Murphy's Law

Documentary: Murphy's Law

Written by Andrea Swensson

Reveille Magazine; December 10, 2007

“It's a film about how shit happens, and how there's no point in sitting around pissing and moaning about it, and how it is, in fact, a much better idea to hang out, drink some beers, crack wise and forget about it.” That's Todd Pitman, first time filmmaker, explaining the premise of his new documentary, Murphy's Law. The film follows fledgling local indie rock band Look Down on their first official tour, which quickly derails into a series of mishaps and disappointments, and it provides an intimate look at a young and inexperienced band whose friendship and camaraderie keep them alive as one show after another is canceled and the tour unravels before their very eyes.

Given the circumstances—a film about four dudes on a road trip across the country, assembled by an amateur film critic—the movie could have easily devolved into a vacation video that no one but the band members would want to watch. Thankfully, Pitman edited the series of events to create a narrative that is purposeful and engaging.

“When the tour ended and all was said and done, I had this huge lake of footage to wade through, and no idea where to begin,” Pitman explains. “And since with documentary you don't really know the story you're trying to tell until the events take place, it's up to the filmmaker to write that story in post-production, in the editing.”

Appropriately, the film begins and ends with shows in Minneapolis. Despite the fact that they are on the road for three weeks, the band only manages to play a couple of times, as five shows are canceled while the band is en route. Filmed in the summer of 2006, Look Down was the first band on the Afternoon Records label to attempt a real tour, and many of the band's frustrations on tour are attributed to label head Ian Anderson, who was responsible for booking their shows.

The tension between the band and their label is evident throughout the film, and provides viewers with a behind-the-scenes view of a green record label learning how to take care of its artists. “This is kind of a touchy subject,” admits Look Down guitarist Peter Blomgren. “When you are the first band to sign to an up-and-coming label, there are definitely times when things don't go the least bit smoothly... It was hard not to feel like a trial band for the label.”

But the band isn't holding any grudges against their ubiquitous, frequently-lauded label head. “Frankly, my expectations for the tour were pretty low,” says lead singer Joe Schweigert, “and I didn't blame Afternoon Records when it turned out even worse than I thought it would.”

What's most surprising about the film is how well the band members are able to roll with the punches. When the band isn't being dealt one frustration after another on the road, they spend a good majority of their time drinking, laughing, strumming guitars and smoking cigarettes. And Pitman didn't hold back when it came to showing the band members in various states of mind; whiskey is chugged from the backseat of the van, caffeine pills are snorted, late night drunken ramblings transition nicely into sleepy, hung over mornings. It's everything you'd expect from a gang of twentysomething guys trapped in a van for three weeks. “I couldn't help feeling awkward sometimes that he was mostly filming us fucking around and not playing shows to, you know, any people,” says Schweigert. But the scenes are portrayed in such a straightforward manner that the viewer is right alongside the band members, rooting them on and praying that they will finally get to play a show.

The film starts to drag a little in the middle, when a long stretch of time is spent in the van watching the band members try to pass time, and Pitman's interview skills could use a little polishing (“What's your, like, process for writing songs?” he asks Schweigert tentatively from behind the camera). Beyond those minor flaws, however, Pitman has a lot to be proud of. Murphy's Law showcases a new and talented filmmaker who is easy to root for, just like the underdog band his film portrays.