“It’s about legendary songwriter Guy Clark and his struggle to write poetic songs that matter while balancing a complicated relationship with his artist wife, Susanna, and their best friend, songwriter Townes Van Zandt.” Filmmakers Tamara Saviano & Paul Whitfield on WITHOUT GETTING KILLED OR CAUGHT, showing at South By Southwest Film.
Editor’s Note: While SxSW was officially cancelled on March 6th, 2020, the below interview was one of many that already took place prior to the festival. To respect the creators, all already performed interviews are presented in their unedited entirety below. All of the below works WILL make their way out into the world in one way or another, and we will update this article with updated information when we have it. — JW
Welcome to SxSW! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?
It’s my first film at SXSW but my 25th year as an attendee.
Awesome! Tell me about your favourite aspects of Austin!
No film in the past but I split my time living between Austin and Nashville. Favorite restaurants in Austin include Botticelli’s, Quattro Gatti, Le Politique, La Condesa, Guero’s, Tacodeli, Hyde Park Grill. My favorite place to have a drink is the bar at the Driskill Hotel, the bar at Hotel Ella, or the Lobby Bar at South Congress Hotel. The desserts at Cafe No Se at South Congress Hotel are fabulous. Great pastries, tea, and view at Mozart’s Coffee Shop on the lake. There is also a wonderful bistro out that way called Fabi & Rosi. Best Migas dish is at South Congress Cafe. Walking the Lady Bird Lake trail is fantastic. Austin is a fantastic city.
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past?
This is my first film. I have been in the music business for 30 years and have produced three Grammy-nominated records. One of them, Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster, won the Grammy in 2005. Another, This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, won the Americana Album of the Year at the Americana Honors and Awards in 2012. The most fun is the record I produced on Kris Kristofferson, The Cedar Creek Sessions, because I’ve been working with Kris for two decades and doing anything with him is a blast. I’ve also produced tribute albums to Kris, Jackson Browne, and Sun Records. My biography on Guy Clark, also called Without Getting Killed or Caught, won the Belmont Award from the International Country Music Association for the best writing on country music in 2016. I worked as a program advisor on Ken Burns’ Country Music series, which aired on PBS in 2019 and also wrote liner notes for the companion box set.
How did this doc come together?
There was no real preparation. Guy Clark was dying and we knew we had to get him on camera so we started interviewing him before we knew what story we planned to tell. A year after his death, my co-writer, Bart Knaggs, and I took an eight week screenwriting workshop and wrote the script. Then we filled in interviews around Guy’s core story and used Susanna’s journals, secret audio diaries and the interviews I did with her for my book to shape the POV. Sissy Spacek narrates as Susanna and the story is told from her POV. It’s a music documentary so a lot of time and money was spent on music licensing as we have 18 songs in the film, and finding and licensing vintage footage and photos. We shot original interviews with Guy and Susanna’s friends and shot B-roll in Guy’s hometown of Rockport, Texas, Luckenbach, TX, and Austin, TX. We shot our opening on the Natchez Trace near Nashville, TN and our ending in Santa Fe, NM.
What keeps you going while making a documentary? What drives you?
I think that I just found myself at a point where I was in so deep that quitting was out of the question. I also had investors and Kickstarter Backers and Guy’s friends and family that were counting on us to finish the film. Believe me, there are many times I wanted to quit. Ultimately I’m glad we hung in there but it was the most difficult creative project I’ve attempted.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
The biggest reward was finishing. The biggest challenge was the rest of it. Finding money when we needed it really sucked but thankfully I had help with that.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
Our film is largely archival but our cinematographer slash co-director story-boarded the scenes we shot and chose his cameras and sound gear based on the location and season. He’s not here to answer specific questions about gear!
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?
Guy, Susanna and Townes are Texans. The entire time we worked on the film, our dream was to have our World Premiere at SXSW. We didn’t care about Sundance. We didn’t care about any other festival or event for a premiere. We wanted SX. And we are thrilled that they liked our film enough to choose it.
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
Hopefully more festivals and theatrical before finding a home at streaming or cable or whatever. We are going to take our time looking for the right distribution deals. The great news is that I have been working in Guy Clark world since 1998. I know where his fans are. I know exactly where he sold concert tickets, where he had radio play and where he sold albums. We have lots of options. And, because I work in the music business, I negotiated the music licensing up front. I have the songs licensed for film festivals and theatrical and deals in place for licensing for TV, streaming, physical media and so forth. So, we know what those hard numbers are and exactly what we need to do on the budgeting end. I may be a first time filmmaker but I am business savvy and I have business savvy partners!
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
The Oriental Theater in Milwaukee because it is my hometown.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
I’m probably not the right person to answer this question. But, I would say that anyone who wants to be in the film business should realize that they will have to raise money. If you don’t want to ask people for money, then this probably isn’t a good choice. You also need to know about the business end and not just about the creative part.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
Oh boy. I can’t pick just one. I do love to see documentaries at film festivals but I’ve seen too many great ones to just pick one.
For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!