Dust Radio: A Film About Chris Whitley

Jonathan Mayor, director/writer/producer of “Dust Radio: A Film About Chris Whitley,” contacted me in 2009 to provide grassroots creative branding and direction for a documentary about Chris Whitley’s life, music and art that he began in the early 2000s. We hadn’t talked since our early to mid-1990s college days. The internet, MySpace or Facebook, one of those evil outlets helped him track me down. The scope of work needed included web dev, print, video, merchandise, social media marketing, and crowdsourcing direction and administration. Part of the multichannel marketing direction included establishing a movie site landing page in 2009 to promote the trailer and link social media page fans of Whitley’s music to the eventual/successful Kickstarter campaign we launched in 2012.

By late 2011 into the onset of 2012, Jon’s original, independent production of Chris’s life had given way to a collaboration with Michael Borofsky, director/producer, who had worked with Chris during his earlier creative years for Columbia Records. Michael came into the project with seasoned knowledge and footage dating to Whitley’s early years. With Borofsky, Mayor felt he could produce a complete arc of Whitley’s music and spirit. Jon split his time between Chicago, NYC and LA on various productions, the Whitley doc was a passion project from day one with he being a huge fan of Chris, aside of being able to work with him before his death.

Post-production and editing hold-ups became a victim of rights and licensing issues between multiple parties, Sony Legacy, Columbia Records, and Whitley’s estate by 2013. Borofsky’s availability from the east coast with Jon on the west coast also added to the post-production and rights/licensing holdups. Anyone who knows anything about film production, editing, and film plus music rights/licenses clearances by multiple parties can tell you how easily it becomes a nightmare to manage on the clock when there’s no budget and financial backing aside of grassroot Kickstarter donations to produce anything substantial to release. Add to it that Jon was spending more time on the west coast working, and Michael on the east coast.

By this point, Dust Radio had become a passion project for myself and Jon to see the light of day that I felt lucky enough to have a small role in. I hadn’t taken a payment from Jon since 2009, and that was a ‘friendly’ payment to cover the web dev end of launching the movie’s site with the trailer. He, like me, ends up falling into music’s passion project trap—which was wise of him to track me down. Everything was coming out of Jon’s personal time and efforts—and bank account—from the documentary’s inception in the early 2000s when he had toured with Chris and shot photography and video up until his death, and then up until agreeing to merge his efforts with the help of a Sony Legacy executive that put Jon in touch with Michael in mid-2011. That collaboration led to a Kickstarter campaign which was successfully driven by fans on social media to assist Michael and Jon with putting the footage together with a small team.

“Dust Radio: A Film About Chris Whitley” never saw a formal release with multiple film festivals as Mayor had planned for years; it screened at a festival in 2015 but was hindered by rights issues still—and interviews still in production that weren’t included. To date, it’s still not a complete production as intended by Mayor when he began this journey years before Chris’s death in 2005. As of 2015 and 2017, there are two edited versions of the film which Mayor has shared with the public. There are interviews Jon and Michael filmed that still aren’t featured in either cut. What was shared are versions to keep the faithful fans (who donated to the original Kickstarter project) abreast of the ongoing efforts.

An initial edited version was privately distributed to Kickstarter participants in late 2014/early 2015 to stream from their personal devices. That version isn’t the version which began leaking out in 2017. Jon finally shared the 2017 film cut via YouTube in 2020. Stream it while you can, this may not be the final version—IMDB says it is, but knowing Jon like I do, this is not the cut of Chris’s life and music he envisioned almost 2 decades ago—and the note passed to me in early 2020 is that Chris’s brother, Dan, took over for Jon and Michael to help the documentary clear the many licensing, financial, and additional creative issues that has kept the film from getting its final treatment.

As for me personally—this project reconnected me with Mayor in 2009. We hadn’t seen each other since our college days in Peoria; 1994 being the clearest memory of laughing, learning how to play pool, and spinning many albums, sharing old and new music on the old compact disc boom box with him during those days. The music and the wild west of the internet reconnected us nearly 15 years after; and then, aside of many emails and phone calls to work together for a few years, in late 2013, my future wife ensured that Jon and I shared a hug and a beer on his new home turf in Los Angeles. There ya have it, the power of music.

Thank you, Chris Whitley—enjoy whatever cut this is for now.

Below you can see a little of the behind the scenes creative direction that Giveaways that I designed included guitar picks, posters, tee shirts, hats, VIP passes and more.

ClientDust Radio Productions, Jonathan Mayor, Michael BorofskyServicesDirection, Branding, Logo Identity, Web, Crowdsource Campaign, Social Media, MerchYear2009-PresentLinkdustradiomovie.com

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