Kassem

Vignette Original

Vignette Original In production

Music saved his life. Then he saved the music.

Trading drugs for vinyl, an obsessive misfit from the Louisiana bayou pursues the perfect sound while preserving the music he loves and building a record production empire from the middle of Kansas.

Synopsis

Chad Kassem’s obsessions have taken him from the depths of addiction to the heights of the music industry. In 1982 a drug-related arrest left him a choice: prison in Louisiana or a halfway house in Kansas. Leaving the bayou behind, he gave up drugs in favor of dealing a different product — vinyl records. While collecting music to get through the drudgery of rehab, Chad found a new opportunity to buy, sell and trade. His obsessive personality kicked in, and laid the foundation for a music empire.

He now records, remasters, and manufactures what many consider the best-sounding music on the planet, all from a small town in the middle of the country. Committed to the craft and quality of analog, Chad and his team have been trusted to make the definitive versions of some of the greatest albums of all time, from Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” to John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” to the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”. Leveraging his success, Chad has seized on a chance to preserve a generation of American music legends - aging blues artists whose genius has never been recorded in the way they deserve.

Kassem follows Chad as his quest to preserve great music takes him from small-town Kansas to the swamps of Louisiana, from the high-rises of Hong Kong to the boardrooms of New York. Along the way, Chad’s relentless pursuit of perfection comes up against audiophiles, studios, musicians — and his own demanding standards.

The Music

The film will be as much an audio experience as a visual one, bringing to life the music that motivates its subject.

Songs and artists that played a role in Chad’s musical journey will be highlighted along the way. Taking advantage of Chad’s remarkable recordings, the film will savor musical moments through archival, live performances, and stripped-down studio sessions.

We’ll see Chad resurrect decades-old equipment to record his favorite musicians ‘direct-to-disc’ in Blue Heaven Studios, a church he bought for storage and converted to a music venue and recording studio. Bypassing modern techniques in favor of putting a stylus straight onto a lacquer disc, he creates some of the most intimate, sounds-like-you’re-there recordings in the world.

We’ll hear the story of blues artists whose voices were neglected for decades. Chad has brought legendary artists like Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Henry Townsend to Salina, often recording them shortly before these last links to the original blues sound passed away.

We’ll also spend time in the world of audiophiles, seeing what drives these fanatics to scour record stores and online catalogs for the rarest records to fill their homes with. Not to mention obsessing over an exotic vintage tube or the coating on a $5000 cable for their stereos, in an unending quest for the perfect sound.

Structure & Style

The film gives an insider’s look into Chad’s life and work. The first act will weave between contemporary scenes revealing his personality and passion, and sequences looking back on his life story. B-roll, archival, and music will evoke the atmosphere of 1970s Louisiana and 1980s Kansas. Chad himself will share his story through intimate interviews, but family, colleagues, and luminaries from the audio world enrich the story.

The second act will dive deeper into the importance and challenges of Chad’s current work, anchored by vérité scenes and explorations of topics and communities intersecting his passions. Stylized b-roll sequences will demonstrate the intricate analog processes behind music recording and listening.

In the final act of the film, with Chad tackling ever greater challenges, we’ll also see him reckoning with the lasting legacy of his work. What does it mean to pursue the impossible for a lifetime? When a fleeting moment is over, what remains in the vinyl?

Why Chad?

We met Chad in 2017, when we sat down for a short chat and ended up spending 7 hours capturing his stories, opinions, and plans. We were captivated by his unique twist on a classic story: the journey to transform personal struggles into a life of purpose. Watching Chad’s addictive tendencies harnessed to positive ends is a hopeful experience that many can draw inspiration from. That journey, and his compelling onscreen presence, form the core of this film.

His life is also an entertaining window onto intriguing and important topics. There’s the opportunity to explore the concept of analog: what do these processes offer in a digital era, beyond mere nostalgia? We’ll explore the vinyl versus digital debate in the music world, but this isn’t about quality for its own sake. Embedded in the story is an appreciation for emotional, human connection, facilitated by just enough technology, that we could all learn from.

His story also leads to deep questions around legacy and preservation, on a personal and cultural level. Why haven’t the voices of black blues musicians been heard in the way they deserve? What does it mean for Chad to be undertaking that work now, preserving those voices in vinyl?

With Chad as our charismatic, enigmatic, sometimes abrasive, always genuine guide through these worlds, we intend the film to be a thoughtful, funny, and ultimately hopeful exploration, helping the audience reflect on how to stop and truly listen.

Status

In the 3 years since meeting Chad, we’ve followed him from Kansas to Louisiana, New York City, and Hong Kong. Our 30 shoot days and hundreds of hours of footage include behind-the-scenes at Chad’s annual blues festival and recording sessions, tracking down priceless record collections, globetrotting with the audiophile elite, and reconnecting to his roots and aging parents in his hometown Lafayette, Louisiana. We’ve completed over a dozen interviews with Chad, his family, business associates, and musicians.

To complete the story, we plan additional shoots to capture the start-to-finish experience of remastering a notable album, daily life with Chad and his family at home, more expert interviews, and atmospheric and establishing shots in Louisiana and Kansas. We’re also beginning an archival research process to augment the film with evocative visuals of the musicians and environments of Chad’s story.

Distribution & Funding Opportunities

Our goal is a 60-90 min feature film, to premiere the film at a high-profile, distributor-friendly film festival with the goal of securing streaming, broadcast, or other digital distribution.

We have self-funded our production to date, but with the film entering post-production and several shoots still to complete, we’re seeking funding partners to see this project through to its full potential. In addition to financing, we are looking for distribution partners to help put the film in front of audiences.

We’d love to share the process and experience with partners, and are happy to discuss credits and other incentives!

More Work