Hollywood Shuffle: Thunder Soul Director Mark Landsman On His Kashmere Stage Band Documentary

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Last week, Hollywood Shuffle told you about a new documentary, Thunder Soul, featuring Houston's legendary late-'60s/early-'70s funky high schoolers, the Kashmere Stage Band. The director, Mark Landsman, is currently in Austin prepping for the world premier of the movie at SXSW Film.

A couple of years ago, Landsman, a film director from Chicago, was listening to NPR in his Los Angeles office when he heard a story about the KSB. (Absolutely worth a listen, here, including MP3s of performances.) "I was just blown away," Landsman said. "They were interviewing [late bandleader) Conrad Johnson, and he was talking about the band's CD release."

Landsman, who typically directs feature films, was looking for a new idea to bring to producers. "I thought this would make a good movie. So I just started calling every Conrad Johnson in the Houston and phone book," he says. "I got in touch with one guy and said 'I just heard you on the radio,' and he said 'No, you just heard my dad.'"

Conrad Johnson, Jr. gave Landsman his father's phone number, but then Landsman got nervous. It took him a week to work up the cojones to call.

"He picked up the phone and said 'Mark, what's your problem, man? I've been waiting a week for your call!'"

Landsman had planned to fictionalize the story of the KSB. The director of the Conrad Johnson Music & Fine Arts Foundation told him the band was planning a 35-year reunion. When he took the idea to producers, they were more interested in a documentary-style film.

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"Basically, they funded the film in the room," he says. So, knowing he had funding for a doc, Landsman went back to the director and asked the Foundation to push the reunion up so filming could begin as soon as possible. "Then things really began to fall into place."

Rocks Off covered the band's reunion in 2008. At that time, several former students talked about Johnson's firm, but respectful, teaching style. Landsman said Prof had a way of bringing out the best in people.

"Prof is just synonymous with integrity. And you get that, viscerally, when you are around him. As a filmmaker, you're an outsider, and you come in and it's rare and fortunate to have people let you come into their homes."

Thunder Soul has already screened privately for former members of the KSB and their families, but the world premier will be tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Austin's Paramount Theatre. There are other screenings planned throughout the festival's schedule, and the Kashmere Reunion Stage Band will play the Austin Chronicle's SXSW Film Bash at 9 p.m. Monday (badge required, unfortunately).

"What's really cool," Landsman said, "is that literally, busloads of people are coming to Austin to see this film. All of Prof's family, band members. It's great to be able to premier the film at a world-class film festival that's also in such close proximity to Houston."


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