It all began in a flash of inspiration, an image in the mind’s eye: Tacoma filmmaker Joseph Kephart imagined a scene from a 1940s-era detective movie. He saw the point in the story line in which the suspects of a murder are gathered to have their alibis questioned by the intrepid detective. Instead of speaking their lines, however, the characters in Kephart’s imagined movie were singing their lines to rock music. Thus began a frenzy of songwriting and filmmaking that would occupy much of Kephart’s time for the next two years. The result is a short film (26 min.) called “Rockabye Dead Man,” which is set to premier Oct. 29 at the Washington State History Museum.
Perhaps the greatest proof of the potency of Kephart’s moment of inspiration was that he was able to attract an enthusiastic and dedicated (they worked for free) cast and crew that jumped into the project with zeal. “Rockabye Dead Man” is billed as “film noir rock opera” and stars Darryl Small, Rich Bundy, Lorraine Gill, James Moniz, Holly Rose, Loretta Howard, Doug Mitchell, Nate Dybivik, Lance Zielinski, Jenny Aarde, Michael Self, Rhiannon Brunett and Bill Schlanbusch. Equally important are the musicians that played the soundtrack. Dave McKibbin wielded guitar. Hillary Spear plays French horn to set the haunted tone. The multitalented Rich Bundy of the Plastards functions as percussionist and as a member of the cast (as the gardener). John Kephart, brother of Joseph Kephart (and a filmmaker, artist, writer and musician in his own right), laid down the bass beats and also did duty as producer and provider of pizza. Director of cinematography Ian Price allowed use of his North End home for much of the filming. Much of the costuming and props came courtesy of Ramp Art on Broadway, among other places.
“The film was not shot on a shoe string,” said actor Darryl Small, “It was more like dental floss.” During the course of the project the thing seemed to take on a life of its own. Auditions took place all over town, in libraries and parking garages as well as rehearsal spaces. “Things just happened to fall into our laps pretty much,” said Small. “Tacoma has a lot of talent and I don’t think its being utilized,” Kephart noted. By hook or by crook the deed was done. “Rockabye Dead Man” is in the can and ready for its audience. Beyond the Oct. 29 premier the filmmakers are eager to show their Tacoma-made gem at a variety of film festivals. The tight-knit group is also ready to work together on future projects. “At the end of the day,” said Kephart, “one of the things I’m most proud of is, that two years after the fact, I can look back and see all these people who know each other and are friends all because of this idea that I had in my head.”
Come to the Oct. 29 premier and see what all the fuss is about before there is a fuss. Be one of those who can say “I was there at the beginning, when ‘Rockabye Dead Man’ made its first splash.” These T-town talents could go all the way to the stratosphere. “Rockabye Dead Man” shows at 7:30, Oct. 29 at Washington State History Museum for an affordable $3 entry fee. The cast and crew will be on hand and DVDs of the film will be available.