The Never-Ending Film Project: A Conversation with Loosen My Tie Filmmaker Michael Hagan

by | Aug 28, 2009 | FILM & TV

When local filmmaker Michael Hagan made the decision to make his friend David Shultz the focus of his documentary film class project, no one involved knew what it would eventually become. Hagan would embark on a project that would take six years to tell its tale. That tale is of David Shultz and the Skyline and the realities of what it takes to make creating music a career.

When local filmmaker Michael Hagan made the decision to make his friend David Shultz the focus of his documentary film class project, no one involved knew what it would eventually become. Hagan would embark on a project that would take six years to tell its tale. That tale is of David Shultz and the Skyline and the realities of what it takes to make creating music a career.

The documentary is laced with evidential artifacts that could only be captured with the dedication of the filmmaker involved. Hagan excels by showing Shultz at his most vulnerable and personal. Along with concert footage that sets its reaches beyond the city of Richmond, the heart of the experience for the band is what they learn along the way. With each new album, they learn more about themselves and their craft. The components that each member of the band provides evolve and establish itself with finesse.

Hagan is no stranger to the world of film. With numerous short films that include submissions to the 48 Hour Film Project and contributions to Ram Nation, his talent and abilities are worthy of tremendous accolades. Hopefully with the premiere of Loosen My Tie this Sunday, this will be the first of many projects with Hagan’s name attached that you will hear about for years to come.

Shannon Cleary: What was your introduction to visual media? What kind of educational background do you have in the field?

Michael Hagan: Actually, I got into audio production first and I interned at Sound of Music on Broad Street for about a year and a half. I originally got into that. For school, the only real audio production class they had was through Mass Communications and that was radio production. That was just a six-week course out of the four years you have to do and that’s in the Electronic Media/Broadcast Journalism track. So that was my introduction to producing videos.

You’ve known David for a really long time I imagine?

Yeah, I’ve known David since about the second grade when he moved into our school district.

With Loosen My Tie, is that the first feature-length project you’ve worked on?

It’s definitely my first feature. I’ve done other short films. Scripted ones, not documentaries. With my brother and things like for the 48 Hour Film Project. But this is definitely my first full-on big project. We started filming as part of a documentary course for a school project in my senior year. That was in 2003.

While you were in that course, was it an obvious choice to start following David around, considering that was around the time he started to take music a bit more seriously?

Yeah, at that point I just needed someone to interview. He seemed like he could have a decent, good story to tell for five to ten minutes. But, also for him at that point he had been in bands and we had grown up playing in bands together. He had been in other bands with pretty much everyone that is in the Skyline now. He decided to do a solo act and he started to do open mic nights for just testing the waters. And I thought this was cool because I know when David really gets into something, he gets into it. So I wanted to see where this would go and since I already had this intro to the class. I thought, “Well you know what, this is what I want to do and lets just go see what we can get.”


What were some of your favorite moments during the filming of this documentary? It spans such a long time frame from 2003 up until….

Yeah, it goes on until the fall of 2008 when we were up in Maine. There are a couple good things. It’s hard for me to point at one particular instance that was the most fun. But overall that first tour that I went on with them. They were kind of doing their touring really for the first time by themselves. They had done some weekends out with other acts, but in terms of them organizing their first tour. That was great to be there with them for the great shows and the shows that maybe they wish they could forget. But it was all fun. Maybe going into Canada and Niagara Falls, that was pretty cool. Also, David winning a lot of money at the casino that night, that was probably his best night of that tour.

Was that one of the really nice perks of the whole experience? Being able to travel with them to so many different places?

Yeah, I guess you might call that a perk. Maybe. Because you know what it is, it’s just a bunch of dudes in a van. And that was fun, because we have all been friends for so long. It was fun to just be out there with them while they were experiencing that.

How much footage did you end up filming?

I stopped counting after forty hours. I know that was probably in 2006. So I’m thinking anywhere from about sixty-five to eighty hours worth of footage.

The film only ended up being an hour. Is any of that going to see the light of day at some point?

I definitely plan on putting out a DVD. I know that I’ll definitely have some sort of bonus, double-disc set. It might be a couple shows that they have played, maybe some of the better ones. I haven’t nailed that down yet, but yes other footage will make it out there someday for better or for worse.

From your experiences on this project as a filmmaker, what were some of the lessons you were able to take away from it all?

I was learning a lot along the way. For one, I just took the mentality of let me just film what happens and I just learned a lot about the technical aspects. You know it really helps if you can get a clean feed from the soundboard. I know that’s just technical stuff. But as a filmmaker, those are the things that really stick out to me when I watch the film. Man, I wish that audio were a little cleaner. Really from an overall perspective, just filming what goes on and don’t try to be a part of it. Let them tell the story. I don’t want to be a part of the story. Just staying out of their way and letting them do their own thing.

I was joking with David at one point about if there were going to be any I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (the Wilco documentary) moments?

The part in the movie with the most tension was the band in the recording studio with David’s brother Kenny Shultz. That was one of those moments where I was like “I’m here and I’m rolling” and if they seemed to be too uncomfortable with me there. With me capturing this, I would let them do their thing. I think a little of it was toned down because I was there, but I still feel like they were just saying exactly what they were thinking. But as you can see, it all works out and it’s just because they are all so tight that you can have those moments.


Something you mentioned with the technical aspect and sound, I was surprised you ended up using a lot of footage from the Hyperlink CD Release show for Sinner’s Gold. I was at that show and I could recall how riddled the show was with sound issues.

Not to say anything too horrible, but yea it was pretty awful.

All in all though it was a memorable show. They played a really long set and they ended up playing a lot of material off both records.

There were a good amount of people and a really great turnout. It’s funny to hear your perspective on it, because of course that’s what I remember about the show. I’m there and making sure it’s looking good too. Because we did a sound test and it was as good as those guys were going to get. So I actually had my older brother attempt to clean that up and doing some mastering techniques to just try and blend the different feeds and make it sound like people could tolerate it. That was the challenge.

It was still an important moment to capture. It was something to be there and witness that. I think it’s also kind of funny because for anyone who has been a musician in Richmond and has played that particular venue, that place kind of tells it’s own story without words.


When it was running, I played there numerous times. I have some stories. It wasn’t always contained to just sound issues. It was just the status of the venue upon arriving there to set up or organize the show for the evening. Something always presented itself and it’s a shame. It could have been a better-executed space.

It’s funny because in the movie, you hear David say toward the end of their set that it was a weird week but it turned out alright. I remember the headaches that he had to go through with dealing with things for that show. To make sure it was actually happening.

Oh well. With the title coming from the song “Wooden Floors,” what made you decide on that for a title for the documentary?

First on, it stuck out to me. When you think about the visualization and here is David. When David and I were living together, he was working full-time at a bank and going to school. He would always come home dressed up in the khaki pants and the tie. I guess it was just poetic in a sense that just stuck out to me. Now seeing that he is going in this different route with making music his career. I guess not everyone will have that thought and it seemed obvious to me when I was just thinking about this project as a short film.

From a tech angle, were you using a lot of the same equipment for the majority of the shoot? It was shot digital for the most part, right?

Yeah, I actually shot it all on the same camera, which was a Panasonic DVX-100B in 24p to give it more a film-like feel. What’s good about that camera is that my gear for producing this out in the field was convenient. I could carry my camera in its hard shell case in one hand along with a microphone and all of the audio stuff and a tripod in the other hand if I’m using it. One thing in doing a documentary is that you have to be mobile and you have to be ready if something happens to just go get it. I shot it all on one camera and I love that camera, but I am about to upgrade it.

Besides the stuff with Loosen My Tie, I noticed you have done a lot of stuff with the VCU Rams. How did you start working with them? I can only imagine within the past year, it has been incredibly exciting to be a part of that.

It’s funny, because that’s another project and it is completely unrelated to VCU Athletics and is not in any way associated with the school. We are very fortunate to have them appreciate what we do. I mean basically we are doing promotion for their product so-to-speak, but they realize we are doing it because we love it. That’s with Matt Morton and Marcus Shrock of the Skyline as well as our friend Mat Shelton. We started doing it because we love VCU Basketball as the shirt tells you (laughs). It started off as an audio podcast where we would just go to a room and hang out and talk. We were like this is probably not the most interesting thing to listen to. Then we were granted media passes to get on the floor and get the video footage of the games. We started to do audio/video podcasts and that’s something that we all really enjoy. I mean it doesn’t leave much open as far as free time is concerned but it’s fun and that’s why we do it.


With West Grace Productions, when did that start and is it just you or is there a group of people involved?

It actually started as West Grace Records. Back in the day, when we used to play in hardcore bands in Richmond years ago. Our singer put out our seven-inch under his label, West Grace Records. I think the one he put out before that was the 65 Film Show seven-inch, a band from Virginia Beach. So it had some merit to the name, at least in Richmond. Then he decided he wasn’t going to use it any more and I wanted to put out a couple CDs of some friends’ bands. I figured well why not continue to use it if I can if I associate it with the record that we put out on his label. He said, “Yeah sure, cool, use it, whatever.” Obviously it went from records into productions the more I got into it. West Grace kind of stuck, at least in my mind it did. I decided to swap out “Productions” for “Records.” Not that I ever lived on West Grace Street. I think that’s the common misconception. It’s understandable.

Would you ever take on another project like Loosen My Tie?

With Ram Nation, it makes it really tough to do something like that. But of course, my goal is to do another thing like this and what that is I’m not entirely sure. It’s got to be something that I am passionate about and get into and stay into for a long period of time. Also, something that other people might be interested in as well from hearing about it. That’s definitely the plan to eventually take something else on in the long format.

What does the future hold for you?

We’re going to show it obviously at the Byrd Theatre on Sunday at 2pm. Then again on Saturday, September 26th at Gallery5 which will also be David’s CD Release Show. I think as of now, we are technically billing it as that. But beyond that, I just want to keep making cool videos that interest me and hopefully someone else. I’ll eventually come up with something specific, but my long-term goal is to just keep doing it.
In the final moments of Loosen My Tie, the audience is left with an image of Shultz. It’s just him playing guitar during the recording of the new album Rain in to the Sea. The focus is on his face and body language. In this moment, Hagan has captured a truly revealing moment that personifies the spirit of this artist. At the core of it all, the most peaceful and calm moments for Shultz are when it’s just him and his guitar. In some ways, even though this is the end of the documentary, the audience is given reassurance that this wont be the last we hear of Shultz.

With an eye for this type of lyrical imagery on screen, allow Hagan to give you a better insight into that band we’ve all grown to love, David Shultz and the Skyline.

For more information about Loosen My Tie, please visit

For more information about filmmaker Michael Hagan, please visit

For more information about David Shultz and the Skyline, visit either or

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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