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Local Music Writer Greg Locke puts on His Filmmaker’s Cap
The Lee Miles doc Holler and the Moan debuts at Cinema Center February 25
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
“People who've seen the early cut of the movie tell me that I made Fort Wayne look cooler than it really does. I don't think that's true. I think we're all so used to it that we forget that the city - downtown, especially - is a pretty cool place.” This kind quote about our fair city comes from Greg Locke, who will premier his new documentary, Holler and the Moan, at 8:00pm of Friday, Feb. 28th, at Cinema Tech.
Holler and the Moan centers around the criminally underrated local singer/songwriter Lee Miles. I asked Locke what it was about Miles that made him decide to make a documentary on him. As to the film itself, Locke said, “The project started off as a not-at-all serious practice project of sorts for another project. Then, after a bit of for-fun shooting, I had the idea to do a short film in the spirit of Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes or Louis Malle's My Dinner With Andre. That idea never amounted to much, but it got the ball rolling. Things just sort of happened organically from there. One day I woke up and watched through a folder full of segments I'd been working on - maybe 35 minutes of edited content - and I realized that I was maybe a third or so of the way into a proper movie. I knew there was enough story there, it just needed to be fleshed out and structured. So I kept shooting and, sometime around Thanksgiving, I started committing most of my time to it. Since then it's been just about the only thing I spend time with - aside from my regular schedule of watching movies and listening to albums.”
To the other point — that is, why Miles, specifically — Locke said, “Lee has a very unique lifestyle and a set of personal circumstances. I won't go into too many details because I don't want to take the piss out of the movie, but some of his personal issues play into the film's narrative arc. However, the real reason for me to spend so much time on him in particular is simple: I believe in his music.”
“I'm a longtime fan of the hard boiled songwriter type - Townes Van Zandt, Will Oldham, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, etc. - and Lee fits right in with those guys. I've been referring to Lee as the buried treasure of Fort Wayne for a couple of years now, as not even people in his own hometown seem to get what he's doing or why it's so good. So, in short, I think Lee was the best person because 1) we were both unemployed during shooting, and thus almost always available to each other; 2) he was going through some serious personal turmoil; and 3) I think his music is fantastic, and thought examining the whys and hows of his constant obscurity could be interesting.”
When I first took on this writing assignment, I was mistakenly under the assumption that Locke and Miles were good friends, and I suspect I’m not the only one (if for no other reason than so save myself from even more embarrassment). I’ve heard each one praise the work of the other for so long that I just assumed they had spent an ample time around each other. I was wrong. “One thing I've learned since getting involved with the music community in the way that I have - as a media person - is that it's hard to really be a true friend of someone when you were first their fan, or they're first your subject,” he told me. “We have plenty of friendly moments and enjoy each other's company, but you really don't see us hanging around each other unless we're working on something having to do with a movie or music video or one of his albums.”
This is probably a good thing. Speaking as someone who has been involved in the local scene on many different levels, I can attest that to be completely objective when doing a piece on someone with whom you are also friends is a difficult thing. When it came to this objectivity, Locke said, “There's some stuff in the movie that I know Lee wishes wasn't there and there some stuff not in there that I think he wishes was. He told me that he trusts me, which is why it works. It has nothing to do with friendship.”
The flip side of this, of course, comes when you want your subject to be comfortable around you so they won’t hold back. “He was pretty stiff whenever the camera was around, even towards the end of shooting. But as we kept shooting and spending more time around each other, he loosened up a bit. So the best footage came from when Lee forgot the camera was around, or whenever [Miles’ band mate and friend] Jon Keller was in the room. Honesty is such a big issue with Lee that he was as authentic as possible - never once hamming it up or playing dramatic for the camera. Sounds great, but for me, someone trying to get the goods out of him, it was tough.”
Holler and the Moan has been a labor of love for Locke, but it hasn’t been easy for him. “Long-form non-fiction is a real mother.” See? “I wouldn't recommend going anywhere near it unless someone is paying you or you have some sort of built-in means. Making this movie made me broke and kept me broke. It made me tired and crazy. As I type this, my bank account is overdrawn - I only work on a freelance basis and I owe people money. But I do have this movie. It's owned me for so long, having it come to an end is bittersweet. And scary. To work so long and hard on a creative project - and then not know if anyone will ever care about it - is a new feeling for me. And it makes me sick.”
Being a writer, Locke was at no loss for words when it came to closing thoughts, either. “I just want people to come see the movie. No matter what they think of Lee or myself, I hope people - especially music and film fans - will come check out the movie. As it stands now, this one weekend will be the only two times you'll have a chance to see it. And while it might sound like some small production that should be streaming on YouTube and not playing in a theater, I don't think that could be further from the truth. I've been working on this thing more than full-time since for a very long time, and I think the proof of that is on the screen. To me, it's a good chance for people to believe in your local artists.
“I know it's generally uncool to suspend belief and let yourself think that someone from Fort Wayne can do something worthy of genuine fandom, but that's what we were going for. The goal was never to make a really awesome local movie, but, rather, an all-around cool music movie that any 'ol stranger could watch. The moment I decided to take this project seriously is the same moment I started to think of my friends and enemies who have never heard of Lee Miles as my audience. I think everyone who makes anything should have that goal.”
Holler and the Moan will show at Cinema Tech on Feb 25th at 8:00pm, and Sunday the 27th at 4:00pm. Tickets are $5, and a stub from Friday’s showing gets you into The Brass Rail free for the afterparty featuring a live performance by Miles, and special guests Church Shoes. You can also find more info on the film, including clips and deleted scenes, at www.hollerandthemoan.com.
On a side note, I would like to personally thank Greg for this article. I’m feeling a bit rusty after not writing for a while, so interviewing another writer, and being able to just put down what he said (more than competently) verbatim, was extremely helpful. Thanks, Greg.