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An inside look at A Drummer’s Dream, premiering at Hot Docs

Director John Walker’s latest documentary A Drummer’s Dream has its world premiere at this year’s Hot Docs Festival (April 29 – May 9). It’s an incredible film with lots of energy and 7 of the world’s greatest drummers. Here’s what John had to say about the film:

Julie Matlin: How did this project come about?

John Walker: Well my brother-in-law is a member of a well know jazz family in Montreal. His father Sayyd Abdul Al-Khabyyr toured internationally with Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and the Mercer Ellington Orchestra and his brother Nasyr, a drummer who also toured with Dizzy was putting this drum camp together with fellow musicians he had met and played with over the years.

It was actually my nephew that brought to my attention what was cooking and that companies from Montreal and New York were trying to get the rights to film the event.  I met with Nasyr right away and told him I would love to make a feature documentary with this amazing line-up of talent. The drummers liked my film credentials and so it all fell into place. The film was a dream to make from beginning to end – a gift.

JM: What makes shooting a music documentary different from other forms of documentary filmmaking?

JW: Sound recording and mixing are the critical elements with a music documentary and having a picture editor who understands music editing is essential.  I always pay attention to sound but with music recording and especially with drums you have another level of challenges.

The incredible thing is that the main performances on A Drummer’s Dream took place in a large 19th century barn.  With the wood and open air between the cracks it was a perfect acoustic space for drums.  Giovanni Hidalgo gave me a big hug when he heard the sound and said “you can’t get this in Hollywood.”

Mic placement is critical.  We had a studio technician from Montreal who had worked with all these drummers before and he knew how to place the mics.  We set up a 24 track location board with a recording engineer and recorded directly to ProTools.  We pre-mixed the music with a music specialist in Halifax and a drum consultant from L.A. before the final film mix.  The trick was getting a clean distinct sound on each drum and still maintain the live concert feel.

The overall final mix challenge was to maintain exciting levels that would not create a fatigue factor by the end of the film.  It was a real challenge to mix some of the very loud drum sequences.  After a few hours your ears were bleeding and you would loose perspective.  Having a weekend off before the final playback was essential.

JM: There’s already so much excitement about this film – what do you think the major draw is for audiences?

JW: Well, I think the major draw is a film that is promising to be exhilarating, positive and uplifting and has these amazing personalities who are at the top of their game. Also, people want to see the film after looking at our dynamic trailer.  It’s a nice break from all the tragedy in the world.  The drum is a very powerful instrument and these master musicians are so full of positive energy that you can’t help feeling good when you spend 85 minutes watching them.

For screening information, check the Hot Docs website.

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