MTV’s $5 Cover: Seattle, a series of 12 vignettes that documents a scripted weekend in Seattle’s music scene, made its debut during a one-off screening at SIFF Cinema in March. Nine months later it’s finally available to stream for free online with oodles of additional behind-the-scenes features and bonus clips.
So how does the finished product, which includes the 12 shorts and 64 additional bonus clips, hold up nearly a year after its premiere? Brilliantly if it you take in context, given the series was shot more than a year ago, but if you use the series to reflect the city’s current music scene a few flaws manage to make their way to the surface.
Released Dec. 15, the meat of the program is the series of 12 scripted shorts directed by local Lynn Shelton, who directed the award-winning film Humpday. The shorts feature 13 bands that are all connected through some commonality during a summer weekend of band rehearsals, day jobs, bar hopping and performing shows.
Shelton has said that $5 Cover: Seattle was her love letter to the local music scene. If that’s the case then the final product is a massive romance novel with a plot that woos viewers until they fall in love with Seattle’s music community. And it’s a novel well worth reading over and over again.
Not only is the film worth watching because it is a fairly accurate representation of the musicians it spotlights but also because it has the best soundtrack you’ll hear on the web. Sure I’m a bit biased, but if you want to get a taste of some of the best in local music $5 Cover: Seattle is the best place to start.
New to the film are its additional trimmings, which is part of the reason for its delayed release. According to Moishe Friedman, a spokesperson for MTV, part of the reason the release was delayed because the company was looking for a media player that would best present all of the content. Friedman said another reason for the delay was because MTV was working to find a non-profit organization it could support with the project. The company ended up partnering with Sweet Relief, which assists musicians struggling financially due to illness, disability and age-related circumstances. As a result commercials for Sweet Relief appear periodically before some of the $5 Cover episodes.
In the presentation department, MTV chose to use the Coincident TV player and the player runs smoothly and provides an easy-to-use layout which makes watching whatever part of the project you desire a simple task. It was a bit odd having to click play after every clip, but I think I was spoiled by seeing the film on the big screen at SIFF Cinema. Besides, this current generation of music fans has lived with the Internet as a content delivery vehicle their entire lives so a periodic click won’t likely be a problem.
The new features include 14 Amplified shorts that act as bios for the featured bands, 23 B-Sides documentaries about various aspects of Seattle’s music and arts scenes, 15 performance videos and 12 behind-the-scenes clips. Add the actual $5 Cover: Seattle film and you have an immersive experience that perfectly captures who was making noise during the summer of 2009.
The Amplified shorts, filmed and directed by local filmmaker John Jeffcoat (best known for the film Outsourced, which was adapted to the NBC comedy), are excellent portraits of the artists in the film. Each one is as enjoyable to watch as the main film itself and are great ways to learn more about the personalities and real lives of the musicians of $5 Cover: Seattle.
The B-Sides clips, found under the player’s “Seattle Scene” tab, spotlight musicians not featured in the main film,. Here the focus is on a variety of lesser-knowns and you get a look at hip-hip scene stalwart Vitamin D, film score composer Eric Goetz, soul rockers Maktub, Appalachian folksters the Tallboys and more. They not only show the city’s musical diversity but also show that the city’s music community is more than just the 13 bands Shelton decided to feature in her film.
Having all of the B-Sides, Amplified docs, live performances and behind-the-scenes clips all packaged together cleanly was worth waiting nine months. With each click of play on the bonus materials I fell more and more in love with the scene I already adore, but unfortunately the nine-month delay is responsible for the one area where the series falls a bit short.
A lot has changed in the 17 months since the bulk of $5 Cover: Seattle was shot. Since its filming a few of the bands featured in the B-Sides documentaries no longer exist (Team Gina, Dutchess and the Duke and New Faces to name a few) which makes it strange to see them representing the local music scene at the tail end of 2010. And it was a bit odd to see B-Sides features on members of the burlesque, film and visual art scenes pop up considering there are so many more stories in the local music community to be told outside of those featured. Also, it’s worth noting that the Crocodile, one of Seattle’s most historic venues, was conspicuously absent from the entire project. The closure and rebirth of the Croc would have made for an excellent story.
But those are all minor quibbles compared to the overall effectiveness of $5 Cover: Seattle. The film and all of its trappings are an excellent reflection of what it’s like to be a part of the local music community. The main feature tells an engaging story filled with vibrant personalities and humorous stories and the extra content really makes the Emerald City’s music community shine. It’s a great primer for anyone looking to learn more about local music as well as an enjoyable film that would make any local music lover swell up with pride.by