So Much More than Words and Music

By Susan Hayes

In conceptualizing the 2004 NAMM museum concert film featuring Don Lewis and his electronic synthesizer “LEO,” Filmmaker Ned Augustenborg drew inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s film, The Last Waltz.  “It’s a concert interrupted by a series of dressing room interviews- an inspired format,” Ned explains.

He edited with an eye to weaving interviews with Don into the film, and 10 months later invited the Lewis’ to view the rough cut.

They watched it unfold in Ned’s editing suite and halfway through, visibly moved, Don asked him to stop the film. He and Julie were both overcome with emotion. Initially, Ned thought they hated it, but in truth, they hadn’t heard LEO in a long time.

“There is very little recorded material of LEO since it was designed to be played live and not as a studio instrument,” Ned says.

Seeing and hearing film of the concert brought back an avalanche of memories for them. “It was the combination of the playing, the sound and the interviews,” Ned says.

As it turned out, when Ned finished the short film, he felt it was incomplete and chose not to air it. “It seemed claustrophobic,” Ned says. “I felt there was something more that needed to burst beyond the walls of the concert venue.”

In the coming months, Ned and Don continued to meet and in 2005, he traveled to with Don and Julie to their favorite retreat on Catalina Island for an in-depth interview. While Don’s genius and musicianship were compelling, even then he was still searching for his ‘hook.’

Ned began spending an increasing amount of time outside work researching and learning more about the Lewis’ story.  His breakthrough came in a conversation with NAMM historian, Dan Del Fiorentino, who asked, “Will you be mentioning the union?” 

This was news to Ned. Del Fiorentino, also a friend of the Lewis,’ encouraged Ned to ask them about it. “This was my conflict- this was what was missing,” Ned says.

Don and Julie were reluctant to discuss the union angle at first, feeling the entire matter was ‘water under the bridge.’ But after weeks and months of discussion, they also became convinced their story was historically and socially relevant- with important social justice implications.

“That gave the story traction,” Ned says. “We could create awareness; it was an opportunity to make sure this would never happen again. That’s what helped them decide to let the story be told- and we were off and running.”

Ultimately, interview and performance footage from the original NAMM concert film has been edited into The Ballad – part of the soundtrack highlighting a profound story that turned out to be so much more than words and music.                

Susan Hayes is a guest blogger, published columnist, and poet, and 3X Sundance Film Festival attendee (best whirlwind film viewing week so far 2015:  13 films in four days!)                                                            

Julie Lewis