FIREWALL OF SOUND director talks about the music industry in a digital landscape
The landscape of the music industry is changing and whether record labels like it or hate the idea of digital downloading music, its a format that looks to become a permanent fixture of the industry.
In Devin DiMattia's documentary, "Firewall of Sound," the director takes a look at how digital downloads are affecting record labels and bands and how people in the music industry are evolving to survive.
"Firewall of Sound" screens at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at Modern Film Fest, at the historic Gem Theatre, Kannapolis NC. Tickets are just $4 each and DiMattia will be in attendance for a Q&A at the festival.
DiMattia came up for the idea of the movie while he was a student at UNC Wilmington based on a suggestion from his film studies professor, Shannon Silva, who knew DiMattia had been developing an interest in indie music ever since high school. The suggestion lead to a short film while in school that DiMattia later expanded on.
"At the time, I noticed a lot of radical changes occurring within the music industry, so the decision to make the movie about the relationship between indie music and the internet was a pretty natural one," he said. "After I graduated, I had finished a 15-minute version of the film, and teamed up with a couple friends of mine to work on what would ultimately become the feature-length version that has screened at festivals all over the U.S. and Canada."
The director's love for music allowed him to appreciate the interview subjects and locations he garnered. He got hooked up with Mac McCaughan of Merge Records, the record lable for the band, Arcade Fire.
"One highlight of the interview is that the Merge folks led us down to their basement where they keep all the CDs and LPs for online orders," DiMattia said. "So you can imagine my delight in seeing a pallet with nothing but boxes of Arcade Fire vinyl!"
The experience was one of many he collected as he worked on, "Firewall of Sound." From concept to completion the movie took roughly three years to produce. The production also provided DiMattia another unique experience, he said.
"Our interview with Neutral Milk Hotel member Julian Koster lasted two hours, and for good reason," DiMattia said. "The guy is fascinating. He often got on these tangents during our interview, but he always kept things interesting, and had such an unconventional way of thinking about things."
In addition to interviewing musicians, DiMattia even got to spend some time just hanging out with bandmembers.
"My favorite part was just getting to meet all these people I admired throughout my college years," he said. "One of the definite highlights of filming was getting to play a game of whiffleball with Julian Koster, as well as a couple other Elephant 6 musicians. How many people can say they’ve met one of their favorite musicians…and then played whiffleball with them?"
In addition to making those connections, DiMattia has made a movie that musicians are responding to.
"A lot of people are glad the movie didn’t skew too negative, or focus on just the bad ways that the internet has affected the industry," he said. "My goal going in was to be as objective as possible, and I’m just a naturally optimistic person, so I was happy to hear that translated onto the screen."
And the results have proven informative for DiMattia. He is far more aware of the changes of the music industry than before he started filming.
"So many people were not only interested in talking to me about this topic, but also the wide variety of differing opinions about what the future holds for the independent music industry," he said. "I feel like more and more people in the industry are going to have to acknowledge that illegal downloading is a popular way people will receive the music they listen to.. And subsequently (they) will have to put more emphasis on the collectible aspect (LPs, box sets, merchandise) and the live experience, two avenues in which a profit can still be gained."
DiMattia talked with Modern Film Fest about the movie's production, the meaning behind its title and some of his ideas on future film projects:
MODERN FILM FEST: Can you describe the meaning of the movie's title?
DIMATTIA: "Well, I have always been a sucker for a clever film title, and my dad’s love of bad puns clearly wore off on me. Growing up on oldies music, I always had an affinity for the works of Phil Spector and his famous 'wall of sound,' so I had decided the title pretty early in the development process."
MFF: What's your background in music and your background in film and how did that help during the filming?
DIMATTIA: "I graduated with a degree in film studies from (UNC Wilmington), and my love of music helped motivate me to seek out people I knew would want to weigh in on the changing climate within the industry."
MFF: You are from N.C. if I remember correctly. Can you give some background on where you grew up and where you went to school/college and how that affected you as a filmmaker? DIMATTIA: "Well, I’m originally from Wichita, Kansas, but my family moved to Greensboro, NC in the summer of ’93, and I lived there for most of my childhood. Then I moved to Wilmington for school."
"I can’t exactly say how growing up in North Carolina affected me as a filmmaker, but I definitely singled out NC musicians as big influences in how I would ultimately go about shooting, "Firewall of Sound." Merge (Records) and that whole Chapel Hill music scene served as an excellent starting point for the movie, and I think things would’ve turned out much differently if I hadn’t already been familiar with the musicians that I interviewed."
MFF: How many people made up your film crew and what kind of equipment did you use for this movie?
DIMATTIA: "We filmed with a barebones crew at all times. The maximum amount of people we had working on this film was five. All of the film was shot on a Panasonic DVX-100. "
"I was initially worried that we wouldn’t get a lot of exposure because we shot standard definition, but I am happy to see that that wasn’t that big of a deal as far as getting into festivals was concerned."
MFF: How did you grow as a filmmaker from making this movie?
DIMATTIA: "The entire making of this film was one big learning experience for me. I now know all the do’s and don’ts for conducting an interview. I also have learned the golden rule for filming b-roll: If you think you’ve shot enough b-roll, shoot more."
MFF: You had Arcade Fire and REM and other high profile bands in the movie. What was it like getting the clearances you needed for this movie?
DIMATTIA: "Not as hard as I thought. The higher-profile bands required a bit of perserverance on my part as far as e-mailing the right people, being persistent, and remembering all the procedures and forms I needed to submit to get the clearances. In the end, most of the music in the film was provided free of charge, and the bigger bands (R.E.M., Radiohead, etc.) charged a minimal amount of money for the use of their songs."
MFF: Any plans to return to this subject for another another movie or an expansion of this film?
DIMATTIA: "At this point, I’d like to go back to listening to music than trying to analyze all the new changes that seem to happen daily in the music world. It’s getting to the point that every time I read an article about this band or that label doing something unconventional with their music, I have to restrain myself from trying to weigh in on it."
MFF: Are you surprised by how muCh the music industry has changed as a result of the digital technology?
DIMATTIA: "I was more surprised with how quickly the major labels took to vilifying their own customers, by prosecuting people who illegally download, by getting internet service providers to try and block file-sharing software, when they could have embraced the technology early on, and not have spent all that time shooting themselves in the foot."
"They seem to be on the right track now, with sites like Rdio and Spotify gaining traction among music fans, but it feels a bit 'too little, too late' at this point."
MFF: After making this movie what advice can you offer for future music makers?
DIMATTIA: "Accept that you’re going to have to give away a lot of your work for free before you can start putting a price on it. But don’t sell yourself short, either. Be tireless in your efforts to gain new fans, but don’t neglect the ones that have stuck with you since the beginning."
MFF: After making this movie what advice can you offer for future filmmakers?
DIMATTIA: When making a movie, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of non-film people. The two friends who helped me the most on Firewall of Sound were creative writing majors who didn’t have much of a film background, but their love of music definitely made a huge impact on the direction that the movie took.
MFF: What are some subjects you would like to tackle in future documentary?
DIMATTIA: "I have a few topics that I believe an interesting documentary could be made about. I’ve been watching a bunch of documentaries dealing with subcultures, people who live out in the fringes of society, but have accepted it and even flourish in that kind of environment."
"I really enjoyed a short documentary that Evan Rothman, a fellow (UNC Wilmington) alumni, made about a woman who does voice work on hentai (pornographic Japanese animation). If I were to tackle another topic for a documentary, it would most likely be something along those lines."
MFF: Any other projects planned?
DIMATTIA: By the time this interview is posted, I will have finished shooting a music video for the Wilmington band Fractal Farm, my first time behind a camera since shooting Firewall of Sound. I have some other ideas planned for future documentaries, but nothing concrete.
MFF: Is there anything I didn't think to ask you that you would like to talk about?
DIMATTIA: "If you enjoy watching the movie, please spread the word! I have almost no money to advertise with, so word-of-mouth is pretty much the only way I can let people know that this movie exists. We have a Facebook page (facebook.com/firewallofsound) and Twitter account (@firewallofsound) that I update religiously, so you can always find out when and where we’ll be screening next!"