Interview: Max Fisher Talks Traverse City LipDub

Traverse City LipDub

Wish your life was more like a movie? The folks in my hometown, Traverse City, Michigan, got to find out when Fish Soup Films shot the Traverse City LipDub, an 8 1/2-minute film which aired at the beginning of many of the Traverse City Film Festival movies a couple weeks ago. It features the songs You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon and Jump by Van Halen, along with hundreds, possibly thousands of Traverse City residents.

A few weeks before the film festival, a call went out for folks to show up at the Open Space, a community gathering spot near downtown Traverse City, on July 17, 2011 to participate in the film. I can tell you that the people who did show up are brave souls, because it was about 100 degrees that day, and you’d never know it, watching the video. They all look calm, cool and relaxed.

The video was posted on YouTube, but experienced a glitch when YouTube pulled the audio because of copyright issues.You can still watch it on YouTube without the audio (at this writing), but it’s also posted on Vimeo (though I couldn’t get the video to run smoothly) and Facebook (A-ok there).

Traverse City LipDubI caught up with Max Fisher, head honcho at Fish Soup Films and a former intern for Michael Moore, founder of the Traverse City Film Festival, for a behind-the-scenes look at how it all came together.

Jane Boursaw: So, what’s the scoop on YouTube taking the audio off the film? Did you run into copyright issues?

Max Fisher: Yeah, they took the audio off.  We’re in the process of trying to fix it. I’m actually in the middle of converting it to send to Mr. [Paul] Simon so he can see what we’re trying to do.

So you have to get his okay to use the song then?

That’s what we’re trying to do, so that we don’t have to go through his publishing company. We’re trying to figure out exactly what we did wrong.  We thought we were within the Fair Use laws, since we’re working for a nonprofit organization.

How did you end up choosing those songs – You Can Call Me Al and Jump?

There were a bunch of songs that we all liked, and we bounced ideas back and forth and asked Michael [Moore] what he thought.  Those were the two songs that came out of the top five.

What other songs were in the running? 

One of them was We Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who.  It was a good choice for length and sound, but it really didn’t exemplify Traverse City that well.  The lyrics didn’t really make sense to me.

At first, You Can Call Me Al seemed like kind of an odd choice, but it made complete sense when I saw the video.

Yeah, I thought it turned out well. The puns on words they used turned out really well.

Did you have copyright issues with Jump, too?

We’ve contacted them, and we’re waiting to hear back. We’ve sent requests to both companies, and it could take up to two to three weeks before it gets fixed, but we’re trying to expedite the process.

Because you want to beat the Grand Rapids record [for views on the Grand Rapids LipDub]. 

I hope we do. Even without audio [on YouTube], we’re still climbing in views, which means the community is amazing.

How long did it take to pull the whole thing together from start to finish? 

From the conception of the idea to the actual shooting was right around three weeks.

Wow, that’s amazing.  Did you do a few trial runs before the final shoot?

We did a bunch of rehearsals.  We had an entire week’s worth of rehearsals.

Traverse City LipDub

Did you pick out the main singers before the day of the shoot?

Yeah, we had auditions when we first decided the songs. We had 50 to 60 people try out, and it was very difficult to even squeeze in the ones we had.

What about the various groups?  Were those picked out beforehand, or did they just show up that day?

A couple of them did show up that day, but we sent out calls on Facebook and told people to e-mail us if you want to get involved in the video.

It was SO hot that day, but everyone in the video looks cool and calm, even the ones who are running and really active. 

We had water for everybody, cool-down stations, if you will, where they could go to get some water.

Traverse City LipDub
Kayakers on the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City, Michigan

What was the hardest thing about the shoot for you guys?

I think the hardest thing was just the timing.  We wanted to make sure the timing moved perfectly. We were busy all three weeks, making sure that our driving and our timing was right.

Did you have a recording of the songs on the truck or something?

Yeah, we had a boom box with the songs playing — pretty loud.

Did you talk to other filmmakers who’ve done LipDubs to kind of figure it all out?

No, it was all trial and error. But we had a lot of fun.

So, you interned with Michael Moore, right?

Yes, on Capitalism: A Love Story.

What were you doing for him?

I did a lot of office work.  When I joined the team, they were in post-production, so I did a lot of research and transcribing of videos. Eventually, I went out and helped out on one segment.

Sounds like you got a good overview of what goes into a film like that. What’s it like working with him?

He’s great.  He’s really, really nice, and a lot of fun to work for.

Traverse City LipDub
The Toxic Cherries, a local roller derby team

And it seems like he’s really into helping filmmakers just starting out, too.

Exactly. All I expected out of the whole film festival and shooting this LipDub was to show it at the Open Space, but he screened it and sent an email to me saying ‘You know what?  Lets show it before tons of movies.’ And that’s what they did.

And every time it aired it was like seeing it for the first time.  People would applaud every single time. Even now, it makes me smile and get teary even though I’ve seen it lots of times. It just captures the area so perfectly — the kayakers on the Boardman River, the Native Americans, the Toxic Cherries Roller Derby [check them out on Facebook], Bryan Crough [Community Development Director]… 

Yeah, it all came together really well.

So what’s next for you and Fish Soup Films?

Right now, we’re juggling two projects.  We’re working on a documentary about HIV and AIDS, and we’re in negotiations with another city to shoot a LipDub for them.

Oh cool. Can you say which city it is?

Yeah, it’s Sedona, Arizona.

Traverse City LipDub
Bryan Crough, Community Development Director and all-around good guy

Will those projects be under the Fish Soup Films brand, too?


What can we do to help promote the Traverse City LipDub? 

Keep looking at the YouTube video. Keep telling people to comment on it, saying, hey, we’re here to support you and we love the video.

Thanks so much for taking time to talk with me. I’ll spread the word and look forward to seeing what you do next.

Great, thank you so much.

Images: Screenshots from the Traverse City LipDub | Fish Soup Films


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