Premiering at SXSW, “Bluebird” explores the origin stories of megastars like Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift while following emerging singer-songwriters as they chase their dreams inside The Bluebird Cafe, Nashville's accidental landmark that has altered the course of music history.
DP Jeff Molyneaux and Director Brian Loschiavo discuss the film exclusively to ProductionHUB.
About the interviewees
As a seasoned Director of Photography, Jeff has worked on everything from television shows and commercials to his latest feature film about the Bluebird cafe. He began his career at abc digital studios in Los Angeles and, after a decade there, he decided to leave and start his own company in Nashville, TN. He is currently the co-founder of Riverside Entertainment which specializes in branded content, commercials and documentaries.
Brian Loschiavo has directed numerous television, commercial and digital productions with an emphasis on music-based storytelling. After a decade working as a freelance screenwriter and television producer, he co-founded Nashville and Los Angeles-based production company, Riverside Entertainment.
PH: What drew you to this project?
BRIAN: As a songwriter myself, I have been obsessed with finding ways to showcase songwriters and their process. It all started with a “story-behind-the-music” series I produced for the show NASHVILLE while working at ABC. Four years later, Jeff and I were approached by Erika Wollam Nichols (GM/COO of The Bluebird Cafe) to make a documentary. It was a dream project. What better way to showcase songwriters than through a place so iconic and instrumental to the careers of the world’s best?
PH: What was your vision in the pre-production process? Did you already know what you wanted the film to look like?
BRIAN: We knew what we wanted the film to feel like. We wanted to somehow transport the Bluebird's intimacy and communal energy to a theater or living room. To do that, we knew we needed to create shallow depth, utilizing foreground elements at all times, giving a sense of peeking through audience members to watch the performers.
PH: How much did you tap into Nashville and the vibe of the music scene there?
BRIAN: The Bluebird is central to the music scene in Nashville, so in essence, we were tapping into and creating the vibe. Our mission was to have a perfect balance of songs and performances that span the 37-year history of the Bluebird — old and new. We hope this film has touch points for music fans of all ages.
PH: What were some of your favorite shots and why?
BRIAN: It’s two shots. One is a shot during Jason Isbell’s performance of Streetlights. Our brilliant MoVI operator, Sam Willey, swept across Jason’s profile at just the right angle where the iconic neon bird is framed perfectly behind him. I nearly blew the take from video village by shouting, “yes!” when he nailed it. The other shot is when Taylor Swift is announced, to the shock of the audience. No one, including our crew, knew she was coming. It was top secret. And yet, one of our cam ops, Tyler Barksdale, instinctively knew to find a young girl in the audience as soon as he heard Taylor’s name announced. Her genuine reaction to Taylor being announced and walking in the room is absolutely priceless.
PH: Did you face any challenges and how did you amend them?
BRIAN: Our greatest challenges were budget and space. Thanks to the generosity of the music community and our generous fundraising supporters, we were able to power through our budget shortages. Another huge benefit was shooting on Blackmagic URSA Mini Pros, a camera with a price point that allowed us to own instead of rent for the duration of the film. Space was the other issue from day one. The Bluebird Cafe is a very small and cramped venue.
It created challenges both in finding new angles for interviews as well as finding creative ways to shoot performances without disturbing patrons or musicians. Jeff Molyneaux is the greatest DP I’ve ever worked with — especially when it comes to finding creative ways to problem solve on-the-fly. At 6’6” I don’t know how he did it, but I’d look around, trying to figure out where he went and discover him under a table, shooting between chairs and legs to get the perfect shot. One of the greatest compliments we got recently from one of the performers featured in the doc is that he never knew we even filmed his show. That is a testament to Jeff and his team and was instrumental in us capturing raw, real moments.
PH: What was your go-to equipment and how did it help you achieve shots and the look of the film?
JEFF: We shot on Blackmagic URSA Mini Pros and primarily with Sigma Art Series lenses. Having the ability to have fast glass allowed us to shoot in low light, and having a camera that is small and compact allowed us to navigate tight spaces. The fact that the menu system and codec options on the camera made it easy to make quick adjustments on the fly also helped manage data load in post.
PH: What other elements (sound, editing) helped bring the shots to life?
BRIAN: Sound and editing played a huge part in making this film. Our goal was to use sound editing and mix to make you feel like you’re actually inside The Bluebird as an audience member. Our sound team at Buckets Moving Co. and Digital Audio Post in Nashville did an incredible job of creating that feeling. From an editing standpoint, we wanted the songs and the stories to weave together seamlessly. Pacing becomes a big piece of that as the rhythm and tempo of each scene become even more heightened with the musical component added. One of the greatest compliments we’ve gotten since showing the film is that it feels like one big song.
PH: What's the energy like at SXSW and what does it mean to have this film premiere there?
BRIAN: Janet Pearson, her incredible team of programmers, the volunteers and the other filmmakers have made this an unforgettable experience. The energy is collaborative, supportive and laid-back. Because of the music-film crossover at SXSW, we knew it was the perfect fit to premiere BLUEBIRD. We are so excited, honored and grateful that it was accepted.