When Mike Martinez and Tyler Wray first embarked on “Everything is Stories,” they took cameras down to Chattanooga, Tennessee with plans to make a film about biker culture. They quickly adjusted their plans.
“Mike and I tried a few things early on and quickly realized the amount of work and resources that it takes and just our time in general,” reflects Wray. “It wasn’t working.”
However, the two, along with Garrett Crowe, whose father they had been in Tennessee to speak to, didn’t come away empty-handed, switching from video to audio to create a podcast with a distinctly cinematic feel. With “Everything is Stories,” the trio created the kind of profiles of eclectic characters that makes one extend their daily commute just to get to the ending, and in doing so, built a following that came to include Anish Savjani, whose production company Filmscience is responsible for such films as “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Blue Ruin.” After Savjani reached out with the prospect of adapting their series for the screen, Martinez and Wray saw their opportunity to do things the way they initially envisioned, albeit with the perspective that comes from doing their podcast.
“We always believed in the concept, of course, but we didn’t know how we were going to pull this off,” says Martinez. “At first, we thought it was going to be an eight-minute thing, but then it kept building and building and building and now we’re at the finish line and we’re super happy for it to come out.”
Martinez is speaking about “Reviled and Maligned,” a short film premiering as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival that won’t disappoint fans of “Everything is Stories” and is bound to bring in an entirely new audience. The film profiles Peter Stefan, a funeral parlor director in Worcester, Massachusetts known for his generosity, handling services for those who aren’t taken in elsewhere, either due to cost or other concerns. The first thing you’ll notice – or rather hear – is how voices carry “Reviled and Maligned,” retaining the intimacy that comes from whispering into your ear as Stefan and others describe his practice, but the imagery is arresting as is Stefan’s story, which takes a turn when he’s presented with a corpse that is uniquely unwanted, drawing national attention in 2013.
“We always knew the stories we liked, films that feel a little bit morally complex, things that are a little more on the fringes, kind of tougher to digest sometimes and we wanted to make that palatable, but also not neuter the stories,” says Martinez.
For Martinez, that nuance comes with time. Describing “Everything is Stories” with the aspiration of unfolding like “a great novel,” he was in Boston chasing another story when he learned of Stefan, described by others as “the patron saint of the community.” While he and Wray were working simultaneously on a commission from the Navajo Nation, they knew when Savjani came calling that Stefan’s story was an ideal short film subject, able to whisk audiences into a specific place for a spell.
“We obviously love to put the person and the story in the forefront and take us out of it, and aesthetically, we have a million references from Terrence Malick to the documentary work by Mary Ellen Mark,” says Wray. “ It just has a little bit more soul to it and lets people’s thoughts shine through and we really try not to steer them too much, especially with the podcast. We like to guide it as little as possible and just let it take its shape, spread its own wings.”
Not only does “Reviled and Maligned” showcase the duo’s ability to take a story and have it expand in one’s mind well after its over, but it is the result of a special collective of collaborators that includes beyond Filmscience, Bryght Young Things, the documentary immersion specialists at RYOT Films and the mad scientists at Oscilloscope, which has come onboard to distribute the “Everything is Stories” series. With plenty of other stories to tell, it’s likely “Reviled and Maligned” will be just the first of many “Everything is Stories” episodes be gracing movie screens soon, though like the tales they tell, don’t expect them stick to one specific format.
“We would love to experiment with form and if it goes to a series, it could be very different visually from each one,” says Wray. “The stories are going to be very different [because] let that story dictate how this thing is going to unfold.”
While you’ll never know what to expect from “Everything is Stories,” the only thing that’s for certain is you’ll want to keep your eyes out for it.
“Everything is Stories” will be playing at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Tribeca NOW Showcase on April 19th at 7:15 pm and April 21st at 2:30 pm at the Regal Cinemas Battery Park.
Photo credit: Robert Johansson