SxSW 2016 Interview: I GO BACK HOME - JIMMY SCOTT director Yoon-ha Chang

By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/07/16 18:14:19

"I GO BACK HOME - JIMMY SCOTT is a documentary that tells the story of an unlikely pairing of jazz legend Jimmy Scott and disillusioned German music producer and composer Ralf Kemper. Jimmy Scott is one of the last connections to the golden age of jazz and described as "Perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century," by the New York Times.

Overcoming tragic personal loss, Kemper becomes obsessed with the idea of bringing attention to his hero. By the time Kemper and Scott meet, Scott is 85 years-old and living in obscurity in Las Vegas. Reliant on his wife and a wheelchair, Kemper is shocked by Jimmy's circumstances which puts his dream at risk before it even begins.

Together with many of Scott's old friends like Quincy Jones, Joe Pesci and James Moody, Kemper sacrifices all he has to pursue his dream. As he gathers some of the world's greatest jazz musicians, Jimmy blooms with the attention and with a chance to record again." Director Yoon-ha Chang on I GO BACK HOME - JIMMY SCOTT which screens at the 2016 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Congratulations on I GO BACK HOME: JIMMY SCOTT and its inclusion at SxSW! Are you planning to attend your screenings?

Yes and I am very excited to be there. It is my first experience at a Festival in the US. I am looking forward to meeting people from the industry.

So tell me a bit about you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I founded my first film production with two friends when I was in high-school. It was our passion and we had a lot of fun making our own short films, music videos and low budget commercials. In 2001, we got the third price at the youth film festival in Marl, Germany with a short film called NIGHTMARE. This was the start for me to follow up dream.

How did I GO BACK HOME movie come together from your perspective?

I was right in the end of my degree dissertation and i was looking for a part-time job, when I met Ralf Kemper for the first time. A successful music producer for tv commercials. he told me about his plans to produce an album with Jimmy Scott. I never heard the name before, but after he played me some tracks of him I became curious. The way he told me about the project was very passionate and enthusiastic.I could feel that this project had great meaning to him. He asked me if I could come with him and shoot a little making-of the album and I immediately said yes!

Jimmy was a mystery to me. I never heard a voice like that. It is so unique and catches you from the first moment. It is hard to describe what the essence of his voice is, but the emotion he creates is totally true and honest. I felt so much pain in his voice that in some parts it was hard to listen to him, but at the same time it was so comforting. A true artist! I was looking forward to meet him personally.

On the first day we went to Jimmy's house for a short rehearsal. There he was sitting in a wheelchair and he said hello with a bright friendly smile on his face. He looked really weak but I didn't think about it much since he was 84 years old already. Jimmy and Ralf started to do a rehearsal of the songs and the camera was rolling. When Jimmy started to sing I immediately looked at Ralf's face, which was an expression of pure shock. Jimmy sounded weak, off key and he was almost not able to even read the lyrics that had been printed out in big letters. We found out he had been just released from the hospital where he almost bleed to death the day before. In that first moment, I thought the project is over. I was proven wrong. For Ralf, giving up was not an option. This was the start of the journey and I realized that there was more for me to do than just accompany the production.

That is a terrific story behind making the movie. So what kept you going? What was your drive? And how much caffeine?

The whole process of making this documentary took me over five years. It had something to do with the fact that originally a making-of the album was planned. But, there was no planned storyline and a lot of different footage. It was a journey just to build up the film and find the right constellation to tell the story. Wanting to do Jimmy and his music justice is what kept me going. It was also very important for me to show people who Jimmy Scott was. And of course, a lot of coffee and sleepless nights got me through!

What was your biggest challenge with bringing JIMMY to the screen, and that exciting moment where you knew you had something special?

The biggest challenge was to film Jimmy in the studio during the recording sessions. I did not want to influence this process with the presence of the camera, but at the same time I wanted to be as close as possible. The other thing was, that Jimmy's condition did not allow a lot of extra time for the camera. So most of the material I got from him was in the studio. But the most exciting moment was when he started to sing the first song "The Nearness of You" with Joe Pesci; at that moment, I knew I had something really special.

I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie and how it was achieved visually.

There was no extra director of photography. Due to the small budget, I did most of the camera work myself. During the studio sessions in Los Angeles, we shot with three cameras. We used a JVC HD camera with telephoto lens to get as close as possible to the subject. Jimmy's face attracted us so much, and his face was marked by his life and it was so interesting to see his expressions while he was singing. It was also important for us to be flexible, so we filmed most of the time with a hand-camera.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I am very excited to see how the audience responds to the film. It will be our first screening in front of a bigger audience.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? And if you could show it in any theater, where would you do so?

We have a few requests from other festivals, but not confirmed yet. I would like to show the documentary in Europe, because of the huge jazz community here!

I would love to screen the film in New York City because most of the musicians and artists like Joe Pesci, Madeleine Peyroux and Gregoire Maret who participated in this production, among others, are living there. It would be a great way to meet everybody once again.

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Probably nothing. I would hope that the people around them would complain because they like the movie.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

I never thought of making films professionally. I just did what I love, regardless of what people have said or whether my work would ever be worth something financially. It is not necessary to have a lot of money to make a movie. You just need a camera, or today just a smartphone. I am very thankful that i have the possibility to do what I really love. So, my advice would be to just follow your heart and make a lot of movies! You will get better and better.

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We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
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