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Adventures of Power: Air-Drumming in America

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I'm going to be honest with you. There are strangers I've never met in my life who want me dead. I could never have predicted, when I started making the best comedy about air-drummers in cinema history, that there would be folks publicly declaring this wish. But at Sundance, that's exactly what happened. Fortunately, there were thousands of other folks who wrote me emails, begging me to pick myself off the floor and get my movie into theaters. Because, they told me, Adventures of Power wasn't really a movie about air-drummers. In all seriousness: Adventures of Power was a movie about America.

The genesis of the movie was simple: air-drumming looks sublimely ridiculous. Yes, you've seen that guy at the concert, hitting his fists in the air, in perfect time with Judas Priest. You've seen that girl nearly crashing her car as she drums to the song in her head. But I could never have spent four years of my life making a movie about this strange human activity if I didn't also think that a person trying to play drums, but having none, is a beautiful symbol for the futility of all human endeavors. What I didn't know when I began to make "Adventures of Power" was that the journey of my drumless protagonist would end up so closely mirroring my own reality, and the reality of my country.

When I was eight and heard the band Rush, I tried to drum along. After my mother's death twelve years later, while I was living in my aunt's basement in a mining town in the Southwest, I began to take notes about an air-drumming character. Though I was lonely and lost, I loved this broken little white/Hispanic/Native town, with its mix of cowboys, copper-miners, and curmudgeonly hippies, and I wondered how an air-drummer would fit in if he grew up here. Probably not very well.

A few years later, as my name was being hijacked by a TV show, I decided to appear onstage and call myself Power. The venue was the Air Guitar Championships. Power did not bring an air guitar. He brought short shorts and played air drums. The crowd went wild, but the judges made sure Power didn't win. The controversy was intense. Diebold was accused of tampering with the results. Power was more gracious about the anti-drum "racism" than I would have been.

Encouraged by online fans, I started working on a story, imagining Power as a lonely, misfit copper miner, too poor to buy drums, who's forced to go on strike, leave home, and travel across the nation in pursuit of the American Dream, air-drummer style. I still didn't know if my first feature film could possibly be about something as crazy as air-drumming, and I worried that the idea of "striking miners" was in itself a curiously anachronistic concept. My girlfriend Liz and I went to the Southwest to take pictures.

The day we showed up, for the first time in twenty years, the local copper miners took to the streets, demanding a living wage. They shouted for "power" on the streets. I knew there was no turning back.

Returning a year later with script in hand to scout locations, we were welcomed by a string of towns across the copper belt. But corporate owners, getting wind that my little comedy had "problem elements" in the story, sent word that we would not be allowed to point a camera at any company property. When "company property" is half of each town, that makes shooting impossible.

Eventually, we found a power plant in Helper, Utah, that didn't mind scenes of striking workers, and we sprung into action. We had a location, great actors like Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, and Adrian Grenier willing to work for scale, and not even close to enough money to finish the film. But we started building our house anyway. We made the movie in fits and starts, all over the country, for 13 months, raising money as we went.

The sleepless, terrifying night before my film shoot started, I received the following email advice from my brother: "Have fun, have fun, have fun." And my friend from Germany wrote: "Things will go wrong. You will be disappointed, frustrated, and lost, but as long as you can lay in bed at night and honestly tell yourself: I gave it all I got. This is not about winning, this is about doing it with all your might and love -- then the gods will look after you." It was good advice.

The hero of the story is from a town left out of modern culture, who ends up in a city (Newark) that's also been left out, finding a nationwide brotherhood in the powerless. We shot in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Punjabi, Creole, and American Sign Language. I broke my arm on the docks of Bayonne, New Jersey and kept air-drumming. When I crawled to Sundance to premiere our barely-finished rough-cut, I couldn't see straight.

Then things got really interesting.

Having spent months holed up in an editing room, I didn't know that our industry, and our economy, was on the verge of collapse. Half of the distribution companies that usually came to Sundance to spend millions on indie films were on the verge of shutting their doors permanently.

I should have known. One of my kind, well-meaning investors worked at Bear Stearns.

The audience went wild for the movie. And some cultural critics said I should be wiped from the earth. Like many other films that year, I left the festival without a distributor. I had an army of new fans offering to help me. But I felt like a failure. I felt like Power at the start of the movie!

After living on $8 a day in Guatemala for a while, I decided to take a lesson from my protagonist. A ridiculed dreamer loses his job and his home. But by listening to his heartbeat, he finds that everything he needs--love, power, drums--are already inside himself. And by having the courage to reach out to other lost souls around him, he finds a brotherhood and sisterhood of people who understand that the American dream is one of making something out of nothing.

This week, we're releasing "Adventures of Power" in just two theaters: one in New York, one in Kentucky. Though we're in debt, we're raising money for kids' music education. Our company consists of 3 laptops, two iPhones, and an army of volunteers. The following week we open in a theater in LA, the same day as a huge, hip movie with a $100 million advertising budget. And then we try to expand into the American heartland, where people already understand what this wild and weird film is really about. Power to the people!

Have fun, ye drummers and dreamers!

Ari Gold's Adventures of Power (Variance Films) opens theatrically October 9 in New York and in Los Angeles on October 16 with a national release to follow.