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Chess masters Ronnie Bass, Georgia Sagri, & Tommy Hartung

If you like taking the M train, chess, whiskey, and talking about artist studios then you need to check this out – Tommy Hartung’s Budget Guide to New York.

But first things first.  I’m very happy to report that  Tommy Hartung is having a show very, very soon.  Opens this Sunday, October 30 at the Lower East Side Manhattan gallery OnStellarRays and runs to December 23.  It’ll feature new work based on Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  An who knows, maybe our New York Close Up cameras will be there as well  . . .

OK, back to this new film.  Producing it was an it-only-makes-you-stronger professional experience for me.  At the end of a long day of basement studio shooting at Tommy Hartung’s place in Ridgewood, Queens, we headed out into the cold February night to visit Tommy’s friend and collaborator Ronnie Bass‘ place in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  Well, not exactly we.  I took the heated car over to Ronnie’s, while Tommy and camera man Andrew David Watson trooped it via subway.  And I’m glad I did (despite Andrew’s and Tommy’s camera-recorded curses against me.)  The stuff they shot, the stuff I wasn’t around for – Tommy’s impromptu stop at his old studio, his playful acknowldgement of a very distant Empire State Building, his warning about Bushwick “5-O” – became the heart of this film.  A good lesson in documentary producing.

Fast forward to the edit room, and I had prepared a script around this footage, but more focused on the chess and whiskey session we shot later that night with Ronnie, Tommy, and friend and collaborator Georgia Sagri.  I kinda didn’t realize it at the time but that script was a perfect example of killing all the qualities you originally liked in something – that night was so loose and ambling and slightly drunk and companionable – by forcing it into something conventionally meaningful and art significant.  Our editor Joaquin Perez recognized this (embarassingly) quickly.  So I stepped out of the process, he dug into the footage on his own, and he wound up re-imagining it entirely.  And definitely for the better.  Yet another good lesson in documentary producing.

CAPTION:  Artists Georgia Sagri, Ronnie Bass, and Tommy Hartung (left to right) playing chess in Ronnie’s studio. Bushwick, Brooklyn, 02.09.11. Production still from the series New York Close Up. © Art21, Inc. 2011.

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