The making of "Beer Hunter: The Movie"

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rock Star: the Beer Hunter tribute video

When we first started filming with Michael for the Rare Beer Club, most of our tastings and tours were in Europe: London, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Belgium in particular. There was always a small crowd of admirers, and here and there a member of the press. But neither Rob (then President of the club) or myself were at all prepared for the reception Michael received in the U.S. when we started filming there later in the year. His tastings always packed houses and sold out, and inevitably we were late to our next appointment waiting for him to sign book autographs for a long line of people. We also had a hard time keeping up with his press engagements. So Rob and I always joked to Michael was much more a "Rock" than a "Pop" star, and so we started referring to him jokingly as the "Rock Star." Michael bemusedly ignored us at such times, but we came to the conclusion after a wildly successful tour of America's beer heartland throughout 2004 to make a little video that recognized some of Michael's prominent achievements and awards. We felt that members of the Club would find it interesting, to know just exactly how much Michael had been recognized throughout the world for his efforts. So we put this piece together, and Michael helped to (re)write much of the narration. He was very particular about the grammar and sentence structure, I recall, and I learned a great deal about writing for "film" on that project. We named it, of course, "Rock Star." I don't know what Michael felt about the name, but he and his assistant Owen were pleased with how it turned out. Up to now, it has only been seen by a small handful of Rare Beer Club members. But I was able to dig up a DVD, dust it off, and burn it to digital for you to enjoy. Cheers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Beer Hunter Tastings

At the initial urging of John Evans, who has a fantastic photostream of beer bottles and tastings ( I'll be uploading the Rare Beer Club DVD tastings that I shot with Michael in 2004. This is where it all began. The Rare Beer Club was something that Michael started with importer Rob Imeson back in the late 90's. The idea was simple: find a way to get the world's most rare and interesting beers into the hands of U.S. consumers who had limited access to them, especially the Belgian and European beers. The club is still going ( and has a cult following. Rob and Michael decided in 2003 that it would be cool to film Michael actually tasting the beer to camera. I was hired to shoot the tastings, and from there we started talking about doing a documentary or another Beer Hunter series. So after the tastings, Rob was generous enough to include me on many of Michael's trips in Europe and the U.S.

The first part of these tastings were filmed at the Beer Shop in London, on the first day I met Michael. We were accompanied by Keith Johnsen, marketing and PR director for the Rare Beer Club, and Ben Vinken, the publisher of Beer Passion magazine in Belgium. Ben brought along a few (then) hard-to-find beers: Malheur Chocolate, Brussels Triple, and Rodenback Grand Cru. Obviously, I had to edit the tastings down a lot, as Michael had reams of information regarding each beer. The full-length tasting will be available at a future point, as a DVD extra and an online resource.

Hope you enjoy watching Michael do what he does best: not just taste a beer, but bring it beer to life through its history, its brewer, its cultural context, and its personality. A votre sante!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lost Tapes Series

One of the unique challenges I grapple with on a daily basis in the making of this film is, "what to do with all the footage?" I have always found it difficult to pick just one direction; I suffer from the curse of options. Do I make a 90 minute film, or another whole series? Do I make a multi-series film that incorporates much of the footage plus interviews with brewers to tell the story of Michael? In the back of my mind, I've always wanted to do both. On the one hand, the film would chronicle the fascinating story of Michael: his background as a news journalist, his transition to beer journalist, his fame within the world of whiskey writing, his vast interests beyond food and drink, his profound contributions towards the evolution of craft brewing, his desire to keep his Parkinson's a secret, his tireless dedication to educating the faithful on the rich history and traditions of the brewing culture. Then there's the series: the off-camera banter, the intimate moments on the road, the long tastings that may not be fit for the big screen, the diverse destinations we traveled to, the man behind the myth.

I'm still working that all out. The other day I was speaking with St. Louis beer distributor and importer Brent Stafford, who has been extremely helpful in suggesting ideas on how to raise sponsorship and promote the film. It's good to have an outside voice; I've been wrangling with this project for almost three years, and sometimes being so close you can lose perspective on simplicity.

Brent was patient as I described the various options. At one point he stopped me and said, "Why don't you put together some of the extra footage and call it the "Lost Tapes" series or something?

A brilliant suggestion. So here is the first installment of the Lost Tapes. I've been going through some of my footage from California, since it's not far from where I live and a natural place to start filming some initial interviews for the movie. This is from Michael's visit to Pizza Port Brewing back in April of 2004, in Solana Beach, just outside of San Diego. It was at the conclusion of a tour through California which started in San Francisco and ended in San Diego, where Michael was to judge at the World Beer cup. The Rare Beer Club had included two of Tomme Arthur's beers, the outstanding Cuvee de Tomme and SPF 8. Michael, and everyone for that matter, loved the beers, and was very keen to interview Tomme. While the footage wasn't to be used for the club, then-owner Rob Imeson thought it would be good to get the interview for posterity. It was this philosophy that is responsible for the bulk of the footage we know have of Michael in his later years.

Enjoy, and cheers for watching.