For many filmmakers, creating a documentary requires hours of behind-the-scenes work to learn their subjects before the filming begins. Directors will immerse themselves into the lives of their subjects, studying all the aspects of their lives and surroundings.
For Josh Harrell, a documentary filmmaker based out of Nashville, Tenn., that immersion has ranged from riding on trains with hobos to staking out a downtown Nashville bar for over six months. The behind the scenes work that goes into the pre-production, Harrell says, is the aspect that most people don’t see.
“You have to go to great lengths to earn the subject’s trust so that they act normal when the cameras are rolling,” Harrell says.
As an aspiring journalist when he was a student at NC State, Harrell was editor of the Technician student newspaper and did anything he could to be involved in journalism. After graduating in 2008, Harrell took a job with The Fayetteville Observer but quickly tired of the “endless tunnel” of writing random features on different people every day.
Harrell was a film studies minor at NC State, thinking he could combine the facets of writing and filmmaking. Harrell decided to attend Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Nashville in August 2009 to escape the world of print journalism.
After spending eight months as an assistant for the Documentary Channel, Harrell began his film career with Good People Studios, a company based in Nashville that he co-founded. His first documentary, “No Tracks Home,” documented the hobos who hopped trains in and around Asheville, N.C.
The latest project (and final) project that Harrell is working on with Good People Studios is his documentary, “Manuel,” which portrays the life of Manuel Cuevas, an 82-year old Mexican-American who created rhinestone suits for the likes of Elvis, the Beatles and Johnny Cash.
According to Harrell, the story documents a man with a “Paul Bunyan” type reputation who time has passed by.
“It’s about a guy whose art was a trend,” Harrell says. “So what does that mean for an artist at the end of his life to have a legacy like that? He’s a very philosophical guy and he reflects on his life.”
Instead of focusing on his work with the big names of music past, the story takes an in-depth into Manuel in his current life and the struggles of adapting to a new world.
Harrell has been filming “Manuel” for three years and plans to debut it in early 2016, giving audiences their first chance to see Harrell’s first full-length feature documentary.
Documentaries like “Manuel” are a glimpse of what Harrell plans for the future as he branches off from Good People Studios to work with a company, Nashville Nonfiction, that he started after graduating from Watkins in 2011.
— Christian Candeloro