4 min read

Q&A: Jimmy Bloniarz, Making a Documentary from the Back of a Bus

Jimmy Bloniarz, AKA “Jimmy Jimes,” and Billy Ferguson worked as videographers for Roc Nation and TIDAL, where they learned the ins and outs…
Q&A: Jimmy Bloniarz, Making a Documentary from the Back of a Bus
From left to right: Filmmakers Jimmy Bloniarz, Mike Jaeger, Zack Djurich, Billy Ferguson, and Christopher Watson

Jimmy Bloniarz, AKA “Jimmy Jimes,” and Billy Ferguson worked as videographers for Roc Nation and TIDAL, where they learned the ins and outs of the music industry. It was during this time that they realized the music industry was mostly about industry, and not so much about music. They left their jobs and bought a bus that they transformed into a recording studio and drove around the country, working with street musicians who made music simply for the love of making music. Each musician recorded a section of a song on the bus, eventually forming an album with musicians from twenty different cities across the U.S. Jimmy and Billy filmed the entire process in their debut documentary titled “The Unknown Tour.” Follow their journey on Instagram.

Storyhunter: Why did you want to make this documentary?

Jimmy Bloniarz: For the past three years, my filmmaking partner, Billy Ferguson, and I were working at an independent production company in Beverly Hills. The majority of our time was spent working on videos for Roc Nation and TIDAL, Jay-Z’s companies in NYC. It was a dream job for us, shooting videos for huge artists like Rihanna and Lil Yachty. The only problem, which started to really bother us, was that we felt like puppets a lot of the time. Even though we were the directors, the client and the artists had complete control over everything we did. There was a sense of powerlessness. On big music jobs, the artist often feels like the real director, and the guiding light of these shoots is the sales. Even though the artists exist within the music industry, the focus of the video tends to shift to fashion, accessories, and whatever else will boost sales. So we decided to quit that job, and film a documentary with independent musicians whose main focus is still music. The idea was to create a collaborative album of original music with artists from cities all over the US and Canada. We wanted the power to tell a story about music in our own way.

SH: What was your first step?

JB: The first step was finding a way to get around the country. We bought an old bus for $7,000 and spent another $3,000 renovating it. We painted the exterior of the bus and made the interior into a recording studio. The bus already had a power system that went through it, but we added solar panels to the roof so that our movie would be powered by renewable energy. We set up a music studio inside the bus. We converted the closet in the bus to be a vocal booth, with egg crate foam to keep it soundproofed. We strung microphone cables behind the cabinets and the engineer would work at the desk. We edited all summer on Adobe Premiere on the bus on our laptops. The bus served three main purposes: it was our vehicle, our place to sleep, and our mobile studio to work.

Driving through the Pride Parade in New Orleans

SH: How did filming work inside the bus?

JB: Simultaneously someone would be recording vocals in back, and in front our engineer would be recording the song, while Billy and I filmed the entire process. A recurring problem was that our mobile internet puck didn’t work very well in small towns. We would have to wait until we got internet before we could upload all the footage.

SH: How did you find talent?

JB: Social media was an important way we connected with a lot of talent. We posted short videos along the way, and as the word spread about our film, artists began reaching out to us. Finding talented musicians was the easy part — the hard part was the logistics of recording them all when we were constantly on the move. We had to carry our ninety pound Pelican case with recording gear through cities, constantly in a hurry, to meet an artist and figure out what we wanted to record. We filmed with 150 artists in sixty days, and about fifty or sixty will be featured in the film.

Recording music on the bus

SH: Was anyone ever nervous about getting on the bus?

JB: No, people loved the bus because it was so beautiful. Everywhere we went, people would take photos of the bus and show it love. We knew it would be weird to roll up in a shady bus, that’s why we put so many hours into painting it so that it looked sort of whimsical. We also filmed inside the artists’ homes and in public places like parks and subways.

SH: What are you doing with the film now?

JB: We are currently submitting the film to festivals. Our trailer is public, but the feature film has not been released yet. The goal for distribution is to get picked up by a platform like Amazon, Netflix, or Hulu. We hope to premiere at a festival in Spring 2018.

Recording music on the bus

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By Lena Drake, Storyhunter Writer