This is a huge question that needs to be contemplated strongly when you start to make a film. For me, it really is one of those questions that hovers over me and sometimes can't be answered until my research is done. If then.
Because in the creative process, the approach can change. And change again. But in the end, there is only one approach that is the final approach to the film.
Research helps build your context, your understanding of the story. Especially if you are new to the world of the story, as I am to the world of jazz. Until I started my research, I didn't grasp how BIG this world of jazz is, how varied and how many jazz lovers, players, promoters, clubs, festivals, radio stations, bloggers, books, CDs, writers exist on this planet!
With NIGHT BIRD SONG: THE THOMAS CHAPIN STORY, the world of the story is indeed jazz, the world that Thomas left when he passed in 1998 at age 40. Specifically avant jazz -- jazz that is experimental, that is "out", that is free, that is characterized by improvisation. Jazz that sounds like noise to the uninitiated. For those who love or listen to avant jazz, it is the "noise of joy." Someone else coined that term. But that's what I am learning as I begin to listen, really listen to the jazz of Thomas Chapin, and read the writings and write ups on his extensive website: www.thomaschapin.com
He was a rare player for his time, as he played both free and traditional jazz, both with proficiency.
Thomas was a multi-instrumentalist -- mainly sax and flute. But he to him anything that made sound was an "instrument"--be it a rock, a rustling of the wind, a rap on a wooden table. He was a composer, and he found his voice in the alto sax and his creative ground with his Thomas Chapin Trio. As I listen to his CD's, I am researching, building my context for understanding the music he made. I am hearing the "noise of joy" the more I listen--for Thomas was full of joy and had an incredible exuberance for life and in his playing.
His world of jazz, I am learning, was both "in" a.k.a. mainstream or uptown jazz, and "out" a.k.a. the downtown scene of NYC where his stages were small clubs, such as the famous Knitting Factory where he recorded most of his 12 CDs. He and his trio also played the big jazz stages in Europe, Canada, Japan, and the BIG one - the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island in 1994. Thomas called this breakthrough big stage performance, a milestone in his career. It was the first rung in what was going to be all uphill and into greater, wider performing stratospheres from there. Of course, it was not to be. And so his Newport performance is all the more poignant in what would have been Thomas' journey upward in the jazz world.
Back to the question of the film's approach.
Will it be a traditional biography, straight storytelling with talking heads, sometimes with music playing in the background, with a few longer clips of Thomas and the trio playing?
Will it be a new documentary form (new for me), with no or few talking heads, with the journey of the film twisting and turning through musical landscapes that Thomas and his fellow musicians lived?
Could it be a love story? The greatest story is love, right? Love? Love of a man for his music. Love of playing and performing. Love of creating. Love of fellowship among fellow players. Love of a good woman. Love of life that ended too soon.
One day, not too long from today I hope, the approach to the film's story will be clear to me. Stay tuned.