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Brooklyn filmmakers hit the road to document America’s indie musicians

January 17, 2020 Alex Williamson
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Many newly minted college graduates do some traveling before they dive into the workforce, but Brooklyn-based filmmaker Austen Deery, one half of the team behind Brooklyn’s sadrday production studios, used his post-grad phase to work on a project he hopes will launch his career.

After finishing up a degree in computer science at Brown University, Deery and collaborator Sam Reynolds embarked on a four-month, cross-country road trip, visiting 15 cities where they met, interviewed and filmed 189 independent musicians. Now Deery and Reynolds are releasing the footage for free in a series of short documentaries.

Deery says that he “kind of got the bug” for filmmaking while profiling art club members as an undergrad.

“I felt like I wanted to pursue it more and I ended up having a few friends who were musicians and were struggling. I offered my services and it started rolling from there,” he said.

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Group DKTM Collective in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Austen Deery

About two years ago, he began planning and preparing for the work-intensive road trip by reaching out to musicians in cities like New Orleans, Chicago and Nashville through the music website Bandcamp, asking if he could meet and film the artists pro bono. Deery says he emailed thousands of musicians through Bandcamp and also worked with small radio stations to find local artists.

“We definitely wanted to stick with independent artists not signed to a large label,” Deery said. “A lot of them are extremely unknown.”

After identifying his film’s subjects, the next step was to establish a rapport with them.

“We contacted them through an anonymous email,” Deery said. “For all they know we’re serial killers. We had to ingratiate ourselves into their surroundings and their life and show [we were] not trying to take advantage of their music or their personality.”

Over the course of the four-month trip, funded through money saved working part-time jobs, Deery and Reynolds spent one week in each city, meeting with 10 local musicians, watching them perform at two or three live events and then interviewing them on camera about their lives and artistic journeys.

Artist Don Lifted in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo: Austen Deery

Now, Deery has started editing the footage into a series a short films which he began releasing earlier this month. He says he has enough material to keep releasing a video on a weekly basis for at least a year.

“The only reason we could do this is because of the internet,” Deery said. “The whole project is such a modern concept of what’s possible.”

Going forward, Deery wants to turn his lens on independent musicians based in Brooklyn, helping them get their music in front of a wider audience at no cost to the artist.

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