by David McElroy
When I received the rough cut of my short film 10 years ago from an editor in Los Angeles, it still felt woefully unfinished and I was afraid I didn’t have anything that really worked. Inside, I was panicking. The guy in LA had bailed on the project right before it was finished, so I had to figure out how to finish locally.
I went to visit Ed Boutwell, the legendary founder of the local Boutwell Studios, down at his home in Shelby County. He watched my rough cut and told me I had something great, even though he disagreed with my libertarian satire since he was a progressive left guy. Because he thought it was good —and because he was eager to help a wannabe artist — he agreed to help me.
Ed told me I could get a local video editor to easily make the final picture cuts and credits but I mostly needed someone good to work with me on the audio recording, music selection and final audio mix.
Ed was retired, but he set me up to work with Courtney Haden, whose voice I had heard on Birmingham radio for years — mostly notably on Kicks 106 when it ruled local rock radio — and who was now co-owner of Boutwell Studios. Courtney had been a star of local FM rock morning drive radio at a couple of stations — and he still had the voice and personality I recognized.
He turned out to be a terrific human being who was kind, compassionate, creative and very helpful to me. I sat down in this studio — the one you see in the picture — and he pulled bit after bit of stock music for me to choose from. After years in the industry, he had a knack for knowing what I wanted just by seeing the video and having me describe the emotional feel I wanted from the music.
He recommended a voice actor to record the narration and supervised that recording. I then sat there in the studio with him for hour after hour as I watched him stitch the audio together — making tweak after tweak that I asked for.
Sitting there watching him work — and then seeing the video for the first time with that music and the voice of Ken Osbourn — I saw my short film come together. It was there in that little room that I finally saw in front of me what I had seen and heard in my head when I wrote the script.
Without Courtney’s willingness to help a novice and give me amazing creative advice, my film would have never been the minor success it was. I have remained in his debt, especially considering how little he charged me for his hours of professional work. He even did one of the voices during the credits without charge, simply because he knew I couldn’t afford another voice actor.
I found out Friday evening that Courtney has just died at the age of only 66 — and that leaves me feeling oddly empty.
I last talked to him about four or five years ago when I was planning to do another short. I let him know what I was going to make and he was eager to help. I regret I never made that film, so I never got the chance to work with him again.
I can’t say I knew Courtney very well personally and I worked with him on only that one project, but he made a very strong impression on me. Every artist deserves the chance to work at least once with someone who’s as generous with his time and knowledge as Courtney was with me when I barely knew what I was doing.
I probably never adequately let Courtney know how much his help meant to me and I regret that now.
Thank you, Courtney. You were a great collaborator and an even better human being.