Greg “Freddy” Camalier worked in real estate when he passed through Muscle Shoals, Ala., and became fascinated by the rich musical history that came out of the tiny town on the Tennessee River, the site of two competing recording studios that produced enormous hits and new sounds for an extensive roster of musicians, including Gregg Allman, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paul Simon and many more.
Gregg Allman in the film
We spoke with Camalier and the film’s editor, Richard Lowe, about cutting Muscle Shoals, a process that started with a short sizzle reel and developed as shooting progressed until they finished the feature-length film one year ago.
There are so many different threads in the film: Rick Hall starting a studio out of nothing, the bands, the rivalry with record executives, the history of the region. Did you have a sense of the structure when you started editing?
Richard Lowe: We struggled with that. What seemed so unique and outstanding about Muscle Shoals was cumulative: The fact that all these things had happened there within a certain period of time. Getting any one image or sequence to crystallize that was difficult. I hope that’s what the movie does overall.
Greg “Freddy” Camalier: We put a fair amount of thought into this before going into the editing room. I think if you just shoot without any planning and then go into the edit—I’d hope you could put a good movie together, but I sure wouldn’t want to be in that position.
You also had a lot of archival material. Did you start editing with that in mind or did you look for things as the story developed?
Lowe: Both. The two key elements we had early on, the first was a film made by Swedish filmmakers in 1969, where they went to one of the recording studios and shot a half-hour film in high-quality 16mm black and white. We used some of that for the sizzle reel. The other main source was the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter [directed by Albert and David Maysles], which was the backbone of the Rolling Stones archival sequence.
Director Greg “Freddy” Camalier
You worked on this on and off for over two years from different cities. Did you work remotely?
Lowe: He lives in Boulder, Colo., and I live in New York. When we did the sizzle reel, he came to New York for three weeks. For the major part of the editing, we tried to communicate by sending cuts back and forth. What we found, which was no great revelation, was that if we were in the room together, we could communicate things instantly that otherwise would take days to get across. So I said I’d come to Boulder. And we put together a cutting room in Boulder and I basically lived there for a year.
The film did very well on the festival circuit and has gotten some great reviews. That must be nice for your directorial debut.
Camalier: It is! It’s great! But it’s not what I expected. When I started the process, I had this idea the end point would be to finish it and send it off. That was nowhere near close to the end point. When we were done, I nearly keeled over from exhaustion, but then there were the festivals and selling it and promoting and marketing. There were the openings and all that travel. It’s been quite a learning experience.