Jace Freeman has directed more than his fair share of documentaries about current events, natural disasters, and peculiar characters, but up until two years ago, he had never attempted to make a full-on rock doc. But that all changed when he met Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, the duo known as Shovels and Rope.
Freeman and the Moving Picture Boys — a Nashville-based venture he runs with producers Sean Clark and Paul Bannister — are set to film the final days of footage for their rockumentary The Ballad of Shovels and Rope this Saturday at the Pour House.
"We've never done anything like this before," Freeman says. "We've been working on a short documentary series called Nashville Docujournal, but this will be our first feature-length documentary of any kind."
Freeman and the Moving Picture Boys first met the husband-and-wife duo in the fall of 2010 while the Moving Picture Boys were producing several live music videos in Nashville. He fell in love with their twangy sound and charming style, and a few weeks later, he proposed a project that would follow the band on the road and in studio. Hearst and Trent readily agreed.
"The documentary didn't really try to examine or ask questions of who Shovels and Rope are," Freeman says. "Instead, we joined them as they formed the band, with no questions asked, and we experienced the journey with them as they grew and evolved. I feel like we've grown as filmmakers, too, learning from the band that you can truly make something out of nothing and have a good time along the way."
The filmmakers captured the making of the band's stellar new studio album O' Be Joyful. "It documents the conceptualization, writing, setbacks, and creation of O' Be Joyful, but it's also the story of Michael and Cary Ann figuring out how to marry two solo careers into a sustained living," Freeman says.
Trent thinks the documentary reveals the story of how he and Cary Ann merged their individual identities into a cohesive whole. "It's very much about the way we put everything together and how we made it work," he says. "It's about two people, and it's not so much about a band. It's about the way that we've run our everyday operation."
Freeman initially expected the O' Be Joyful sessions to wrap up in early 2011, but the recording process took longer than expected and the band decided to take a couple of cross-country tours. However, the delays ended up being a blessing in disguise for the filmmakers. "We had to adjust our timeline and resources, but we wanted to make sure we could tell the whole story of the early stages in the development of the band," Freeman says. "The driving theme of the movie is creation and the process of passionate people committing to create art on their own terms and within their own means."
Hearst for one is glad that Freeman and his partners joined her and her husband on tour. "I don't know how great it is for the documentary that we've all become such good friends along the way. It might turn out to be a flattering love letter to us," Hearst says.
Freeman and the filmmakers kept a few movies in mind throughout the shoot, drawing inspiration from both documentaries and dramas. "I prefer the films that have musical stories, like Once or Coal Miner's Daughter, rather than music docs," Freeman says. "If I had to pick a favorite music doc, I'd choose something like I Am Trying to Break Your Heart [a 2002 film about the band Wilco], which has a strong narrative arc with the music playing a supporting role."
This week, Freeman's two-year run with Shovels and Rope comes to an end as he and his crew document the final leg of the band's summer tour and a CD release show at the Pour House on Saturday.
The Moving Picture Boys plan to film much of the action at the Pour House, both onstage and off. "We've been in Charleston several times, documenting the wonderful friends and community that Shovels and Rope have," Freeman says. "This last trip is to document the moment when Michael and Cary Ann arrive home with the finished record. Everything we've been shooting for the last two years will lead to this moment."