The 1st Annual Echosynthetic Fest is most certainly one of the high watermarks of my lifetime. It was the culmination of a whole lot of hard work, planning, and help from more people than I can name. What started as a “what if” conversation between Chris Frain (Pattern Language) and myself over Facebook Messenger became a reality and it was one of the most memorable and moving experiences of my life. Thankfully I don’t have to rely on my memories of the weekend. Gene Priest and Derek Jones of SNWF Films documented it all and created a wholly new way to enjoy the fun and family atmosphere of Echosynthetic Fest.
Their passion for the music is seen squarely through the vision they created in this film. Connected tells the story of a group of people from around the globe who only knew each other through Twitter, Facebook, and the universal language of music. We were all brought together for the show, but it became instantly apparent that we were a family. The positive energy and love that was shared at Echosynthetic Fest was unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of…I just wanted to bottle it up so that the magic could last forever. Thankfully, through this film, Gene and Derek managed to capture that magic so that each and every one of you can share in it too.
I had the opportunity to pick their brains about the film and I have those conversations below, but I urge you to watch Connected if you’ve not seen it yet. You’re going to get a basic idea of what the event was like by reading through this article, but if you want the true experience, Connected is the next best thing to having been there. You can find it for purchase or rental by CLICKING HERE. You can also find out more information at IMDB.
Ready to get the behind the scenes exclusive take on how Connected was filmed, what went right, what went wrong, and everything in between? Let’s hear it straight from the men who made it happen.
Connected is out! How relieved are you to have the finished product out there for people to experience?
Gene: This is a pretty amazing experience. We set out to create something with only a few ideas in mind, and I feel like we exceeded our own expectations. We left town with a few DSLR cameras and a couple of ideas for what we wanted to achieve, I feel like we went well beyond what we set out to do. I feel like we were able to accurately showcase for those around the world what it was like to be in that room that night. Now that the film has been released for just under a week, the response, love, and support we have seen shows me that what we did was so much bigger than ourselves and meant just as much to so many others as it did to us as the creators. Now it’s time to take a few big, long, deep breaths and start planning the next film. Because realistically, Derek and I never stop creating. Ever.
Derek: I am very relieved, but also a bit sad. It was such an awesome experience and I’m incredibly excited to share it with everyone, but at the same time it was such a fun thing to put together that I kind of miss the process of it. Overall though it does feel wonderful to have it out in the world. The feedback we have received to far has been incredibly positive and uplifting. Gene and I put so much time and energy into this film and it feels pretty special to see that we were able (hopefully) to get our vision across.
What made you decide to take a gamble and come down to Atlanta, gear in tow, and record Echosynthetic Fest?
Gene: I was excited to be at Echosynthetic Fest to begin with, it was full of friends and amazing musicians that I love. I originally wanted to play the festival early on, but as time grew closer and I realized getting a live set together wasn’t an option without rushing things, I decided to shelf that idea of playing and find something else creative I could constructively do while being there. I figured the next best thing to playing would be to use my time to create something that we could give to the fans of synthwave and all of the artists involved to look back on to document this amazing first-time event. In the spirit of creation, we thought it best not to over-think the process of how and why, but instead throw our gear into the car, head to Atlanta, and see what we could create. I’m pretty stoked about the finished product.
Derek: Well, when we first knew about the festival I believe Gene was going to attempt to get a live Skeleton Beach set ready for it. He didn’t feel he would be able to in time but we still wanted to contribute something towards it. I don’t recall how we got to this conclusion, but at some point we thought it would be a cool experience to try to document it. We both really enjoy the filmmaking process but have never done a project on this large of scale before. We didn’t know what we were getting into and that was exhilarating. We packed up a couple DSLRs and crossed our fingers.
You saw the festival differently than the fans there at the show. What was it like seeing the show through a lens?
Gene: It was a non-stop rush of adrenaline. From the moment Ian Deaton took the stage, we had our cameras in our hands and we were focused on all of the action that took place on that stage. The night flew by in a way that I still can’t quite fathom or wrap my head around. Derek and I were 100% in sync from start to finish. We had a game plan set for each set and we stayed on point and focused until the very end. Despite the non-stop music, I still found time in between sets to grab a drink from the bar… with my camera in the other hand focused on the stage at all times. I’m really quite good at multi-tasking and I even kind of surprised myself.
Derek: That was pretty special. I originally thought that it would take away from the musical experience being behind the camera but it was totally the opposite. Filming the whole time made me feel like I had my own private viewing of the show. I could move around freely and see exactly what I wanted to see at any given time. The only downside of being behind the camera the entire time was not getting to hang out and socialize with everyone as much as I would have liked to. We met so many wonderful people during this festival and I wish I could have had more time to hang out and get to know them.
Did you have certain things you wanted to achieve ahead of time?
Gene: All we knew was that we wanted to capture as much of the performances as possible, and we captured much more than we planned / expected. We originally decided to capture 1 song in full from each artist, but once the show started we were running around like mad men with extra SD cards and batteries and ended up catching 3-4 songs per artist. It was a very busy night! We also wanted to showcase the love that you have for the scene. All of the artists that you support and the artists that in return support and want to push Echosynthetic forward!
Derek: Yes and no. We knew we wanted to film as much of the performances as possible. We also both wanted to get as many artist interviews as we could. That’s about it. We didn’t know what the theme of the film would be until we got there and saw how amazing the synthwave scene is. It didn’t take long to realize the story was about the people. We still wanted to display as much music as possible, but the real story is the community of the synthwave scene. Everyone is so willing to help and support each other. Believe it or not that is extremely rare in other music cultures.
What was your favorite thing about creating Connected?
Gene: As a freelance filmmaker by trade, I work on a lot of various different types of projects, however, no matter how fun or creative a project I am working on can be from day to day, this was OURS. Derek and I have always collaborated together on various creative endeavors over the last 20+ years from bands and musical projects to short films and our podcast “Sharing Needles with Friends.” Sometimes I feel like we almost share a brain. For me it was an amazing feeling for us to branch out into documentaries. We both have a huge love for cinema, and creating a documentary was something we had both wanted to embark on, this gave us a chance to create something on a topic that we fully believe in and wanted to document and expose to the world. My absolute favorite thing was that I got to shoot my first documentary film with my best friend involving artists that I love that had also become friends. It was really just a giant love-fest and I was glad to be able to share that with those that weren’t able to make it.
Derek: That is a very hard question to answer. I literally loved every second of it. I always enjoy working with Gene on creative things. We really balance each other out and at the same time push each other in directions we wouldn’t normally think about. We have been friends for 20+ years and have worked together on more creative ventures than I could even count off the top of my head, but for us to both go into the uncharted territory of making a documentary together was special. Also, getting to know so many wonderful people and experience the culture and community of the synthwave seen firsthand was amazing. Can I just say everything, because… everything. Everything was my favorite. haha
What will you do differently next time?
Gene: I really feel like there is always something that you can learn from to do better in the future, however, I feel like we did a damn good job presenting to the world our vision as well as a highly accurate representation of the evening. The biggest thing I want to do do differently for the next film really has to do with the technical side of things. I would love to work out a better system of retrieving the venues board feed as well as having our own source just in case. As it turned out this year, the soundboard mix for Ian Deaton, Frisky Monkey, and Pattern Language was just unacceptable and it was gutting when we returned home to begin the edit only to realize the “mix” didn’t pull it’s own focus until Gregorio Franco started. Fun fact, there was still house music playing underneath the entirety of Franco’s set, but luckily he was so blisteringly loud it never cut through until the very end when he finished. As we see in the film, he acknowledged it.
Derek: B-roll, more damn B-roll. You can never have enough. Also, If it’s another festival/show situation I would love to have a better way to ensure we have a good board feed. We were sick when we found that the board sound from the first three sets were unusable. It really handcuffed us because that was a lot of great footage we had to scrap. Ian Deaton, Frisky Monkey, and Pattern Language were all wonderful and it sucked that due to bad sound we weren’t able to showcase them like we wanted.
How long did it take you once editing started to finish the film?
Gene: From the moment we got home and started the organization, edits, color correction, sound mix, and various versions and rounds of “quality control,” we logged just a little over 120+ hours. I know, it seems crazy, but the filmmaking process can be a very long and arduous process that you must embrace and love for what it is. It’s never as simple as shooting a bunch of footage and throwing it together, it requires hours and hours of watching and listening to the footage to make sure the story being told is the story you intended to tell. Luckily everyone did fantastic in their interviews and we had more than enough AMAZING footage to work with. We honestly could have made this film 2 hours long (especially if the board feed didn’t destroy the first 3 sets) but we decided to stay a bit more restrained and make sure that everything that made it into the film was the best of the best and showcased our vision the best way possible.
Derek: I think we counted up that it was around 120+ hours. We would get together twice and spend between 6-8 hours editing and storyboarding things. We meticulously went through all the footage and flagged our favorite things and tried to put them together in a way that made sense with our narrative. That was not as easy as I had thought it would be. There was a lot of trial and error.
Anything you’d like to say before we go?
Gene: First and foremost I would like to give a big ole thank you to Derek for agreeing to take this project on with me. Derek is the counter-balance to my sometimes dangerously OCD / ADD brain. Sometimes I have far too many ideas in my head at one time to properly process and prioritize any one thing. Luckily, over the years Derek has mastered the art of basically translating my scrambled thoughts into something real. He’s able to make me take a step back, breathe, and re-focus on the things that are important in the moment and bring my high-strung anxiety level down a peg or two.
Additionally, I would just love to give a massive thank you to EACH and EVERY artist involved in this project. We couldn’t have pulled this film off without the support of everyone that shared that stage. We got to hang out with old friends, make new friends, and create a memorable evening that we can all look back on for years, knowing it wouldn’t have been nearly the same without each individual person involved in the process. Each and every year will be different and special, but 2017 was special because it was the first. It’s the evening in which all future Echosynthetic Fests will be compared to. In my opinion, the bar was set pretty high right out of the gates so it might be very hard to top, but I’m sure as hell willing to try!
Derek: Man, just thanks! Thanks to you James for putting this together. Its an unreal thing you did here and we had a blast being a part of it. Thanks to all the artists that allowed us to stick cameras in their faces. This film literally would not be a thing without you. Thanks to all the friends we made during this process. I can’t describe how wonderful everyone has been. Thanks to Gene for continuing to work with me on fun projects and tirelessly teaching me the ins and outs of final cut pro x. I really hope everyone enjoys the documentary. We put a lot of heart into it.