VIRGINSpc2Neutral is the debut feature film (and it is indeed a film) from Asheville-based filmmaker Joe Chang. Gorgeously captured on old-school 16mm by the brilliant Greg Hudgins, Neutral is sort of like Asheville’s Slacker, but it’s sweeter, more whimsical, and reveals a sensibility all its own.

Chang is definitely a comer; he seems to have things going on his head that no one else does, that’s for sure. As a fellow filmmaker who’s had to sacrifice for storytelling, I most admire Joe’s drive and his courage for taking chances and not backing down from making films that aspire to be real art. He’s scary good. And, yes, the movie does feature the acting debut of yours truly, a walk-on cameo in a film that features over 70 small parts.

Neutral recently had its DVD release party (which I attended), and Joe showed clips from his film, and several bands played. Joe’s amazing band Single Engine Airplane was there, Jason Smith’s inimitable Night’s Bright Colors — see the post about them below — and a dynamic young combo called Kovacs and the Polar Bear, which reminds me of a young Wilco, blew everybody away. No hyperbole here; they fucking killed — look them up on Myspace, they’re terrific and have a great future ahead of them.

Joe showed some clips from an upcoming project called Days of War, Nights of Love. On his own website, he describes it thusly:

Days of War, Nights of Love is the working title of
Joe’s second feature, which he is currently writing.
It’s a surreal magical dreamy circus western
knight’s tale adventure vaudevillian story taking
place in it’s own little world with swords and
crossbows, horses and ostriches, kings and queens,
lotus flower children and traveling gypsies, tricked
out bounty hunters and crappy headphones, air balloons
and dentist chairs, instrument trees and rear
projections, jug bands and men with microphone faces,
and much more….

Joe Change, everybody … Check him out at his production company,

Yesterday’s Tomorrows


I read a lot of old science fiction. I don’t know why, but I have a great affection for that pulpy, early 20th Century fantasy and SF. I re-read A Princess of Mars recently, Burroughs seminal first novel, and frankly, it seemed modern (the fact that I read it on my iPhone using the Stanza app may have helped). But they’re making a movie of it now, and it feels like it could be the next Lord of the Rings.

I don’t know, perhaps there is an innocence in that material, or an optimism. Or maybe the patterns were being set back then, and much modern stuff is just … variations on a pattern. I always want to go back to the real thing and experience whatever it was that got everybody so excited in the first place. So I’m drawn to early science fiction.

To tip the hat to that early optimism, here’s an article I recently found on Futility Closet, a cool site about various oddities here and there:


‘Martians Build Two Immense Canals in Two Years.’

How’s that for a headline? It ran in the New York Times Sunday magazine on Aug. 27, 1911:

Canals a thousand miles long and twenty miles wide are simply beyond our comprehension. Even though we are aware of the fact that … a rock which here weighs one hundred pounds would there only weigh thirty-eight pounds, engineering operations being in consequence less arduous than here, yet we can scarcely imagine the inhabitants of Mars capable of accomplishing this Herculean task within the short interval of two years.

The Times was relying on Percival Lowell, who was convinced that a dying Martian civilization was struggling to reach the planet’s ice caps. “The whole thing is wonderfully clear-cut,” he’d told the newspaper — but he was already largely ostracized by skeptical colleagues who couldn’t duplicate his findings. The “spokes” he later saw on Venus may have been blood vessels in his own eye.

Whatever his shortcomings, Lowell’s passions led to some significant accomplishments, including Lowell Observatory and the discovery of Pluto 14 years after his death. “Science,” wrote Emerson, “does not know its debt to imagination.”

Laura Gibson

Not long ago I went to a Damien Jurado show, to check out some of his beautifully melodic and moody Appalachian-styled songs. The lady who opened his show, however, was a tall, thin chanteuse named Laura Gibson, who just absolutely knocked me out, coming across a little like a psychedelic Gillian Welch, or a female Tom Waits … if he lived on a farm in the Northwest and didn’t get out too much.

With a unique, quavery voice and a spooky and airy melodic approach, her music is both beautiful and jarring; the pieces don’t quite fit, but in a good way. Her band plays saws and odd things and conjure up the creepiest but coolest (and, it should be said, often fun and jamming) vibe.

She seems to have a warm but steely stage presence, where she stares off into the audience, not really seeing anyone as she sings. She made long, uncomfortable eye contact with me, until I had to look away. But as I was looking into her eyes, and it felt like she was looking into mine, I realized she wasn’t seeing me. She was listening to herself sing. Spooky.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of music. This lady is something special.

Golden Blade 3

FistOfChenTJ Wiedow’s Golden Blade 3 is the third part (of course) to his fantastically entertaining Golden Blade series. TJ, who lives in Asheville, is for my money the most talented filmmaker in the region. As a director he is amazingly dynamic … and the fact that he does it all with very little budget to speak of makes his achievement all that much more incredible.

Full disclosure: I’m TJ’s buddy, and helped him with his movie. But he’s helped me with mine, too …

Filmed in the highlands of North Carolina, Golden Blade 3 showcases some of the most amazing locations from this area ever put on tape. The movie occasionally shows its low budget, but the ingenuity and raw imagination far outweighs any money issues.

Even better, the movie is just smart. Written by Wiedow and Jason Greenalch, the script takes surprising turns, and comments wryly on everything from familial relationships to romance.

Showing soon at the Action on Film Festival in Los Angeles in July, Golden Blade 3 is the purposefully whacked tale of a man, a sword, a girl, and a gorllia. Or something. But that’s the fun: it’s a spoof. Or is it?

Brilliantly, TJ gets to have it both ways. A goofy action flick, a kung fu spoof, or an incredible independent film? All of the above. Somebody give that boy a budget! And get the movie from WWW.GOLDENBLADE3.COM

A Seminal Rock Critic Needs Help

paulWilliamsLike film criticism, serious rock music criticism has fallen away in recent years. With Roger Ebert the only serious (to my mind) film critic still around, the art of true journalistic rock criticism seems to be a thing of the past as well. Now, one of rock music’s seminal pro’s needs your help: Paul Williams, the founder of Crawdaddy! magazine is in ill health.

Most often associated with it’s early championship of Bruce Springsteen and Phillip K. Dick, Paul’s magazine was a counter-cultural rag much like the young Rolling Stone; back when Lester Bangs was a regular contributor, and Dave Marsh was still listening to the MC5, and Iggy Pop was still rolling around onstage in broken glass, Paul was more than a rock critic — he was a cultural signifier.

In the words of journalist Bob Hill, “Paul Williams’ pieces weren’t just about music. They were about faith and struggle, religion and redemption, life and death, love and loss. They were about all the major themes that great songwriting is about. But Paul had the space and the freedom to go even deeper; to explore what exactly was at stake in every song and how—on any given night—rock ‘n’ roll had the power to break down the walls that kept people boxed in; to show us the edge without pushing us over.”

Due to a head injury suffered in the late ’90’s, Paul now needs constant, round-the-clock care. As a writer, he never made much money, and now his medical bills are mounting. Please take a look at the following links, and maybe think about writing a check to help out one of music criticism’s greatest.

Go to HERE to read more, or take a look at PAULWILLIAMS.COM to help out the man himself.

Facebook Phobia

I don’t know about you, but is there something icky about the plethora of all the social networking sites and their recent extreme popularity? I mean, we all love our friends — they’re our guides, our mentors, our compatriots. But do we really want to know what they had for breakfast? (If I ask — absolutely, I do want to know. But please don’t volunteer that info, and don’t send it to a hundred of your buddies.)

Of course, this message is being written on a so-called social networking site, so there is some irony here, but the narcissism of lists like 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me and other minutae seems a little excessive. And that’s not including the little fingernail parings of ‘communication’ called Twitter.

We all like to be noticed and we all want to have a public face, but in my estimation, there’s a cost; it seems to cheapen the real, authentic communication going on around us. Phone calls, personal emails, a real conversation between real people — that’s the goal, that’s the good stuff. A contentless post going out to all our ‘friends’ just seems to be a waste of my, yours, and everyone else’s hard won time and concentration.

Of course, like a good friend told me last night, “For better or for worse, it’s the way things are done now.” So I’ll reluctantly join Facebook (but not Twitter; hell no.) I’ll reconnect with some old friends I should have connected with already. But to me words and feelings are precious; communication is vital. I don’t want to cheapen my real emotion for my friends with faux information and idle chatter. And no, I don’t want to know what you had for breakfast.

But maybe that’s just me.

Hatchfest Asheville

So, the weekend of 4/17/09 in Asheville was pretty much all Hatchfest, all the time. If you don’t know, Hatchfest was started by local artist and businessman Sean O’Connell to highlight the interdisciplinary coolness of film, dance, fashion, music, architecture and so on. Of course I spent all my time with the filmmakers — mostly a bunch of Sundance vets who brought their fabulous films (and even more fabulous approaches and inspirational stories) to our fair city.

Adrian Belic, who masterminded the incredible Genghis Blues, Marianna Palka, with her wonderful film Good Dick, Talmage Cooley (who’s about to hit it big with Patriotville) — these filmmakers showed us local rubes how do do it with style and panache.

Perhaps the best thing I learned was how to keep from being a jaded, ‘been there done that’ type, and re-engage in the wonder of sharing film festival horror stories, trade secrets and just stupid jokes with my fellow storytellers. And to see some cool movies.

Being an artist is hard enough, of course, without feeling like you’re completely alone. It was a very inspiring time to be with these intelligent, faith-affirming artists, and to re-learn the joy of sharing. It’s easy to succumb to being jaded and cynical, so it was really good to reconnect with the simple pleasures of being with someone who has walked some of the same paths that I have.

Thanks to all the Hatchfest guys for making it happen. You made a difference!

Night’s Bright Colors

Night’s Bright Colors is the moniker of the supremely talented Asheville-based musician, Jason Smith. A little Elliot Smith here, a little low-fi Pixies there, NBC has written movie music for Harrow Beauty in the past (most notably, our first feature film, Sinkhole), but it’s primarily a recording entity that Smith uses in connection with a rotating cast of musicians following his lead. He just released yet another full-length set of songs (he’s very prolific, too) on the web. Here’s what The Mountain Xpress’ Ali Marshall had to say about Smith’s latest release:

“Just in time for this tough economy—and (less bleakly) for the first day of spring—Asheville’s Night’s Bright Colors releases its newest effort, Late Night by Lamplight. The online-only album (available at can be downloaded for free.

The no-cost digital album is in keeping with the times. In late 2007, mega stars Radiohead issued their “pay what you want” online-only album, In Rainbows. Five years earlier, R.E.M. released r.e.m.IX, a remix of the previous year’s Reveal for fans to download free via the band’s Website. In this age of DIY home studios and indie labels, the straight-to-Web tactic seems a logical next step.

“With this new technology, downloading it for free makes more sense,” explains Night’s Bright Colors mastermind, Jason Smith. Printing CDs was a major cost for the musician who felt the pressure to sell the finished product “became more of a focus than it should have.”

A companion disc to last autumn’s First Set Fire to the Stars, Late continues with the nighttime motif, a velvety hush palpable throughout the collection. But Smith’s shimmery, ambient aesthetic is bolstered by pop sensibility with nods to Sparklehorse as well as The Cure. Lush violin (from Lauren Brown) balances sanguine guitar strumming on the all-too-brief opener, “blush.”

The title track pairs Medieval string tones with a Nick Drake-like vocal for something sweetly romantic. The adroitly-named “parry the wind” is a moody meditation on weather as metaphor for relationships. That Smith, a stay-at-home dad, can craft such quixotic material in between sippy cups and naptimes only adds to the starry-eyed spell this album casts.

Smith plans to release the fourth and possibly final album in the Night’s Bright Colors catalog – a concept collection he describes as “evolving or devolving” around a Romeo and Juliet theme—this fall.”

Check it out — it’s a free download and it rocks the house — but quietly.

Music for Indie Films

There’s a lot of cool music in Asheville. This is a musical town. I know a ton of talented, serious, professional musicians — good ones. That’s one of the secret blessings of living in such a creative place.

So when we talk about what type of music we’re gonna hear when we watch Alison, I was a little hesitant to pin it down. On one level, the movie is a quiet, minimalist sort of piece that doesn’t require much accompaniment — you never want to signal the viewer what type of emotion to have, unless you’re making The Goonies or something.

But on the other hand, music can add so much. Since Alison is a story about a woman — a chick flick, as it were — for a time I played with getting some ‘chicks’ who play rock music to score the piece with some sort of indie-rock mood music. That was a good idea, but it seemed a little like I was hoping to co-opt some type of movement that I don’t actually belong to.

And then came the ukulele.

It’s solid koa. It’s from Hawaii. It’s a concert-sized uke, which means it’s a little larger, almost like a small classical guitar. It sounds amazing. I can’t stop playing it. 1920’s jazz is my favorite, particularly something like the beautiful and very apropos Carolina Moon.

This is the way, I’ve found, creativity works. You look for something, and you may not find it, but chances are you’ll find something else just as good.

So, like all other aspects of this movie, happy accidents will provide. I think in addition to the cool indie chick-rock and hair metal and the requisite ambient tones, there might just be a little ukulele happening somewhere in there.

Alison Hatchfest

So, Tuesday, March 24, 2009, the Media Arts Project and Hatchfest, two North Carolina-based, supercool arts entities, will host ‘Alison’ and a few other projects for a Hatchfest fundraiser.

We’ll present six or so minutes of ‘Alison,’ just to give people a taste of what it’s like. We’ve been living with it for awhile, of course, and are excited to get it out there so other people can appreciate it, too.

The Media Arts Project helped us out with a few finishing funds, so it’s a way to give something back to them and help them raise money for the next batch of hungry artists to come along.

Come out and say hello!