NASHVILLE—Airs and pretense could not budge their way into the cramped quarters on the movie set of Blue Like Jazz if they tried. They couldn't get past all the passion, excitement, eagerness, and humility by those making the film, nor could they fit for the literal lack of space in this particular scene's locale: a little retail shop on a small corner in Nashville, Tennessee.
Everyone—actors, producers, directors, assistants, and tech crew—has crammed into the store for an evening of shooting what will ultimately be an eight-second portion of a montage that depicts Donald Miller's character adjusting to college life. These eight seconds include Don, played by True Blood's Marshall Allman, trying on new "hip" clothes tossed to him by his friend Lauryn, played by Lost's Tania Raymonde.
Despite the sewing machines, large craft tables, racks of clothes, stacks of folded jeans, and a couple of roaming dogs to work around, the crew maneuvers its equipment among the obstacles, and no one complains of the limited space that necessitates should-to-shoulder contact.
"You just can't buy that kind of camaraderie," says Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and co-screenwriter of the film, tentatively scheduled to release in the fall of 2011. Miller planned to be on set as much as possible during the four weeks of filming in Nashville—they wrapped this weekend—and again early next year for three days of filming in Portland, Miller's hometown and the locale for much of his true-life story.
Reflecting on the people who are making this "miracle film"—more on that in a moment—Miller says, "A lot of times you can shoot an [independent] movie and people are just going, 'I wonder if we're shooting anything that people are ever going to see. Is this going to be special?' But when everyone showed up here on the first day, we knew this was a very special project."
Ben Pearson, co-screenwriter and director of photography, agrees. "It's been magical," he says. "I don't think I've ever been on a better set. The people are working together in a way that I'm just not used to seeing. There's a certain synchronicity. It's kind of a corporate thankfulness."
And for good reason. Less than a month before production began, Miller and co-writer/director Steve Taylor—who had been working on the film for years, including fundraising—had essentially declared the project dead when a major investor pulled out. "It's a sad day," Miller blogged on September 16.
A Jazzy resurrection
Less than two weeks later, the film had a shot at new life when Zach Prichard and Jonathan Frazier, Blue Like Jazz fans from Franklin, Tenn., launched a grassroots effort—starting with the appropriately named SaveBlueLikeJazz.com—to raise money to resurrect the project. They directed fans to the fundraising site kickstarter.com, hoping to raise $125,000 in 30 days. Some 4,000 fans responded, donating $345,992—almost triple their goal, making it the best-funded project in Kickstarter history (and putting Prichard and Frazier into the Kickstarter Hall of Fame) while putting the project back on the fast track.
Prichard and Frazier have been on the BLJ set in Nashville for much of the last few weeks, with cameras in tow and two new assignments from the filmmakers: to update the movies' "investors" with regular production blog posts at the film's website, and to collect footage for a behind-the-scenes documentary they have been hired to create.
Prichard says the production blog proves they're not taking the usual secretive approach to movie production. "We want to broadcast it," he says. "We want to let everybody in on what we're doing, keep them updated and keep them involved."