Guest Star: "One Of The Things About It Is In A Way, We Were Cheating"

Monday, May 23, 2011 5:40PM

Written by SOHH for Gregory Jacobs

[With the independent openings of new documentary Louder Than A Bomb, co-director Gregory Jacobs reflects on rolling the camera lens for his poetry-based film.]

A lot of times, especially when it comes to documentaries, these things are total accidents. You're just waiting on things in the world to hit you and that's what happened in this case. We had no previous interest in doing the poetry documentary but I just happened to be driving past a club in the north side of Chicago called The Metro with my wife in March 2005. I looked at the marquee and it said, "Louder Than A Bomb: High School Poetry Slam Finals Tonight" and then there was a line of kids of all colors, shapes and sizes.

And it was such a strange thing to see. It's such a segregated city, Chicago, and it's very strange to see that kind of diversity out there on a Saturday night. And the fact that they were all there for poetry was something I didn't remember myself doing in high school on Saturday nights. So that also meant kids were onstage performing their poetry in front of their peers which is also something that would be the last thing I would want to do when I was in high school.

It was a whole bunch of things at once and it made me think, "Hey, that's a really interesting thing. We should check it out." I mentioned it to my co-director Jon Siskel and he said, "Yeah, let's go look for it." So we kind of started investigating it from there and we met with Kevin Coval, the co-founder of "Louder Than A Bomb," and he became our tour guide through the high schools, the teams and the coaches.

We went to the event a year before [in 2007] and it was almost like a recruiting trip to see who we would pick as the juniors returning back as seniors who would be really interesting to follow. That's how we ended up getting the four teams.

When you start a documentary, you hope the script works. The script that gets written is the one you have in your head and one of the great things about this is we would have tried to pick characters who were diverse geographically, racially but it just so happened that the ones we picked actually were. They were from all sides of the city and really just had interesting backgrounds that you can't really stereotype them. Nate is an African American from the far, far side of Chicago but he's been going to kind of gifted schools all of his life. Nova is half-Indian, half African American and she lives kind of in this nice little suburb and goes to this nice school but she lives just across the border from some of the hardest neighborhoods in Chicago. It's sort of bled into her neighborhood and has a single mom, working three jobs, has a special needs younger brother that she had to take care of, so everyone really had interesting, complicating stories. You just kind of hope this is what happens when the cameras are there in terms of interest.

One of the things about it is in a way, we were cheating because these are all kids who had gotten onstage and talked about some of their most personal issues and thought about them and thought about how to say them all the time. We were kind of following people who were already really good about talking about themselves and we just happened to bring a camera. So the nice thing was the trust was built very quickly. And very quickly, when they did, they were already so articulate talking about their issues and lives that it went faster than it may have gone otherwise. The nice thing about the movie is you get to hear them talk about their lives very personally and then you get to see them read their poems. And you can sort of compare the two and one kind of enhances the other.

You learn about their lives through their poems and their poems through their lives. And by the end of the movie, you feel like you know them incredibly well.

For more information on Louder Than A Bomb, just click here.

Greg Jacobs, Director/Producer: The Siskel/Jacobs Productions co-founder served as VP/Chief Creative Officer at Towers Productions, where he oversaw the content of more than two hundred documentaries on five different networks, including award-winning shows and series for A&E, History, Discovery, The Weather Channel, and CNN. A graduate of Yale University, Greg has a master's degree in history from Ohio State, and is the author of Getting Around Brown: Desegregation, Development, and the Columbus Public Schools.

Check out the Louder Than A Bomb trailer below:

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