Whisker Wars, love it or hate it, it’s wiry, protein based tentacles have been recklessly extending across North America for the last few years. But where did this sudden interest in the whiskered warrior begin? Two words: Splitting Hairs.
Ironic and yet perfect for such an intro into this next interview. Long before Whisker Wars was a sprout on the chin of Uncle Sam, the documentary Splitting Hairs had its finger on the pulse of the fury sleeping giant about to awaken. This finger belongs to filmmaker F. Stone Roberts the man who, unintentionally, set everything into motion.
Roberts managed to capture the big bang, the splitting of the atom, the spark that ignited the fuse that inspired a whole new movement in the U.S. – This can all be seen clearly in his iconic, yet underrated film. Not only did Roberts create a film on the whisker culture but he also co-wrote book with Michael Ames, that is on every facial fur enthusiast’s book shelf; The World Beard and Moustache Championships: The First Official Book.
To make this interview a double whammy I invited friend and filmmaker Ryan Steven Green along. Green, in his own right may be considered also partly responsible for the current fur craze thanks to his 2008 film Between The Upper lip and Nasal Passageway ; A short doc on the moustache. Who better to tag-team F. Stone Roberts with?
So without and furr-ther adieu, I give you this month’s Exclusive Feature Interview with Filmmaker, Author, and Producer, F. Stone Roberts!
It’s hard to impress me with facial hair… It’s like watching t-ball after going to a Yankees game.
Douglas: First off, I am really a huge fan of Splitting Hairs!
Stone: Thank you.
Douglas: People really don’t know how much of a classic it is. It really should get more attention.
Stone: I wish it got more, I wish it got more…
Douglas: Well, we are working on that.
Douglas: And that brings me to my first question. Before Whisker Wars there was Splitting Hairs. They pretty much seem to have picked up where you left off. Were you consulted for Whisker Wars?
Stone: I was consulted a little bit on Whisker Wars. They actually used a slew of our archival footage that we had slushed through during our travels through Europe. I think we were a little ahead of our time.
Douglas: Most definitely.
Stone: I think the moustache trend we picked up on was very early in the states. Not intentional, but I just take it that we were in the right place at the right time, just 5 years early.
Douglas: I agree.
Ryan: A trendsetter!
Stone: Yes, A trendsetter!
Douglas: You both are trendsetters, as far as I am concerned when it comes to facial fur.
Stone: Oh, Thank you.
Douglas: In the film, are you actually catching Jack Passion and Phil Olsen meeting for the first time?
Stone: Jack Passion and Phil meeting for the first time…
Douglas: It seems as if you caught it.
Stone: I believe that was the initiation of the relationship. There may have been… I believe there was an event in San Francisco preceding the world event in Berlin where they might have met, and we covered that event too. But it just didn’t make the cut. So, yes, that was the beginning of their relationship.
Douglas: That’s amazing! [Laughing]
Ryan: I’m guessing you’re shooting the film in 2007? In 2008 you’re editing. At that time, could you foresee the tidal wave of popularity that was coming? Or was this simply something you found delightful regardless of the perceived popularity of facial hair that would follow?
Stone: We actually started shooting in 2003.
Ryan: OH MY GOD!!
Stone: The first world championship event ever to be held on US soil was in the lovely town of Carson City Nevada. I didn’t know, I was attracted to it just because it was off the cuff and a little quirky. I am surprised it has grown in to the mainstream, kind of trend that it has. But did I see this coming? Not necessarily. I fell in love with the characters and the concept. I didn’t jump on board because I thought it was going to be a massive, kinda stylistic pop culture thing to do.
Douglas: Yeah, no doubt.
Ryan: Sure, yeah.
Ryan: How did you get turned on to the idea? Were you already, or did you have friends, in the scene? How did that come about?
Stone: I was living in Tahoe City, CA. And Phil Olsen also lived there, and continues to live there. He had posted a flyer at the local Tahoe City Post Office and my roommate at the time brought the flyer home, knowing I was an aspiring filmmaker and creative with a camera. I called Phil up and made a couple of commercials for his world event happening in Carson City.
Stone: The rest is kinda history.
Ryan: So the flyer itself was advertising the event?
Ryan: [Laughing] WOW!
Douglas: (Chuckling) That’s great.
Douglas: Was it difficult to remain neutral during all the drama?
Stone: It still is.
Ryan and Douglas: [Laughing]
Stone: Yeah it was. I mean, this was my first film and it was very difficult to remain neutral. You get very intimate with your subjects and very close to their stories, and their motivations. It’s a challenge to remain neutral. Particularly in the duration of all that we experienced. In all the very different factions within the story we told. We made a very deliberate attempt production wise, I assigned a producer to each subset of talent. So that we were able to forge alliances with all the factions in various ways. The production unit we kind of divided up so that it would be less of an issue.
Ryan: Wow. So, the producers would call you up when something was going to happen, or something was on the calendar, then you show up with the cameras type of thing?
Stone: For sure, and I think it also allowed us the ability to really tell, without getting in the way of the story, to really tell everyone’s side of it in a really natural and honest way.
Ryan: Yeah, totally.
Douglas: And it does. I have a quick side question, not to take us off track but, “If you shave, you’re fired?” Which I think is a great name for any company. Is that still up and running?
Stone: Aside from the film, no, just the website. I got sick of paying taxes on a project I realized would never pay me back, so I dissolved it maybe two years ago.
Douglas: Oh, Okay.
Stone: It’s alive in spirit though.
Douglas: [Laughing] It certainly is. You still enforce that policy I hope?
Stone: For sure, for sure, that was actually one of the mandates Phil gave me very early on in order to work with him.
Douglas: Are you still in touch with Phil?
Ryan: In terms of a short Doc, it is super expansive. You mentioned a couple ways you were able to deal with that. And the film was finished in 2008, correct?
Ryan: Was there talk about making it a full feature film? It seems like you would have had enough footage to sustain that length.
Stone: Quantity wise, we certainly did. We probably have 350 some odd hours of tape.
Stone: Umm. But post production was a struggle. And there were many stories within the world that we covered, but what really mattered and what really ultimately would resonate with the general public and the popular culture turned out to be very… I think there were a lot of details we were attracted to during production that we deemed interesting then. But, as you cut the story down, we realized we wanted to tell a story for everyone and not just the world of beard fanatics.
Ryan: sure, yeah.
Stone: …and I think at the end of the day, there was just a truckload of inside baseball, if you will, that I am sure many people in the beard world may appreciate, but it just wasn’t working for the story we wanted to tell. Between what we found, and what we followed we really had to determine what was best to weed out.
Ryan: That sounds like a wise decision.
Stone: It’s a bit painful.
Ryan: I just finished a feature documentary on the VW subculture in the US…
Ryan: …and the same kind of thought into the edit was: if we have a ton of gearhead talk, absolutely nobody, including the VW community, is going to want to hear that. They’ll see the interviews on the screen, and they’ll know what’s going on, and that will be enough for them. For the general public, they’ll appreciate it even if they don’t realize the fact that we’re not using a bunch of mechanical speak. So, from my perspective you definitely took the higher ground there, and I think that was probably a good decision.
Stone: It’s a fine line you know, a fine line.
Douglas: Yes, it must have been difficult.
Ryan: What’s been the story of the film since you completed it in 2008? Have you noticed a rise in attention to it in the last year or two?
Stone: Not really, no. I mean, I devoted a large portion of my life to this thing, and once we finally got to a place where we got a cut that everyone was happy with… We premiered in Alaska actually. Then we were lucky enough to be part of Silverdocs, which in and of itself, to me, was a success.
Ryan: Great, that was a big deal.
Stone: Yeah, it was awesome. To me that was a great place to bow out. I feel fortunate enough, oddly, it’s sad to say, to have it on HULU, and that was good enough for me. I am proud of everything that we accomplished, and that it’s been put to rest. There’s certainly a temptation to make another portion and put it out there…but, to be honest with you, I am not sure I have that much gas in my beard tank.
Ryan and Douglas: [Laughing]
Ryan: You said everything you needed to say.
Stone: I made it though and I lived to tell another story.
Ryan: As a filmmaker, and just in general I guess, after you finish a project… what is your typical response to it, say 3 months after having completed it? How do you relate to the film at that point?
Stone: I still have a tremendous amount of pride associated with it, and zero regrets.
Stone: I’m proud of the film… I’m proud of the people that worked with us in it and tolerated us. I’m proud of the team that put their heart and soul into it. They’re all good things.
Ryan: Mm Hmm
Stone: I don’t look back and wish we had done anything much differently. It’s just basically a sense of pride and accomplishment. I quickly moved on to the next one. Tried to replicate that model, and that’s basically the knee jerk reaction I had.
Ryan: Did your experience on this film propel the next film for you in any way?
Stone: Not at all.
Ryan and Doug: [laughing]
Stone: I’m a shitty salesman.
Stone: You know, I love the process of being in the trenches and creating. But when it comes to the backend, it was something that…my passion is about making these things and I think it takes a different type of mindset once it gets to the distribution level, it doesn’t necessarily trip my trigger. So I probably didn’t capitalize on it as well as I could have. Basically, I treat it as a wonderful learning experience which can inform my actions in terms of how to handle future things down the road.
Ryan: A “lesson learned” kind of thing.
Douglas: I view it as a sleeper. I think it’s going to pick up, I found it truly fascinating, and again with the popularity of Whisker Wars, I don’t think a lot of folks know about Splitting Hairs. I think you may see it explode in the near future.
Stone: I love that. How do I get the word out?
Douglas: I could interview you.
Ryan: [In stage whisper] It’s happening right now…
Douglas: Oh yeah!
Stone: Well, let’s collaborate, you may rekindle my fire.
Douglas: I hope so, because I would love to see a sequel.
Stone: [Laughing] That’s definitely not going to happen.
Douglas: Ahh, that’s what the unre-kindled you says. I’m going to have to pick up the torch.
Ryan: There’s only so much you can say about a moustache when it comes down to it.
Douglas: I hope I prove you wrong.
Stone: Exactly though, the Americans took it over, and that was the point, and now it’s here. It’s amazing the story of what happened with something as simple as a beard. That suddenly transcended into the global economy and what have you.
Stone: Yes. When we met them in Germany and they had never been to the states before…I think there’s a quote in the movie that says, “All we want to do is drink beer and have fun.” And every American involved in the beard and mustache movement just totally fucked that up for everyone in Europe that had been doing it for the last 30 years.
[Laughing all around]
Stone: You know, unless a story line like that emerges, I don’t know I’ll have my chance to say it.
Ryan: Genesis and the ultimate demise.
Douglas: I don’t know, I think there’s room for “Facial Fury, Part 2”
Stone: That’s a good title.
Douglas: Thanks, I have a few
Ryan: I did a short on the moustache, I finished in 2009. It’s much shorter and just takes a very ground-level kind of “common man’s” story of the moustache. No competitions or anything like that. So my questions to you is, there are the elitists, which is the focus of your documentary, and then there is the common man, which is the focus of mine. Which do you find yourself, in 2013, gravitating towards more, and why?
Stone: that’s a tough question. Listen I mean I love passion, and passion is such an important human quality. And these guys in the elitist world have so much of it. As a normal man, I find it amazing. I am so envious. It takes a really special person to dedicate themselves to something like that, in that way. Everyone seeks purpose in life, and a lot of these dudes, Phil in particular, found it. And what an amazing accomplishment to be able to say you really found your passion. I like being a commoner, but I am intrigued by the passionate fanatics.
Ryan: Good answer, good answer
Douglas: Have you competed yourself?
Stone: No, God no.
[Laughs from Ryan and Douglas]
Douglas: I mean you got the beard for it…do you still have the beard?
Doug: No? [Laughs]
Stone: I’m baby faced, I did my time.
[Laughs all around]
Stone: I did my time, I’ve been there…but it’ll be back, I like variety.
Ryan: Why can’t you look at a moustache without smiling?
Stone: I don’t know if I smile anymore
Ryan: You’ve had your fill (Phil Olsen)
Stone: no pun intended.
Stone: I don’t know man.
Ryan: In general, why can one not look at a moustache without smiling?
Stone: I don’t know, for me it just like I have so many amazing memories. But after you’ve seen dudes rocking them in deep Berlin at 3 in the morning in a suit, top hat and a cane. It’s like everyday mustaches just fall short.
Stone: It’s hard to impress me with facial hair.
Ryan: I can understand that.
Douglas: Yeah, you were in it. Giants.
Stone: Yeah, the Giants, real and deep. It’s like watching t-ball after going to a Yankees game.
[Laughs all around]
Ryan: Stone, you strike me as a guy who doesn’t want to be defined by his beard.
Stone: No, I have no problem being defined by my beard.
Douglas: Well you’re fired!
[Laughs all around]
Stone: I fired myself. You know we actually toyed with and shot a credit sequence for the end of the film with all of us shaving. I was very close to putting that in the final edit.
Doug: Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Stone: I have a documentary that’s actually finished. I produced it. John Goulet is actually my production partner. It’s called, “Bigger” It’s the story of an aspiring model that moves to the US from London who subjects herself to reconstructive breast surgery in order to make it big.
Doug: Wow, what’s in a name?
Stone: Yeah, it’s a little bit more heavy handed than Splitting Hairs, that’s my latest project. It’s a feature, shopping it around right now.
Douglas: Nice, well we will definitely look for it. Thanks so much for chatting with us and good luck on all your future projects Stone!
Stone: Thanks for having me and great talking.
Stone made it very clear off mic, that if a renewed interest in Splitting Hairs was to arise he would consider releasing it on DVD. Contact him directly through his site http://www.splittinghairsmovie.com/ or email: firstname.lastname@example.org and give him some love while at the same time aiding me in refilling his “beard tank”!
Founding member and contributing writer for “How to Grow a Moustache”, an innovative cutting edge blog dedicated to all things facial fur,style & travel. His mission: Create facial awareness and use his super powers [read:moustache] for good. Contact Douglas: email@example.com
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