In 1967, Jim Hall started an art project that would take forty years to complete. However, the tools he used to create his living piece of art were not materials you could buy at an art supply store. Jim’s paintbrush was a tattoo gun, and his canvas the skin covering his entire body. Today’s Staff Pick Premiere, “out of the blue,” is a documentary about a man that calls himself “The Blue Comma.”
Bi-coastal directing duo Steve Hoover and Jon Bregel, aka friendzone, tell Jim’s story through a lens of awe and admiration. With gorgeous cinematography and a razor sharp edit, Hoover and Bregel have created a film that allows the retired Baltimore City Planner of 40 years to tell his story with playfulness and heart.
Ahead of today’s release, we reached out to friendzone to learn more about their inspiration and process. Read on for excerpts from our interview.
On the film’s inspiration:
“The inspiration for the film was Jim. He’s such a passionate, friendly, open-minded, and courageous man — a role model of sorts. Jim was the first person that Jon (Bregel, co-director) met on the block of his new home in Baltimore, MD. Jim welcomed Jon into the neighborhood by sharing in-depth stories about the history of Baltimore.”
On encouraging subjects to speak freely:
“Jim is a free bird so there wasn’t much effort on our parts to get him to open up and talk candidly. In fact, he was so comfortable that he got naked in front of the camera, but we chose not to show his completely tattooed genitals. We wanted to leave some things for the imagination.
Overall, in order for us to have people speak openly and feel comfortable in front of the lens, we have to be that way behind the lens. We’ve both filmed so many different types of people over the years in incredibly vulnerable, emotional states. We’ve learned that the people we’re filming are in a vulnerable place just by allowing us to film them. We respect them for that and they can sense it.”
“There’s so much more to Jim’s story that we weren’t able to include in this short piece, like Jim’s extensive knowledge of Baltimore’s history, his collection of Baltimore city maps and his three connected historical row houses that are under endless restoration (one of the houses has a large indoor garden). Jim is filled with stories and really loves talking to strangers. There was a lot more that we could have filmed but we were limited in time and resources, so we really had to keep the piece concise. And when it comes to editing, Steve (Hoover, co-director and editor) loves to kill darlings.”
On challenges faced:
“Jim doesn’t like to be interrupted.”
On desired impact:
“Jim lives his life in a way that we think makes people say, “I hope I’m like that when I’m his age”. He is someone who really values and enjoys his existence in a way that feels true. We hope that people will watch this and not feel important, but think, “‘wow’! You’re not a special little butterfly, but it sure is special that you’re a little butterfly.” As Jim says, “a human is an outrageous phenomenon and what a prize that we get to be one.”
On whether Jim has seen the film:
“Yes. Multiple times. His memory isn’t great anymore so every time we show it to him, he sees it for the first time, and loves it.”
On advice to aspiring filmmakers:
“As an aspiring filmmaker, concern yourself with what you’re trying to say, not what you’re shooting on. Also, just go out and film things and people that are interesting to you. Don’t worry about the approval of others.”
On what’s next:
“We plan to continue making short films, commercials, branded content and possibly some long-form documentaries.”