On the eve of the film’s release in North America, Tommy Baker talks up his confronting new movie on Louisville’s Eastern Cemetery – which has been systemically re-using graves over and over.
Let’s talk filmmaking, first. Why filmmaking?
Tommy Baker: I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time! I think like all of us I just got the bug. A friend of mine asked me to help out on a short film he was shooting in his apartment way back in 2003 and I’ve been smitten ever since. I grew up watching movies and it never occurred to me I could make one until I saw it happen in real life.
I had been writing short stories and little comic books from a young age and dabbled in writing and performing with a band in high school and for a few years after, but when I was introduced first hand to film making I felt I had finally found my art form. At first it was just a hobby or an outlet but now I pay my bills with videography and editing services and I am constantly involved with multiple film projects on all different types of levels.
And did you start, as most of us do, shooting shorts and home movies just to hone the skills?
Absolutely. Even present day with two feature films under my belt I work on short films, both mine and helping out friends all the time. There is no place I would rather be than on set, whether that’s my buddy’s living room with a couple of local actors or a large scale production.
What was the first thing you ever shot professionally?
Wow. Great question. I think the first time I ever actually received payment for filming something was a music video. Many of my first gigs were small local artist doing music videos and concert footage since I had a background as a musician and then I started getting into weddings. I still really enjoy shooting weddings and music videos to this day.
And while getting films like Facing East going, have you had to hold down a day job too?
Yes. Throughout most of working on Facing East, which was over the course of about six years, myself as well as most of my team had day jobs. We had literally no budget for the doc so everyone who worked on it did so because they believed in the film. I grew up with this movie.
When I filmed at Eastern Cemetery for the first time in 2013 I was just an amateur film maker with a 5D. Over the course of working on it I quit my day job to start a Videography business with my brother, I had the opportunity to work on several feature films in various capacities and finally wrote and directed my first narrative feature last year which we are currently in post production on. After all that we are now finally able to release this documentary which goes all the way back to the beginning of my career in the film and video industry.
How did you finance the film?
In total we spent a little less than $5k to get the film done. We had a camera and a we would shoot what we could on nights and weekends, and then later edit what would could on nights and weekends. We did a couple of crowd funding campaigns and that definitely helped. Most of it was just pure determination and elbow grease though.
And did it take a while to get it going? I imagine getting interviewees would’ve been the toughest part?
Getting people on camera wasn’t easy. The Volunteer group were all the first interviews and they were pretty excited to help. It took a long time to track some of the people down and many of them never went on camera. There were several points that I thought we were done and we just needed to finish cutting it together and then someone would contact me or I would stumble on some new information and it would change everything. That was what made it exciting too. I had no idea starting off what I was getting myself into.
How did you decide what to trim from the film? Anything juicy left on the cutting room floor that you now regret leaving out?
Cutting this down to 90 minutes was really difficult. There were multiple whole sequences and stories that were left completely out. Countless interviews that didn’t make it in. At the end of the day I had to choose a direction and decide what story I wanted to tell and then figure out what was the most important elements of that story. Then we chose the footage and interviews that worked the best for that. My goal with this film was to tell the truth about what happened there and to hopefully provide some comfort for those people who have loved ones who were laid to rest in Eastern Cemetery. I also hope I can inspire other people to clean up and preserve other abandoned and run down cemeteries in their areas around the world.
Can you tell us what kind of extras might be on the DVD?
I’m not sure myself so we will have to find out together
FACING EAST is available this Tuesday from Uncork’d Entertainment
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