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 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.

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. The viewer will feel the transcendent experience of great musical performance.

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 present-day 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 will enrich the story.

The second act will dive deeper into the significance and challenges of Chad’s current work, anchored by vérité scenes and explorations of topics and communities intersecting his passions. Stylized sequences will demonstrate the intricate 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 topics. What do analog processes offer in a digital era beyond mere nostalgia? We’ll touch on 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 and apply to many areas of life.

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 musical 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 film, we plan to capture the start-to-finish process 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 historic environments of Chad’s story.


Timeline and Distribution Strategy

Target Release: Fall 2021

We plan to produce a 40-minute film, premiering at a high-profile, distributor-friendly film festival. With Chad’s dedicated base of customers and fans, and the global vinyl market continuing to grow year after year even during the pandemic, this film has a significant built-in audience. In a time of pixelated video calls and digital overload, this story of timeless quality and true human connection will resonate well beyond that base.

  • Sundance Film Festival
  • South by Southwest
  • Tribeca Film Festiva
  • Toronto International Film Festival
  • IDFA Amsterdam
  • CPH: DOX
  • Hot Docs
  • DOC NYC
  • Sheffield Doc/Fest
  • AFI Docs
  • True/False Film Fest
  • Full Frame Film Festival
  • Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Financial Strategy

To date we have self-financed around $150,000 in production and post-production. We are now bringing on like-minded donors to help fund additional production and the remainder of post-production. We estimate $200,000 remaining to finish the film, including filming, editing, music licensing, archival research, and color and sound work.

We’d love to bring partners into the process, sharing our progress, involving them in decisions about the life of the film, and of course giving plenty of shout-outs and name-drops along the way. We’re trying to put together a team of people as excited about this film as we are, who will help bring the story to life from a financial perspective and beyond. Your donation can be tax-deductible through our nonprofit fiscal sponsor.

If you’re interested in becoming involved, we’d love to set up a chance to share more footage and ideas with you. Please reach out to us at hello@vignettecreative.com.


Sponsorship opportunities

50% or greater: Presentation Credit

We can’t thank you enough for your support. We’ll involve you from day one, screening all rough cuts of the film for you and consulting with you on key decisions in the life of the film. Let’s talk about how you’d like to see this go. Includes a “Presented by…” company logo (if applicable) at the top of the film and/or up to four individual Executive Producer credits in the main titles.

20% or greater: In Association With Credit

We’re thrilled to have you on the team. We'll screen all rough cuts of the film for you along the way and keep you fully involved as we move forward. Includes an "In association with..." company logo (if applicable) at the top of the film and/or up to two individual Executive Producer credits in the main titles.

10% or greater: 1 Executive Producer Credit See you at the premiere! We’ll keep you updated about our progress and screen cuts of the film for you as we go. Includes a credit in the main titles and a company logo (if applicable) in the logo section of the end credits.

Meet the filmmakers

Gary Matoso (Director/Producer)

Born and raised in California, Gary Matoso began his career in a commercial photography studio in San Francisco. He later moved to Paris, France where he was based as a photojournalist for 16 years. His assignments took him across Europe, Africa, The Middle East, and the former Soviet republics. His photography has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, People, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Smithsonian, Liberation, Le Monde, The Guardian, and The Sunday Times of London.

In the mid-nineties his interest turned to the emerging new media landscape, producing a series of pioneering online documentary projects for organizations such as the UNHCR and Amnesty International.

In 2010 he founded Vignette, a Seattle-based creative agency and production company that helps brands and organizations tell compelling stories through film and photography, and serves as a platform for original documentary productions.

Cameron Zohoori (Director/Editor)

Cameron Zohoori is a filmmaker from North Carolina by way of Jamaica, Arkansas, and Seattle. After studying neuroscience, he decided storytelling was a more compelling way to affect people’s brains. Projects in diverse media have taken him from the hollers of Kentucky to the streets of Monrovia, from cage diving with great white sharks to training rural radio producers in multimedia techniques.

He was selected as a 2012 Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow and spent a year filming and photographing the lives of youth and youth workers in Lowell, Massachusetts. The resulting short doc“The Vow” played festivals around the country and internationally.

Since 2015 Cameron has worked with Vignette in Seattle, bringing documentary filmmaking to brands and organizations with honest stories to tell.


Get in touch

We’re bringing on funding, sales, and distribution partners.

If you’re as excited about this story as we are, please reach out:

Vignette Creative

hello@vignettecreative.com

501-554-9792

More Work