Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Documentary filmmakers want to prove that KC's barbecue is the best

A new documentary in the works hopes to capture KC's barbecue biosphere.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 7:45 AM

Diggs (left) and Fossland are looking to shine the spotlight on barbecue.
  • Diggs (left) and Fossland are looking to shine the spotlight on barbecue.
Kansas City is one big barbecue biosphere. The scent of wood smoking permeates our neighborhoods, barbecue sauce runs as thick as Brush Creek, and Kansas Citians can't hold a gathering without putting fire to meat.

This summer, filmmakers Martin Diggs and Kevin Fossland, the pair behind Burnt Ends Media, set out to understand why that's the case, capturing footage at barbecue competitions and raising money for their untitled documentary, which they hope to release next fall. Diggs sat down with The Pitch to explain how the project came about and what they're shooting now.

The Pitch: What was the impetus for making a documentary about Kansas City barbecue?

Diggs: Kevin and I have known each other for years. We were at KU at the exact same time. We always joke that we probably spilled beer on each other. I moved back here five or six years ago and started working at the Melting Pot. Kevin was a bartender there, and we became fast friends. We worked together at Trezo Mare before moving on to JJ's Restaurant.

Back in May, Kevin was talking about an idea for an app - a menu-based, location-based app for restaurants. He decided to narrow his focus and picked barbecue. While doing research, he realized that nobody had done a documentary just on Kansas City barbecue. My background was in film. [Diggs got his start working on Robert Altman's Kansas City after graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in film.] And we just started going from there.

Barbecue is an all-encompassing term. What's your focus with this film?

It's the culture of barbecue in Kansas City that we want to focus on. We [including producer and KC native Julie Clark] broke it down into five elements: history, the business side of restaurants, food trucks and caterers, the methodology (barbecuing versus grilling, how wood affects meat, particular styles), competitions and rituals (tailgating, family celebrations, holidays, backyard barbecues).

What have you been filming?

When we first started talking [in May], the competitions were in full swing, and one of the guys we work with, Matt Nichols [JJ's general manager], is a competition barbecuer. We started going to competitions, and the first one we really shot was the Lenexa state championship. We look at it seasonally. We're trying to get in the rhythm of what happens in Kansas City in a calendar year.

The football season is going on now and that will go into winter. I've been a barbecuer the last 10 years. I realize that I had the bug because I was willing to cook outside in winter. We're also looking at spending time at a restaurant: what's it like, a day in the life for the cooks and their families.
With tailgating, we need to take a new approach. And one thing that's never been covered is the prep, the back story of that day the week before. People pick themes - it's Mexican for the San Diego game or chicken wings for the Falcons. We sat down with a couple that has a famous grill with a Chiefs helmet on it. They live an hour and a half from the stadium, and what they go through to cook on game day is incredible.

In springtime, that's when competition season starts up. The thing is, we keep finding barbecue everywhere. Think about how many ribs they're cooking at Kauffman Stadium or how Sporting KC is becoming a huge tailgating spot. They're singing a barbecue song during the game.

Is Kansas City really that different from other barbecue meccas?

What we do in our day-to-day lives, I can't imagine there is any other place in the world that is as dedicated to barbecue like Kansas City. We're going to ruffle feathers with Texans, Memphis and the Carolinas. This is our dissertation as to why Kansas City is the barbecue capital of the world. If you can prove it otherwise, you're more than welcome. But we're putting it out there.

Who is your audience?

This is for Kansas City, but our focus is to show everyone the rest of the story. We want this to be on the festival circuit. We think it's important to preserve the history, but it's also a selling point to come to the Midwest. People know the name KC Masterpiece, but they don't know about the guys that make the rubs, the sauce makers, the caterers.

Was there a moment you shot that you know will be in the final cut?

We shot the American Royal this fall. We were running different crews. A team let me shoot them pulling their chicken from the oven. They were moving it to the trailer and then selecting the pieces for their turn-in box [for judging]. The banter between the two of them, the nervous energy, was incredible. They were a married couple. It was one of those little married moments when they're snapping back and forth. They're whispering like they're in church or at a golf tournament like, if they speak too loudly, something is going to happen to the chicken and it's not going to work out. Watching how meticulous they were was just priceless.

What are the stories you hope to uncover in the coming months?

There are so many stories. In the early 1900s, it was estimated there were 1,000 stands for barbecue in Kansas City. We want to find somebody with a grandfather who ran a stand, who has pictures or stories.
We all know that barbecue is big in Kansas City, but the extent of how big constantly blows us away. It really is part of Kansas City, more so than anyone can imagine. There's also an older crowd. There's no gentle way to put it. And we have to get these people on film because their story is so important. I was talking to Paul Kirk [Kansas City Barbeque Society founding member] at the American Royal, and I asked if we could sit down and have a conversation. Kirk looked at me and said, "Well, hurry up. I'm not getting any younger."

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