“Mock and Roll” will have their Columbus Premiere at Gateway Film Center on Sunday, November 26th at 2pm. Tickets are $10. You can get them online at gatewayfilmcenter.org.
Mark Stewart is not your typical filmmaker.
He did not attend film school. He did not travel the world. He did not starve. He did not struggle making movies for other people before he embarked on his own project.
Mark’s journey is a little different than most filmmakers: his career was actually spent in human resources, where he worked for various companies for 34 years before retiring early to pursue his creative ambitions.
“I retired from Alliance Data after working there for 14 years,” he said. At 57 he quit his day job to partake in a new journey: marrying his two greatest passions—music and movies—into an original film project. After researching his options—and talking to dozens of people about the process—he began work on his idea. At 61 he’s shopping his first film: a mockumentary called “Mock and Roll” which will make its Columbus premiere this coming weekend at Gateway Film Center.
One would think a retired Human Resources professional would consider other pursuits, such as buying a summer cottage, traveling the world or refinancing his house. But Mark had other plans: to write and produce a movie that would be financed from his own retirement!
“I’ve always been a fan of music since I was a teenager,” said Stewart, a native of Millersburg, OH. “I saw my first concert in 1973 at Massillon Stadium.” It was an eclectic bill: Dr. Hook, New York Dolls and Mott the Hoople. He was hooked instantly. Stewart came to OSU in 1975 and followed Ohio bands (The Muffs, The Godz, Michael Stanley Band) and national acts (Montrose, Foghat, Black Oak Arkansas). In fact, both Michael Stanley and Roger Earl (drummer from Foghat) made cameos in the movie.
“Mock and Roll” is a coming-of-age story about a local band called Liberty Mean, a four-piece unit comprised of hapless millenials who are well intentioned but clueless. Liberty Mean parodies another local act—The Black Owls—whereby they steal The Black Owls’ music but rewrite the lyrics for their own purposes. The lead singer, Robin, (played by New Albany native Molly Bhanja) sings the tunes and her backing band Rick (Chris Wolfe), Tom (Pakob Jarernpone) and Bun (Andrew Yackel) accompany her. The band has a crazy idea: they want to attend South-by-Southwest (SXSW), a music festival that takes place every spring in Austin, TX. They have no idea what to do once they get there, but that’s beside the point: every up-and-coming band needs to attend SXSW, because that’s what bands do. They set up a crowd-funding page to raise funds from friends and family, but have no idea what to do once they reach their destination. They haven’t been booked by SWSW and don’t know anybody in Texas who can assist them. They only know one thing: We’re a band, and bands go to SXSW.
“The movie is a marriage between ‘This is Spinal Tap’ and ‘Best in Show,’” Stewart says. He has no political or social statement to make. He has no agenda to share, no secret message to uncover about music, millenials and the DIY movement. He just loves to laugh and he loves music.
Stewart teamed up with fellow writer/filmmaker Ben Bacharach-White, who’s based out of Washington, DC. “We basically collaborated on the idea, and out came this concept,” he said. Bacharach-White is essentially the “other half” of the braintrust: he’s the film’s co-writer, director and editor. “I’m lucky to be working with such an accomplished artist,” said Stewart.
With the help of Bacharach-White, Leah Wharton, Tony Deemer and Jason Tostevin, this first-time filmmaker was able to glean experience from his team of polished veterans. “I’m like a sieve—I just collected information from those who had the experience. It’s been a lot of fun and a tremendous learning experience.”
Stewart financed the movie by himself. “I accumulated some stock from my years working in HR, so I used my own money to finance the movie.” He worked with a variety of talent, using interns, professional actors, extras, cinematographers and producers from across the country. Folks from Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, Granville, Columbus, Cincinnati and Akron participated in the project.
Stewart has always wanted to make a movie about music; he’s been listening to local bands his entire life. He particularly enjoys The Methmatics, Zoo Trippin’ and newcomers Lily and the Weeds. But his favorite local band is none other than Columbus icons Watershed.
“My daughter brought their album home years ago and I fell in love with it,” he said. “I love Joe’s book—I love Colin. I just love Watershed’s music.”
So far the mockumentary has made some serious noise. They’ve already been premiered at Orlando Film Festival, Oklahoma’s Eyecatcher International Film Festival (where they won Best Original Score), and Austin’s Revolution Film Festival (where they received six nominations: Best Comedy, Best Director, Best Male Lead, Best Female Lead, Best Editor and Best Movie Poster). They also won Best Feature at Cincinnati’s Inside the Loop Film Festival earlier this fall. They plan on hitting other festivals in 2018.
Mark is taking all this in stride. “Our hope is to shop it around to all the film festivals where we think our movie is a good fit, then hope for distribution down the road.” He knows it’s a long shot, but everything is a long shot in the arts these days. He doesn’t seem fazed by the road ahead. “We are submitting to a number of other film festivals and are hopeful that our success thus far continues with additional official selections.”