On the eve of the Broadway premiere of Hands on a Hardbody: The Musical, director S.R. Bindler stopped by Stranger Than Fiction to present a New York premiere screening of his newly remastered classic Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary to a theater full of diehard Hardbody fans. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary was not only a high water mark for DIY, bootstrap filmmaking in the late1990s but was and continues to be one of the most entertaining and engaging documentaries of all time. The fans of this documentary are legion, and for many years DVDs and prints of this out of print classic fetched hundreds of dollars on eBay – a situation that will no doubt be alleviated by the re-release of the newly mastered version of the film.
Bindler’s opus documents a local “Hands on a Hardbody” contest at a Nissan dealership in Longview, Texas that pits 24 individuals against each other to see who can keep their hands on a pick-up truck the longest. The winner walks away with the pick-up. The grueling contest has been known to last as long as 102 hours. Our after screening Q&A with Bindler began with him talking about how the filming of the event became as much of an endurance challenge for the filmmakers as for the participants. Bindler described how they had worked out a schedule in advance so that he and fellow cameramen Chapin Wilson and Michael Nickles would work in shifts to conserve their energy. This plan soon fell by the wayside as the filmmakers became caught up in the human drama of the contest and refused to break away from the action to rest. Bindler talked about how by the end of the competition they, the filmmakers, were starting to crack in ways similar to the contestants – pointing out to a scene in the film where you see him creep into frame from behind the camera suffering from a bout of uncontrollable laughter.
Documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry (Streetfight, If A Tree Falls), was in the house last night and asked Bindler why the film had become unavailable for so long. A huge fan of the film, he had recommended it to friends who were unable to find it. Bindler replied that the film’s distributor had gone bankrupt and disappeared without a trace – taking with them five 35mm prints of the film, the 35mm negative, along with other crucial master tapes and material. Bindler himself did not even have a proper DVD of his own film. In order to re-master the film, Bindler and his team had to recreate the film shot for shot from degraded Hi8 saftety masters using a bootleg copy of the film as their reference guide. He described the situation as worse than a nightmare, but the team behind the film felt strongly that they wanted to re-release the film before the Broadway premiere of the musical.
HOHB Producer Chapin Wilson added that the film is being self-distributed by the filmmakers through their website, and will soon be available through other digital platforms like iTunes and Amazon Prime as well as DVD.
Another audience member asked how they made the decision to move forward with the Hands on a Hardbody musical, and Bindler talked about how he was courted by four different theater producing teams before settling on the producers who’ve brought their musical adaptation of the documentary to Broadway. Bindler thinks the adaptation is great.
The conversation cut short by having to clear the theater for another screening, a stalwart band joined Bindler and the HOHB crew at the Karavas Tavern for conversation late into the night. It was suggested that many of the words of wisdom shared by HOHB subject Bennie could apply to the discipline of making documentaries, and one phrase in particular stood out as a metaphor for the documentary filmmaker life: “If you want to hunt with the big dogs, you can’t stay on the porch with the puppies.”