Available to rent on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms.
Now available on VOD is Songbirds, a wonderful documentary about a museum (named after this bird) dedicated to showing how the electric guitar became what it is today. It’s about the people who built this place to what it is now, how the pandemic affected its business model, its closure and when it rose from the ashes like a phoenix to become something even better!
Their goal is to do more than showcase the history and influence of this instrument in 20th century music. Within its doors, people could play with the instruments (after paying a fee), and attend special concerts from those musicians who long to touch that first production telecaster. In its latest form, it’s to teach young children how to play too!
Dagan W. Beckett (pictured below, left) is the creative mind who made this one-hour length film. His love for this establishment is clearly evident from the first frame to last. He delivers not only a beautiful look back at this place’s founding but also hits all the right notes (pardoning the pun) to show us why more places like this need to exist around the world. But even I had a few questions just to confirm a few lingering thoughts. It was a pleasure to correspond with him about this work.
Can we please have an introduction from you for those readers unfamiliar with your work?
I am a filmmaker/director currently located in Chattanooga, Tennessee which is just North of Atlanta. The documentary film, Songbirds, is my debut work and my team and I are so very fortunate to have received a handful of awards for it, as well as an Emmy® for best Topical Documentary.
How does it feel to win all these awards?
It’s humbling! I’ve been a film geek all my life, and I’ve watched movies my whole life. Watching Christopher Reeve fly across my TV screen as Superman is what inspired me! I’m always watching to see how things are produced and executed. I’ve been like that since I was a small child.
When producing the film, I simply wanted to tell a good story using all the tools I learned both as a musician and as a film geek. I feel honoured and grateful that people enjoy what I have put together, and I can only hope to continue it with my next project.
Were you aware that the museum would close down soon when filming?
Yeah, like I said before, I was already a huge fan of the museum and heard it was closing like everyone else and that’s when I decided to tell this story. I actually spent the first 15 years of my career as a professional musician. I even graduated with my music degree from the University of Tennessee.
After I gave up music and started building my production company, I would always volunteer my time to the local artist in Chattanooga and that’s when I started building relationships with the amazing staff at the museum–Songbirds became a “Safe Haven” for me.
I felt intimidated by the ghosts of those who had once played those instruments and couldn’t believe that I was in the presence of these pieces of history. It was a spiritual experience for me. I honestly never thought for a second that it would close and was so angry with COVID-19 at what it did to the music and entertainment industry.
Songbirds were just another casualty. With no live shows or people coming in to take tours, they just couldn’t afford to keep it open. But we get into that more in the film.
When did you get the idea of making this documentary?
I had heard that Songbirds was closing in August 2020 along with everyone else. At that time I knew I needed to do my part and document it before it closed. I called Johnny Smith, the president of the museum, and told him that I didn’t have a plan but that I had to film something. He told me I could have as much access as I needed and film whatever I wanted but that I only had a week to do it. My crew and I went in about three days later and began filming.
What were the hurdles during production?
The biggest hurdles were honestly schedules. Working around the schedules of the bigger name musicians in the film. On average, we had about three days’ notice to arrange shoots when we heard the celebrities were available.
Other hurdles were simple production and post-production cost. We didn’t have a budget so Beckett Media Pro had to fund all production costs. We also relied on sponsorship and donations from individuals to help with various expenses.
What made you decide to go for making an hour-long documentary rather than something longer?
I would have loved to have made it a little longer, and we had enough footage to push it longer if needed but at the end of the day we wanted to tell a really tightly paced story that didn’t drag nor felt rushed. We felt like the length we landed on was indicative of a very well paced film.
Is there a reason for the country music focus for this documentary’s soundtrack?
Not really. Mostly we worked with what resources we had access to. I’m personally more of a Rock and Roll geek, but it was very delightful and humbling to work with the country artist we do have in the film.
Do you know if many celebrity hard rock musicians visited this museum or if they played here? I’d be curious if any of them signed a guest book.
Yes, they did. But, they came through during closed hours and were given personal tours. Artists such as Jackson Browne, G. E. Smith, even Kevin Bacon and his brother (pictured right) are some examples of artists that came through.
I’m not sure if there was ever a guest book. I’m curious as well.
Of personal interest because I’m a huge fan of Queen, had Brian May been willing to part with his original Red Special to put on display, would Songbirds be the ideal place to put it?
I can’t speak to the parameters of what guitars went into the collection. As a fan of the collection, I could see it going in the same exhibit display next to Robbie Krieger’s Custom Gibson SG. That same exhibit showcase had guitars belonging to Buddy Guy, Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys as well as Dick Dale.
Had this museum been located elsewhere in America, would it have been able to survive the pandemic and run?
Probably not. One of the reasons the investors chose Chattanooga was because it was between Nashville and Atlanta, because of the low lease cost. I believe they said New York wanted $25K a month. We discuss this at length in the film; it costs a considerable amount of money for both the level of security needed and to properly condition the air for those instruments. The humidity has to be at a certain level to make it sustainable for the guitars–that’s all stuff we discuss in the film.
Which musical genres would you say the electric guitar has been the most influential?
Rock for sure! Especially with Buddy Holly and his strat!
Are there plans for a home video release? If so, would there be bonus material to expand on bits that’s been glossed on?
I have tons of bonus material laying around the cutting room floor, and I’d love to get that out as supplemental footage, but that’s a call that Irv and David, my producers, will have to make.