From Elvis’s iconic back-up divas, a homeless club hit wonder to an ambitious cabaret singer/rock hopeful and an inspiring producer impresario…THIS TIME follows the resurrecting careers of both musical legends and struggling lifers, in a music industry far removed from the overnight sensations of “American Idol”. The musicians are recording artists The Sweet Inspirations (best known as back-up singers for Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield), New York cabaret sensation Bobby Belfry, soul diva Pat Hodges (Hodges, James & Smith), composer/producer Peitor Angell and featuring gospel star Cissy Houston. An inspiring portrait of faith, talent and determination, wrapped in a soaring soundtrack, THIS TIME comes from Grammy Nominated Victor Mignatti, director of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet 13-22”, one of the most viewed videos in internet history.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you come up with the idea of making This Time?
Victor Mignatti: I had worked with music producer-composer Peitor Angell on many scores for television commercials and shorts over the years. He was producing the Sweet Inspirations’ first album in 23 years. I was a huge fan of The Sweets, having discovered their music a couple years earlier in a used record store while shooting a TV series in New Orleans. Peitor invited me to film a recording session and I quickly realized that there was possibly a film to be made.
BT: You are known for your comedy work, did it have any influence in the way you made This Time?
VM: Well, perhaps. I’m always sensitive to the humor that is inherent in awkward situations and there were many in the course of shooting THIS TIME. I think you see, throughout the film, how all of the recording artists use humor to deflect tension in a moment or to comment on their current state of affairs. They are all very self-aware people. There are so many intense moments and emotions for the artists in the film and the humor breaks that tension just when it would be too much.
BT: What was the most challenging aspect of making This Time?
VM: The financial aspects and music licensing, of course, but mainly the challenge of shooting as a one-man crew. Mixing audio and shooting at the same time is a little insane, but somehow I pulled it off. My first job was in the sound department at Du-Art Film Labs in New York where I made quarter inch to mag stock dailies transfers and recorded optical soundtracks for everything from CBS’ “60 Minutes” to films by the Maysles brothers, Woody Allen and Spike Lee. So I had enough basic knowledge to pull it off. I put together a fanny pack with an inexpensive audio mixer and three wireless mics and always recorded with the camera mic and sometimes a board-feed running to a DAT or mini-disc recorder.
BT: How did you manage to find the artists portrayed in This Time and how did you work with them?
VM: Except for Bobby Belfry, the artists were all working with Peitor. Bobby had seen my romantic comedy “Broadway Damage” and had sent me his CD. Something about the record hit me and I went to hear him in New York and discovered, to my surprise, that he was a singing bartender and an even more accomplished songwriter than his CD lead me to believe.
BT: Documentaries on music are hard to make as the power of musical parts manipulates the rest of the film, but you have a great balance in This Time, how did you manage to do it?
VM: The music creates the emotional through-line of the film. It’s not a film heavy on plot and action. The “plot” in THIS TIME is the emotion and the music supports that, especially Bobby’s songs, which add counterpoint and clarity to the action on screen. But the music also created running time issues. There is this unspoken law in the documentary world that a film needs to run between 87 and 90 minutes on the nose in order to be considered marketable, which I think is ridiculously limiting. Not all stories can nor should be told at such a break-neck pace.
BT: Your Cinéma vérité style of filmmaking has its own uniqueness, please tell us about the visual style of This Time.
VM: The style was all about intimacy. About getting close. I wanted the film to feel like it had been shot with a Leica rangefinder camera. Some scenes were shot only a few feet from the artists while they were working. That involves a great degree of trust from the subjects, which gets developed over time. I was also very much influenced by the 1973 PBS series “An American Family” which I saw as a kid. I loved how the camera would just hold on moments without cutting away. There is a scene with Pat Loud and her mother in which they eat sandwiches for what seems like an entire roll of film and hardly utter a word to each other yet it is absolutely riveting.
BT: How defining was the editing stage of This Time, did the film find its structure in the editing room?
VM: The editing defined everything. I certainly had ideas in terms of themes that started to emerge during the shooting, but I had no idea what the film would be until I started to put it together.