“Down by the Wayside Choir”

Dunton was in the process of writing “The 27 Club” when she met Soozie Eastman at the Vail Film Festival after screening her documentary. Soozie is the young female director of the doc, “By the Wayside” (copies available to press on request). The film is set in Kentucky and tells the story of the homeless in Louisville. The film features the Christian mission Down by the Wayside Choir.

Dunton was very moved by the film and immediately knew that Elliot needed to meet this choir on his journey. He was coming from a place in LA where in some eyes he had everything: success, money, fame … and they were coming from a place where they didn’t even have a place to sleep each night, but their differences are overshadowed by how they are similar, by what they share. They share the love of music, they believe in its power.

Elliot, who had requested, “no music,” on his journey, finally, when he joins the choir, allows himself to hear the music again and it is his discovery of the choir that plays an important part of his healing. Elliot found hope in people whom you’d least expect to find hopeful—the homeless.

What was also important to Dunton was the idea that they also shared addiction. Most of the choir members are in recovery and their strength lent a wonderful texture to the story and Elliot’s own battle with drugs. The real choir from the documentary came by bus from Kentucky to sing and act in the film. Joe Anderson was kept away from all rehearsals. The first time he actually hears them sing was caught on camera.

Film still: Tom and Elliot playing for a gathering crowd

Music

By the very nature of the story, music was of fundamental importance in the film. The score wass composed by Michael Tremante, who has worked with Dunton on all three of her films. The film’s score is layered with beautiful and occasionally unusual choices for instrumentation: the zither, harmonica, dulcimer, duduk and organ take their places perfectly with more conventional guitar and piano. The combination forms an original sound and feel.

Dunton was keen for the two members of FINN (Joe Anderson and James Forgey) to “feel” like a band. She thought it vital that their performances develop from a mutual musical background and that a shared experience musically, even if for only a couple of weeks, would only enhance and inform their on-screen chemistry. With this in mind, she found a rehearsal space and teamed the two actors up with local drum John Slade leaving them to their own devices. As mentioned earlier, With both being accustomed to intense regimens of musical practice, Anderson and Forgey easily adapted to this more relaxed rehearsing time. Dunton had provided references for how she had envisioned the FINN sound and discussed these with the actors, but what she didn’t expect them to do was actually write a FINN song. Much to her surprise, they did. This is how the real FINN was formed. Their song is performed in various arrangements throughout the film.

James Forgey went on to work with Dunton on the final “Goodbye” song. She gave him some words, voices and feelings from the film and he sang them against a phenomenal tune that he wrote, which is the song that ends the movie.

Peter Stampfel also performs a track on camera called “Take me Away.” Peter is one half of The Holy Modal Rounders, of the infamous “Fly Like a Bird” track from “Easy Rider.” Dunton saw Stampfel perform this song at the Sarasota Film Festival and befriended him. She was in the middle of writing the script and she knew that this was a man that her lead character needed to meet. Stampfel agreed to fly from his hometown of New York to appear and sing in the film.