Constable: Dave Carlson's film work as Palatine boy leads to Joe Frank doc
As a kid in Palatine, Dave Carlson used money from his Daily Herald paper route to finance his 8 mm movies such as "The Palatine Murders," "The Creep" and his Vietnam War epic, "All Guts, No Glory." Now, an award-winning filmmaker who has created more than 100 movies, the 50-year-old Carlson, CEO of Film Foetus, is turning to the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to help finance his latest documentary, "Joe Frank -- Somewhere Out There," about a legendary National Public Radio voice.
Frank, who died Jan. 15 of cancer at age 79, was a dark, absurdist storyteller whose rich, baritone voice spun crazy, otherworldly tales of the human condition over the airwaves on public radio. Carlson became a fan in 1988 after hearing Frank's work on WBEZ Chicago, 91.5 FM, and saw Frank speak in 2003 after Frank received the Third Coast's Lifetime Achievement Award.
"All the audience had their eyes closed," remembers Carlson. The story of a voice appreciated by an unseeing audience doesn't lend itself to a visual art form.
"That was a challenge for me as a storyteller," says Carlson, who blends audio, images of sound waves, radio dials and still photographs, footage of Frank and interviews with a legion of loyal show business fans that includes Harry Shearer and Ira Glass, actors David Cross, Grace Zabriskie, Larry Block, Ryan Cutrona, Laura Esterman and Tim Jerome, voice actress Debi Mae West, director Alexander Payne, radio producer Larry Josephson, Steppenwolf Theatre Company founding member Terry Kinney, radio collaborator Arthur Miller, recording engineer David Rapkin, and Frank's lifelong friend, Lester Nafzger, and Frank's widow, Michal Story.
Frank became a friend of director Francis Ford Coppola during their days as students as Hofstra University, and also was acquainted with director Michael Mann. But Carlson is the director who made the documentary about Frank. "It took quite some time and discussion for me to convince Joe to review Dave's former work and to entertain the idea," says Story.
Frank, whose radio monologues often dealt with alienation, disillusionment, loneliness, failure, nihilism and death, gave his approval to the final cut of the film in October, three months before he died of cancer. "Joe Frank -- Somewhere Out There" is a portrait of an artist, as are some other Carlson films, including the critically acclaimed "Chicago Filmmakers on the Chicago River," which features directors with local roots, including Andrew Davis, Harold Ramis, John Landis, Mann and more.
"A lot of my films are about artistry," Carlson says. "In reality, there's a blue-collar work ethic to it."
He says he picked up some blue-collar experience for a couple of years digging graves in Grand Haven, Michigan, while he went to school at Muskegon Community College. He also studied film at Columbia College in Chicago, at Harper College in Palatine -- where one of his instructors was Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire -- and as a member of the Palatine High School Class of 1985 under film teacher Rod Gibbs. But his film education started long before that.
"I've been making movies since I was 8 years old," says Carlson, one of five children of David and Maureen Carlson. "I used to shoot a lot of films along Salt Creek."
His uncle, Jerry Wisniewski, introduced him to classic films. "He bought me my first movie poster: 'King Kong vs. Godzilla,'" remembers Carlson, who has an impressive collection of vintage posters for films such as "Nosferatu," "Citizen Kane," "It's a Wonderful Life" and "On the Waterfront," as well as posters from less acclaimed films such as "I Walked with a Zombie." One of his prized pieces of memorabilia is a prosthetic severed thumb from director Stuart Gordon's 1995 "Castle Freak" horror flick.
Carlson's work in broadcast and corporate documentaries has taken him to exotic locations and allowed him to interview a diverse cast that includes professional athletes such as Dwyane Wade and Eli Manning, performers Drake and Fergie, composer Philip Glass and blues legend Buddy Guy, and regular folks with tales of heartbreak and triumph.
"Everybody can pick up a camera," Carslon says. "But not everyone can tell a story. "