Filmmaker 5 with Christo Brock
BREWMANCE, the latest documentary from filmmaker Christo Brock, is now available on video on demand (VOD) on all major platforms in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. A feature-length documentary of 102 minutes, BREWMANCE follows two sets of accomplished home brewers looking to open their own craft breweries: a father-son team who repaired their strained relationship and grew close over making beer and a retired ska band rock star (Dan Regan, Reel Big Fish) looking for a “quiet” existence as a brewery owner with his buddies. With the insight and commentary of legendary brewers Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Fritz Maytag (Anchor Brewing), Charlie Papazian, Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Jim Koch (Boston Brewing) and others, BREWMANCE reveals the soul of craft beer in the heart of America. In anticipation of the BREWMANCE release on Amazon, Classic Couple Academy recently asked filmmaker Christo Brock about the project. Our Filmmaker 5 with Christo Brock follows.
Filmmaker 5.1: BREWMANCE is about a uniquely American industry—craft brewing. What did you learn about America in the process of making this film?
As with any good journey, you discover things along the way that you never envisioned when the journey started. This became apparent during the making of BREWMANCE – that what these brewers had done in creating a new category and movement was uniquely American.
For the most part, we Americans are an unruly lot – driven to be individuals, contemptuous of authority, and not fond of being told something’s impossible. The mythology of the American dream is built on the idea of infinite possibility. And those of us crazy enough to try it – and lucky enough to make it work – can enjoy the fruits of making something great.
This idea came into clear focus (ahem) during our interview with Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada. Here’s a guy who used to make beer as a teenager in his kitchen, then ran a bike shop, then had the crazy idea to open his own brewery in 1980. There wasn’t even a market for his beer then … but he persisted. Tough, driven, unwilling to fail. And now he’s a billionaire.
Those early brewers – the ones who succeeded – all had an entrepreneurial core wrapped with a pirate’s mentality. That rebellious nature married with a structured practicality is a very American thing. I don’t think that kind of thing is so common in other societies around the world. I’m not sure if it’s our pioneer spirit, or our collective optimism, or our inbred stubbornness. Regardless, it seems to be at the heart of American entrepreneurism.
Filmmaker 5.2: The BREWMANCE project is the result of three years of work and over 600 hours of footage. When in your creative process did you know how you wanted to tell the story of craft beer?
I always knew that I wanted to see the inflection point of someone transitioning from amateur to professional. I thought that change would be inherently cinematic, and could be the backbone of an interesting narrative. What I didn’t know was how that would unfold. It’s one of the reasons I have so many hours of footage.
I’ve always preferred the cinema verité style of documentary filmmaking. I like to see things happen in front of the camera, rather than explained after the fact as one finds in archival docs. And when one does have something happen in front of the camera, it’s so much more real and engaging. And less manipulatable.
Of course, this is a terrible business model. It’s hard to keep costs down when you’re shooting 100+ days and accumulating barrels full of footage. It’s why I shot most of the film myself – cause I’m cheap. Yeah, there are aesthetic reasons for that, too, and maybe some control freak issues, too … but I’m mostly cheap.
There are a lot of beer films out there, but few – if any – manage to encapsulate the meta of craft beer. This is something I really wanted to do, both for aesthetic and commercial reasons. I wanted the film to be nationally relevant, just as craft beer is. And I thought that if I could prove my thesis that craft beer was begat by homebrewers, I would have a film that tied it all together. The trick was to tell the big story of craft beer around the little story of my homebrewer main subjects.
It wasn’t until we got to the edit room that editor Sonja (Schenk) and I settled on our format. Originally I was thinking that the film would be heavily tilted to verité. It still is, mostly, but those legends of craft beer were so gosh darned interesting that we figured we could lean on them a bit more without compromising the narrative. And so the idea of “walking in the footsteps of giants” was born – that our homebrewers were on a modern-day version of the same pilgrimage those legends made 40 years before.
Filmmaker 5.3: This film focuses on the experiences of newcomers to a field contrasted with the wisdom of veteran pioneers, somewhat like your 2015 film Touch the Wall. How does this contrast aid your storytelling?
On a structural level, the “Greek Chorus” I’ve employed in BREWMANCE – similar but more present than the experts in TTW – allows for a framing device to steer and editorialize. By allowing “experts” to precede and follow narrative scenes, I’m able to shape the narrative a bit more precisely, and interestingly. And I’m able to editorialize a bit authentically by selecting specific interview parts to illuminate my thesis. When Jim Koch says, “Craft beer is a uniquely American phenomena,” and we employ that in the title sequence, we’re able to set up a thesis to prove. By the time Fritz Maytag says, “…. We’re free,” I hope we’ve proved that thesis.
Dramatically, the experts allow us to intensify and frame the narrative action. To hear Fritz Maytag say, “I was insane for 10 years, and I’m not kidding!” in the midst of a narrative preparation scene gives both urgency and context to what the main characters are feeling/experiencing. And it has the bonus of giving us a historical footnote to the larger movement we’re trying to define.
Stylistically, these wise old pioneers are emblematic of what craft beer is – crafty, sometimes crusty people who’ve figured something out through ingenuity/smarts/luck/hard work, and their stories are engaging. I love listening to the guys – they tend to be really interesting to watch.
In a film with ambitions to capture the meta of a half century movement, our aim was to have these experts give us depth and understanding for what we are seeing. And further, the choice to surround our “everyman” narrative with internationally renown brewers gives both our main subjects and our film a validation we wouldn’t have otherwise. Hopefully it dislodges the film from a specific date – as in this has happened before, it’s happening now, and it will happen again – that lends an evergreen nature to the film. I want someone to be able to look at this film in 10 years and still feel the film is relevant.
Filmmaker 5.4: What unique place does BREWMANCE hold in the Christo Brock filmography canon and the future vision for your work?
Oy. Not sure I’m allowed to think of a canon yet – not until I’ve made a dozen films. But the problem with how I’ve made these films is that they take so dang long. I’m a very lucky filmmaker in that (for the moment) I can make whatever film I want, cause I fund them myself. To have this model perpetuate itself, I have picked commercial films with a large untapped audience to pander to. But they’ve both been films I wanted to “bathe” in for the 4 or so years it takes to complete and distribute them.
But I’m feeling the pull to make something more world-changing … and something less commercial.
Or maybe I just want to make a film that gets programmed in film festivals. I dunno. But I’m feeling a curious pull to make a very non-commercial film about a white Canadian trying to save Africa from its myriad of development issues, and that’s guaranteed to not have a built-in audience. Or a film about farming, which I love so much – people so firmly connecting with the land, and the seasons, and brutality of Mother Nature.
One thing is for sure – I’ll never make a film that anyone will feel like that should see. There certainly are a lot of those films around – film about poverty, homelessness, abuse, corruption – things in this world that need changing. I feel a responsibility to see those films, and to know about issues that plague the world. But I don’t want to make them. Others do that terribly well, thankfully. I want to make films that entertain and inspire as they inform. The world is a wonderful place full of dark and light, but I’d rather live in the light.
Filmmaker 5.5: As a filmmaker, who are your biggest artistic influences and why?
Wait … I usually ask these kind of questions!
I’m a mutt of influences. Training as a theatrical actor before jumping behind the camera imbued me with a fine sense of empathy, and an ability to read people.
“Filmically,” I’ve been far more influenced by the great fiction filmmakers of the last half century – Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese – than by documentarians, though I’ve been steeped in the Pennybakers and Maysles plenty. You can see by my structuring of films with a heavy influence of the tried-and-true three-act structure. That classic narrative structure is a such a reliable means to deliver a coherent story. I’m a firm believer in that old friend to string a dramatic spine through the film.
My biggest documentary mentor has been the marvelous Kate Amend, a legendary doc editor I assisted in film school and in a couple films outside of school (The Long Way Home, Arrested Development). Kate took me to the Academy Awards in 1999, when our film “The Long Way Home” won best documentary. She’s since won again, and is a staple at Sundance. She’s been a friend and mentor, and she’s cool as beans.
BONUS: How much craft brew would you estimate was consumed in the making of BREWMANCE?
Now that’s a question! You could estimate that amount by my newfound girth. I had to go on a hardcore Keto diet for three months just to fit into my clothes again.
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BREWMANCE – a home-brewed movie about craft beer, available as VOD from all major streaming content providers. Best enjoyed with a frosty craft beer and tasty snacks. BREWMANCEMOVIE.COM
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