Passionate storyteller: Director has seized every opportunity to pursue his dream
By Joseph Knoop
“It ain’t what you got, it’s what you make.”
Those song lyrics guided both director Jace Freeman and the subjects of his new film “The Ballad of Shovels & Rope,” which will be screened at the Indy Film Fest July 18 and 21.
Freeman is a former Carmel resident who graduated from Heritage Christian High School in 2002 and attended college at Indiana University, studying telecommunications, film and entrepreneurship. He now resides in Nashville, Tenn.
“I didn’t make a go of this career path until maybe three or four years ago,” Freeman said. “I had been out of college for a while, the recession hit, I was broke, looking for a job. I was a dishwasher for a little bit. I waited tables at a Mediterranean restaurant. I started a website design business when I was a freshman in high school, so I had the HTML chops to put together some sites for clients. Random things like that to help pay the bills.”
Despite having grown up in Carmel, with a camera often in hand, the thought of turning filmmaking into a viable career was a foreign concept to Freeman until a phone call in 2010.
Bob DeVoe, a prominent missionary in Haiti, asked for Freeman’s help in documenting the earthquake relief efforts after the country was uprooted by natural disaster.
For two weeks, Freeman documented relief efforts, compiling the footage into a film called “When the Ground Stopped Shaking.”
Freeman eventually submitted the film to the Heartland Film Festival in 2010.
“That was my first film festival experience,” Freeman said. “The community was really receptive. My family was receptive, too. I had raised support from a lot of people in town to go down there, buy a video camera, a lens and shoot the film, so it was great that people in town were supporting me to do that.”
‘We all became very close’
Despite the initial success, Freeman felt like his full potential had yet to be reached. Through a mutual friend, Freeman met producer and “sound guy” Sean Clark. Freeman soon asked Clark to accompany him on a second journey into Haiti to produce “The Country Club,” a short documentary on the only golf course in the country.
The course has since been converted into a refuge for the roughly 500,000 homeless Haitians still in need of homes.
“That experience was probably the most pivotal moment as far as realizing I could do this for a living,” Freeman said. “I had something unique, I had a style I was developing, and then Sean was like the missing piece as far as being able to create on my own terms.”
The duo, under the title of “The Moving Picture Boys” produced two feature-length documentaries and various commercial productions to help pay the bills.
“The Ballad of Shovels & Rope,” the duo’s most recent project, began with a chance introduction fostered by friend Paul Bannister, an independent art manager in Nashville. The up and coming folk band Shovels & Rope, the result of a married couple’s individual solo projects turned partnership, needed live video to pitch to promoters. The couple, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, traveled from town to town in a van along with their dog, recording in the vehicle or in their own home.
After getting to know the couple and their work thus far, Freeman was inspired to document the band’s journey as they worked towards releasing their first official album.
With an initial plan to shoot over three months in the spring of 2011, the production soon grew to encompass new opportunities for the band, including a performance on the Late Show with David Letterman, along with an award for emerging artist of the year and song of the year from the Americana Music Honors & Awards in September 2013.
“We all became very close as human beings,” said Bannister, co-producer on the film and current band manager. “As much as anyone can feel natural having a camera in their face, it felt that way. It’s a testament to the way they work.”
‘The foundation to be creative’
Exercising a cinema vérité – or “fly on the wall” filming style – Freeman managed to successfully capture the couple’s endearingly intimate moments of artistic struggle.
“I think Jace, he has an air of trust,” Clark said. “If you don’t have the subject’s trust, they’re not going to give you anything that’s real.”
To finish the project, Freeman and Clark began a Kickstarter campaign in September 2013 to aid in finalizing various production elements.
Within 12 hours of the campaign’s launch, the goal of $20,000 had been fulfilled. By Oct. 21, 2013, the campaign had doubled its earnings for a total of $43,000.
The film is now being shown at film festivals across the country, including one in Cleveland, Nashville, Newport, R.I., and now the Indy Film Fest, which is run by another former Carmel resident, Craig Mince.
In the end, both Freeman and the band share a forward-looking philosophy: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, and do all that you can with what you’ve been given.
“The goal is to tell stories that we’re passionate about,” Freeman said. “As long as our commercial work is strong, it gives us the foundation to be creative and take risks, to own our projects and be independent. We try to be as empathetic and down in telling these stories no matter what the story is.”
For more information visit www.theballadofshovelsandrope.com.