SXSW / Resynator: Interview with Director/Producer Alison Tavel

SXSW / Resynator: Interview with Director/Producer Alison Tavel

©Courtesy of Crush Pictures

The immense fear of failure can at times lead to people feeling as though they won’t be accepted for who they truly are, and struggling to figure out how to be loved. Up-and-coming filmmaker Alison Tavel delved into how her late father was a hustling man who strove for success in order to feel loved and accepted in her new documentary, Resynator.

Alison believes that when her father, inventor Don Tavel, died suddenly when she was just 10-weeks old, he felt that he never had the unconditional love she is fortunate to have had throughout her life. Despite his feelings of being broken, confused and insecure throughout his life, his genius in his creations inspired his daughter to overcome her years of rejections and mistakes in making the movie to finally complete her own project.

Alison made her feature film directorial debut on Resynator. She also co-wrote and produced the biographical music documentary with Kathryn Robson.

Resynator chronicles how Don died suddenly when Alison was just a newborn. Despite growing up surrounded by mythical stories about her genius father, her life was still consequently absent from any true connection to him.

But Alison’s feeling of disconnect from her father changed when she rescued his synthesizer prototype that he invented in the 1970s, the titular Resynator, from her grandmother’s attic. Upon discovering the revolutionary synthesizer, the filmmaker became inspired to revive her father’s mission to share it with the world.

So Alison embarked on a resurrection project that allows her to forge a deep, but unexpected, bond with the father she never got the chance to know. Aided by estranged relatives, lost friends, fellow inventors and celebrated musicians – including Grace Potter, Peter Gabriel, Fred Armisen, Gotye and Jon Anderson – Alison unlocks unsettling secrets and complex truths about her father. During that process, the filmmaker unearths an authentic portrait of the father she doesn’t remember.

Alison generously took the time to talk about scribing, helming and producing Resynator during an exclusive interview. The filmmaker spoke about making the project to help promote its World Premiere in in the Documentary Feature Competition screening section of last month’s SXSW. The movie premiered at SXSW on March 10 at 6pm CT at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema South Lamar in Austin, Texas, after which it won the Audience Award in the Documentary Feature Competition.

Reysnator1©Courtesy of Crush Pictures

Q: You co-wrote the new documentary, Resynator. What was the inspiration in making, the film?

Alison Tavel: The project started about 10 years ago now. It seems like a lifetime ago, but I was on tour with a musician, Grace Potter. We had been touring together for a couple of years, and throughout those tours, I would come into contact with all these different musicians. We’d talk about gear, instruments, inventions and technology.

In the back of my mind, I was always thinking, my dad invented a synthesizer, and I think it’s called the Resynator. But I didn’t know anything beyond that. That’s really how it all started – it was just this curiosity of what my dad had invented.

My dad died in a car crash when I was 10-weeks-old, so I never knew him. For many different reasons, I never to learn about him. But when I was 25 years old, I was just like, well, what did he invent? What was that?

So when we had a couple weeks off tour, I just thought, maybe I should go find it and figure out what it is. That was what sparked this whole thing. Of course, it turned into something so much more than just, what is this? But that was the initial curiosity of what he had invented. Then through that, it started developing into something so much deeper and something that I could never have imagined. (Tavel laughs.)

Q: In addition to penning the script, you also made your feature film directorial debut on the project. What was your overall approach to helming the movie?

Alison Tavel: Well, this is my first film. I was not intending to be a filmmaker, as I didn’t have prior experience in filmmaking. But it really started off in this very organic way of me thinking, I’m going to get the Resynator out of the attic. I’m going to meet with the engineer who built this thing.

Every time I would do something, I’d be like, I should film this. My initial intention was to maybe cut together a short film about the resurrection of a synthesizer. So it made sense to bring somebody who knew how to point and shoot a camera to follow this little thing that I was doing. I never thought, I’m going to direct a feature film about the connection of my father.

So bit by bit, these things started being filmed. Then I started realizing things along the way, including that I should have better audio. I also thought, I should figure what I’m trying to accomplish in this moment.

Then it gradually turned into me thinking that I was going to make this into a feature film. I realized that I also wanted to show people that I’m not just making this for me and my friends – I also wanted a wider audience. So it was maybe three or four years in that I realized this isn’t a film that I’m making just for me; I also wanted to share it.

Q: How did you work with Resynator‘s composer, Chris Ruggiero, to create the score for the feature?

Alison Tavel: The music was one of the things I was most nervous about because the score is primarily resynator. There are other sounds, obviously, that my composer used, including other instruments and samples, to create the score.

But the resynator is featured heavily on every song. There’s a piano ballad where the resynator isn’t fully upfront, but everything else is all resynator. So it made me nervous because the whole film is essentially about the synth, so it has to sound good.

I’m not a musician myself, but I have such a love of music. I am so opinionated about music that I wanted to make sure that the score really worked well for the scenes. But I think the resynator totally pulled it off.

My composer, Chris Ruggiero, was this mastermind musician who I knew could handle it. It’s a long story, but he wrote an article about the resynator as I was starting this project. It’s because of that article that I was just like, okay, now I’m going to go get it.

So I knew he’d be the one to be able to pull it off, and. I think he did a great job. I’m really happy with the score.

Reysnator 3

Courtesy of Crush Pictures

Q: Once you finished shooting the footage for the documentary, how did you determine how you would edit the project with its editors, particularly Kathryn?

Alison Tavel: I feel like I say everything was the hardest part. But the editing was truly the hardest part. I was an inexperienced first-time filmmaker. This story has a lot of threads. It’s not just about my dad or me. It’s also not just about his estranged family and the musicians.

It’s got all of these little offshoots. So to be able to stay true to the main story, I felt that I needed a really experienced editor who could understand my vision. But they needed to tell it in a better way than I could tell it because I had never done this before.

So I went through a couple of editors before I found Kathryn Robson. She edited this and wrote the (2019 biographical history) documentary, Circus of Books. When I watched that movie, I was like, well, that has all the elements of my story; it’s archival, it’s interviews and it’s varied present day verité. So I thought, this makes sense to me.

So I reached out to her and she wasn’t available. Then I tried out a couple other editors, but they didn’t work out. Then Kathryn became available, and I was just like, “Oh, thank God.”

I think it took a full year to get her on board. Then I think she was planning on editing the movie for about six months. So she was with me for about a year-and-a-half. The edit was really hard, but it was the most rewarding part of the filmmaking process. I had all of this footage that I had filmed but hadn’t seen in a long time.

So when I would finally go sit down with her at an edit bay, she would play back a scene that she had cut with some temp music. It just brought me to tears because all of my hard work was put together in this beautiful package. It was this really surreal moment of realizing that your life has a soundtrack. It was real and so beautiful, and that was all Kath.

Q: Besides scribing and helming Resynator, you also served as one of the producers on the feature. How did you work as a director and producer influence each other throughout the production?

Alison Tavel: This was my first time producing, too. So learning how to put together shoots was challenging. I think it was by year three that I was making production call sheets.

There wasn’t any location scouting; the only time I scouted a location was when I was doing the warehouse shoot. But in that instance, finding a location, making sure that my DP (Director of Photography) had the right gear and that my B cam matched my A cam was challenging.

I just learned those kind of things as I went. Also, when you do a shoot and you realize you’re missing something, you remember not to do that that for next time. Now I’ve produced quite a few things, and it’s just about the experience. That was my big takeaways – you just have to do it a bunch, and then you’ll learn what not to do. (Tavel laughs.)

If you liked this article, please share your comment.

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Comment (0)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here