LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

A Documentary Love Letter To Nashville's Bluebird Cafe

COW Library : Film Festivals : Hillary Lewis : A Documentary Love Letter To Nashville's Bluebird Cafe
CreativeCOW presents A Documentary Love Letter To Nashville's Bluebird Cafe -- Film Festivals


Indianapolis, IN
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Erika Wollam Nichols’ debut documentary, Bluebird, is the love story of the iconic Bluebird Cafe, tiny cafe where massive stars are born. Out of this 90 seat venue next to a dry cleaners in Nashville, TN comes a staggering amount of legendary country artists: Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, Maren Morris and more.

Premiering at South by Southwest 2019 in Austin, TX, Bluebird reveals a raw, intimate side of these artists, before and after their fame, that you won’t see on any other stage. The film takes a heartfelt, deep-dive into the history since opening in 1982, the perseverance and passion of the Bluebird staff, and the magnitude of why auditions and performances at The Bluebird have launched so many iconic careers.





Even without knowing the cafe, you walk away with a nostalgia for this beloved venue and an unexpected appreciation for a music genre you don’t have to be familiar with.

Not only will you see live ‘In The Round’ performances of artists that were discovered at The Bluebird, but also see the songwriters take to the stage.

Creative COW’s Hillary Lewis sat down with Erika Wollam Nichols, the powerhouse behind the venue for the last 12 years after founder, Amy Kurland, retired. She talks on how she rose through the ranks from waitress to president and general manager, the obstacles she faced keeping The Bluebird Cafe alive amidst a dying breed of dive bars, and how she took on the massive project of producing a documentary with little to no experience in production or post.



Erika Wollam Nichols

Creative COW: Tell us about your personal journey from waitress and bartender at The Bluebird into running the entire day-to-day operations.

Nichols: I was a philosophy major at Belmont University. I loved music and had played guitar but never thought about the music business, but I worked at The Bluebird the whole time I was at Belmont.

After I graduated from Belmont in 1988, I went home to Massachusetts and got accepted to Vanderbilt for my PhD in philosophy. I kept deferring my admission while working in my studio there, and Amy Kurland, who founded The Bluebird, was my roommate and we were very good friends. She hooked me up with a big festival in Nashville that was looking for somebody to book the talent.

She was like "Well you’d be great!" But I didn’t know one thing about it. I didn’t know there was a musicians’ union. I didn’t know what back line was. I had no idea. But I faked it, and I did that job for five years.

It was a big festival, kind of like the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where there are stages all over downtown. It was a very low budget, $100,000 for 300 acts and everybody got paid musicians’ union scale, which I didn’t know anything about at the time either.

It introduced me to the entire Nashville community. Because we had dance schools and the theater and the symphony, and all of these pieces of the creative community. And I got to know everybody while also bartending at The Bluebird.

All of a sudden I deferred my admission to grad school [indefinitely] and realized ‘Well I guess I’m in this now.’

From there, I was doing the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival for five years and then I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and ended up as their Vice President of Marketing.

And then The Bluebird came along when Amy decided to retire. I thought, "Well I’ll just book the talent, do some of the brand development, this will be great." And then suddenly I was in charge of everything.

Eventually I wanted to make a film about The Bluebird. Because it hadn’t been done, the story hadn’t been told. I was so taken by the fact when I was first there, people like John Prine and Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt would all come in the back door and they were my heroes.

I thought to myself, “What is this place? What does it mean to people?” And I saw through the years what it does mean to people and how songwriters responded. How Amy created that kind of development for up and coming songwriters. And what a unique place The Bluebird was.

And so I started on that journey of putting it out there. We need to make a movie. What are we going to do?

We had a couple of people who’d come in, shot footage, put together some teasers, but nothing really stuck until I met up with Brian Loschiavo and Jeff Molyneaux. I had no idea how to make a movie, just like I had no idea how to book a festival. But I had the best partners in those guys.


Erika Wollam Nichols and Brian Loschiavo


How did you find your crew and what were you looking for? Was it important for them to have a passion for The Bluebird?

Brian, our producer and director, is a songwriter and his reaction right off the bat was to say ‘We’ll invest in this with you. We’re not going to come in as work-for-hire and you write us a check every week… we’re going to be in this together.’

And that’s what carried through the entire project. Everybody wanted to be there. They were all people that understood The Bluebird.

I’ve worked with a lot of crews. People want to film at The Bluebird all the time. But in order to film in there you have to have a particular sensitivity to how it flows. I’ve had crews come in and just bully their way through that room. And they’re like ‘Little lady, we know what we’re doing.’ [motions a pat on the head] Well, you don’t know what you’re doing in this room.

It would really irk me. This is my place and if I’m asking you to do it this way, it’s because it’s the right way to handle this room. And so Jeff and Brian absolutely got that right from the first moment.





Do you believe any of those attitudes came because you’re a woman?

I wouldn’t say no. I would never say no to that because it happens for all of us, for all women to be taken seriously. Maybe we’re more aware of it, but I do feel like they’re patting me on the head like ‘You don’t really know what us guys know about running a film crew.’

Most crews are men behind the camera, so it was very significant to work with Brian and Jeff who never said that. They had an understanding right off the bat of ‘let’s figure out the best way to shoot this.’

Jeff has crawled under tables to get the right angle. Because you really have to physically feel the place and take the audience into consideration. Their experience is really important. And capturing their experience on film was really important, to be able to show what it feels like to be in that tiny room and how it can capture you physically.


Was it a challenge finding the right storyline with all the live performances you filmed specifically for the documentary and mixing that with past archival performances?

It was definitely an evolution of the project. So, Brian had created a very loose story line and pieces of it just fell away. I mean we did all of these shoots and then came back to the fact that they were too peripheral. It wasn’t telling the story of this place.

And so we talked a lot about what’s the story we’re telling. And Brian would revise scene structures, or we’d just talk about where this scene really belonged and so it was a real education for me into how you create a story flow when it’s episodic.


It seemed like each performance is its own story. It was interesting to see how you tackled that while telling the history of The Bluebird and adding in all these performances that were filmed specifically for this documentary.

Yeah and some that weren’t. You’ll see that we did a show in partnership with CMA. And it was songs that were either nominated or received a CMA Song of the Year award, or Songwriter of the Year. But Steven Lee Olsen’s performance of "Blue Ain’t Your Color" wasn’t something we intended to put in.

The Warren Brothers did a song called "Without a Song" that I loved and thought this song has to be in the movie. So, we filmed their show. It was great and yet when it all came together it wasn’t the song that made it into the film, it was "Highway Don’t Care". Because it worked more with the narrative.

There are songs that are quintessentially Bluebird songs. "Sixteenth Avenue" that opens the show, sung by the songwriters. "The Dance", of course, because Garth Brooks first heard "The Dance" at The Bluebird Cafe.

"The Gambler", Don Schlitz’s song, Don plays once a month too, he’s one of the founders of the Songwriters In The Round format and very significant to The Bluebird’s development. So, those songs had to be in there.




Besides striking the right tone with the storyline, what was the biggest challenge in the making of this film?

Brian and I really wanted an original song for the movie. We wanted an Oscar-material, original song, from a voice in the Nashville community. We wanted it to be very specifically directed to the film.

I asked Luke Laird and Barry Dean to do it. They were so involved and had so much history, and they write together a lot. So, it’s like these guys came up through The Bluebird and their experience made them the perfect guys to write our original song.

But I refused to show them the film beforehand. I didn’t want them to direct their song towards the movie, I wanted to have their experience in song and what it felt like for them, what they saw The Bluebird as, and the way they wanted to talk about it. So we didn’t get the song until after we did our first rough cut.

So that was an interesting challenge. We went back and forth a lot on where this song would live now. We thought, ‘How do you interject something really significant and powerful into what you’ve already got in your brain as a rough cut?’ So we really juggled things around and found the spot for it, which is in and around the auditionees. And it works great. It’s perfect.





Bluebird will be screening at the Newport Beach Film Festival - Tuesday, April 30 at 5:45pm PT (Triangle Theater 8) and Thursday, May 2 at 12pm PT (THE LOT Theater 2), details here.



Related Articles / Tutorials:
Film Festivals
Sundance Ignite Fellowship For Emerging Directors: 2020 Could Be Your Year After All

Sundance Ignite Fellowship For Emerging Directors: 2020 Could Be Your Year After All

Nobody knows how the rest of 2020 and beyond will shape filmmaking and film festivals, but there’s no need for young filmmakers to put their careers on hold. The Sundance Institute and Adobe are looking for 10 documentary or narrative directors between the ages of 18 and 25 who’ve completed a short between one and 15 minutes long any time since August 2018 to receive Sundance Ignite fellowships as part of a year-long program that includes mentorship, artist grants, internships and program opportunities, an annual membership to Adobe Creative Cloud, and a trip to the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.


Tim Wilson
Film Festivals
Making the Documentary ‘Ernie & Joe’

Making the Documentary ‘Ernie & Joe’

Creative COW’s Hillary Lewis sits down with Jenifer McShane at SXSW to talk about her latest documentary feature following two unique police officers who approach the mental health crisis in San Antonio, TX in a new, inspiring way.

Feature, People / Interview
Hillary Lewis
Film Festivals
A Conversation with HBO's Asian American Visionaries: Director Huay-Bing Law

A Conversation with HBO's Asian American Visionaries: Director Huay-Bing Law

From HBO comes the Asian Pacific American Visionaries contest, now in its second year, which provides three emerging filmmakers of Asian and/or Pacific Islander heritage a platform to showcase their talent and voices. I spoke with all three visionaries to discuss their shorts and explore their unique voices. In the third and final part of my series, I focus on my conversation with Huay-Bing Law.

People / Interview
Clarence Deng
Film Festivals
HBO's Asian American Visionaries: Director Feng-I Fiona Roan

HBO's Asian American Visionaries: Director Feng-I Fiona Roan

HBO presents its Asian Pacific American Visionaries contest. Now in its second year, the program provides three emerging filmmakers of Asian and/or Pacific Islander heritage a platform to showcase their talent and voices. In part two of my series, I focus on my conversation with Feng-I Fiona Roan.

People / Interview
Clarence Deng
Recent Articles / Tutorials:
Business & Career Building
How To Succeed in the Business of Video Storytelling

How To Succeed in the Business of Video Storytelling

You may have great storytelling chops, but it doesn’t matter if you can't help your client tell theirs. Nobody knows this better than Rob Shore, who began his filmmaking career in 2005, honing his skills as a creative director with an in-house video team in Washington D.C. before establishing his own video production company, Picture This Productions in 2015. Adobe's Eric Philpott spoke to Rob about the challenges of storytelling when it’s someone else’s story.


Eric Philpott
Adobe After Effects
Adobe Creative Cloud September 2020 Update: Streamlined workflows that make storytelling easier

Adobe Creative Cloud September 2020 Update: Streamlined workflows that make storytelling easier

The current environment is forcing us to rethink and reimagine so much. Content creators, from broadcasters to streaming services to social video creators, are finding new ways of working that prove creativity and resourcefulness are inherent to the video industry. Adobe's Eric Philpott explores Adobe's developments in response to the ever evolving challenges we face today.

Editorial
Eric Philpott
Adobe After Effects
Makin' Planets! Saturn (with rings and shadows)

Makin' Planets! Saturn (with rings and shadows)

In this video, Graham shows how to make Saturn's rings using Polar Coordinates, then use an Alpha Invert Matte along with a simple expression to cut the rings out.


Graham Quince
Adobe After Effects
Makin' An Eclipse

Makin' An Eclipse

In this tutorial for Adobe After Effects, I use the Circle effect, Fractal Noise, Polar Coordinates and CC Light Rays to create a 2D solar eclipse.

Tutorial
Graham Quince
Adobe Premiere Pro
What Adobe Premiere Pro Is Trying to Tell You About Performance

What Adobe Premiere Pro Is Trying to Tell You About Performance

To an editor/creator, there is nothing more frustrating than a timeline that won’t respond quickly when scrubbing or one that won’t play in real time. Join Adobe's Dave Helmly for an inside look at how their UI designers came up with color and badge indicators on the Timeline to give you that “over the shoulder” view of how Premiere Pro is reading the formats and what kind of performance you should expect.


Dave Helmly
Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe Live: Build Your Video Skills in Five Daily Challenges, Aug. 17-21

Adobe Live: Build Your Video Skills in Five Daily Challenges, Aug. 17-21

Editing video is a creative task, observes Adobe Senior Product Marketing Manager Eric Philpott. Yet most tutorials skew toward the practical functions of the software, with less emphasis on the art of storytelling itself. Read on to learn how you can raise your creative editing game in five daily challenges hosted online at Adobe Live, happening the week of August 17-21. Hosted by Adobe's Jason Levine, you'll download free assets to help learn the specifics of multicam editing, color grading, repurposing your work for social sharing, and much more, followed by sharing your results online and talking about the process with other editors.


Eric Philpott
MORE
© 2020 CreativeCOW.net All Rights Reserved
[TOP]