Chris McCoy, under the moniker C. Scott McCoy, just witnessed his directing debut, Automusik Can Do No Wrong, win the Hometowner Award for best local feature at last month's Indie Memphis Film Festival. But he knows that there's a limit to how much credit he can take.
"Film is such a collaborative medium," McCoy says. "Half of the director's job is to choose the people you want to work with and then let them do their job."
McCoy, who had worked as a cast and crew member on other local productions, including Six Days in the Life of Mims, another feature shown at Indie Memphis this year, knew almost immediately that he wanted to work with Automusik.
The local rock band and performance artists had been thrilling local club audiences for years with a drop-dead-funny cultural critique based as much on their high-concept visuals as on their Teutonic sounds.
"I was a fan of the band, and then one night after a show, I just asked them if they wanted to do a movie," McCoy says. "Mims was winding down, and I wanted to work on something else, something of my own. I floated the idea by the band, not expecting much to come of it, but they agreed."
It turns out that the members of Automusik had already been mulling the notion that their sensibility would translate onto the screen. That Automusik brought so much content to the film -- essentially a mockumentary about an actual band --was only the beginning of McCoy's collaborations. In addition to co-producers Talbot Fields (who also helped write the film and has a key supporting role in the film) and Laura Hocking, McCoy found an essential partner in local filmmaker Prichard Smith, a previous Indie Memphis award winner for his documentary $300 on eBay. Smith helped with the camerawork and editing on Automusik Can Do No Wrong.
"Getting Prichard on board really helped," says McCoy, who credits Smith with giving the film a more professional look. "It needed to look like a documentary, and he actually makes documentary films."
The 79-minute film was culled from more than 30 hours of footage, and though it has some of the deadpan spirit of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki (especially Leningrad Cowboys Go America), McCoy acknowledges another primary inspiration.
"I knew [the mockumentary form] was the obvious thing to do," McCoy says, "and Spinal Tap was the obvious antecedent."
With the form in place, McCoy and company set out to lovingly mock the two biggest rock films made after This Is Spinal Tap, Prince's Purple Rain and U2's Rattle & Hum.
The Purple Rain sequence in Automusik Can Do No Wrong is deliriously funny -- a take on Purple Rain's finale that functions as a film-within-a-film, with Automusik doing battle against a more flamboyant, more crowd-pleasing rival.
As for Rattle & Hum, Automusik Can Do No Wrong borrows that film's theme of a foreign band touring America. "In Rattle & Hum, U2 are big stars and everybody loves them and it's a triumph. This is pretty much the opposite," McCoy cracks -- and mimics specific scenes from Rattle & Hum, including a press conference gone awry and a recording session at Sun Studio.
"I've done some recording, and I wrote the scene to make it realistic to the kind of crap I've seen go on in recording studios," McCoy says. "And then I exaggerated it just a little bit, so it wouldn't seem too far out there. But after we were done, [the recording engineer] was laughing and said, 'Man, this is nothing compared to the way people really act and what goes on.' He says he sees stuff like that once a week."
McCoy also appears in the film as documentary director Phil Johnson, a character modeled after sleazy British documentarian Nick Broomfield. "It didn't start out like that," McCoy says. "I was thinking more of Phil Janow, who directed Rattle & Hum and was a total, pretentious, stick-yourself-in-the-documentary director. But after I watched Kurt & Courtney, I was doing [Broomfield]. He sucks. He's the worst."
McCoy is hoping to screen Automusik Can Do No Wrong at film festivals in Nashville, New York, and Austin. And he's quick to credit Indie Memphis for the push.
"One of the great things about Indie Memphis, and there are a lot of great things about Indie Memphis, is that it gives everyone a deadline and an impetus to get their work done," McCoy says. "We didn't know how it would turn out so we were just totally focused on getting this sucker done in time for Indie Memphis. Beyond that, we didn't have any plans."
Automusik Can Do No Wrong has its first non-festival screening Saturday, November 20th, at 7:30 p.m. at the MeDiA Co-op screening room at First Congregational Church, 1000 S. Cooper. Admission is $5.