First Film Leads to Lifelong Friendship

By Susan Hayes

Access and trust are two key components to telling a story with any degree of accuracy. In the case of documentaries, one rarely exists without the other- or the final product risks being a one-dimensional, opaque, predictably linear story.

Fortunately, The Ballad of Don Lewis is a story which unfolds on film from the inside-out, thanks to the friendship that has developed between Filmmaker Ned Augustenborg and Synthesizer Pioneer Don Lewis.

The Ballad evolved out of an inconspicuous side-project for television producer Ned Augustenborg who agreed to film a musical fundraising event in Carlsbad featuring a little-known synthesizer pioneer in 2004.  

“Back then, I worked for a Southern California cable operator where one of my responsibilities was managing the programming department where we had a budget for local community programming,” he explains.

Carolyn Grant, Executive Director of the Museum of Making Music in nearby Carlsbad -  the museum for the National Association of Music Merchants (“NAMM”) – approached him in 2004, asking for resources to film a fundraiser featuring Don Lewis and his electronic synthesizer, LEO (short for “Live Electronic Orchestra”).

“I had never heard of Don, but had been enthralled with synthesizers since the 1970s,” says Ned. “Once she described him as a ‘pioneer,’ I was intrigued and offered to personally donate my time to make sure the production went well.”  He also called on friends to volunteer, and brought in a mobile unit to cover the entire event.

Initially, Ned thought about making a more in-depth film on synthesizers down the line, imagining Don’s concert would represent about 45 seconds of it. But that all changed the moment Ned and Don met. 

“We hit it right off. You just can’t help but love Don from the moment you meet him,” Ned says.

Ned soon realized how Don’s creation of LEO represented a historically significant jump in the evolution of synthesizer technology from analog-based to electronic in the music industry.  And as their friendship grew in the weeks and months to come, it became clear to Ned that Don’s story extended well beyond that of the electronic synthesizer- both historically and personally.

Susan Hayes is a professional writer, editor and documentary film enthusiast based in Northern California.  Her Sundance Film Festival record stands at 13 films in four days.  

Julie Lewis