Archive for January, 2010

An update from the filmmakers…

January 29, 2010

If you subscribe to our e-mail list you may have already received this letter. If not you can subscribe here if you are interested. Meanwhile read on…!

On February 8th the Boy Scouts of America turns 100.  By pretty much any measure Scouting has been a big deal–112 million Americans have been members.  Alumni are as diverse as America itself– Steven Spielberg, Mike Bloomberg, Percy Sutton, David Lynch, Bob Gates, Donald Rumsfeld, Marion Barry, Michael Moore, and Gerald Ford are (were) all Eagle Scouts.  For me it was a place to learn how to light a fire, shoot a rifle, build a tower, sail a boat, capsize a canoe, cook up dinner and tie a tourniquet.  It also reinforced a set of ethics that I think are important but don’t get me started on that…

So what are we doing to celebrate?  Tico Perez, the National Scout Commissioner, will ring the bell to open the Stock Market but our party is further uptown.  We will have a special screening of the film at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem on February 8th.  The irrepressible Hellura Lyle, host of the successful Docwatchers series, has sponsored this screening.  The event is free (but a donation for Docwatchers is recommended) and it is first come first served.  Doors open at 7PM and the address is 343 Lenox between 127th and 128th.  We were pleased to learn that Congressman Charlie Rangel–Harlemite, Purple Heart recipient and Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee will join us and say a few words about the Boy Scouts, Harlem and the film.  If you are in New York and can make it to this special screening we’d love to see you.

Next, an item for you guys on our list more interested in filmmaking than the Scouts…

What is the worst part of the job for most filmmakers?  Raising money.  One of the benefits that Jake and I had when we were making “759: Boy Scouts of Harlem” is that, by design, we kept the production costs very low and did most of the work ourselves.  That meant that we didn’t have to raise any money to compete this film.  This brand of ultra-low-budget-do-it-yourself-yet-high-production-quality filmmaking is realtively new.  It has been made possible by dramatic, disruptive changes to filmmaking that have come down the line in the last decade.  Inexpensive, high-quality video cameras–like the Sony Z1U which was used to make our film–have allowed guys like us to pretty much shoot as much HD footage as we’d like.  Final Cut Pro–Apple’s editing software–has democratized professional editing.  Obviously, just because these tools are accessible doesn’t mean they are easy to use and there are loads of poorly shot, poorly edited independent films out there.  But what these changes do mean is that there has never been a time when you could make a film with so little money.  Sundance, this year, instituted a category for no-budget/low-budget films….I have no doubt more and more films will be made this way.  It will allow filmmakers more time to focus on their art because they will spend less time raising money.

Having said that, I am sad to report that I spent the last several months raising money.  Not for us but rather for Maryland Public Television which is the PBS affiliate that decided to pick up the film for broadcast.  Steven Schupak, our contact at MPT and a great guy, told me and Jake how the Public Television world works: “think of how commercial television works and simply turn everything around.”  That means instead of the TV station paying us to run our film, we need to pay the TV station to run our film.  Why is that?  Well, Public Television is a Byzantine Empire–with 354 local member stations each of which manage what is seen on their channel.  Some affiliates are bigger than others–WGBH in Boston, WNET in New York, WETA in DC are the “big three” and produce a lot of the shows you’ve heard of–Sesame Street, Newshour, Nova.  Other affiliates,  are tiny.  Maryland Public Television (MPT) is one of the bigger affiliates–in part because Maryland is such an irregular shape so its broadcast reaches a large geographic area packed with people.  MPT put the ball in our court to raise money to fund their efforts to present “759” to public television stations.  In practice, what happens is MPT staff charged with “station relations” promotes our shows to the 353 PBS affiliates to get them to pick them up.  This takes time, phone calls and, sometimes, schwag.  The more money we raise for MPT the better job they can do with “station relations” — to make our film stand out in a crowded field–and reach a wider audience.  Sponsors who contribute money are recognized before and after the broadcast (brought to you in part by…etc.).

We tried hard, but raising money for the PBS broadcast didn’t go very well.  We contacted over 250 individuals, corporations and foundations and managed to find only a single, generous donor who will remain anonymous here.  We got through to some of the richest Americans, some of the largest corporations and some of the most famous Eagle Scouts and we were turned down by all of them.  It is too bad…but the good news is that with the modest amount of money we were able to raise MPT has committed to air the film anyway.  They promised to do the best job they can with “station relations” so we are excited.  We are happy to report that the film will be syndicated for broadcast on Public Television Stations in fall of 2010 and we hope your local affiliate decides to pick it up.  If you want to make a tax-deductible donation to this effort (and see your name in the credits on PBS) just drop us a line at

But enough about money–what’s going on with the Scouts from 759?

First, Keith Dozier has had his nose to the grindstone at the KIPP School in Harlem.  He is getting older but he looks as comfortable as ever in front of the camera on this Giro/NBC News report.

Next, Emmanuel Nortey received his first college acceptance letter and expects to receive a few others.  He will be heading off to college next fall.  Nice work!

Devon Howard earned his Eagle Scout.  In a moving ceremony in the basement of Church of the Master, Devon’s Eagle was pinned on his uniform and his parents stood by his side.  He is on scholarship at a boarding school in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and holding his own–despite being surrounded by Red Sox fans.

And finally, Colin “KC” Byers, who many of you know and love, was selected to join a small delegation of Scouts who will give the “Report to the Nation” in Washington in February.  Yep, KC is going to meet Barack Obama.  He will be the fist white Scout from Harlem to meet the first black President in the White House.  How about that?  We will be sure to circulate a photo when we get one…

In other news, we put together a “behind the scenes” video that shows how “Big Scout Grace” the film’s theme, was recorded.  You can see Patrick and Jennifer Byers and Nik Munson playing a wonderful piece of music together here.  You will also catch a glimpse of Roy Coopervasser our bald, talented sound engineer with his own brand of funky-uptown-hip.

Finally, Jake and I would like to thank all of you who have purchased a DVD or helped to spread the word about this film.  If you haven’t yet bought a DVD, so far the film doesn’t seem to be available free on BitTorrent so you might as well just get yourself a copy here.  Also, feel free to forward this message to a friend who might enjoy it or join our group on Facebook if you haven’t already.  We can’t do it without you guys and we appreciate your support.

Thanks & Be Prepared!

Justin Szlasa
917 355 9895


759 coverage on the web

January 29, 2010


Harlem Condo-Life

Harlem Condo-Life Review

Harlem One Stop

Studio Recording-Big Scout Grace

January 25, 2010

Here’s a new behind the scenes video shot when the theme for our film was recorded at City College in Harlem.

Scouts & Johns Hopkins

January 19, 2010

Jake and I will be speaking today on a panel hosted by Johns Hopkins and Motion Picture Enterprises here in Manhattan.  We will be speaking to mostly undergrads and recent grads who are looking to get into the entertainment industry in one form or another.  There are many notable Hopkins alumni who are superstars in the business (and who would be much better suited for today’s panel discussion)–including Walter Murch, Jeffrey Blitz, Wes Craven and many others.  Neal R. Pilzer, who founded Motion Picture Enterprises and is the publisher of the ubiquitous yellow Motion Picture TV and Theatre Directory is also an alum.

But our film is about Boy Scouts and both Jake and I have been amazed at the number of connections between Boy Scouts and Hopkins.  These include:

Obviously there are tons of other connections between Hopkins and Scouting but I find these particularly interesting.