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Dozens Contributed to the Churchill's Pub Documentary, So Why Hasn't It Been Finished?

Dozens Contributed to the Churchill's Pub Documentary, So Why Hasn't It Been Finished?
Photo by Ben Thacker
In 2014, Franco Parente ran a filmmaker's dream of a Kickstarter campaign. After it was announced Churchill's Pub was changing owners, he sought funding to make a documentary about the legendary bar with the clever title Little Haiti Rock City. There was anxiety over the future of the venue that had been Miami's live-music oasis since 1979, so benefactors poured $79,345 into the project. But now, four years later, Churchill's is still standing pretty much the same as it ever was, and Little Haiti Rock City is nowhere to be seen.

A combination of poor preparation, a family tragedy, and a financial betrayal prevented his finishing a movie he planned to deliver in January 2015.

"If it wasn't for the Kickstarter money, you wouldn't be talking to me," Parente tells New Times. "If I could do it all over again, I would still do the film, but I would have stuck to my guns and done it on my own instead of begging people for money."

Realizing he might sound ungrateful, he changes his tone: "I feel indebted to a community of people who pulled into their wallet. It was a lot of diehard Churchill's-goers. I know how much this place and this movie mean to people."

Parente says he's been frequenting Churchill's since he was an underage Hialeah teenager in the early '90s. "I always thought Churchill's was unique — a weird place a kooky guy started in a neighborhood no one wanted to be a part of. I'd been saying for years that someone should make a movie about the place."

When news began circulating that original owner Dave Daniels was selling Churchill's in February 2014, Parente acted. "There was a lot of secrecy of who was buying it. People thought they might turn it into a Walgreens. I had just moved to L.A. — I didn't know if I should do it. But if I didn't make the movie, no one would."

Parente moved back to his hometown, taught himself cinematography, and began shooting footage. "I shot images of the building in case they shut it down or turned it into a swanky nightclub." Then his quiet crusade was noticed. Someone he knew from Churchill's (whom Parente refuses to name) wanted to invest in the project. "They had some money and wanted me to come up with a budget," he recalls. "I make a living doing TV commercials; I'd never done a documentary. But I budgeted it at $130,000." According to Parente, the investor pledged to provide the $50,000 needed for postproduction, and Parente decided to raise the remaining $80,000 on Kickstarter.
"It made sense to do crowdfunding," he says. And the campaign to raise money was extraordinarily successful. He received media attention, and 416 backers pledged close to the $80,000 goal. But according to Parente, because of the intricacies of Kickstarter, he did not receive the entire sum. "Ten thousand dollars of it was my own money. Kickstarter gets their cut. And the way Kickstarter works is they don't run a pledge's credit card until the campaign is done. By then, some people change their credit cards and end up not paying. We walked away from it with $55,000." However, according to Parente, the angel investor turned out not to be such an angel. "He backed out. We never signed a contract, and I'm not the kind of guy who's going to chase after someone to sue them anyway."

Still, he had more than enough money to start shooting, and he figured he would worry about postproduction costs later. "We shot 100 hours of interviews, with over 20 hours of B-roll. We'd go to Churchill's at 7 in the morning when it was quiet to shoot so we could control sound, go home to charge all the batteries, and go back there at night to film a show. We'd get a few hours of sleep, then do the whole thing again." The funding paid for the small crew to go to New York, Los Angeles, and around Florida to complete interviews. Among those interviewed were Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, Sam Fogarino of Interpol, Richard Shelter, Rat Bastard, Quit, Holy Terrors, Load, former owner Dave Daniels, and new owner Mallory Kauderer, who himself contributed $10,000 to the Kickstarter campaign.

As the footage stacked up, Parente realized he was in over his head. "The production process was backward. You're supposed to do your research before filming. We just went at it, and during every interview, we'd hear a story where we needed to interview someone else." The project was taking longer than expected, but he put together an enticing trailer to whet viewers' appetite in the hopes of also attracting more funding. Then his grandmother passed away. "She raised me, and when she died, my life went into a tailspin."

As time passed, Parente's crowdfunding benefactors wanted to see results and not hear excuses. "A majority of the money was from people I know. A lot of the people understand. Some don't. I've been open with everyone. My email is on the site. There's one guy who doesn't like my answers and lets me know it."
Photo by Ben Thacker
"If I thought it was a scam or a rip-off, I'd be the first to call Franco out," says Nicky Bowe, a longtime Churchill's employee and the film's coproducer. "Anything that would hurt Churchill's name, people know I'd put a stop to it. I've seen the footage, and it's there. Franco has told me he could put something together in 24 hours but that it would look like shit. He's a perfectionist."

Without the money to pay an editor, progress on the movie has been glacial. "I have to earn a living, and I have to teach myself how to edit," Parente says. But plenty of amateur YouTubers have offered their services. "People have said, 'Give me the footage and let me edit it.' Fuck you. Shoot your own movie. I want to make this as good as possible. I want to weave a story out of it."

He found some inspiration when he was dragged to a screening of the Tower Records documentary All Things Must Pass. "It was directed by Colin Hanks, Tom Hanks' son, and it took him seven years to make the movie. It took him that long to fund his movie. He told me not to give up. Every documentarian told me this stuff takes time. They all laugh at me when I tell them I thought I could do it in a year."

Four years is an awfully long time. But Parente says if he needs any more of a sense of urgency to complete the movie, he can look at the belly of his life partner, who's due to give birth to their child any day. "I want [our child] to see this. This will get done."
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland