Gregory Bayne is a filmmaker living and working in Boise, Idaho. He’s considered an important element in a rising tide of motion picture artists working outside of traditional industry strongholds—and without traditional project funding.
In 2010, Bayne released his feature directorial debut: PERSON OF INTEREST. Written by and starring J. Reuben Appelman, the film follows one disenchanted Iraq veteran down a paranoid descent into PTSD. Called “this generation’s Taxi Driver,” Person of Interest was downloaded over 40,000 times in its first month of availability, and soon will appear on Cable VOD Networks across North America.
JENS PULVER | DRIVEN is Bayne’s latest film: an intimate documentary profile, funded entirely by fans and supporters. Its subject, Jens Pulver, rose from a violent and abusive childhood to become one of the most loved and respected Mixed Martial Arts fighters of all time. Called “beautiful,” “emotional,” and “raw and powerful,” the film was released by Gravitas Ventures VIDEO ON DEMAND this month (July 2011) and is currently on an international screening tour.
One reviewer called you “a man who makes films about the struggles of good men.” Do you think that’s an accurate description?
In light of my past couple pictures, and what I have coming up, I would say it’s not too far off the mark. I think what interests me most, regardless of gender, are stories about people who have been damaged and in turn how they cope with, react to, overcome, or in some cases succumb to that damage. My intent is not to be exploitive but rather to attempt, as much as I can, to feel their world and live in their skin if only over the course of an hour and a half feature film. In life it’s so easy to dismiss people with a glance, and I think perhaps these films are my way of combating that by lingering in the lives of those who may be passed over in the day-to-day grind.
How did you settle on Jens Pulver as a subject for your documentary?
In late 2009 a friend of mine asked me to come meet Jens who was at that time opening up a gym in my hometown of Nampa, Idaho. My friend gave me a brief biography, describing Jens as a legendary fighter with an incredible life story. At the time I knew nothing about him and very little about the sport of mixed martial arts, but I was compelled to see what he was all about. Our first meeting lasted an hour, during which I had asked only two questions. He quite honestly was, and is, the most engaging individual I had ever met. He had me immediately caught up in his stories and personality, and I walked away determined to figure out how to make a film. I jumped into research mode and was simply blown away by all that he had gone through, and all that he had overcome. Soon after that first meeting his do-or-die fight was announced and I found myself in the middle of the ‘perfect storm’ for a documentary…an engaging subject with a truly remarkable story to tell, locked into a real life battle that would unfold before our eyes. Deciding to make the film was one of the easiest choicest I’ve ever had to make.
How has DRIVEN been received by the MMA community?
It has been overwhelmingly positive. To date the entire film has been fan funded, much of that support coming directly from the MMA community. They really came out for Jens and the picture from day one, which means a great deal to us both. I think in the end the film surprised many, as it doesn’t follow the usual documentary tropes of interviewing friends, family and coaches or depending on archival footage to tell the ‘whole’ story. It’s a tightly focused film centering on a very specific moment in Jens’s life ultimately speaking volumes to the whole of his life in a way that I think, because of Jens’s personality, truly connects people to him and his life’s journey in a way that is much more emotionally vested than any other approach would have allowed.
What films were on your mind when you made DRIVEN? Knowing next to nothing about MMA, when I watched your movie, I wondered if you were thinking about the great tradition of boxing films—fictional and documentary.
Interestingly enough the film that was most present in my mind was the Maysles Brother’s SALESMAN about a group of four traveling Catholic Bible salesman from Boston in the late 60’s.Years after my first viewing of it I’ve come to realize that it’s fully burrowed itself into my psyche and become a guiding force for my entire approach to filmmaking. The Maysles call their approach ‘direct cinema’, and that, albeit with my own twist, was what I was after. A raw, intimate look into the life of this legendary fighter.
Settle a debate for me: a friend and I disagreed about the reason there was no fight footage in DRIVEN. One of us claims it was due copyright issues. Another is sure it was an aesthetic decision to make the film different from a run-of-the-mill fight documentary. I won’t say which is which, but why no fight footage in the film?
You are both a bit right. From my very first conversation with the UFC/WEC organization it was made explicitly clear that they didn’t want anything to do with the film and would not license footage or allow me to shoot Jens’s fight. That said, I was convinced early on that I didn’t want to follow the traditional ‘bio-doc’ narrative that would rely on archival footage and outsider interviews. When I met Jens I was totally drawn in by his incredibly engaging personality, the way in which he told his story, and his very rare ability to share a raw emotional honesty that you simply don’t find in most people, let alone professional athletes. I wanted the film to play to his strengths, and fashioned the production to do just that.
I’d like to talk a little bit about PERSON OF INTEREST. What brought you to make a film about PTSD? How has it been received by veterans?
Well, the impetus for that project lies with J. Reuben Appelman, who wrote and starred in the film as well as produced it with me. It was originally fashioned as a ‘high-concept’ thriller, but during the development of the script both J. and I had separate experiences with the war in Iraq and the effects of PTSD that really changed the heart of the film. For J. it was his forty-year-old brother enlisting in the Army just to go to Iraq, and for me it was the return of one of my closest friends from the war. And that, the questions that our personal experiences began to open up, combined with what I felt had been sort of a darkness that had yet to lift from the American psyche since 9/11 really began to shape the film as a whole. It was very difficult to watch someone who had always been one of those gregarious figures in your life come back from what can only be imagined as a horrific experience, damaged and broken. I personally felt a little ridiculous in that I had never really taken a moment to consider the trauma of war in any deep sense, and the hard re-entry that many soldiers face when coming back to a world that was once home, but is now totally unrecognizable. So, it was these ideas, these questions and a real attempt to understand that level of isolation and alienation that finally drove the film.
Veterans have responded well to the film, though many have stated it’s not something they can sit through twice. I think there’s been an overwhelming gratefulness that while the main character is political, them as soldiers, nor the war itself are politicized in the film. We had one screening in Annapolis, Maryland with four Iraq war Vets who had just recently returned. They advised me after that they had come ready to tear into me for ‘not getting it’, but we ended up in a very long discussion in which they stated on many counts we got the tone just right, capturing the feeling of that hard re-entry and isolation successfully. They also added, as many have, that they know guys like Terrance (the primary character in PERSON OF INTEREST; they may be few and far between, but they’ve known one in their lives. Ultimately, their only complaint was that the film never truly touches on the camaraderie of the soldiers, which admittedly is missing from the film.
Interestingly we’ve found that Vietnam veterans embrace the film more fervently than Iraq war vets. I don’t want to make broad based assumptions, but image that their distance from that world plays a part in being able to enter the world of PERSON OF INTEREST a bit more freely.
How does living in Idaho affect your work? Do you think you’re making different films than you might be if you were based in Los Angeles or New York?
I think that the case can be made that it makes it a little more difficult especially in terms of getting legs under projects or alternatively, getting them out into the world. At the same time, there’s a whole lot less noise here which I believe has afforded me the opportunity to truly understand my voice, get comfortable with it, and now build a body of work upon it.
I do believe that your surroundings can indeed influence the work that you do, but I can’t honestly answer whether or not I’d be making different films in those different surroundings. I’ve always had an intensely independent streak that I can’t seem to shake, so I imagine I’d likely be following a very similar path no matter where I laid my head.
What will we see from you next?
I’m working on a film titled BLOODSWORTH about the first person in the United States to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
Weaving together archival footage, Kirk Bloodsworth’s own compelling re-telling of his ordeal, and animated reenactments based on court records, police reports, and Kirk’s visceral memories, BLOODSWORTH recounts the true story of how an honorably discharged ex-Marine with no criminal record was charged, convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. And how, through his relentless commitment to his innocence, Kirk became the first individual in the United States to be exonerated by DNA evidence; sparking a revolutionary shift in the criminal justice system that has now led to the overturning of two hundred wrongful convictions across the nation.
My intent with this film is to, as Kirk states it, “put the audience in prison with him for a short time.” It’s my hope to begin full production in the fall of 2011 and complete the film by winter of 2012.
Trailers, clips, and more information from all of Bayne’s projects can be found at: http://thislovelymachine.com/