Following the advice of my friend Mark Fason, a talented film editor, I watched the movie Sherman’s March. This 1986 documentary has little to do with the military career of William Tecumseh Sherman and more about the filmmaker Ross McElwee‘s relationships with women. He is poised to shoot the documentary about Sherman’s famous march when his girlfriend breaks up with him sending him into a search for a new mate. He follows Sherman’s path and films the people he meets along the way.
The film inspired me in several ways. Most importantly, it appears to be shot entirely by McElwee himself. As a lover of the D.I.Y. ethic, I found this an amazing feat. Sure, I would love to have 2 chase vehicles and a helicopter capturing me on carbon fiber EPIC-M Red Dragon cameras for the show, but if I can’t raise any funding, I now know I have the ability tell a compelling story while shooting the show myself on a GoPro.
Another element from the film that struck me was that even non-famous people are interesting. McEwee points the camera and let’s normal people talk about their lives and experiences. Gathering different perspectives from these unknowns is compelling reality television before that became a buzz word .
Lastly, I was moved by the director sharing his vulnerability so openly in the movie. He has had a lot of trouble maintaining relationships and watching him work through the process of seeking a new mate provided for a good story.
With Sherman’s March, McElwee proves what can be done with one guy, an idea, and a camera. Great inspiration.
I have written a short script for a teaser video about the show. I am going to use this video to build interest in the project. I recorded the voiceover in my best “radio guy” voice and I am editing new an old footage to the track. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek but gets the message across. I digitized a bunch of old VHS tapes today to use in the video which brought back a lot of fond memories. I vow to have fun doing this show every step of the way!
I am ordering stickers, guitar picks, and T shirts to use for rewards when I launch a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign. My best friend and the “Jimi Hendrix of Graphics” Tylor Durand did all of the artwork for me. I am realizing how lucky I am to have so many friends who believe in this project.
I also applied for sponsorship from GoPro. I will be using their mini cameras for action shots and on-bike footage. They seem pretty cool about funding smaller projects so I have my fingers crossed hoping they will help me out on Popp Over America.
I remember when my band in Tampa was starting to get a bit of local attention, I had a co-worker ask me, “Will you hire me as a roadie when you are famous?” I replied, “I don’t need you when I’m famous – I need you now.”
Finding people who will actively support a creative idea before the money and the fame comes along is a rare thing. More often then not the idea never amounts to any monetary compensation. The beauty is to discover those individuals who see into the distance and understand the heart of what is trying to be accomplished aside from any financial gain. Unbelievably, they are out there.
When I first posted the idea for my show on Facebook, I was surprised at the amount of support. One person who came forward almost immediately was a former student of mine Eric Bell. After graduating, Eric became an Emmy winning video editor (twice!) for SNY, the Met’s Network. He has since gone on to work for many other major networks including NBCSN, ABC, A&E, MSNBC, PBS, and AMC.
Besides his knack for editing, Eric is also a talented drummer and has toured the world. When he came forward to offer his assistance with the project I was flattered.
We met a a classic New York bar called Smith’s that Eric had played at with his band, If But When. He picked this location because the bar was closing and he wanted one last visit before the place was shuttered. While sitting with Eric drinking a couple of Buds, the old cliche popped into my head, “One door closes…”
We talked extensively about the project and he is onboard to edit the pilot episode which I am planning now. To say I am excited is a gross understatement. The pieces of this journey are falling into place.
I am loosely planning my pilot episode and I am considering Philadelphia as a primary destination. A photographer friend of mine from The City of Brotherly Love, Stacey Salter Moore, was in town for the PhotoPlus Expo with her company JPG photography. We met up at Javitz and walked to one of my favorite Hell’s Kitchen watering holes the Holland Bar to blab about ideas for my new show.
Much to my surprise Stacey invited Food Network Star Russell Jackson to join us in the discussion. Both Stacey and Russell gave me great ideas. Russell hammered home the point that the content is everything and admitted to shooting much of his web footage on an iPhone. He showed me some time lapse video that he shot of his underground restaurant and I had to agree.
Russell also discussed the idea that my show doesn’t even need to end up on a network station. He told me about many shows that are strictly web based and are very successful. He posed the question, “Do you want to be famous or make money? Because you will make more money on the web.” I thought about this and realized I wasn’t overly concerned with either. My goal is to share a story that will be inspiring to others. It’s about conquering fear. It’s about going for it.
I am learning there is no single way to create an episodic show. As corny as it sounds, I need to follow my heart and let the content ring true. Good storytelling doesn’t need to be complex or technically advanced. An old Harlan Howard quote comes to mind. When asked how to write a great country song, Harlan simply replied, “Three chords and the truth.”
My ultimate goal for the show would be to have a camera operator travel with me on my journey. Hopefully this person would own a bitching camera to shoot the show. I understand this is a big ask being I have no budget as of yet and no means to make a financial offer to a shooter. Realizing this, my D.I.Y. ethic always kicks into high gear. I may have to shoot the show, or at least a pilot, myself with tripods and specialized mounts.
With this idea in mind, I ventured to the PDN PhotoPlus Expo that was in town at the Jacob Javits Center here in New York to check out cameras and assorted gear. I don’t know much about photography or videography and attending this show made me realize I have a mountain to learn.
But, I have no fear. I started as a guitarist and later learned recording, which turned into a career for me. After that, I taught myself amplifier and effects pedal construction. I enjoy immersing myself deeply into what I love. I welcome this challenge of assimilating new skills related to this project.
I know I am going to use a GoPro Hero4 to capture a good amount of on-bike video, but my meeting with James Repici confirmed I am going to need a higher quality camera for capturing other footage.
I currently do not own a motorcycle. My last bike was a 1988 BMW K75C that I bought in 2012. I used that bike for two extensive tours and a lot of weekend blasts through the mountains in Upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. I loved the motorcycle and referred to it as “The Brick” (short for the nickname of the motor “the flying brick”). Unfortunately, I had to move to a cheaper apartment to cut down on expenses as I have been stuck at the same salary for 5 years due to the CUNY contract negotiations being stalled. This cost cutting included getting rid of the bike and the garage rental. She was also getting a little long in the tooth with over 60,000 miles on the odometer.
I didn’t let the lack of ownership stop me from being a motorcyclist. I joined a group called Jupiter’s MotoShare, and for a yearly flat fee, I get to rent from a collection of bikes for $49 a day. Averaging out the time I ride versus maintenance and parking, the MotoShare deal comes out quite a bit cheaper.
For the time being the MotoShare program will suffice, but for a 48 state tour involving 4 months of travel, I will need my own bike. I’ve owned quite a few bikes and rented even more. After all of this saddle time on many different brands, the choice for this ride is a no brainer – BMW. The 25-year-old Brick gave me absolutely zero trouble on my 7000 cross country trip and only a little fan clatter at the very end of my second one, a problem I remedied myself with a $75 part.
The bike I want to ride for this trip differs from The 3 cylinder Brick in that I have chosen to purchase a bike with BMW’s legendary Boxer twin engine. This motor design has been around for over 90 years and has proven itself time after time. This historical longevity of the engine design intrigues me. Another interesting fact regarding the company is that one of the three founding fathers of BMW (and their first managing director) is named Franz Josef Popp. I am taking this as sign pointing me towards the brand. I am no huge believer in predestination, but when fate shouts, I tend to listen.
The Boxer motor is known for it’s durability with many examples clocking well over 100,000 miles. The Boxer powered R 1150 GS was the motorcycle used in the series Long Way Down, an episodic tale of Ewan McGregor, along with lessor known actor Charley Boorman, driving on the bikes from London to New York. The pair of movie stars initially wanted to ride KTM motorcycles for the trip, but when the high-brow Austrian Company balked at giving them free bikes, they accepted the BMWs. Boorman is seen on the first episode ripping down the KTM poster in the project office in a diva-esque moment because he didn’t get the free bikes he wanted.
I realize I am not a movie star and I will have a hard time getting anybody to sponsor this project. But witnessing BMW willing to hand out bikes to the actors, I contacted them on a whim and told them about Popp Over America. I got a prompt and kind response from a customer service rep of BMW Motoraad USA referring me to the philanthropy/charity page. According to the guidelines, to get sponsorship I need to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit. I am certain Ewan McGregor does not fall into this category.
My expectations where pretty low with this first contact. I was letting them know that I am out here doing this project. I have zero content and only a page of ideas. I will continue to develop and build on materials as I near the departure of my journey. I am not done pitching to BMW yet. I have a name and a phone number now, and once I get a test episode, I will toss another pitch at them. Hopefully the series get’s picked up by a channel and they will give me the bike of my dreams, the new for 2015 R 1200RS. Yup, it’s a Boxer…
In an effort to collect as much information and gather as many ideas as possible, I contacted filmmaker James Repici. James is a Master’s Degree film student at Columbia University. I met him about 20 years ago when he was a fan of my eponymous band, Joe Popp. I saw him again for the first time since those old punk rock days at the now defunct Ding Dong Lounge about a year ago. He reintroduced himself and told me about the good fortune with his filmmaking career. He had recently won Best Florida Film Award at the Gasparilla International Film Festival for his feature Subprime. Both NYU and Columbia made him offers to come to their respective programs. He chose Columbia and relocated from Tampa to NYC.
I asked if he would meet with me to discuss ideas about my show. Yes he is 15 years younger than me, but his experience creating films far exceeds mine, so I thought I would pick his brain. I also wanted to hear from a creative person with a younger perspective.
We sat and had coffee at Cafe Amrita and he sparked a bunch of ideas. One specific idea is to get film school students from the locations I visit to help shoot footage. I want the show to have a D.I.Y. feel, but James insisted I am still going to need another person to point the camera.
James also thought the best way to gather interest is to actually shoot a test episode. I was already planning on doing this, but his enthusiasm cemented the need to get going on the planning of a destination right away.
Beyond his knowledge of visualizing and bringing a film to fruition, James is a straight up salt-of-the-earth dude and it was nice to chat with him about not only the past, but great things in the future. I am certain you’ll be hearing about James someday very soon…
I am lucky to know quite of few people in the film, documentary, news, design and art worlds. I decided to round up a few of these surly characters and meet at one of my favorite NYC bars, The Scratcher. Over a few pints of Guinness, we candidly discussed and brainstormed what this journey encapsulates. I am trying to find the voice of Popp Over America. Is it a travel show? Is it a music show? Is it a food show? So many of these approaches have been done, but I am looking to combine all of them.
Some ideas that came out of this meeting are as follows:
The journey should be an uninterrupted one, meaning I should leave on the tour and not return home until I have completed all 48 states.
I should involve the local communities by asking questions of the places I visit. For instance: “What is the best BBQ in Austin?” or “What is the best singer songwriter venue in Chicago?” and let the locals have online battles and vote where I should go.
I cannot generate support of a television network without content. I need to produce a trailer/teaser and perhaps even do a test show.
We had a great time and a lot of laughs discussing the project. Nothing beats old friends. beers, and ideas…
Ever since I was a young boy (obvious Who reference), I have had a love for both music and motorcycles. I recall wielding a broom as an electric guitar while bouncing on my parent’s bed to the Banana Splits TV show theme song in my tighty whiteys at the age of 5. My brother John reported to my mother that he thought I had brain damage. I was born to be a rock star.
When my dad brought home John’s new gold mini bike powered by a mighty 5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine, I begged for a ride until he finally relented. Soon enough I was riding myself. I loved the feeling of speed and acceleration. I was born to be a motorcycle racer.
Neither one of these childhood career choices came true, but I have been lucky to have success as a musician. I have recorded several albums and composed music for plays. I have also put more than a few miles under my butt aboard various brands of motorcycles that I’ve either owned or rented. I toured 7000 miles cross country in 2012, and 2500 miles up and down the East Coast in 2013. During these long trips I realized something was missing. Oh yeah, MY GUITAR!
As of June of 2015, I will turn 50-years-old and I have but one dream left. I will combine the two things I love into one epic journey and tour the 48 contiguous states as a singer-songwriter via motorcycle.
I am lucky to have good job as a technical director for a music recording program at a college in New York City. I am classified as non-teaching faculty, but even though I don’t teach full-time, every six years I get a one year sabbatical. That’s right – a year off from work. This break arrives in September of 2016 and I have decided to do an episodic TV series based on this final goal.
I am in the planning stages of this program right now. I must admit, I have not been this excited about a project in a long time.
Hop on and ride along…
My brother John giving me my first ride on a minibike.