Maru Ellyn Hutton
May 28, 2012
David Donnelly of Endeavor Pictures shooting in Cincinnati for "Maestro"
David Donnelly knows what it means to follow your bliss. A native of Lakeside Park, Kentucky, Donnelly, 30, is a filmmaker. As a student at Washington University in St. Louis, he took a film production class, “and it was a love affair from the start. Some things you know in life, and right away I just knew this is what I wanted to do. It makes me wake up early in the mornings.”
After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles and dug right in. He worked as an intern and production assistant and freelanced as a writer and director. “I did not go to film school. I’m self-taught. I just started making projects.” In 2010, he started a production company, Endeavor Pictures, with actor/businessman Ford d’Aprix. (D’Aprix was praised for his role as John Wilkes Booth in the one-man, off-Broadway show “To Bury Caesar” in 2009.)
Endeavor’s latest project is a feature length documentary called “Maestro,” an “exploration of the creative process,” focusing on conductor Paavo Järvi (music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 2001-2011).
“The purpose of our company is to create films that inspire social change,” said Donnelly. “That’s the core message of every one of our projects. The first thing we did under the Endeavor Pictures banner was a two-disc DVD set called ‘Think About It’ (about teen drinking and driving). It’s part narrative and part documentary, shot mostly in Cincinnati. We signed a deal with the largest educational film distributor in North America, and it goes out in catalogs to high school teachers, law enforcement agencies, driving schools, those kinds of places.”
Others include “Consequences,” a 30-minute docu-drama for at-risk youth, produced in partnership with the Consequences Foundation, and “Believe,” “a diverse palette” of monologues on philosophies of life, to be premiered in Miami early next year. Endeavor’s first feature length film (due out this summer) is “Doctor Feelgood,” the story of a “playboy doctor” who comes under investigation when a patient dies after taking an overdose of a drug he prescribed. (For further information, see www.endeavorpicturesllc.com.)
But how does classical music inspire social change?
Donnelly recalled that when he was in high school (Holmes High School in Covington, Kentucky) he played football and trumpet. “I liked playing trumpet, and I feel like I was good at it, but I thought it was cooler to play football. That’s a very common thing, especially among men. I think there are a lot of talented men who could be doing theater or band or playing classical pieces. They could be in the arts, but in contemporary culture, it’s not necessarily something that is hip. I don’t think that’s the case. I think these guys are rock stars.”
Donnelly met Järvi in Cincinnati, where he lived for two years after embarking on his career in Los Angeles. “I really didn’t know anything about classical music. I was not much of a fan.” What Donnelly learned right away was the similarity between what they do. “When you’re making a film, you’re taking a creative vision, and you have to communicate that vision. You have to make it your own. He (Järvi) has to take a piece of music that’s been heard maybe hundreds, if not thousands of times, and somehow make it his own. He has to communicate that vision to large amounts of people in a live performance.”
Donnelly started going to CSO concerts and taking other people his age. Järvi gave him some pieces to listen to and information about their context, i.e. the stories behind them. “That was a real inspiration to me, because I’m a story-oriented person,” he said. “Once I heard some of the stories, the inspiration behind some of them and what they meant, all of a sudden it was fascinating. I want to replicate that experience to a very large audience with this film.”
It’s a “universal story,” said Donnelly, who is now back in Los Angeles. “It’s about the evolution of self-expression. The footprints of human history can be told through the history of classical music. Take a piece that might have been made hundreds of years ago. Was that country at war? At peace? What was the mentality at that time? There’s so much you can learn from each of these pieces.”
Donnelly wants to show classical music from a new and different angle, he said. “People, especially in mainstream culture, have certain stereotypes of classical music. I’m going to shoot it like an athletic performance, kind of like the build up before a big game. We’re focusing on the artistic process, what it’s like to take a piece of music from beginning to end and how that works through the rehearsal process and live performance.”
People should know “the technical mastery” that goes into classical music, he said. “A conductor devotes his entire life to studying and making this art form last. All the people involved are so talented, and there’s got to be this perfect literal and metaphorical harmony that makes it come together.” People don’t know what a conductor does, he added. “They’re like, couldn’t they play if the conductor wasn’t there? Could a film direct itself? Technically, I guess, but someone has to be the heartbeat of the performance, the leader who is looking at the big picture vs. each individual’s performance. It’s both micro and macro.”
To produce “Maestro,” Donnelly and his crew are filming Järvi with several orchestras, including the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Orchestre de Paris and Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, all of which he heads. As a parallel to that, he will follow an up and coming conductor (to be named). “We want to show somebody at the top of their game and somebody trying to break in.”
Donnelly’s company will produce a soundtrack album in addition to the film. “Part of what we do is use unexpected scores in a lot of our work. People are going to expect stuffiness. Obviously, we’re going to have classical music, but we’re going to have a soundtrack inspired by classical music that different bands do contemporary takes on. We want people to hear classical music in a different way. We’d like to have a jazz-inspired piece and a rock-inspired piece. We’d like to incorporate a couple of bigger artists from the mainstream in addition to some up-and-coming bands. We have a whole music team, and part of my job is to try to figure out what the total sound is going to be, in addition to what it’s going to feel and look like.”
Donnelly began shooting in Cincinnati in January. “We shot at Music Hall; we shot at VIEW Cucina and Nada. The main part of the filming will be in Europe, but there will be a lot of shooting in Cincinnati, and hopefully, it will reflect greatly on Cincinnati and on the orchestra (CSO) and arts scene there.”
Donnelly hopes to have the final cut of “Maestro” ready by September, with a limited theatrical release by early to mid-2013. It will be available, also, on DVD and online streams, and will be distributed to music education classes in high schools and universities across the country. “We want to show the beauty that goes on in the classical music world and who these people really are. They deserve a lot of respect.”
There will be a sneak peek of footage from “Maestro” at a “black and white gala,” to be held in Cincinnati on Saturday, July 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $99. All proceeds go directly to the film. For further information and tickets, visit http://www.Maestromovie.wordpress.com/.http://www.musicincincinnati.com/site/features/Documentary_to_Focus_on_Paavo_J_rvi.html