A feature-length documentary on Jay Bennett, a legendary musician, who as a member of Wilco, was a large part of the genius behind three seminal albums (Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- he co-wrote most of Summerteeth and YHF with Jeff Tweedy) as well as the Mermaid Avenue/Woody Guthrie sessions with Billy Bragg, and who went on to a critically acclaimed solo career, before dying tragically at the age of 45.
Why We're Making This Film
We love rock ‘n’ roll. It is our religion, our truth, the driving force that keeps us going, alive, thrilled. And we believe that the legacy of certain artists must be preserved for future generations.
Why Jay Bennett? Well, to have seen Bennett live, slinging his Gibson SG in an almost duel to the cool with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy was to witness a rock ‘n’ roll miracle. It was melody and chaos and about as much fun as two people can have on a shared stage. There are only so many amazing duos in the history of music: Jagger/Richards, Lennon/McCartney, Strummer/Jones come to mind. Tweedy/Bennett rank right alongside them.
Read the great piece on the film from Steve Wosahla in No Depression Magazine.
How We Got Here
It felt like déjà vu all over again. In 2008, I was approached by the producer of a documentary on The Replacements, one of my all-time favorite bands, and asked if I'd take over the project and finish the film. Color Me Obsessed, a film about The Replacements would become by first documentary after seven fictional feature films and five published novels. It would really become my first foray into a world I can truthfully call “stranger than fiction.” Almost a decade has passed, and my work in fiction became bulldozed by my love of documentary. Next came rock docs on Archers of Loaf, Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü, Lydia Loveless, and well as another in the works on Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, bands that truly rock my world in every sense. Sometime between the Grant Hart and Lydia Loveless films I turned my camera on another obsession: animal welfare. I made the film A Dog Named Gucci, and am now working on the upcoming Seniors. And two more, also dealing with personal passions: Pizza, A Love Story and Normal Valid Lives, both still in production.
And then in late 2016, it happened again. A filmmaker named Fred Uhter reached out and asked if I'd be interested in working on his long-in-production documentary on Jay Bennett of Wilco. I asked to see his footage, the interviews already filmed. They were stellar. And going back, looking at videos of Wilco's Bennett years, I knew I was in. See, my wife and I have seen Wilco 60 times since 1996, we've been to all five Sound Sound festivals. We love Wilco. And our favorite records are the three upon which Bennett was a very important member of the band. How could I possibly say no?
I turn the narrative over now to Fred, my co-director on Where are you, Jay Bennett?
I have always been a Titanic Love Affair fan. I remember going to Lounge Ax in Chicago when the first album came out. The guy playing the guitar solos, keyboards, singing background vocals with the golden hair and sportcoat running around the stage was Jay Bennett. A force of nature. I love the band and all of their records. They were always playing around Chicago. But then one day Bennett had moved on . . . to Wilco.
It's an amazing run, three brilliant records culminating in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which comes out on the same day as Jay's collaboration with Edward Burch, The Palace at 4 a.m. (Part 1). Now while I loved Yankee, I really loved Palace. Was there anything the man couldn't do?
So, then it’s years later, and I’m talking to someone at a bar, and when I mention how much I love the run of three albums from Wilco which I call “the Jay Bennett era,” she responds, “Who?”
Time to make the Jay Bennett documentary.
I contacted Jay’s collaborator, Edward Burch, and he started the introductions, which lead to a producer role. I interviewed over 50 bandmates, family members, musicians, friends, managers, and labels. Went to his studio, other studios, hometown, from California to Boston. Then I started to lose my grip on the story. I was too close. But I really wanted Jay’s life story out there. Who could do this? I thought about the film Color Me Obsessed, a doc I resisted for years because who wants to see a film about a band but they're not in it. But when I finally saw it, I was knocked out. Gorman Bechard got it. He could explain why a great song will make the day right without ever playing a note from that song. He was the person to help me bring Jay's story to rock fans everywhere.
Gorman creates because he has to. It was that simple. He was working on four films and a book when I called, and it was that simple. But his passion about Wilco forced him to say yes. And here we are.
Who We Are
Gorman Bechard, co-owner of What Were We Thinking Films, has numerous feature-length documentaries and narrative features to his credit.
Gorman most recently directed the rock-doc Who is Lydia Loveless?, which is being released on DVD on November 24th, 2017, and the animal welfare documentary, A Dog Named Gucci, for which he was awarded the ASPCA Media Excellence Award 2015 for his work on that film.
As discussed, Gorman is also the director of Color Me Obsessed, which Rolling Stone called one of “The Seven Best New Music Documentaries of the Year.” As well as two other rock-docs: What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf live at Cat's Cradle, and Every Everything: the music, life & times of Grant Hart. His narrative features include the award-winning Friends (With Benefits), You Are Alone, and Broken Side of Time, and the horror cult classic Psychos in Love, which is scheduled for a major BluRay reissue on September 26th, 2017.
You can read an interview with Gorman Bechard in FilmMaker Magazine here. He is also co-founder of the NHdocs: the New Haven Documentary Film Festival, held every June at Yale. His full bio can be found here.
Our company, the micro-studio What Were We Thinking Films, founded in 2004, has a proven track record, with over 30 years of experience making feature films. And our usual cast of documentary-making fiends—Jay Smales, Jan Radder, Dorothy Schultz, Sarah Hajtol, Kara Yennaco, Cassia Armstrong, Dean Falcone, Scott Hudson—will all be on board to make sure this film rocks.
Fred Uhter of Wingman Studios has produced the feature-length documentary Drive Somewhere: The Saga of the Vulgar Boatmen, which played during the SXSW Music Festival. He has also made several documentary shorts, including The Blues are Dead, with Jimmy Johnson and Flim-Flam Man: The Kelly Christian Story. He has worked on industrial films and commercials, and manages marketing/sales efforts for the auto auction industry.
Fred is currently completing a documentary on Michael McDermott, whom Stephen King has called, “possibly the greatest undiscovered rock 'n' roll talent of the last 20 years."
Where Your Money Goes
The money raised for Where are you, Jay Bennett? will go toward the completion of filming, a lot more interviews! The $25,000 is the minimum we need, but we are hoping to raise much more than that so that we do not have to come back for additional Kickstarter campaigns. We keep the initial ask low because with Kickstarter if you don't reach your goal, you get nothing.
Additional funds raised over $25,000 will go toward post-production, insurance, a great sound mix, maybe some animation, an amazing score and soundtrack, and film festival fees. (Yes, making a film is expensive.) So, let’s aim for $75,000 or more!
What Happens If We Don't Reach Our Goal
If we fail to reach our funding goal, we get absolutely nothing. That means you keep any money you've pledged to donate. We only get that money (and your credit card is only charged) if and when we successfully fund our project. So please give what you can, because every little bit helps. And PLEASE share this page with other lovers of Jay, Wilco, and rock 'n' roll!
Follow Us On Facebook
Follow our Facebook page, where you can learn about what’s going on with Where are you, Jay Bennett?, as well as any updates, future screenings, and other noteworthy animal stories.
Some Photos Of Our Cool Rewards:
Risks and challenges
We always finish our films. They always get distribution. That is never an issue. The biggest challenge for us is finishing everything on time. Documentaries take on lives of their own. In a perfect world, the film will be done and playing festivals in early 2019. But this isn't always a perfect world. So worst case, it takes a little longer than we expected to deliver the DVDs and other rewards. But you will get them, and the film will only be better for it.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter