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Director Matthew Buzzell doesn’t just want you to know who Jimmy Scott is. He wants you to know Jimmy Scott. Watch his documentary, Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, and you will know. Roxanne Bogucka spoke to Buzzell after a SXSW screening of his movie.

RB: Matthew Buzzell, director of Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew. Your editor’s been telling me that you’ve been wanting to make this film for years. How long and how’d you get the idea?

MB: Well, I started off as a big fan of Jimmys. Jimmy’s music is, we all have music that we find in our lives that is special to us, that speaks to us and can actually start to paint your life, and that’s Jimmy’s music for me. Jimmy’s music just really moved me. So actually about 10 years ago I did a radio interview with him on his birthday for a local broadcast in Athens, Georgia. I played some of his records. I tracked him down. We did a phone conversation. And he said, "Well hey baby, next time you’re in the New York area"–he was living in Newark at the time–he said, "let’s get together." And I said, "well when are you performing next?" And he said, "I’ll be at the Tavern on the Green in two weeks." And so I went and after the show I found him and I–the Tavern on the Green is kind of this cavernous place–and I found him. I saw him there. I started walking towards him, and he obviously, I don’t know how he know who I was, but he just grabbed my arm, he said [whispers] "hey baby, how are you?" And he just made me feel like I’d known him forever and we were friends for years. And so I wanted to make a documentary about him, but there was a documentary that was already being made for the Bravo channel. A 45-minute documentary, nice little film. But when I decided that I wanted to make a film on him, I wanted to make something that was a little more... I don’t know, a little larger. That really went a little deeper into his family. And so that we could really get to know his family and some of the themes that are important to him.

RB: How was your film financed?

MB: It was financed with a lot of love and a lot of heart. And we were very fortunate to have some seed money, came from an old college roommate of mine, Diedrich Bader, who is one of the stars of "The Drew Carey Show." As well as Terry Mulroy, one of the creators of "The Drew Carey Show." He got interested in it when he found out that Jimmy was from Cleveland. And Terry’s from Cleveland, so there’s a Cleveland connection:

RB: And Cleveland rocks, as we all know.

MB: Exactly.

RB: You mentioned earlier that you had done a five-minute short on Jimmy Scott? And did that help you, was that something that you were able to take to sell the idea of your feature?

MB: Well, exactly. It was really more of the spark that said, "this is a movie that we have to make." This is a movie that we have to make, because Jimmy was so enigmatic. The film that we made was a little five-minute short called Jimmy Scott, Alone Together. And it was Jimmy alone, hanging out in his hotel in Los Angeles while he was on the road, just talking about down time. About solitude. And about spirituality. And he spoke so eloquently and so poetically that I’d showed it to people and they were, I was like, "I want to do a feature on Jimmy." And they were like, "Let’s go. Let’s do it." So it wasn’t easy getting the picture together. And we still have some hurdles. We have to find a way to get the movie out there and distributed, but it’s like I said tonight (at the Q&A after the screening): Jimmy brings people together. People get turned on and they get connected by and through Jimmy. And I believe that that’s what’s going to happen with this film.

RB: So you’ve had short films at SXSW before and this is your first feature–

MB: Yes.

RB: You seem very passionate, a very passionate fan and very passionate about the world rediscovering Jimmy Scott. Were your other films on topics about which you were equally passionate?

MB: I did a documentary last year with Jacob Bricca, our editor, that we co-directed with a young lady, another director, Elizabeth Massey. All of us AFI graduates. American Film Institute. And it was called What A Girl Wants. It’s about the impact of media culture on the self-esteem of teenage girls. And that’s a film that we’re very, very passionate about. It’s being distributed by the Media Education Foundation, the MEF. It’s going out to universities and schools. Jacob, what is the Media Education’s website? Do you know?

JB: m-e-f-dot-org.

MB: m-e-f-dot-org. But it’s, portions of it were actually just shown on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" a couple weeks ago, so...

RB: Excellent.

MB: That’s a film that we’re all very passionate about. Because the topic in many ways boils down to the sexualization of youth. Which is... kids need to be kids. They need to have a chance to be kids. They’re being bombarded with too much.

RB: Okay. What’s your next project?

MB: You know, I’ve got two scripts. I’ve got one that I’ve written a book adaptation of a novel by Pascal Bruckner, who’s a French novelist. It’s a very big, Terry Gilliam-esque kind of social black comedy. But this is not for me to direct. There nobody in the world that’s going to let me direct this, but my producer and I, who are working on that, we’re taking it around, hoping that’ll get made. That’d be something for me as a writer. I have another script that I’m writing for another producer. But the next thing most likely will be another documentary. I have a fantasy of doing one on James Brown. I’m from Augusta, Georgia. And I feel that James Brown’s public image right now is probably at it’s lowest. And I would like to see if I could help that situation, because most people don’t know there was a time when James Brown was very humble. And he’s done a lot of good things in his life, and I’d like to show some of those good things and to explore some of those good things. And to explore his music in a different way. A lot of people don’t know that James Brown is a good piano player and keyboard player, and that in his spare time he likes to sit around and play Frank Sinatra, on his piano and sing. And I’d like to see if I could do something like that. I haven’t talked to James Brown. I don’t know if this is going to happen, but I have some friends who are in James Brown’s band. And so I’m going to, hopefully, through them, try to meet with him and show him this Jimmy Scott film. He and Jimmy knew each other. They both were on King Records briefly, for a short period of time. And so I’m hoping that will happen. If not, I’ve got another idea for another documentary about the impact of Godzilla on Japanese pop culture and to explore the history of giant monster movies. But I don’t know. It’s just a pipe dream. I don’t know. I may not ever be able to make anything again. This business is that difficult sometimes, you know? It’s hard. You know this movie was made with some seed money and a lot of heart and soul, but I hope next time I make a film, that it’ll be a little easier. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’ve got to go back to LA and find a day job now. And pay my bills. My bills are way overdue.

RB: Well I hope they won’t keep you away from filmmaking for too long. Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, a wonderful documentary by Matthew Buzzell and crew.


Mike Doughty



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