
Mignatti, whose other documentary work includes ACLU: 75th Anniversary and MTV’s The Real World Brooklyn, approached this project cinema verite style. Over a four and a half year period he filmed in LA, New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Las Vegas, Nyack and Long Island. The 300 hours of video and audio from which the film is drawn was captured almost entirely by Mignatti as a one man crew. The only time he used assistants or additional crew was during scenes involving large crowds, such as nightclubs, casinos and other public spaces where large numbers of appearance releases needed to be obtained.
At first, sound was captured using only the on-camera microphone, but as the production progressed and the budget increased, additional audio equipment was added. Mignatti also edited the film himself, using Final Cut Pro.
This Time moves back and forth between its three subjects with Peitor Angell providing perspective and a sympathetic, but frank, evaluation of the work of the artists. The film helps us see into and understand the production process, promotion, and the interpersonal relationships which can often be the key for success, failure or just treading water.
We see The Sweets dealing with a stroke, egos, and less than forthcoming record companies. Hodges, who has a truly memorable voice, finds a home, but struggles with health and motivation issues. Belfry must balance his pure singing career with the demands of his “day job” as a singing bartender and laments over “fans” who promise to show up, but never do.
These touching stories are complremented by musical performances that will stick with you.
The film, at 111 minutes, felt a little long, but by the time it neared its conclusion, I felt connected to all three stories and wanted to know what happened to each of these talented artists. I think you will, too.
This Time will be available July 26, 2011, on iTunes and as a Special Features DVD, which contains an additional thirty minutes of stories about music legends.