Multi-Award Winner - October 2021 Edition
Thank you for meeting us Tom, and for your moving film. When did the idea to start documenting Frank Bey see the light?
After hearing Frank sing in person and seeing how well the audience responded to him, I felt as if we had a wonderful subject to follow. Over the 2+ years we filmed Frank, my initial feelings were deeply reinforced. Frank became more than a subject to me; he became a dear friend.
You have a co-Director, namely Marie Hinson. Tell us about this collaboration, in writing, directing choices etc.
I first met Marie when I auditioned for her MFA thesis film required by her film program at Temple University. The audition was one of the best that I have ever had. Acting under her direction was wonderful. She had a clear vision of the story she wanted to tell and gave me very clear and sensitive direction.
Marie later invited me to work with her on an improvised film she made in rural Virginia. That, too, was good fun and quite inspired. When I decided to film Frank’s first concert, Marie’s name came to me immediately. Her cinematography was second to none and approached that of some long-standing professionals. Since neither she nor I had ever made a feature film, let alone a documentary, I saw our experience as something akin to on the job training. We collaborated with one another from our first day, making decisions about how to follow Frank, creating and then re-creating treatments, developing the arc of the film, conferring before any trip about what we hoped to get at the shoot and following up each shoot with deep discussion about what we had learned about Frank, attending classes, workshops and conferences together to learn more about making a feature film, conferring with successful filmmakers whose experiences could guide us, applying to festivals throughout the US, interviewing editors, and finally discussing (and sometimes arguing about) how our final cut would appear. It was a wonderful if at times arduous journey.
Frank Bey let the camera get close, intimate even. How did you all, including Frank, "negotiate" those moments, what was the process in deciding that the camera could or should be there?
At the beginning of our project, we asked Frank if he would be comfortable being shadowed for a year by Marie. That year eventually turned into two and a half years. Frank was excited that we had chosen him to follow. He believed that by showing his life as a modern, relatively unknown Blues singer, he could give viewers a picture that rarely is seen by most people, people who see an entertainer on a big stage as one who commands respect from all corners of life, makes a lot of money, and is a specimen of good health. Although Frank consistently found himself to be marginalized, to live almost in poverty and to suffer from chronic kidney issues, he never complained. The only time that Frank insisted we not film him was when he met with a doctor who told him that he would need to return to regular dialysis treatment. He feared that that meeting would be too emotional for him to share with anyone other than his wife. Otherwise that camera was always present and running when we followed Frank.
Frank's story is indeed one of resilience, as you express in the statement you shared with us. What stays with you, has he in any way been a role model?
Frank is the epitome of resilience, determination and inner strength. That he could give an excellent performance in front of thousands of people, sing with passion and determination and energy and then, after leaving the stage, need to recover by resting for a long time or going to sleep as soon as he could, spoke deeply to me. Frank became a role model for me and I think/hope that the way he chose to live will be come a role model for all who view our film.
You filmed over a period of time, how long? How did you organize your teams, and the people featured (musicians, other participants…). Please tell us more about the actual shoot, along those lines.
From beginning till end, we spent more than 5 years working together. Marie and I were the primary filmmakers to plan, follow, shoot, and review cuts of our work with Frank. Because she was part of the small independent filmmaking community in Philadelphia, Marie hired crews as needed. Our smallest crew was 2; our largest was 8. The footage that we shot was all verité, so we never directed anyone.
We interviewed people as we met them at different venues and events. We rented a recording studio for the Moorish Vanguard reunion and invited people who knew of the band to come to watch the filming, but no one received any direction. We also rented a film set for the interview with Frank that appears throughout the film. We invited and interviewed about 30 colleagues and friends of Frank’s to serve as an audience during Frank’s interview shoot, but the only cut that appears in the film, in addition to Frank’s, is the short piece featuring Barbara Bey. We were “flies on the wall” while shooting at Ocean Way Studio in Nashville. We see our film as a melding of three threads made up of interview, verité, and archival cuts.
What are the avenues for the distribution and screenings of the film?
Of course we hope that our appearance at your festival will find an audience and perhaps as a result a distributor interested in working with us. We have applied to other festivals and hope for the same. We have been in contact with a few New York distributing agents (before we reached final cut) and will again reach out to them in the near future.
We expect to attend and screen our film at the Baden Blues Festival (featured in the film) in Switzerland in late Spring, as well as the annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis where we will also screen. Our current objective is to get our film in front of as many eyes as possible, with the hope that it will be discovered by someone else who believes that it needs to be seen by many others.
It seems you made Frank Bey: All My Dues Are Paid because Frank was your friend. Has the experience, beyond the grief of having to see him leave the building, inspired you to make more films? If so, would you care to share about possible up and coming projects?
Frank became my friend as a result of making the film. I still believe that if one chooses to make a film, they need to realize that it will cost them a lot of money and require a great deal of work. Never say never, but I do not think that at 72 years old I will want to make another film. Unless, of course, I have the miraculous opportunity to meet another who inspires me as did Frank Bey.
I intend to get back to my own pursuit of music when the dust of this film finally settles, but who can ever predict what the future actually holds? Getting to know Frank, following and filming his life for a few years, and seeing him assume an integral place in my heart and in my life is likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I will always be grateful for becoming a close friend of his. I will always be grateful for being a part of his lifetime dream of making a record with some of the greatest musicians of our time. I will always be grateful for the many deep and wonderful conversations Frank and I had. I still greatly miss him, but he continues to live in my heart. And for that, too, I will always be grateful.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
I suspect that streaming will have become an even more important distribution channel for new films after the pandemic subsides and it will overshadow traditional movie theater presentations. I find that prospect quite sad, but probably inevitable.
PRODUCER AND CO-DIRECTOR
Fifteen years ago, when I retired from a career as a high school English teacher, I never could have fathomed that one day I would be producing a feature documentary film about one of the most amazing people I have ever met. What a journey I’ve had!
I was born and spent most of my life in and around Philadelphia. I attended Philadelphia public schools, Philadelphia’s Drexel University (BS-English Ed, 1972), and Temple University at night (M Ed, 1980).
In 1972 when I began teaching English in suburban Philadelphia, I realized how film can sometimes reach struggling students in ways that books might not. “On the Waterfront,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Triumph of the Will,” “Harlan County USA” and many other great movies each allowed my students to experience a vast number of thoughts and feelings, giving me openings for discussions that otherwise would have been difficult to find.
To balance the hectic nature of my classroom work and to prepare well for my students each day, I turned to music, a joy that I had found in my life as a four-year old child. I used music to connect to my students in all of my classes throughout my career: folk, rock, gospel, hip-hop, jazz, etc., music by Steeleye-Span, Eric Clapton, Paul Robeson, LL Cool J, Ella Fitzgerald and many others, music and performances that moved me and that I hoped would engage my students. Most of the time my hopes were met.
Eventually I decided that my personal musical needs required attention, and so I auditioned for and was accepted by an excellent community choir. I later auditioned for and was accepted to sing in the world-renowned Peter Nero’s Philly Pops Christmas Chorus, a highlight of my singing “career” that lasted for 12 years until Covid arrived. Concurrently, I studied classical, fingerstyle and blues guitar; I later learned the Irish bouzouki and joined a number of Irish music traditional sessions in the area. As much as I loved my classroom and the students I worked with, a different part of my brain found deep pleasure and much satisfaction from my musical endeavors.
When I retired from teaching in 2006, I whimsically auditioned and was accepted for an acting role for the US cable TV’s History Channel in a film called “Stealing Lincoln’s Body.” The role and the work motivated me to take acting classes and soon after acting gigs, first on student productions, for TV, and later on a few Hollywood productions.
In 2016 a friend asked me whether I would be interested in making a film about Frank Bey, a local, relatively unknown soul /blues singer whom he had heard at a local fair.
I immediately answered, “No!! Making a film is too expensive and is too much work.”
But after unexpectedly hearing Frank’s gorgeous and soulful baritone voice later that week on our TV’s cable music streaming service, I was sold. I contacted Marie Hinson, a cinematographer with whom I had worked, and invited her to hire a crew that would make a short film featuring Frank in concert. […]
I then asked her whether she would be interested in making a feature documentary film about Frank and his life, one that would show the everyday life and struggles of an unknown modern blues artist. […]
After spending nearly six years on making “Frank Bey: All My Dues Are Paid”, I can now say that all of the money spent and all of the work that has gone into our film has resulted in one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. And who knows, perhaps one day in some American high school English class, some English teacher will choose to share our film and Frank’s story and music with her students.