By: Forrest Cook
“Tenacity.” Explains Shaun Colón – founder, director, producer, and editor at Open-Ended Films. “That’s how I get anything done. I’m only moderately skilled at doing anything, but I’m really good at being tenastic.” An oversimplification perhaps, but take a closer look at Colón’s creative history and one gets the impression that he’s probably onto something.
Open-Ended Films is the LLC Shaun started with his friend and bandmate Joel Herrera in response to a more-than-successful Indiegogo campaign to fund what eventually became their greatly entertaining and informative punk rock doc, A Fat Wreck (2016). The two are Dallas music scene veterans and play in the melodic skate punk band Nonstarter, as well as run Dang! Records which boasts releases from bands such as From Parts Unknown, Fat By The Gallon, and Perdition. Nonstarter released their debut EP Seasoned Stuntman on August 31.
A Fat Wreck is the story, or punk-u-mentary, of Fat Wreck Chords founder Fat Mike, and his ex-wife and co-founder Ellen Kelly-Burkett. Fat Mike is also the bassist and lead singer of long-running unconventional punk act, NoFX.
“It seemed like a pretty big thing at that point… for us,” says Shaun. That’s putting it lightly.
Basically, if you’re unfamiliar with Fat Wreck Chords, then odds are, you probably don’t know anything about punk rock, and if you’d like to learn then studying the label’s back catalogue along with the current roster is a pretty good place to start. A Fat Wreck Chords documentary seemed like a no-brainer.
“I think on Netflix there were a bunch of documentaries about punk [music], but they were all like 80’s punk where people were violent and that was just not my experience.” Shaun and Joel had had an epiphany working on a behind-the-scenes short for an
unnamed country music artist. “Let’s make something we care about. We should do one about our experience.” He remembers telling his friend.
NoFX Fat Mike
Beginning with a measly seven grand, their campaign eventually garnished them well over 30K to funnel into the film which at the time was anticipated to be more of a YouTube short in the mind’s of its creators. “We were audio engineers, and I had recorded with Joey Cape (Lagwagon), so I felt like I had an in…maybe. I took a lens and a camera to Punk Rock Bowling… it just kind of started happening! I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing at all. I still don’t know what I’m doing. No one knows what they are doing.”
Joel Herrera and Shaun Colón | Open-Ended Films
Before anyone knew it, they had a feature-length film on their hands. “[Fat] Mike was really generous to let me do it.” Shaun says. “They could have shut us down at any minute if they didn’t want us to.”
The final production costs along with distribution deals and contributor perks tallied in at right around $100,000 – raised in various ways. Shaun says he is still paying off some of his initial business loans, though according to him it’s all “bootstrapped” in with his next movie. Fine with the guys at Open-Ended, who really just want people to watch the film. “Our philosophy was that we wanted the movie to be anywhere anyone wanted to see it. It wasn’t about making money.”
The thing with big time distributors is they purchase blu rays at little over cost, so Shaun found himself also mailing out roughly 600-700 copies himself to cut back on expenses, and maximize potential profits.
Revenue does still come quarterly for the film, he explains, “but it starts at a big chunk of money and then gets down to various little bits… I want to be transparent about it. This is what independent film-making looks like. It’s fun to do in the sense that it’s challenging but you have to bust your ass in so many other ways to be able to do it.” Shaun also works as a Lyft driver and looks forward to those timely increments to help with the bills and take care of his family.
Presently, the guys at Open-Ended Films are wrapping up work on one new feature-length project, and are well along their way to filming another.
Lifer: A Wilhelm Scream is currently in the post production stages and is set to release “soonish,” Colón hopes. He professes, “The thesis is ‘What does it take to be a working-class creative’, and the lens we go through is the band A Wilhelm Scream, but it’s not about music, and it doesn’t have much of the band on the road. It’s about the support systems it takes for creative work to get done at the working-class level.”
After the release of A Fat Wreck, there was no shortage of band documentary pitches, but according to Shaun at first nothing really clicked. “I wanted to move away from punk rock a little bit, and I love A Wilhelm Scream, but I wouldn’t just do a documentary on them.”
Nuno Periera, the band’s lead singer, came up with the idea to film A Wilhelm Scream at home, away from life on the road. “I was like, ‘Oh! That’s actually interesting!” recalls Colón who agreed to do the film so long as it was about something bigger than just the band. “We stayed with them for like a month, and stayed with each of the guys for three days at their houses.”
Also featured in the film are Jennie Cotterill of Bad Cop/Bad Cop, and a comedian named Umar Khan who’s parents are Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, which according to Shaun makes for an interesting relationship.
“There’s supportive parents, and not so supportive parents, and ‘Why aren’t you going to college’ parents, and ‘I want them to be happy’ parents. It’s that thing we all do. Work. Plan. Making the thing you want to make. If you don’t have the people behind you – your loved one, or wife, or partner – then why would you keep doing it? You have to have support. Without that it’s hard for [art] to keep going, because there’s not necessarily financial incentive.”
Colón relates a common grievance of how “it’s more valuable to be a hedge fund guy moving money around than someone busting their ass to make something that maybe ten, twenty, thirty thousand people will like.” He isn’t talking about million dollar blockbuster contracts, or Snoop Dogg level performers, but everyday creatives within everyday communities working hard and in some cases suffering to fulfill a basic human need. “The vast majority of people who make stuff are like that… We’re small potatoes buddy.”
“Lifer,” he says, is about “people who are down for life and are going to be making shit no matter what. I can’t wait for people to see this film!”
Beyond that, Colón is dead-set on his current production with a larger potential market which means a greater potential for financial gain. It’s a podcasting documentary. The title of which is Age of Audio.
It’s a film which up till now has evolved rather organically, growing out of contacts created during the filming and production of his previous two documentaries. Colón says he bumped into his sales agent for the Fat Wreck doc at SXSW 2018, and pitched the idea which he’d only briefly addressed himself, who then told him, “I think I can get money for that!” To which Shaun replied, “Whoa money!? That’s helpful.”
The next day he focused on meeting some big names in podcasting. He found himself at a PRX meet-up and “within twenty minutes had talked to the people from Stitcher, PRX, How Stuff Works, maybe like four or five of the big players in the podcast space. Within two days,” he says, “it went from being this little idea to a big idea.”
Shaun Colón and Kevin Smith of Clerks, and Chasing Amy fame
Filming began in 2018, and with seed-funding beginning to roll in, Herrera and Colón have been hitting it hard, speaking with a host of famous podcastors including Matt Gourley from Conan Needs a Friend and Drunk History (Comedy Central), and perhaps most notably Kevin Smith of Clerks, and Chasing Amy fame, who hosts the podcast Smodcast.
Last year, while filming in L.A. Shaun and Joel purchased tickets to Kevin Smith’s Fat Man Beyond show at the Scum and Villainy Cantina. Typically after the show, Smith will give a Q and A discussion, so the two attempted to smuggle a copy of their blu ray with a note onto Kevin’s table, who Shaun says “kept eyeballing it through the night”, intensifying Colón’s anticipation, but in a turn of events the writers from Infinity War and Endgame were brought out instead. “Super cool guys,” he assures, “but at the end of the night Kevin just left without the blu ray.”
He goes on, “I was like ‘fuck it!’ I’ll just go around to the alley, peak around the corner, and I see Kevin Smith with all these people in a circle. I try to saunter up and not say anything, but before I get too close, the owner of the bar was like, ‘Hey! This is private.’ Fuck! We missed our chance! I went back and Joel had grabbed the blue ray so I went to try one more time, and peaked around the corner, and Kevin’s gone. I hear a window roll down and a car behind me, and it’s Kevin Smith, and he goes, ‘Hey! Is that for me? I meant to grab that.’ Which is a fucking cool thing for him to do. He didn’t have to stop. He was on his way home. I said, ‘ Here’s my documentary. It’s got puppets doing drugs in it. By the way… [Full Podcast Documentary Pitch]’ He was like, ‘Sounds badass, I’m in.’”
18 months later that Kevin Smith interview was finally locked in at the recent Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow.
Age of Audio is currently in production. Keep a lookout for Lifer: A Wilhelm Scream screening “as soon as possible” at a theatre near you.