“It’s Your Funeral”: An Interview with The King of Broken Hearts Director Jeremy Dylan
If you weren’t fortunate enough to catch one of three recent screenings in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Sydney, Australia, you missed one of the most engaging music documentaries of the last few years, The King of Broken Hearts. Directed, edited, and co-produced by Sydney-based filmmaker Jeremy Dylan, King traces the path of Jim Lauderdale’s career and shadows the busy singer-songwriter as he writes, performs, hosts radio shows, and does tai chi in the middle of the California desert.
Dylan took time from his busy schedule—he’s currently co-writing and directing a web series called Drama Class and is also helping to organize the upcoming Deni Blues and Roots Festival as well as the CMC Rocks the Hunter country music event—to answer a few questions about The King of Broken Hearts, the planned DVD release, and Lauderdale’s kindred spirit, 007.
How did you first get interested in Jim Lauderdale’s music and what drew you to the idea of making a documentary about him?
Like most people, I heard Jim’s music for years before I knew that’s what it was. I first saw Jim play when he came out to Australia for the first time in 2002 and I was stunned to realize he’d written all these songs I loved from the Gary Allan, Patty Loveless and George Strait records I owned. I instantly became a huge fan of him, both as a writer and performer, and subsequently delved into his back catalogue of albums.
I was lucky enough to meet him on that trip and over the years we’ve struck up a friendship. I went to London in 2010 to see him play with Elvis Costello and we spent a day together in Liverpool touring the Beatles museum. We were talking about their career and then we got onto Jim’s career and his early life and I began to get an inkling that there was a story there worth telling — or stories. One about a prodigiously talented and prolific artist who was destined for stardom but never broke through into the mainstream, and one about the way the music industry has changed over the past 20 years.
So when I got back to Australia, I pulled some clips of YouTube and cut together a 20-minute showreel which gave an idea of the structure of the film and sent it off to Jim, asking for his blessing. About a half-hour later, he wrote me back saying, “Go ahead. It’s your funeral.”
What was the filming process like? You shot in several different U.S. locations and interviewed a number of guests ranging from Elvis Costello to Tony Brown–was that hard to coordinate from Australia?
It’s funny, because although it was an incredible amount of work, it wasn’t difficult in the sense that there weren’t doors shut in my face. Everyone I approached about being in the film said yes. Some, we couldn’t make work with their schedules, but the minute I dropped Jim’s name, the response was always “Whatever I can do.”
I shot the film over two trips to the states, the first time (June 2011) it was just me and by the second trip (April/May 2012), I’d partnered up with a wonderful Aussie producer named Chris Kamen and we were making plans together.
It was a vast logistical operation in a lot of ways. The first trip was relatively simple — I camped out in the Headline Country production offices with a great Nashville cameraman named Brett Johnson and people like Jim, Buddy Miller, Mike Compton and Jed Hilly wandered through over a few days and we shot the interviews there — plus a few trips to the homes of Jerry Douglas, Odie Blackmon and Gary Allan.
The second trip was vastly more complex. One of my biggest goals for the film was for the audience to get a sense of how crazy Jim’s day to day life is, so we were joined at the hip with him, following him around as he cut two albums, played MerleFest and the California desert, wrote songs, hosted his three different radio shows and more. Our movements went Sydney > LA > Nashville > Franklin > Nashville > Asheville > Wilkesboro > Durham > Asheville > Nashville > LA > Rimrock > Pioneertown > San Diego > Nashville > Sydney, in the space of just under a month. But it was the perfect time to make the film, because we really got to see all Jim’s artistic facets played out, and see him collaborating with his friends, idols and people who looked up to him.
How much footage did you end up with?
I had about 30 hours of footage in all when I got into the editing room. My first cut of the film was a little over three hours, and then it was a gradual process of hacking it down until I wound up with the current 90-minute version.
While you were filming, did you learn anything about Jim that surprised you?
I’ve known Jim for over a decade now, so there weren’t any big revelations of character, but there were certainly elements of his story that came out of interviews that I was surprised by. That Reprise Records tried to market him as a pop artist when he made the Planet of Love album and the failure of that strategy was the reason that brilliant album didn’t get a proper push from the label. That surprised me.
Here’s a story that I didn’t know that we actually had to cut from the film. Buddy Miller was Jim’s guitarist for a good number of years from the late ’80s. In the early ’90s, HighTone records called Jim and said “We’re huge fans and we’d love to sign you to our label.” But Jim was under contract to a major label at the time, so he told them “Here’s the number for my guitar player, Buddy Miller. He’s a great picker, a tremendous singer and a great songwriter. You couldn’t do better than to sign him.”
So they called Buddy and said “Lauderdale talked you up so much, we’d like to offer you a deal. Have you got enough songs for a record?” and Buddy said he did and they did the deal. Turns out he was lying. He hadn’t finished any songs. So he went over to Jim’s place with the song ideas he’d started and they wrote “Hole in my Head” and “Love in the Ruins” together. And that’s how Buddy got his first record deal.
So it was really stories like that, connections I wasn’t aware of, that were the surprises as I went through the interview process.
I enjoyed how The King of Broken Hearts highlighted Buddy and Jim’s long friendship, especially in conjunction with the release of Buddy & Jim. They seem like a fun pair.
They certainly are, and they’re an interesting contrast in personalities. They’re both extremely humble, but Jim is extremely gregarious and is constantly “on” and making sure whoever he’s with are enjoying themselves and comfortable. Buddy is quite shy and very soft-spoken, which paradoxically makes him quite intimidating when you first meet him. But they’re two of the most astonishingly talented and creative generous folks around, and I feel very fortunate to be around while they’re making music.
Any plans for a DVD release?
We definitely have plans for a DVD release, which will feature some of the material that got cut from the finished film. I’m currently wading through the murky waters of rights clearances that need to be taken care of before we can do a DVD release, but at the moment we’re aiming for some time in the middle of the year. It’ll be also available online for those tech-savvy people reading this.
At the end of the credits, there’s a rather ominous line: “Jim Lauderdale will return…” Dare I ask?
Each Bond film features a little credit at the end which reads “James Bond will return…”, so that’s my little nod in their direction. I kind of see them as similar figures: well-dressed lady killers who are constantly on the move, accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack.
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