Nic Beery, Carrboro resident and highly acclaimed documentary filmmaker, has just released his first full-length feature film, Sayonara to Hello. This is a thoughtful, honest portrayal of a modern-day magician trying to make ends meet.
On March, 11, 2011, Japan suffered tremendously from the effects of a massive earthquake and tsunami. Internationally renowned magician and comedic actor Steve Marshall had been living in Tokyo, Japan with his wife and two children for fourteen years when the earthquake hit. Fortunately, he and his family were not harmed in the catastrophe. However, the economic effects of the disaster were devastating to the country, and Marshall’s performance opportunities dwindled. Needing work, Marshall decided to head back to the United States and set up a month-long magic lecture tour of the east coast. He thought he might be able to make some money by teaching U.S. magicians some Japanese magic tricks, and then sell the supplies for the tricks to participants. It was a great idea in theory, but it turned out to be a lot tougher than he imagined.
Nic Beery knew Marshall 30 years ago when they were both clowns in Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, and they had kept in touch all these years. As soon as Beery heard about Marshall’s plan, he decided to come along on the tour for the chance to turn Marshall’s trip into a documentary film. Beery says, “I had been kind of nostalgic lately about Clown College and the circus, and Steve told me, ‘Nic, the tour I’m taking is pretty much the same exact path the Ringling Bros. train took when we were in the circus.'” That was all Beery needed to hear, and he immediately freed up the entire month of September and off they went. “With basically no budget, other than a Kickstarter campaign of online donations of $9,000, we were able to do it,” Beery explains. “A documentary feature film generally starts at $100,000, but we were able to do it because it was a labor of love. I am an editor, I was a one-man crew, me. But we did have a wonderful guy, Billy Scadlock, who was our tour manager and driver. This guy never got tired. This dude is incredible. He was also a Ringling Clown College alumni a few years before us in 1978.”
A FILM WITH A PURPOSE
The film was entitled Sayonara to Hello by Marshall as a way to say, “Goodbye to Tokyo, hello U.S.A.” These three former clowns set off in a mini-van with four goals in mind for this film-to-be.
- To retrace their footsteps from long ago and relive those memories of being on the road as clowns with Ringling Bros.
- To document what a road trip is like for a professional magician.
- To show what life is like in the 21st Century for working performers. There are very few places remaining where magicians and variety art entertainers can perform.
- To ask the questions, “How does someone actually live their dreams? Where is the work? How do you survive doing what you love to do? Do you have the ability to essentially be a gypsy?
A fifth, personal motivation for Beery to do this film was that, for thirty years, he had wanted to make a documentary about his experience in the circus, but never wanted it to be specifically about him. Beery explains, “I wanted to be in it in some capacity, but not ‘Oh, Nic did this.’ So when Steve told me about this tour, I saw this as a great opportunity to talk about experiences I had, with footage from the circus in the 1980’s, but it doesn’t focus primarily on me. Through Steve, I am able to tell this story that is close to me.”
This is why there is such a personal, sentimental feel to this film. Unlike most documentary film makers, whose usual role is to tell the story second-hand as an observer, Beery is in this story. He lived this story as a stage performer himself back in the day, traveling from city to city on Clown Car #54. Therefore, Beery has a unique insider’s view of the challenges faced by Marshall on this tour, and he does a fantastic job of capturing them on film.”
FOUR SHORTS MAKE A FULL FEATURE
Short documentaries is what Beery knows best, so he approached Sayonara to Hello, his first full-length feature film, as four separate documentaries: Being a clown in the 1980’s, life on the road as a traveling performer, Marshall’s magic performances and lectures on magic, and being true to yourself and living your dreams. He shot constantly for a month, traveling to eighteen cities, for a total of 30 hours of footage. Initially, Beery laid it all out chronologically, from the beginning of the tour at Marshall’s parents’ house in Zephyrhills, Florida, to their last stop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Then with help from local editing assistant Dave Parent, Beery spent five months in his studio in Carrboro, N.C. seamlessly and successfully integrating these four themes in a way that makes sense to the viewer and flows smoothly. Beery also did a wonderful job contrasting the fantasy world of magic and clowning, with the harsh reality of being on the road. “The one thing I strive for in all of my films, whether they be narrative or documentary, is honesty. People know when you’re lying in a film. I do think we’ve succeeded with this. I tried to make you feel like you’re on the road with us and what it feels like to be struggling like that.”
What results is an honest, insightful and touching tale of life on the road. The monotony of highway driving and stops at cheap hotels night after night ground the film with a familiarity to which all viewers can relate. Interspersed throughout this mesmerizing road trip of mundanity are these wonderfully intimate encounters they have in each city. These are the gems that make this film great. The most poignant scene is one where Marshall, Beery and Scadlock meet Luke Davis in Atlanta, GA. He is an autistic 22 year-old man who is a circus clown fanatic. He not only remembers the routines of these three clowns from thirty years ago, but also has memorized every Ringling Bros. clown act from 1953 on, and can perform them verbatim. It’s truly amazing. Marshall also has the opportunity to meet one of his magician heroes, Tony award-winner Bob Fitch, who offers some very sound advice that all performers can apply to their trade. For local audiences, a scene filmed at Open Eye Café in Carrboro, N.C. is really entertaining.
Nic Beery hired The Doug Largent Trio to create the music for the movie. The retro style of the band really makes the driving scenes move and the vintage clown scenes come alive. Beery says, “I think that the story is timeless, and I didn’t want something that sounded like today. The fact that his music could have been made today, and it could have been made in the fifties, was exactly the musical equivalent of what this film is. Doug’s improvisational style was amazing. For one scene I told him, ‘I need a little Hilton Head, beachy thing for about a minute and a half,’ and Doug pressed record, and did it in one take. Done. And that’s my favorite piece.” Largent enjoyed working with Beery, as well. “Nic is an experienced film-maker and he trusted that I would come up with something appropriate, and that made the song writing easy. In my experience in movie and television scoring, this was by far the easiest and most pleasant job.” Click here for a video of The Doug Largent Trio recording the soundtrack to Sayonara to Hello.
MOVIE WITH A MESSAGE
What really stuck with me from Sayonara to Hello, is something that Marshall says toward the end of the film. He said, “I use fear to motivate me, not to shut me down.” He turns the tables on fear — rather than being scared to do something, he tries to convince himself that it would be far scarier not to do something. He thinks, “What would happen if I don’t do it?” I simply love this philosophy, and it exemplifies what Beery hopes viewers take away from the film. “My hope for this film is that people who see this film feel inspired. Anybody who is a working performer, or knows a working performer, can benefit from it. I want people to live their dreams. I want people to not say, ‘I’m tied down with responsibility.’ And you know what, that’s commendable. I do it, too. I got my kids, I got my mortgage, I pay for health insurance — all of that is life. But you know what else is life? Following your passion. And if they see a spark in Billy and Steve and me in this film, they might say, ‘I am going to pick up that tuba. I am going to pick up that paintbrush.’ Then this film has done its job. And that’s why I made this film.”
WHERE TO SEE THE FILM
Sayonara to Hello’s world premiere will be at the Secret City Film Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee on September 23, 2012. It will also be screened at the Ava Gardner Independent Film Festival in Smithfield, N.C. on November 1-3, 2012. The DVD can be purchased at www.beerymedia.com/merchandise.
For more about Nic Beery and how he ended up in Carrboro, N.C., read The Chapel Hill Recorder Article: “Nic Beery”
Category: Arts & Entertainment