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Thom Leavy’s passionate documentary On Vinyl: Revival and Survival gets its World Premiere at the New Jersey Film Festival on Sunday, September 15, 2019!


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 09/10/2019

Thom Leavy’s passionate documentary On Vinyl: Revival and Survival gets its World Premiere at the New Jersey Film Festival on Sunday, September 15, 2019!

Here is my interview with On Vinyl Director Thom Leavy:

Nigrin: Your documentary On Vinyl: Revival and Survival  is about the resurgence of vinyl taking place nationally and internationally. Please tell us more about your film and why you decided to make it? 

Leavy: I've been collecting records since my grandfather found a very cheap record player gathering dust in his basement and a couple albums that hadn't made it to the curb with the rest of them years earlier. I soon learned that record shops are soothing. Finding stuff you've been looking for is gratifying. Sharing them with people is exciting.

My friends love when I lug this stuff out to a house party, and occasionally some local venue needs me to serve as filler between local bands. There's not a lot of that going on from what I've found in Jersey, but I figured in New York—the mecca of record shops with a night life industry that probably has more manpower than the NYPD—there have to be guys carrying that torch, digging through crates on stage. I found a group of them, followed their founder for a day, and had the most fun I've ever had with a camera. 

As I looked more into the money and numbers behind this culture story, I pivoted to a wider focus: are records really making a revival? Or is this some sort of enduring fad that is more window dressing than it is comeback? It turns out this is hard to definitively answer because, like all things pop culture, it is riddled with strong feelings and personal opinions. The supporting arguments to these points often had to do with stuff I hadn't even considered. If record stores, even legendary ones, can't afford their rent, if most record sales are online retail, if records are just digital records pressed on wax... are we bringing back a culture or a product?



 
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Part of vinyl's charm is that it's antiquated, and it's antiquated because things have changed. A lot of passionate and talented people watched the bus drive off, and maybe don't feel like it's exactly come back to pick them up so much as flown past them again.

Nigrin:  As a fellow record collector, it is heartening to see vinyl making a comeback. Do you think the vinyl revival will be sustained?

Leavy: The short answer is yes. On the balance of optimistic and pessimistic answers to this question I've encountered, I don't think it's going away any time soon. I don't think it's going to ever be as niche as it was fifteen years ago. A lot of people will dismiss it all as hipsterdom, which I think is cynical. People around my age came from this sweet spot where Napster meant free CDs, and then iPods meant no more CD players, but you basically had your playlists, and now that is an inconvenience in itself, so you stream music, often with ads. Curated by algorithms. Barely monetizing the artists performing this art. 

There's something nice about records having no screens. You can turn off the many ways everything has become interconnected and sit there with nothing on but a record player. Some people just like having this object that is a totem of what the music on it means. Good times the first time they heard it. Hard times it once played behind like a soundtrack. 

These are masterpieces you can have as they were meant to be enjoyed. Starry Night wasn't made to be a $5 poster. 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn't made to be watched in a living room. A lot of music, however, wasn't necessarily made to be played live, or in a club. It was just meant to be played. Vinyl lets you tune everything else out, drop the needle and let this black magic fill the room. You're not just playing music, you're playing your music.

Nigrin: How long did it take to make this film and how did you secure the funding for it?

Leavy: It was definitely made in fits and starts for a year and a half. There was a lot of grad school, commuting to and from Midtown and a time intensive internship in that timeframe. Had all these interviews been lined up in a shorter window, it could have been shot and edited in one summer. I missed out on capturing the unfolding of a story within this story--something like six record shops, mostly veteran institutions, shut down in Manhattan alone while I was doing my summer internship. 



 
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Funding was nonexistent; I filmed a lot of my own life, traveled to and from shoots on my own dime, and had access to the quality run-and-gun equipment the Newmark School of Journalism has on loan to students. Having access to good equipment was crucial, but it was still a bare bones production that I shot and edited largely alone.

Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to our readers?

Leavy: Firstly, if you don't have one, buy a record player. A serviceable one can be incredibly cheap. Buy your five favorite records on vinyl. There is at least one shelf in your house that has a bunch of stuff on it you're tired of looking at--put it in a box and build a shrine to your taste and the music that moves you. 

Secondly, if you are an aspiring documentary film maker, and you have the good fortune of getting guidance from an experienced and knowledgeable director/producer, learn to resist the gag reflex when your creative vision is being challenged. I am proud of my final product, but an extremely talented woman gave me some great critiques that I barely let through into this documentary. I wish I could show you that version, but it doesn't exist, so I hope you'll come see how it all turned out.

Here is more info on this screening:

On Vinyl: Revival and Survival – Thom Leavy (South Amboy, New Jersey)  Filmmaker Thom Leavy reflects on the unexpected revival of the vinyl record in a world that has all but forgotten the physical medium. 2019; 15 min. Q+A Session with Director Thom Leavy!

Ex Disposer – Daniel Ferrer (East Rutherford, New Jersey)  Ex Disposer follows Andy, a destructively neurotic former drummer for a New Jersey hardcore band. Nostalgic for his days behind the kit, Andy attempts to reunite with his bandmates, but first, he must deal with the bad blood that was shed during his split from the group. 2019; 18 min.

Two Trentons Brad Mays (Frenchtown, New Jersey)  In this hard-hitting yet affectionate portrait of urban decline and revival, filmmaker Brad Mays documents life in the “two Trentons” of New Jersey’s capital city.  Featuring compelling interviews with Trenton’s resilient citizens, an original score by Jon Negus, and shattering footage of the infamous 'Art-All-Night' shootout. 2019; 90 min. Q+A Session with Director Brad Mays!

Co-sponsored by the Rutgers University American Studies Department!

Sunday, September 15, 2019 at 7:00 PM 
in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey

$14= Advance; $12=General; $10=Students+Seniors

Information: (848) 932-8482;
www.njfilmfest.com

 



Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.


 
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