It would be easy to call Faces in the Mirror “the Dave Matthews Band movie.” The film, much like the road-tested Grammy-winning jammers, is grassroots in its very nature (there’s no real marketing campaign attached, just word-of-mouth via fans) and features collaborations from various members of the DMB family, including Matthews himself, who contributed to the soundtrack. Moreover, the project has DMB’s violinist Boyd Tinsley at the forefront, serving as writer, producer, and composer on the labor of love experiment.
But as Tinsley assures, even with the undeniable DMB vibe, Faces in the Mirror — which hits iTunes Aug. 31 — is much more than just a treat for “DaveHeads.” “I think it’s a movie that reaches out past the DMB fan base,” says Tinsley, who has spent the summer on the road with his bandmates in anticipation of their eighth studio album, Away From the World. “It’s really a movie that can touch anybody because everybody knows this experience.”
That experience being the pain and soul-searching that comes with coping with the death of a loved one. Faces in the Mirror centers on a man named Ben (Ryan Orr, pictured below in a scene from the movie) who must come to terms with the passing of his father. The film also happens to be almost entirely dialogue-free — with the exception of narration from the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet laureate Rita Dove, the movie uses the universal language of music to express the universal feeling of grief.
Grief was a feeling Tinsley, who started the project back in October 2008, knew all too well. In August 2008, Tinsley’s bandmate and close friend, DMB saxophonist LeRoi Moore, passed away from complications from injuries sustained during an ATV accident. “Roi was a good friend of mine and we were very close and he was very much a mentor,” Tinsley says. “He always encouraged me to get better, to stretch out musically and creatively. His death and what it did to me ‹ the depression and the darkness that set in. When I’m going through stuff like that, I need to create. I knew that fall that I needed to do something, to get into the studio and write some music, to do something.”
While he and his bandmates worked on the Grammy-nominated Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King (an album which paid tribute to Moore with songs like the soaring, reflective “Why I Am”), Tinsley, 48, finally got the wheels in motion to begin making a movie, something he’d been contemplating for 15 years. “In the beginning of the process I didn’t really know to what degree I would be involved in anything outside of the music. But as it went on, it really just developed on my end,” says Tinsley, who teamed up with DMB’s longtime lighting director Fenton Williams, who served as an executive director, and director Aaron Farrington for the film. “So much of this film and how we planned came about in very casual conversations. There were never any long, drawn-out meetings. It was right from the heart. We’d see things, have a conversation about it and get to work.”
With that, Tinsley and co., made a rough sketch of a storyline and ventured out on a most unorthodox method of moviemaking, recording the
film’s score before filming a single scene and used the music as the guiding light of the project. “It’s a different kind of process, but it’s a different kind of film,” he says. “We didn’t rehearse. Songs just happened. Everybody knew what the song was as we were playing it. I didn’t tell [the musicians] what to play. I told them to play from their heart. As a producer, I wanted everybody to feel completely free.”
After completing the jam sessions for Faces in the Mirror (“I think I played the best music of my life on it,” Tinsley says), pieces of the movie began to fall into place. Script, shooting — everything went as smoothly as one of Tinsley’s violin solos, according to the musician. Of course, Tinsley, who makes a brief cameo at the end of the film as a preacher, had a solid foundation to help ease his foray into filmmaking. “I’ve worked every single day for the last four years,” he says. “I don’t think I would have had the comfort to do this without the support of the band and the entire DMB organization. They’ve been really involved in this. That, too, is one of the big reasons I was determined to make this movie. I wasn’t going to finish until it was absolutely right.”
Of course, Tinsley’s biggest allies are DMB devotees themselves, the same fan base that launched the group to stardom in the ’90s with live show tape trading. Thanks to word-of-mouth on message boards and Tinsley’s constant communication with fans on Twitter, the buzz seems to be building in the DMB community.
And like Tinsley has done with his bandmates for 20 years, he’s taking his show on the road. The musician is appearing in Seattle tonight to premiereof the film, and headline a Q&A and live performance with various musicians on the soundtrack. (Even those outside the city can catch the show, as it will be streaming live on SnagFilms.com) But Tinsley hopes to expand, bringing Faces in the Mirror to the masses via a tour following the iTunes release and eventual access on VoD.
Tinsley admits film’s release, however, will be a bittersweet celebration even though the driving inspiration behind the film, LeRoi Moore, will be there in spirit. “This movie brought new life to me,” Tinsley says. “He would have loved this movie.”
Faces in the Mirror will premiere tonight on SnagFilms.com and become available on iTunes on Aug. 31. Dave Matthews Band’s latest studio album Away From the World will be released on Sept. 11.
[Photo credits: Tinsley: WENN.com, Faces in the Mirror: Johnny St. Ours]