12 April 2010

How "The End" Came to Be

by guest columnist Michael Wendt.  Follow him on Twitter.

Back in late 2005, I was nearing the end - so to speak - of my college education at The University of Akron. Several of my good friends had been moving on, taking positions at NBC, MTV, and CBS just to name a few. I would have been definitely interested in any of those positions, but film and specifically documentary film had always interested me more. But I had always wondered, how do documentarians find these interesting subjects/topics? Well for me it took no more than tuning in to the radio one weekend.

92.3 radio in Cleveland was having what they dubbed "Smells Like The End" Weekend.  It reunited DJ's from former alternative rock station 107.9 The End, which ran on Cleveland radio from 1992-1999. They also brought out some tracks that hadn't been played on terrestrial radio in Cleveland for years, the deep cuts from the likes of The Meat Puppets and The Pixies - just to name a few. I kept it locked nearly all weekend, and all the while smiling from cheek to cheek. For back in the mid-90's I used to do the same when The End was on the air, listen for hours and tape record my favorite songs and DJ's. Then it hit me, since The End went off the air, I found myself not really listening to radio very much, I felt and still sometimes feel out of touch of what is considered to be popular in music, because frankly there wasn't a station I could go to that broke new artists and genres.

So with the help of my good friend Jennifer Danolfo, we started planning out steps to interview the End employees and planned on making a short doc for my senior project that was due the following spring. We sent out e-mails and letters to no response initially. Not too long after, Jennifer was on her way to Australia to study abroad, and the only interview we had was of Jen who told her "End" memories. So it was March and the project was due in a few weeks, so I asked the help of a fellow classmate Lisa Hunter to get a hold of at least someone or we were doomed to a lame project.

Because desperate times call for desperate measures, we started phoning into the station to try to get contact info. Finally, we called at the right time because we were on the line with former End DJ, Pat "The Producer" Johnson. After a brief conversation with Pat, he invited us down to the station the following week, and we finally got to interview some of the END jocks. We were also invited to speak on the air, which was huge because it started people talking about the project and we had only interviewed four people! With that footage we were able to cut a 10-minute version for class and initially I figured that was that. But response in class was pretty good and I figured with some minor rumblings on the blogs that there might be interest in expanding the doc.

From there we decided to go forward.  We had no money but thanks to great support from Dr. Phil Hoffman and Tom Beck from The U of Akron, we were given access to camera and editing equipment for no charge! Word soon spread amongst the former End employees, because I was getting calls from the various staff from different parts of the state and even out of state. Tracking the hard to find people was fun, it became like a scavenger hunt. I was so happy to be working on this because even when I had to take a part time job to pay the bills, I always had the doc and it kept me interested in the medium. I've seen a wide variety of talented colleagues who ended up getting jobs in very different fields from what we studied. So I needed something like this film to keep me motivated to make it, even if it's on a local or small scale.

I was very fortunate to have great collaborators who helped with the project. Some helped when the could and some came later on in the process, like my co-editor and composer Keith Aukeman, but with out them I could have never finished the project.

The journey has taken a little over four years to complete. That's the thing about docs and films in general - once you're committed to the project, it becomes your baby. Some take longer to develop and some not as long. That's why I am so happy to finally be at the point where we can release it on DVD. Money is still an issue so we have attempted to set up the Kickstarter page to try to help pay for the DVD's and also pay the rights for copyrighted music we were given permission to use. We are well on our way but I am prepared, whether we reach our goal or not, to get the DVD out there and then embark on a new documentary, what ever it may be.

Michael Wendt is a Cleveland-based Actor, Producer, and Director.  His recent works include the documentary The End of the World As We Knew It which has played at several Film Festivals, as well as acting in the romantic comedy The Bride & The Grooms which had a limited release around the country last year. When not working on film projects, you can probably find him frequenting the movie theater or hitting a karaoke bar!


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