What do an outdoor spray-paint muralist, a portraitist whose primary medium is bottle caps, and a veterinarian who creates intricate driftwood pieces at his Beaufort home all have in common? According to filmmaker Andy Coon, they're all talent freaks — freakishly good artists who share a compulsive passion for their work and a dedication to their craft that sets them apart from their peers. With Talent Freaks, the webseries Coon created and now co-produces with Shawnda Poynter, the filmmaker attempts to give these gifted and hard-working artists their due, while giving the rest of us a window into their thoughts and practices.
Creating content for Talent Freaks has become a near-obsession for Coon. When he moved to Charleston in 2011, he had no idea he'd be embarking on such a consuming project. At the time he'd just recently completed his previous webseries, Often Awesome, an award-winning depiction of a close friend's battle with ALS. He found himself working full-time with local tech company Benefitfocus by day and editing footage at night.
As he was settling into his new home, Coon quickly realized he wanted to connect to the local arts scene, but he wasn't sure where to start. "I'm not really one to go out to bars to meet people," he says. "So I was trying to think of a way to meet interesting people and at the same time create something." His entry point ended up being muralist Douglas Panzone, who was working on a commission for Coon's new employer. "I had a chance to pull Douglas aside to talk to him about doing something," Coon says. Soon enough, he was shooting Panzone's process as he worked on his mural for Benefitfocus.
Documenting Panzone ignited a passion in Coon, and he took his camera with him to the portrait battle at the Children's Museum in 2013. "I was going to shoot a couple hours," he says. "But when I'm in that environment, I can't stop shooting. I saw other artists and their work, and I was like, 'Wow, who's that?'" He remembers how he stumbled across Sarah Haynes, the subject for his second episode of Talent Freaks, a show he hadn't even realized he had started making. "Sarah went all the way to the finals," he says of the oil painter. "She was just so good." Coon ended up finding most of the artists for season one at that portrait battle.
The format of the show consists of interview audio over video of the artists at work. "I wanted to show them working," he says. "I didn't want to have them on camera just sitting and talking. Showing them work, I wanted it to be slow-motion so you could get a feel for what they're doing." As is the case for most self-funded filmmakers, Coon's had to make some adjustments to what he feels would be the optimal format. "Originally," he says, "I wanted to show one project, from beginning to end. But I have a full-time job."
Over the course of two seasons, Coon has filmed several painters and muralists, including Panzone, Jordan Beiter, Reynier Llanes, Patch Whisky, and Nathan Durfee; sculptor Chad Awalt; and metalworker Matt Williams, among others. There's also an episode on painter Sean Williams, whose famed Charles Darwin mural in Avondale's outdoor chART Gallery was defaced last year.
Coon is excited about the upcoming event at the Music Hall, which will include screenings of both season one and season two. Most of the artists will be present as well and will have work for sale on the second floor. Coon is especially pleased that the work will be commission-free, meaning the artists will keep the entire sale price of all work. But the show wouldn't be happening without the support of others. "There's no way it would be happening if it was just me," he says. "Sarah Haynes and her husband [Derek Dietzen] helped with all the collateral, the press release, getting me into the Music Hall. Things I couldn't do by myself. Terry Fox, with Charleston Parliament, said they wanted to sponsor it. They're the ones that made it a free event."
As for what the future holds for Talent Freaks and its creator, Coon isn't sure. "I want to fund the next one, instead of doing it out of my back pocket. I'm going to research grants. I want to go to arts councils that want to be a part of this," he says. Coon knows the project will only remain vibrant as long as it's constantly growing and developing, and he's eager to see where it takes him. He's going to take some time off, but if his past record is any indication, it won't be long before season three is underway. Like the talent freaks he depicts in his show, Coon's work seems to be the result of compulsion as much as intention.
"I love creative stories," Coon says. "That's why I do it."
View season one online at talentfreaks.com.