Beatboxers in the house

Devon Guinn '17In Brooklyn, aspiring filmmaker Devon Guinn documents the culture of vocal percussion.

By Devon Guinn '17
Artist Development Fellow '15

Beatboxers in the house

For my work on an animated documentary about beatboxing—the art of vocal percussion—I spent over three weeks in June living in The Beatbox House in New York documenting the daily life of American beatboxers. The house is home to five individuals whose goal to make beatboxing their full time job, and it's become a meeting place for beatboxers visiting the city. (On my first night there, the world's vice beatbox champion—also the American beatbox champion—came to crash on the couch on his way back from Berlin.)

Beatboxers Amit (right) and Grey Matter (middle) wait their turn to be interviewed by Pascal Tessaud (left)Unexpectedly, I met a French documentary filmmaker, Pascal Tessaud, while I was there. He is currently working on a film about the world beatboxing scene for French public television, so he stopped by the house for a few days. His first feature film, Brooklyn, was screened and reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival.

Getting to talk with Pascal and watch him work was a big highlight of my experience in the house. Of course, it was amazing to be able to observe an experienced filmmaker, especially one who is making a documentary on beatboxing. His stories and advice about low budget film production gave me an insight into the type of filmmaking that draws me in most. What I found so amazing, however, was not the technical aspect of his work, but how he went about interacting with and capturing the essence of The Beatbox House.

The beatboxers were surprisingly camera shy. Usually, they are full of energy, showing off different sounds and cracking jokes, but in front of the camera they suddenly became very nervous and would stutter or speak with an affected tone. I circumvented this by using sound as my source material: after the first few minutes of having the recorder on, people relax and can easily forget it’s there. Pascal, though, was obviously used to working past the shyness, since Brooklyn used all non-actors. He would crack jokes to get them laughing and then work from there. I noticed that he took advantage of the fact that they often felt more comfortable beatboxing than talking in front of the camera, and alternated questions with beatboxing requests.

More impressive than his skill, though, was his joy and energy. His stories and work were so full of passion and humor, and he was truly genuine in his effort to connect with the beatboxers and help them put their best foot forward. His visit helped me with my approach to the subject matter, and validated my own interest in documenting the beatbox scene.

IN PHOTO: Beatboxers Amit (right) and Grey Matter (middle) wait their turn to be interviewed by Pascal Tessaud (left).

Devon Guinn ’17, a resident of Quincy House concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Career Services Artist Development Fellowship to work on his animated documentary exploring the rebirth of American beatbox culture. Guinn is the Executive Producer of On Harvard Time, a student-run web comedy show, and has also served as a Harvard Crimson Arts Columnist. Guinn plans to pursue a career in film and animation.