Filmmaker Avalos shifted focus during ‘Strad Style’ shoot
Meeting Daniel Houck was pivotal
Stefan Avalos’ documentary “Strad Style,” which will celebrate its world premiere on Jan. 21, at the Slamdance Film Festival, centers around an Ohio-based dreamer named Daniel Houck, who is obsessed with violins.
Houck is especially drawn to the world’s most revered and perfected instruments created by the Stradivarius family to the point where he believes he can hand make a violin that matches the quality of a ‘Stradivari.”
The plot thickens when Houck, through social media, comes in contact with the world-renowned violinist Razvan Stoica and convinces him he can make a violin that Stoica can play during a prestigious concert.
This wasn’t the documentary that Avalos originally had in mind four years ago.
“I was working on a documentary about violin obsessions a couple of years before I met Danny,” said Avalos, a former classical violinist. “I had had heard of Danny through the grapevine and I thought he would make a great five-minute interlude in this much more serious and broad documentary about the obsessions of the violin through the centuries.”
Avalos thought he would meet Houck and spend between 30 minutes to a full afternoon shooting the segment.
Then he met Houck in person.
“That changed everything and I knew that he was going to be my whole movie,” Avalos said. “All the footage I shot in Paris, New York, all over the world, was put aside so I could just focus on Danny.”
What drew Avalos to Houck?
“Danny is an amazing guy,” the filmmaker said. “He’s very intelligent. He’s very funny and emotional. He’s also good on camera. So, he has all of these great characteristics and is what you would call a dream subject.
“But Danny is an untrained violin maker,” Avalos said. “That lack of discipline sort of encompasses his entire life. And while that made things tricky, it also made a great story.”
Still, after six months of shooting Houck, Avalos only heard talk about his subject making a violin.
“I never heard a single note played, but it was such an entertaining story, I decided to continue the ride to see what happens,” he said. “In fact, all the way up to the very end, I didn’t know how it was going to go.”
The film took a dramatic turn when Stoica got involved.
“We had Danny, who was this quirky character with his hopes and dreams, which makes for a great character study, but when the whole situation with Razvan came along, it’s what you call a serious plot point,” Avalos said.
The filmmaker found Stoica to be a fantastic character and an “amazing person.”
“Not being disparaging to violinists, but having been one and knowing many, I can attest that they are not necessarily the most personable or friendly people,” Avalos said. “So, to have someone like Razvan who is absolutely a charming and great person and one of the great violinists today was a good stroke of luck.”
Adding Stoica in the mix also raised the stakes.
“We’re talking about one of the world’s greatest violinists,” Avalos said. “But he was also a guy who was very amenable to trying out something different and putting a lot of faith and trust in something.”
One of the biggest challenges was Houck’s living conditions.
“We shot in the winter time and he didn’t have enough money to pay for heat,” Avalos said with a laugh. “So, for him to survive, let a lone make a violin was tricky. I felt like I was on safari in the arctic, especially since I’m from California.”
Avalos said he is happy with how this film turned out.
“It’s more of a verity documentary,” he said. “There are no sit-down interviews, and it almost plays out as a narrative film.
“That was a conscious decision, although it was very hard to do, because there were times when I could have just burst out laughing,” Avalos said.
It also helped that Avalos was a one-man crew.
“That was one of the ways I could afford to make this movie,” he said “It also made sense to not have a full crew because I was focusing on one person for 85 percent of the film. That also made me know that if the movie wasn’t very good, there was no one to blame but myself.”
Stefan Avalos’ documentary “Strad Style” will make its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at the Treasure Mountain Inn Ballroom, 255 Main St. The film will be screened again at 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24, in the Treasure Mountain Inn Gallery. For more information about “Strad Style, visit http://www.stradstyle.com. For more information about Slamdance and tickets, visit http://www.slamdance.com.
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