Behind the Music Doc: 'Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton'
Documentary filmmaker Jeff Broadway on telling the 20-year history of Stones Throw Records.
Created in 1996 by Chris Manak (aka DJ Peanut Butter Wolf), Stones Throw Records has cemented its reputation as an eclectic and influential indie record label, with a roster of acts such as hip-hop artists Madlib, Homeboy Sandman, and the late J Dilla, to soul crooners Mayer Hawthorne and modern-day funk musician Dam-Funk. Nearly 20 years later, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton (This Is Stones Throw Records) tells its story.
Produced and directed by Jeff Broadway, Los Angeles-based filmmaker and co-founder of Gatling Pictures, the music documentary showcases the culture, energy, and history behind a label that started out releasing mainly hip-hop records but has morphed into a hotbed of electro, soul, and world music deals.
With exclusive interviews by Peanut Butter Wolf, as well as fellow DJ A-Trak, and noted stars such as Talib Kweli, Common, Kanye West, Mike D and Questlove, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton highlights the independent spirit and creative aesthetic of the respected indie label.
Jeff Broadway: I live in LA and I’ve been here for about five years. With documentary production the margins are relatively small. And I thought it would be a wise move to do something on a subject that’s local. It’s also something that I’ve been a part of, at least peripherally as a fan, for some years. It’s a subject and a culture that I understand. I also felt like there was a demand from the fan base to learn more about it.
[Stones Throw] has been a relatively closeted and closed off label for some years prior to the documentary. Guys like Madlib and Doom, even Dilla, there hadn’t been a lot done of that collective of artists. And it’s been a collective that I’ve admired and appreciated as a fan for some years. So for those kind of myriad of factors, it just felt like a natural project for me to take on.
JB: It’s obviously a pretty large undertaking. I think that we started out mapping out stories based on the central figures and who have been the driving forces in comprising this collective of artists at Stones Throw. And really identifying those major figures and then kind of understanding which people, and which interviews, and which archival material would best serve telling those sub-narratives. And so really kind of attacking the story by its breakdown and just understanding what has made this clock tick for all these years. And then going after material, original production footage and interviews, and all that stuff that helps flesh out those storylines and those tangents that make up the larger, more holistic story.
JB: Because it wasn’t my first project, I feel like my first film [Cure For Pain: The Mark Sandman Story] I learned a lot of big lessons. But as far as [this one] … I think that there are things … not to pat myself on the back, but I think there are things that I did on the onset that were very wise.
Like, for example, getting involved in a project like this that’s so music-driven, you have to understand what’s available to you. And you have to kind of set those terms in advance before you take the plunge. Like, I got Stones Throw to submit to clearing all that music for me, and I basically had an open vault. I think that’s crucial, especially with a music documentary; one like Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton where it’s so reliant upon that. That was like a clearance point that I had to make sure I did my due diligence on before I got involved in making the film.
Because if I had just started using music and like cutting some music, then gone back and said “Oh hey, by the way, there’s 60 music clips” … like who’s paying for that? You really got to make sure that all your boxes are checked from a business and production standpoint before you decide to take the plunge.
That wasn’t so much a lesson I learned, but that’s a lesson I learned on my first project, which is also a music documentary. And one that I implemented in making Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton. But I think that that is very prudent advice.
JB: If you have the talent and you have a great story and you have a great subject, and your subject’s willingness is there to participate and help you flesh out your vision, and you can raise some tens of thousands of dollars … and you have a DSLR and you have a computer, and you can figure out how to pirate software or whatever, you can make a feature-length movie. Yeah, it’s a documentary, but for not a lot of money. And not to say that that’s impossible in feature filmmaking, but it’s just a totally different undertaking.
I see documentary filmmaking as being more of like if you can compare it to sports. It’s more of like tennis. Whereas making a feature is like playing football. Like you have dozens of players that you have to orchestrate and who you have to direct on the field is your quarterback. With tennis, it’s like if you’re good, you’re good, you’re going to win. It’s a sport that falls squarely on your own shoulders. And I feel like documentaries are similar to that.
Yeah, you definitely need a team. But it’s far different from the team you have to have in place and the money you have in place to actually support executing a script in a feature film.
JB: It’s a great feeling to just have a film released and to see it succeed. And to see the other access points that open up and doors that open up. I think that if you can get a successful film on the books … I think that a lot of young people think that if they like do one thing and it’s really good that their door is just going to be blow down with opportunities and people wanting to rep and manage them. That’s not really the case.
But I think that one of the coolest things to come from this is more opportunity. I feel lifelong friendships with Wolf, and Dam-Funk and I are collaborating on something right now. I’m doing a music video with Homeboy Sandman and Krondon. So it kind of opened up a new world of artistic freedom and collaboration in different capacities, so I’m excited about that.
JB: Dam and I working on a feature together, actually, that would kind of be in the vein of Purple Rain and Superfly. So that’s coming along and I’m pumped about that. Homebody Sandman and I are shooting a video out in Joshua Tree in a few weeks, which should be really rad. And I’m going on the road with Daptone Records, which is home to Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and Charles Bradley. I’m doing a tour and live concert documentary for Daptone. So I’m excited.
Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records is available digitally everywhere.
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