Cellar Dwellers

A local filmmaker documents a historic Fort Worth music club.
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Posted May 8, 2013 by KRISTIAN LIN in News

McCrary would graduate from TCU with a degree in business administration, but he found his calling elsewhere during his college years.

“I took a paid summer internship in Lubbock at a little bitty TV station,” he remembered. “Once the bug bit me, TV was all I wanted to do.” He learned the ropes first in Lubbock and then with the Texas music institution Austin City Limits, which was then in its infancy. Eventually, McCrary founded Clearwater Teleproductions, providing a mobile TV studio for broadcasting live events.

McCrary: “So much of storytelling is just logic. It’s all about being empathic ... .” Lee Chastain

McCrary: “So much of storytelling is just logic. It’s all about being empathic … .” Lee Chastain

Operating from a base in Fort Worth, he worked a number of jobs but mainly as a technical director, sitting in a control room with a switcher and finding which cameras were giving the best angles.

He plied his trade at the 1984 Republican National Convention, multiple Cotton Bowl parades, and concerts by Harry Belafonte, Willie Nelson, and Ray Charles. Most of his experience, though, was with sports events: college football, college basketball, boxing, the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo, and the 1988 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

“I produced and directed the college cheerleading and dance team championships for ESPN, of all things,” said McCrary.

McCrary married Johanna Reyna in 1974, and they had two sons. He declined to discuss his first marriage, which ended in 1996, saying only, “I got married very young. We weren’t a good fit.” He met Jaci (who had three sons of her own) after hiring her then-husband for a job in 1981. The two couples remained friends for more than a decade.

In 1988 a project for Texas Tech University’s medical school took him back to Lubbock. The school needed to communicate with doctors in charge of delivering healthcare in almost half of Texas’ landmass. The challenge of making it possible for those doctors to talk with one another was formidable.

“Can we build a network where doctors in remote areas can consult with doctors in Lubbock, Amarillo, El Paso, Odessa, and Midland?” McCrary said of his project back then. “Now it’s all Skype, but when I started this, it hadn’t happened.” He spent five years building and maintaining a video network for the school, allowing classes to be taught remotely and even letting doctors remotely observe operating room procedures.

After her marriage dissolved in 1993, Jaci found her own way to Lubbock, enrolling in Tech’s Ph.D. program for counseling education. “[Giles] was the only person I knew out there,” she said. “He taught me to use a computer.”

They didn’t start dating until his marriage ended three years later. “I was afraid to date him, because we had been friends for such a long time.”

Though the video project eventually lost its funding, Giles stayed in West Texas to work at the investment firm owned and operated by his father and sister. “I felt I should learn the family business,” he said. “It wasn’t my cup of tea. I was pushing pieces of paper from one side of my desk to the other.”

Describing himself as “bored to death” in Lubbock, McCrary also earned a master’s degree in the same program as Jaci’s. In the process, he picked up a skill that would prove more germane to his future vocation as a documentarian. “That’s where I learned interviewing,” he said.

After getting married in 1998, the couple resolved to return to Fort Worth, where they had both spent so much of their lives. In the meantime, Giles put his skills to work compiling video tributes for friends and relatives. He also received funding from General Mills to make a documentary about the city of Post in 2001.

Through his work, he had seen others using visuals to tell a story. “I had watched news editors at work,” he said. “So much of storytelling is just logic. It’s all about being empathic and understanding how things flow.”

The couple finally made the move back to Fort Worth in 2007, with Giles in semi-retirement and Jaci initially teaching at Tarleton State University before going into private practice as a counselor.

“I didn’t have any particular plans,” Giles said — until his wife introduced him to some old friends.

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“We went to a Cellar reunion in 2009,” said Jaci. She had kept in touch with friends and acquaintances from the club through a listserv. “Everybody knew me, and I introduced Giles to them.” When someone floated the idea of making a documentary film about the club, Jaci spoke up.

“I volunteer him for things all the time,” she said. “I was interested in the bond these people had. What made these people stick together?”

Pat Kirkwood, right, is at the center of many stories about the Cellar.

Pat Kirkwood, right, is at the center of many stories about the Cellar.

“My wife was right,” said Giles, who started to get to know the musicians, often by playing guitar with them. “Like any network, you meet new people, and it grows and grows.” He already had cameras and equipment from his work on the Post documentary, so he set up a green screen in a bedroom at his house and invited people to sit down for interviews.

The couple approached the documentary like a research project, with Jaci helping design a list of questions to ask all the interview subjects.

“We decided early on that the history of the joint was just one aspect of the whole story,” said Giles. “We are both fascinated with human development, so we formed some questions that would give us insight into how the Cellar affected the development of these people during their late teens and early 20s.”

“There had been nothing previously researched regarding the full impact of clubs such as this on people’s lives,” Jaci elaborated. “We felt that qualitative research was the most appropriate method to use.”

The questions were open-ended, and people were encouraged to reminisce. “Sometimes I would just say, ‘Pat Kirkwood,’ and let people talk. It was like word association. I didn’t want to taint the process,” said Giles.

The subjects’ responses were then subjected to rigorous verification, an important process when so many people were telling stories. “You transcribe what people say and code it, and if three or four people say the same thing, you have a good chance that it’s true,” he said.

The rather scholarly method did more than provide a way to verify stories. It also helped bring order to his storytelling. McCrary keeps a detailed database with interview fragments keyed to different sections. “If I want to find out about bouncers, I go to the section on bouncers, and it has everything that everybody said.”

Jaci provided more than just scholarly support. “I was curious to find out how the place affected women,” she said, noting that the place was chauvinistic in many ways, despite the degree of protection afforded by the bouncers. “A lot of the women we caught up with had mixed and even negative feelings about the Cellar.”

Sadly, none of the women interviewed were willing to discuss their painful experiences on camera. Jaci said all the interview subjects remained loyal to the Cellar, but she wished she had been able to talk to more women.

The green screen allows McCrary to add old photos behind the subjects when he transfers the interviews to film. He has hundreds of photos from the Cellar’s heyday, and the technique helps take the place of film or audio footage from the Cellar, very little of which exists.

“Most portable cameras didn’t have sound back then, and no one was rolling tape in [the Cellar],” explained Nobles, comparing McCrary’s situation to his own film about teen bands.

“There’s more record of those teen bands because there was more of a commercial market for their music, even though the Cellar guys were ahead of them musically. Pat Kirkwood just wanted the music there to get people into the club. He wasn’t interested in exporting the music to other platforms.”

McCrary has put together 41 minutes of a finished work that he estimates will run between 80 and 90 minutes. He figured that it took him three working hours to turn out each minute of polished footage.

“He’s a perfectionist,” said Nobles. “He’ll work it and rework it until he gets it right.”

That attitude served McCrary well last October, when a mysterious system failure caused him to lose a large chunk of edited footage in the middle of his film. “Somehow the program files became corrupted,” he said. “I had three backups, and it rippled through all the backups.”

He spent several months talking to engineers at Apple, going to the very top of the hierarchy, but none of the experts could ever figure out precisely what had gone wrong. McCrary compared it to a reporter losing a nearly finished story, assuming that said reporter had spent years working on an article.

“A lot of people would have put a gun to their heads,” said Nobles. “But Giles is one of the calmest, nicest guys I know. When he got into rebuilding it, he got excited. It made him re-evaluate things, and the movie’s brighter and quicker now.”

In re-creating the ruined segments, McCrary had the benefit of his own extensive notes, as well as a DVD from a work-in-progress version of the film that he had screened at the Fort Worth Public Library in 2010. “I don’t throw fits,” he said. “Eventually, I came to look at it as a good thing.”

McCrary wants to finish You Must Be Weird by June 14, the deadline for submission to the Lone Star International Film Festival. Ultimately, it has been a labor of love.

“Giles isn’t looking to get his movie played on HBO and seen by millions of people,” said Nobles. “He loves the people who created this music. These musicians worked for decades, and they didn’t have much to show for it except their stories. He wants to capture these stories and make sure they don’t die with the people who lived them. This movie is really just a way of saying thank you.”

“We’re hoping to win awards with this,” said Jaci. “This film is about so much more than just this one place at one time. This is about Fort Worth, about our history.”


2 Comments


  1.  
    Larry

    Most infamous of the “must go to places” in Ft. Worth for Texas teen youth in the ’60′s. Thousands of youthful farmers, rancher/stockmen attending the annual “Fort Worth Fat Stock Show”. Right of passage for a lot of those FFA kids, never got to go myself, but listened to all their stories. Now we know, McCormicks—very cool. Thank you Giles and Jaci, I ALWAYS wanted to go. L.O., PHS ’65




  2.  
    Jack Estes

    I was a Cellar Dweller at the original Cellar that was under where the convention center now stands. I literally lived at the Cellar for eight months during it’s first year in business. I worked for Kirkwood as a musician for four years off and on and probably know him and the Cellar’s early history better than anyone now alive.
    Jack Remington





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