I hadn’t made a film in three years when I started working on this project and I had no idea what I was doing.
It had been so long since I’d worked on any type of film that rusty would have been a polite term for my filmmaking skills, when I started shooting. I made no plan. I wrote no script. I had no shot list. I just showed up, turned on my camera, and trusted that I would slowly remember what I was doing. Somewhere about half way through the process, an idea would come to me, a way to mold the footage into something modestly cohesive, as it always has. Making this film was just about having confidence in the fact that I’ve made multiple films over the last six years, and letting things fall into place naturally.
Golden Girls Opening
The Golden Girls opening is my personal favorite section of the film, because many years in the past, I’d come up with an idea to record a speed metal version of the Golden Girls theme song. Josh’s Golden Girls Played Like Dave Lombardo was amazing, to me.
I spent at least an hour studying the opening of the TV show, watching it over and over again, closely paying attention the construction and timing, and then ended up falling into a two day Golden Girls binge, which I barely survived. As luck would have it, the montage starts with a quick scene of the sun. Five days earlier, I had filmed a sun rise on Lake Michigan, to get the opening shot, not really knowing what I was going to use it for, but if was perfect for the opening of Josh’s film piece.
The secondary opening, with the outhouse, and the Golden Girls segue music and establishing shot – the shot which shows where the characters in the story live – even though it’s only ten second long, was the most amount of work to get.
I didn’t want to show Josh’s house in the film piece, because he lives in a very small town, and likes his privacy, so I sought out a funny building to put him in.
I traveled north from Peshtigo into MIchigan’s Upper Penninsula, search for the perfect place for Josh’s drumming to live. I knew I wanted the building to be something amusingly small.
I drove about one-hundred fifty miles when I finally found the outhouse, featured in the film, at a rest stop in Hiawatha National Forest. I also took some time to rock my Land Rover on the logging roads, because fuck it, why not?
There were a couple of buildings I found that would have worked, from a broken down old tool shed, to a 1969 RV, but the outhouse had the best background, access to a shot of a moving vehicle, and if you look closely, I even spent the time matching the vehicle from the opening Peshtigo shot, both of which are white 4 x 4’s, by standing there by the highway filming and waiting for the correct type of vehicle to pass.
All in all, that ten seconds of film took me almost three days of travel, to capture, but if you get the joke, it’s totally worth the expense.
Josh’s Drum Room – Origins Interview
This was the first piece of film that we shot. I’d only met Josh an hour earlier, we shared a meal, and then we headed to his house. I used a Panasonic HC x1000 to film this interview, but if you can hear the slightly constrained nature of the sound of Josh’s voice, it’s because we ended up with a really high noise floor, and a barking dog in the background, which I had to beat out of the mix.
I would have used a lavaliere microphone , but I am on the road all the time and can only carry so much gear with me. I was already traveling when we decided to make this, so I had no way of knowing I’d need a lav when I left my house months earlier. Josh lives about three hundred miles from the nearest camera store, as well, and it was going to take three days to ship, if I ordered on the internet, so we worked with what we had.
The reality is that if I turn down the drums, suddenly one can hear the barking dogs. If I used a noise gate, the noise floor was so high that the gating was very apparent. I ended up using a noise reduction plug-in, which adds certain artifacts, and was able to deliver a reasonably audible and clear audio stream for Josh’s voice. Also, if you notice the “TV” references in the film, you’ll note that old television is the underlying design theme, so his voice just sounds like voices used to sound on CRT televisions that were using air reception from local broadcast channels.
Since we had almost no preparation time, whatsoever, and there was no script, using a stream of consciousness as a path of development, that gets a filmmaker into tricky situations. With this project, there were a lot of audio issues, since it’s was just me and I did not have an audio guy on hand to help me deal with unexpected noises in and around our filming environment.
Roughly four days into working on the piece, I finally came up with a solid way to tie the film together. I contacted Josh and asked him to send me a drum solo that I could use as a foundation for the opening interview. He sent me a file back, appropriately titled Matt’s Beat Off Session which was about six minutes of drumming that I picked apart into the solo that is playing in the background of the interview.
I chose to use black and white for the drum solo because I’d already edited the third section of the film, which had color drumming, and black and white interviews. I thought that it would add some overall cohesion if I reversed that order using black and white drumming, and color interviews, in the first section. It’s not unlike applying, to a piece of film, the same type of thinking that Metallica used on Unforgiven, where they used a heavy verse, and a soft chorus as a counter balance to their previous “chick song” repertoire of soft verses and heavy choruses.
Considering I had not really picked up a camera in over three years for any form of serious project, I’m happy with the way the first part came out.
Peshtigo Park – The Coffee Cup Is Empty
Enter the beast, the noisiest camera I have ever used, a Canon T6, which I’d purchased only the night before. My aforementioned rusty filmmaking skills, and my lack of familiarity with the camera, caused me to shoot the entire second half of the film with the stabilizer off. Also, since I took it out of the box and didn’t turn it on until the first time I shot with it, I did not realize how noisy the focus ring was, loudly picked up by the T6’s internal microphone.
We’d shot one day at Josh’s house, the next day in a park in Peshtigo, and then I went back for a third day of shooting, to capture the b-roll footage that is featured all throughout the film. It was after that I noticed my stabilizer error.
Imagine my panic, after at least two weeks of travel and expenses, loading up that footage, hearing the focus rung noise, and seeing the shaky shots. At first, I thought what we had captured was completely unusable, which was depressing, because that interview turned out to be the most close and personal chunk of film I was able to get. We couldn’t really go back and do it again, or we’d lose the organic flow of the conversation.
As I was traveling away from Wisconsin, I ended up in a shitty hotel in Iowa, that still had CRT TV’s. When I turned it on and saw how terrible the picture was, I realized that I could add some CRT TV damage to the film to help stabilize it.
I could have flown the footage into After Effects, and deleted the mapping points on the Warp Stabilizer, to correct the wobbling and rippling in the film that one gets when they stabilize handheld interview footage, but when that is applied to the film, you get a strange floating background, where the character appears to be visually hovering in their environment.
I sat down at my computer, and said to myself, “Alright, let’s polish this turd, by making it look worse.” I also had all kinds of issue with wind noise, which I had preempted by taping a piece of a cymbal pad over the on board microphone hole in the camera, but I still had some low end noise to wrestle out of the final mix. I liken working on the audio for this film to slowly beating a china cymbal into shape, like if it got any worse I was going to have to use an actual hammer to fix the audio issues, by smashing my computer thus deleting the film, ostensibly.
I wasn’t aware, at this point, that the the camera was so noisy. There are points in the interview where I had to just chop out entire piece of the interview to get rid loud noises. At one point, if you listen closely, and wait for the TV to go out of tune when he says, “I think most people would say fuck Slipknot, greedy bastards,” you can hear a the sound of the focus ring, very audibly, to the extent that I just lampshaded the noise with video glitch.
Most of these technical struggles I’m detailing out were not present in my last project, which was a music video for Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater and Rod Morgenstein from Winger, because when I made that video for them, I was on filmmaking fire, and it was the third film I’d completed in twelve months prior. When I sat down to edit The Josh Steffen Show, it was very clear that I was out of practice, especially navigating my editing software, but after a couple of days of practice, my skills came back.
Josh’s Drum Room – Lars Interview
Even though it’s the third section of the film, it’s the second section we shot, on day one of shooting. You can see that by that time both Josh and I were much more comfortable with each other, and talking about our favorite subject, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich.
While it had not been released yet, Josh also interviewed me about the time I stole Lars Ulrich’s New York Times from Metallica’s studio in The Bay Area, with the permission of Lars, himself, and as you can see, we both share a mutual love for all things Metallica.
I was first introduced to Josh Steffen when a friend posted one of Josh’s funny Lars drum covers, so it was only fitting that we come full circle and have a meeting of the minds on the subject of Lars Ulrich.
You’ll note that the DrumThief.com logo changed to a Metallica-esque styling for the final section of the film. I got that from some random Metallica logo generator I found on Bing, but didn’t have access to Photoshop, so I had to actually color key out the background, and use feathering, to create that.
The extremely vivid colors in the drumming scenes are a Cartoon effect, but with the feathering turned so far up that it makes the edge lines dissolve to almost invisible, giving the scene a radiant type of glow, coupled with a few other secret weapon effects. Just like the first section of the film, this part also has audible transitions, which is something you’ll note on TV shows like Entertainment Tonight, just to try to bring the user as close of a TV style experience as they can get on YouTube.
All about Josh Steffen
He really is who you think he is, a nice guy, working his ass off to support his family, that had random YouTube success, entirely based on his beastly drum talents. There is nothing pretentious or egotistical about the man. He is about as humble and down to Earth as a human being can possibly get.
I’m sure his wife would be happy for me to report that when I entered his house, with no advanced warning of my visit, his house was spotless and well cared for, I think because she beats Josh if he doesn’t clean it, but the thing I’ll tell you here, the thing that impresses me the most, is that he has these dogs that bark and bark and bark, yet I have never heard one of them in his videos.
Traveling down into his drum lair was a legendary moment for me. I was surprised to learn that his black back ground he recently added is just two black blankets, something I had never spotted before, because of the way he colors his videos.
Of course, since almost everything I know about drum shredding, I learned from Josh, I sat down on his set, and pounded out some Joey Jordisson drum fills, noting quickly that he has almost zero resistance set on his drum pedals, opposed to my pedals, in which I play off the tension, or the only way I can play fast, but Josh’s limbs, they just move that way naturally.
At the end of the last shoot he presented me with signed broken cymbal, which will go on my wall of fame back home.
I can tell you one final thing about Josh. He’s a guy that deserves the success he’s had, and deserves even more. I hope that by making a film about him, and helping him put this website together, that it can be the catalyst that allows him to take his drumming career even further than he’s already taken it himself.
Matthew “Mr. Gonzo” Berdyck