The Song You'll Never Hear & Songs about Your Girlfriend
Photos by: Ronnie Blakeney, Stephen Poff & Michael Turner
“I think I must be crazy,” says Stephen Poff, talking about his new short film The Song You’ll Never Hear, a sequel to his 2010 feature-length Songs About Your Girlfriend. “Who makes a sequel to a film that not a lot of people got to see in the first place?” But fans — a bit of a cult following, mostly from Mississippi’s Gulf Coast where he produced his first film — wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“After years of people asking, one of the fans sent me a photo of the first film’s cover and one line: ‘When are we getting Songs 2?!’” I knew I had to get to work.
Crazy or Courageous?
If you live or work in the Montgomery area, you’ve probably seen several of Poff’s “micro films,” commercial work he produces as a freelancer and for a local agency. They’re marked by high production values and focused storytelling.
But that’s not where he started. A prolific musician and songwriter, he began his professional life as a recording engineer. “Technology advanced, though, and you could set up a studio and record an album anywhere and mix it yourself,” he says. Poff illustrates that industry shift in the opening scene of The Song You’ll Never Hear when the lead singer of the band at the center of the drama sets up a tiny recording studio in his van.
From sound engineering, Poff went on to graphic design. But it just wasn’t his passion. He had just released an album of songs called Goodbye, but no longer having a band to take them to the stage with, he decided to create a stage on film. That’s how Songs About Your Girlfriend was born. And the project took off faster than he could imagine.
“I thought the movie was going to be this little project that I would kind of do myself, but it turned into much more than that,” Poff says. He connected with another videographer/photographer, Ronnie Blakeney, who became the film’s de facto producer. “He put out the casting call, and we got incredible response. Then he started going to local businesses for props, costumes and whatever else we needed,” Poff says.
“I was worried that the movie was becoming something much larger than I’d anticipated and was prepared to handle, but Ronnie said ‘No! No! You can do this.’ And he kept encouraging me. I was afraid, but I kept going.”
Like the band in his films, Poff’s work had more power in his life than he’d ever imagined. After the first film’s premiere (complete with a red carpet) and Hurricane Katrina upended his life on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, he landed in Montgomery with nothing in his motion picture portfolio but Songs About Your Girlfriend. It won him a job at a busy agency and plenty of freelance work (he’s in demand), which he loves.
Coming of Age
The Song You’ll Never Hear (and its predecessor) follows a garage band that finds and navigates the fame and growth it forces on them. For Poff, that growth didn’t stop when he found a career that excited him. He continues to push himself to increase and enhance his skill set.
Poff is an artistic autodidact: “I never went to college, never had any formal training in my craft.” But along with Blakeney’s encouragement, and armed with a copy of Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew, he set to work learning the business. By the time The Song You’ll Never Hear went to production, Poff was ready to experiment with CGI and push other boundaries. He’s also honed his skills for working on the fly while keeping storylines tight.
Love Finds A Way
The Song You’ll Never Hear is a labor of love for Poff in so many ways. Not just his own but also that of his fans and the cast and crew who dedicated so much of their time and hearts on the first film and went to even greater lengths to make the sequel.
Life had moved on and got in the way a little bit for both Poff and his team. He and is wife and children were living in Montgomery by then, so he was schlepping his part of the production to Mississippi and back throughout filming. “One of our cast members was going through a tremendous personal struggle, but he needed to be a part of this, and I was determined to have as much of him as I could.”
On top of that, Poff had a mind that the sequel needed to be self-contained enough to stand on its own for new audiences. Luckily, his experience and continuous improvement allowed him to create a script that was flexible and tight. The script’s framework devises to do justice for the first film’s fans with a resolution and to bring in newcomers seamlessly to the story that has gone before. And it succeeds.
Then there’s Poff’s own love story with his art and his wife. “The story within The Song You’ll Never Hear is, at its heart, a journey of broken trust and redemption,” Poff says. In 2014, Poff challenged himself to write and record a song a week for 52 weeks, songs that play a hefty role in the new film. A good many of those songs reflect his relationship with his wife. He posted them to Facebook each week. “I didn’t even know if she was seeing them.” The idea that he had written all these songs that might have fallen on deaf ears inspired the title track to the film. “She had heard them and loved them,” Poff says, “I think she just had a hang-up about expressing her feelings about them.”
In The Song You’ll Never Hear, closing that gap between people — real or perceived — is what redemption looks like. To be seen. To be heard. To forgive and be forgiven. Love finds a way. Stephen Poff found a way. And it’s a journey worth taking in this short film.
The Song You’ll Never Hear will get its premiere at the Montgomery Film Festival in the short films category. No doubt it will be a boost to the local economy, too, as the Mississippi Gulf Coast fan base joins what will surely become a local one.