Professional filmmaker delivers outside perspective
By Ken Martinson, Marching.com Founder
Throw It Down,
an 88-minute documentary from director John E. Maher,
offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the reality of marching in a
top-ranked drum and bugle corps. The film follows the 2006 season of the
Bluecoats Drum & Bugle Corps from Canton, Ohio, and presents themes that
are universal to anyone involved in the marching activity.
This is a film about perseverence and the ultimate rewards for those who
manage to navigate the challenges of a summer spent living, breathing
and dreaming drum corps. It's important to watch Throw It Down
all the way through. In the first 30 minutes, uninitiated viewers might
wonder why anyone would want to join a corps and work so hard. But the
answer becomes clear later in the film when the intensity and repetition
start to pay off.
CREATIVE FILMMAKING Maher and his crew have successfully created a film that is emotionally
intense and visually sophisticated.
At times the cinematography is so good that it's easy to forget this is
a documentary and not a movie that had the luxury of a script
and multiple retakes. The cameras did a great job finding the stories,
capturing interesting angles and getting inside the action.
"My camera assistant kept me from being trampled when we were working
close to the drill," Maher says. "We collected some 60 hours of
material. Part of the trick is getting the corps members comfortable
with us and then just being there at the right time. There are no
shortcuts in this type of filmmaking."
To develop the story line, Maher creatively weaves a series of dream
sequences through the film. These segments take viewers into the lives
of corps members and illustrate how immersed the performers have become
in their tasks. The intensity of the dreams is balanced with doses of
humor and an upbeat musical score.
Some of the most clever editing is found during the audition scene when
the nervous tapping of prospective members sets the pulse for a music
video. Another scene that works well is the food crew's fast-paced
shopping trip to buy groceries.
The visual aspects of the film are complemented by an effective
soundtrack. Several original songs perfectly illustrate the mood and
determination of corps members. A song titled "Push Through" delivers the
key line, "I won't give up, you won't give in, we'll take this thing to
OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE One of the strengths of Throw It Down comes from the fact that
the filmmakers were largely unfamiliar with the drum and bugle corps
activity. Maher has worked as a professional filmmaker for more than 30
years and Throw It Down is his 14th film. This "outsider" view
allowed him to bring an independent voice to tell the story based on
what he observed.
Initially, the fact that Maher was not familiar with the operation and
protocol of a marching unit was problematic.
"The corps was concerned about our disrupting their drill routine," Maher says.
"I needed to get close and they wanted me back so we danced around that
sensitivity all summer. I was deathly afraid of spoiling anything for
them but at the same time I had a responsibility to the producer to make
a good honest film."
A significant moment of bonding between the filmmakers and the corps
occurred in early summer when Maher showed the Bluecoats a preview of
footage that had been shot during the winter camps.
"Corps director Dave Glasgow told everyone then that we were part of the
Bluecoats family. That was a very emotional moment for our crew," Maher
says. "We knew we needed to make a special effort to honor
their concerns and make a good film."
TIMELESS TOPIC Throw It Down gets its title from the concept of performers
"throwing down" the best performance they can possibly give. The film
ends on a joyous note with the Bluecoats members showing ultimate
satisfaction with their final performance. Yet the film is not just
about a single season. Throw It Down gives viewers new
appreciation for any quality performance, since they have peeked behind
the scenes and witnessed the grueling effort that was required
The film has already won several awards on the film festival circuit and
continues to be screened at special events across the country. Visit
ThrowItDownTheMovie.com for a schedule of upcoming
screenings. You can also order Throw It Down on DVD.
View the movie trailer for Throw It Down
Images courtesy of Throw It Down/JEM Films.
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