Real Musicians Get Fake Auditions in Film About Record-Industry Con Artists

Evoking early ’70s American cinema, especially Robert Altman and his love of the zoom lens, Great World of Sound depicts a group of talent scouts working for a scam record label. Martin (Pat Healy) and Clarence (Kene Holliday) travel around the South and Midwest auditioning musicians, who then have to put up several thousands of their own money to make an album. Director Craig Zobel combines narrative and documentary elements provocatively, incorporating hidden camera auditions of real artists. The result is a superbly acted film that feels unlike any other recent American indie work.

Watch the trailer, below.

F&V: What formats did you shoot Great World of Sound in?
CRAIG ZOBEL: I actually didn't shoot on HD. I finished the whole project on HD. The beginning and the end of the film and the more dramatic scenes were shot on Super 16. At the time, I was really adamant that film looked better than video. The scenes in the hotel rooms where I was using long takes and three cameras at a time were technically impossible to do on film. So I shot those on the [Panasonic] DVX-100. Now, looking back and after seeing Fay Grim this year, where I forgot that it was shot on HD, I've changed my tune. In retrospect, I should have shot the whole film on video. It was really hard to make sure the whole film looked the same. We finished it on HD in order to do that.

That must have made post-production challenging.
It wouldn't have been so challenging if I made the movie in one format, but I really wanted to use the long lenses you can get in film. I couldn't afford to get three HD cameras. I also thought, "This may be the only movie I ever get to make, so I better use film." Now the HD cameras have gotten so much better in the past two years.

How do you think they compare to 35mm?
They're still not quite as good. What I thought worked specifically in Fay Grim was the Dutch angles. Maybe the weirdness of the compositions helped. He obviously shot on a very long lens for the whole film and shot a lot of interiors with side lighting. He did a lot of tricks that make HD look better. In certain circumstances, you can make it look similar to 35mm.

In what part did you use the Steadicam?
There wasn't a scene that called for a 20-minute Steadicam shot. A friend of mine who's an awesome AC had just bought his own Steadicam and volunteered to let me play with it. He taught me a lot. Specifically, there's a scene of a role-playing game between two salesmen when they're outside in a courtyard. That's my favorite scene in the movie. I wasn't using Steadicam to do shots that go all over the city or anything crazy, but he showed how to change the composition four times in the shot without
the audience noticing. There's one scene where Pat's walking up to a girl's apartment that was shot on Steadicam. The hallway was really skinny. He's walking up the stairs. There would've been no way to put a dolly or even a tripod down and have two actors standing in the actual location, since it wasn't a set. Without Steadicam, you couldn't show them walking up the stairs and going into the apartment.

What were the challenges of creating a set that could be shot with a hidden camera?
My goal was that I didn't want to make the fact that I was using a hidden camera into a gimmick. I was doing it for performance reasons. I was really excited by the Maysles brothers' Salesman, which is about door-to-door Bible salesmen. I wasn't trying to make Borat. I didn't want it to be obvious that the camera's behind the plants or in a bag.

I've never seen such complex camera movements with a hidden camera before.
We built sets to accommodate it. Our production office backs up against a warehouse. We had the use of it as well. We made a pathway so a person could come into the front of the office and walk into the front of the warehouse without realizing it. We built these sets where we cut holes in the walls and put 2 cameras on dollies and a third camera on a tripod with operators and dolly grips. I was there with three monitors. You didn't know where people would sit. Just naturally, they're going to shift around and then you need to move the camera to get the right angle. I wanted to use the dollies because it was a good way to get a lot of footage. We could light the set, put a dolly track down and send it going in both directions without having to do two lighting setups. We had so little time to make the movie that it was a stylistic choice based on necessity. With the dollies, you're not necessarily going to realize you're watching a hidden camera.

While I was watching it, I didn't realize it was hidden camera.
In the set that has a kitchenette in it, we took the microwave there, hollowed the guts out of it and put it against the wall. We put a fake front on the microwave and mounted a tripod head in the middle of it. We were trying everything we could. The two-way mirrors had to seem legitimate. That was tricky. There was one guy, who we'll get on the DVD extras, who walked
in and said "You're trying to play me."

Had you thought about other ways of shooting the auditions?
The shooting was really a collaboration between myself, cinematographer Adam Stone and Richard Wright, who was a producer. Between us, I explained that I didn't want the audience to know when we were in documentary mode or narrative mode. It was a real organic process. I didn't ever want a static camera.

Were the zooms a way of increasing the possibilities of the camera within a limited space?
Initially, it grew out of that. Halfway through the production, I decided I loved zooming and would do it in the narrative part as well. I got obsessed with it. For the zooms, we had 16mm lenses, which I think look like ’70s cinema. We were using a doubler for some scenes. In some points, it's a zoom lens on a doubler, so we were shooting from 50 yards away.

Do you have any advice for beginning filmmakers?
Battle your impatience. There's a saying that a movie can be high-quality, inexpensive or fast, and you can only get two of those at the expense of the third. The only one you can sacrifice is speed. If you're on a low budget, take your time and plan everything. Time is the only thing working in your favor. It took three years to get this movie made – which is not as long as some people. It was shot in the summer of 2005. I had written the first draft of the script in 2001, started casting in November 2004 and by the time we were shooting I had shot lists of everything. We were sometimes trying to do nine pages a day. We had diagrams of what we were going to shoot next. Everyone had to be on the same page or we weren't going to be able to get it done. I've seen movies that are good but flawed in ways that come out of the attitude that velocity is more important than planning.