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Billy Mize's story is a spectacular tale about unthinkable personal tragedy amidst a country music revolution that changed the world. Read more

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This project was successfully funded on July 31, 2012.

Billy Mize's story is a spectacular tale about unthinkable personal tragedy amidst a country music revolution that changed the world.

About this project

Thank you for considering my project, Billy Mize and The Bakersfield Sound.

This project has been selected as one of 8 Documentaries to join Film Independent's 2012 Documentary Fellowship program.  San Francisco Film Society also selected this film for its fiscal sponsorship program.  

SUMMARY: Billy Mize's contributions to country western music helped shape the industry. His charm and golden voice are legendary among country music's elite as is his passion for music. A performer on the brink of fame, his is a spectacular tale about identity and sacrifice in the music industry- and about personal inspiration amidst horrible tragedy.  

In short, Billy Mize's story needs to be told.

WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP: We have completed 80% of shooting, and are about to dive into the editing process. I have paid for production out of my own pocket and turned in all my favors. Thanks to my friends and fellow collaborators who have gotten me this far! I've hit a point where significant costs need to be taken care of. Unfortunately, grants and public funding are extremely limited for a project like this. Grants and foundations tend to support political or social issue based projects, but we are still applying where applicable. As a result, the majority of funding will come from donations like yours. We are putting our project on kickstarter in the hopes of raising money for a permanent editor.

If this story moves you, please donate! If you'd prefer to make a tax deductible donation, we are fiscally sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society who are a 501(c)3 organization. Please click the link or contact us at www.billymizemovie.com for more information. Or contact me personally at wjsaunders@oldcityentertainment.com.

If you’re not feeling up to donating, but you like this project, or know someone who might, there are other important ways you can help. The more people are aware of our project, the better our chances are of raising the necessary funds. By emailing our website, or sharing our page on Facebook, or spreading word on Twitter, you'll be giving us crucial, valuable support. Please help us reach as many people as possible!  

We hope you will join us to bring Billy Mize’s exceptional story to life — and the story of The Bakersfield Sound. This is a powerful, affecting story, and we're grateful for the opportunity to tell it. Thank you so much for joining in and becoming a part of this!

THE STORY:  Billy Mize was born in a small Kansas town during the Great Depression. To the families living in the central United States it was known as the "Dirty Thirties".  A decade when giant, black, dust clouds forced many families west in search of jobs.  The Mize family, as well as others, settled in a growing California oil town named Bakersfield. These families brought the musical styles of Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas and Kansas with them.  This fusion gave birth to an exciting, raw-edged style of country music known for its piercing guitar and honest, down-to-earth lyrics.  This was the birth of the Bakersfield Sound, and one of its founding members was Billy Mize.  

This film isn’t just about a music movement- it’s about legacy and the institution of family.  When Billy was 3-years-old, his father, Earnest Forth, skipped town leaving Billy and his mother to suffer the dust bowl depression of Kansas. Out of this abandonment, Billy formed strict principles of what a husband and father should be.  In the face of life’s challenges his response has always been, ‘family first’.  

My film explores how Billy Mize made it to the brink of super-stardom, turned it down to be a father, befell horrible tragedy, and climbed his way back into the spotlight.  We will show how he gave up a life on the road (an essential ingredient for success in the music industry) for a life with his wife and kids.  And in the prime of his career, just after being nominated for Single Record of the Year (his competition included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Glen Campbell), Billy and his wife Martha lost their first son.  Three years later, they lost their second.  The pain of losing two children overwhelmed Billy and Martha.  In the words of his brother Buddy, “something like that happens and it either pulls a family closer together or tears it apart.”  Billy Mize and his wife divorced a few years later. 

After these horrific events, Mize turned to his music for solace.  He stayed close to his daughters Karen and Margie, playing at local clubs and hosting country variety shows.  But fate, it seems, wasn’t done with Billy Mize.  At the age of 59, Mize suffered a stroke and lost his ability to speak and play guitar.  His family had already been taken from him. And now, so had his music.

Billy went a full year without speaking a word.  After several unsuccessful stints in speech rehabilitation he was admitted to an experimental speech rehabilitation facility in Florida, where after weeks of stressful therapy he has miraculously re-gained the ability to sing.  The remaining members of the Bakersfield Sound- including Merle Haggard- will celebrate Mize’s 80th birthday party during a tribute concert.  No one in the audience knows Billy has the ability to sing again.  Our documentary concludes with Billy Mize standing in front of his loved ones and singing for the first time in over 20 years.  A swan song for an amazing and inspiring career.

CLICK for a selection of Billy Mize Music.

THE BAKERSFIELD SOUND:  Billy pioneered a musical revolution that became known as The Bakersfield Sound, which enjoyed enormous popularity in the sixties, and is most akin to what happened in Seattle during the 90s with bands like Nirvana & Pearl Jam.  The Bakersfield movement produced talents such as Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, and influenced such bands as the Beatles, Stones, the Grateful Dead, and modern day artists like Brad Paisley. 

During the height of Bakersfield’s popularity, Nashville snubbed their loud, electric twang. Nashville Country attempted to distance itself from rock ‘n’ roll artists, like Elvis Presley, and move to a smoother, acoustic sound. This resulted in a lack of recognition for the raw, West Coast country artists. Billy Mize and others created the Academy of Country Western Music Awards to bring notoriety to the western part of the country. Dick Clark became involved and the award show was a hit. The organization was eventually renamed the Academy of Country Music and continues to spotlight significant country musicians today.

While this documentary follows Billy’s Mize’s personal story, it also defines and explains the Bakersfield Sound.  Through Billy we can see the impact Bakersfield made on our culture: from influencing Elvis' style to the diverse group of artists who recorded Billy's music, including Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, Glen Campbell, Barbara Mandrell and many more.  

On March 21st 2012, the Country Music Hall of Fame opened a 2-year Bakersfield Sound Exhibit, honoring Billy Mize among others.  Hopefully this is the first of many steps to honor these radical, unique musicians. 

Billy Mize is second from the left.
Billy Mize is second from the left.

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT: As a documentary filmmaker, I have always found Billy Mize’s story to be a goldmine.  His life reached extremes that are the stuff of dreams and nightmares.  But Billy didn’t let himself be defined by his circumstances. Instead, he chose to define himself by his actions in those circumstances.  Despite enduring the worst blows life has to offer, Billy Mize persevered and came out smiling.

I know because I grew up with his smile.  He’s my grandfather.

Helming this project was a difficult decision.  After researching Billy’s story, I discovered a theme, a through line that has stayed constant throughout Billy’s life: an unrelenting dedication for family.  It seemed fitting that a story with such strong familial themes should be told by family. 

It is not my intention to glorify my grandfather.  He is human, and has flaws like the rest of us.   Those flaws are an integral part of this film and create a richer, fuller story.  We will have deeper connection with Billy when we see his strengths along side his weaknesses.  This film is about survival and perseverance, but also about shame and loss.  It’s these existential elements that force us to look inward, at our own choices in life. 

William J Saunders (director) on the left.
William J Saunders (director) on the left.

FIRST TIER GOAL: $23,300

Since we have already raised money and shot most of our interviews, we need to start editing. Our first tier goal will allow us to employ an editor for the duration of postproduction. An editor is an essential member in any documentary team, and the good ones cost money! Achieving this goal will give us the flexibility to team with a great editor, and afford us the editing time this project deserves.

SECOND TIER GOAL: $58,600

Our second tier goal is for the extensive music licensing costs inherent to this project. Almost our entire soundtrack is comprised of music recorded by Billy Mize, and many of those songs are covers by other musicians. To license music you need to purchase the rights from the songwriter, as well as the label who recorded/published the song. Depending on the label/musician, it could be a few thousand for one song! As I said, Billy’s life mirrors the stuff of a country song, and each song is an essential thematic element in this film. This money will also go toward payment of a music supervisor who will help with clearing the rights.

THIRD TIER GOAL: $93,000+

Our third tier goal will allow us to pay for additional archive footage licensing, graphics, as well as post-production mixing and sweetening. We also plan to use Kris Kristofferson as our narrator, and this final sum would go a long way to securing him. These are all key elements we need before we can finish the film.

FAQ:

ABOUT KICKSTARTER: Kickstarter is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Every month tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, art, film, technology, design, food, and other creative fields.

HOW TO PLEDGE:  Just click the green “Back This Project” button in the upper right-hand corner.   Input your pledge amount and select a reward.   Check out through Amazon and your pledge will be recorded.

WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON’T REACH OUR GOAL:  In that case, we don't get anything and all pledges are cancelled.   Your card is not charged.

CAN YOU EXCEED THE GOAL?   YES!  If we exceed our goal, the additional funds will be used to further polish the film.   The more money we raise, the more shoots we can do and the sooner the film will be completed!

WHAT ARE THE DISTRIBUTION PLANS?   National and international television, film festivals, home video, and the internet.  

HOW YOU CAN HELP: This film is only going to be possible with the help of you. We want this to be your film just as much as it is ours.  The more people who participate the more chance we have of getting the story out.  To help out please Twitter it, "Like" us on Facebook, email this Kickstarter link and let your friends, family and co-workers know about the film.

IS THE DONATION TAX-DEDUCTIBLE?   Yes, but only through our 501(c)3 organization.  Please contact us for more information. (see below)

ANY OTHER QUESTIONS?   Please contact the filmmakers: billymizemovie@gmail.com

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Funding period

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