Former Film Forum staffer McWilliams returns promoting 'Before the Music Dies'

Lisa McWilliams returns to the Lake Placid Film Forum with her newest film, "Before the Music Dies."

Directed by Andrew Shapter, "Before the Music Dies," is a documentary that examines the industry-driven homogenization of popular music. Eryka Badu, Eric Clapton and Dave Matthews are among the artists who speak out against the marginalization of original artists.

McWilliams came onboard the project through a mutual friend of producers Shapter and Joel Rasmussen, who also live in Austin, Texas.

"It's their first time making a film," said McWilliams, who was executive producer with Brian McNulty. "You won't know that by seeing the film."

She was intrigued by the story, spurred by the death of Shapter's musician brother.

"One of the last conversations he had with him was how the music industry had abandoned musicians and fans," McWilliams said. "That conversation haunted him when his brother passed away."

A successful fashion photographer, Shapter rethought his life and wanted to do something more meaningful. He met Rasmussen, who had lost a sister, and they became a directing/producing team.

"I kind of joked I was more a maternal producer," McWilliams said. "They created the film. I do take a lot of pride in guiding them in the right way. This is what you can do and this is what you can't do. They were being bombarded by advice from all different directions."

The film includes interview with mega stars -- Branford Marsalis, Bonnie Raitt and Elvis Costello -- and profiles artists, such as Austin trumpeter-extraordinaire Ephraim Owens and genre-defying guitarist Doyle Bramhall II of California

The film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, and reviews have been banging.

"What we learned by working on the film is a new paradigm for independent film distribution. We didn't go with a traditional independent distributor. Our distributor is B Side Entertainment, based in Austin."

"When the Music Dies" was the right product for looking to establish a film presence on the Web. As the film tours, concerts are held, and one or two myspacers are invited to critique the film.

"That's huge in filling theaters."

The film's soundtrack will be distributed by Starbucks starting in August.

"We've been able to bypass even the traditional independent theatrical distribution outlets." Back in Austin, McWilliams is busy launching the Mobile Film School, "A script to screen mobile studio (two tour buses) designed to teach filmmaking and mentor under-served student in, but not limited to, rural areas."

Students will be immersed in documentary, narrative and acting workshops led by industry professionals and assisted by mentors, who will get paid or earn college credit.

At the Film Forum, McWilliams will reconnect with old friends, like director Jay Craven. In 1999, she moved from Philadelphia to Vermont to work with him. "Stranger in the Kingdon" screened at the forum in 2000.

"I ended up being the liaison for our group. I realized they needed help."

She served as director of operations for three years.

"It was a very interesting festival b./c of Kathleen Carroll. The industry people attracted to this are really stellar in their capacities as filmmakers."The forum drew industry professionals desiring to converse passionately about filmmaking and storytelling.

"The people who showed up left their egos behind. There was one party every night, and everyone when to it. It was low-key, and the conversations were more intelligent."

By Robin Caudell