Nothing could be more appropriate at the 2016 Missouri State Fair than a documentary film created by a second generation fair vendor, about a longtime MSF caricature artist, featuring notable MSF personalities. It’s all about the stories.
Documentary filmmaker James Hinkle, of Clinton, entered his award-winning short film “If You’re Really Ugly …” in the professional fine arts division at the MSF this year. The 15-minute film features Jim Dyke, a cartoonist for the Jefferson City News-Tribune, and a MSF fixture since 1992.
The name for the film comes from Dyke’s famous quote seen hanging in his tent: “If You’re really Ugly … It’s free.”
Hinkle said “If You’re Really Ugly …” received third place April 1 in the Independent Filmmakers’ Coalition of Kansas City “Every Picture Tells a Story” documentary competition.
“The challenge is to make a documentary about another artist that is not a filmmaker,” Hinkle said. “For example, this one about Jim was perfect.”
The film was also screened twice this spring at Capital City Cinema in Jefferson City.
“One screening was completely sold out, and the other had good numbers,” Hinkle added.
Hinkle began the film project, which also includes appearances from former state Sen. Jim Mathewson, Sedalia’s own Hammer, Democrat columnist Travis McMullen and the MSF Commission Chairman Lowell Mohler, in 2013.
“I started making films about three years ago, I’ve always been a graphic designer,” Hinkle said Saturday. “Throughout doing that, I kind of progressed and finally got into producing video and then film.
“This film, ‘If You’re Really Ugly,’ was actually my first real project,” he added. “I like documentaries and I wanted to do my own short documentary.”
Hinkle, who is a vendor at the fair each year, said he began the film as a learning and practice project, but the film morphed into a larger concept. Hinkle’s family have been vendors at the fair since the late 1980s. He took over for his father Randy Hinkle several years ago.
“From being at the fairgrounds for years I knew about Jim Dyke,” Hinkle noted. “He and I were actually really good friends, and I just called him up and asked him if he wanted to help me do a documentary.”
Dyke liked the idea but was surprised the film would be about him.
Hinkle told Dyke, “You’re an interesting guy, and while you’re here at the fairgrounds, you’re surrounded by these friends of yours, this entourage, that are interesting people themselves.”
Dyke agreed with Hinkle’s idea and the men began filming at the 2013 MSF. Hinkle’s take on the documentary is the story of Dyke, but also the people he meets as he draws their caricatures each day. People “from all walks of life” who have come to know Dyke over the years, some who have brought their children back for a caricature portrait.
“Everybody from state senators to the guy who works down at the corn dog stand,” Hinkle said. “Actually he’s kind of like a magnet for these types of people. Jim’s always good about telling stories and he’s an interesting guy in himself, so I thought he’s be an interesting subject.”
When he began the project Hinkle said he already knew he didn’t want to use a narrator.
“I wanted Jim to tell his own story,” he noted. “The narrative is pushed by Jim telling stories and interacting with his friends here on the fairgrounds.”
After shooting the film, Hinkle “sat on it” for two years because he said he didn’t have the experience to edit it properly. His first cut was too long for a short film.
“But after … learning the craft of editing and being able to tell the story through the edit, I finally figured out how I needed to tell the story,” he said. “Once I hit that point, everything just fell together.”
The footage was shot over nine days. Hinkle went back and watched all if it, and he talked to Dyke. They both decided to make the film family-friendly and excluded drinking, smoking and foul language.
Because of the continuous background sounds at the fair, editing the film was difficult. If Hinkle cut a scene, he had to make sure the sound cuts weren’t obvious in the final version.
“So when we shot this, I tried to shoot early in the morning or when there was no real music playing,” he noted. “That’s difficult to do because you’re at a fair, there’s sounds everywhere all the time. That was extremely challenging.”
Editing also took in knowing when to cut an interview down in size or out altogether. In the 15-minute documentary Hinkle tells the story of one of Dyke’s “more interesting friends.”
“A lot of people in Sedalia know this guy, Hammer,” he said. “Hammer makes several appearances in the film. I got to know Hammer through Jim.
“There’s a section in there where (Hammer’s) talking about the fair and he’s like ‘you know families can come down here and get their picture drawn,’” Hinkle added. “It’s Hammer just being Hammer.”
Hinkle said some scenes with Hammer and others were cut from the film to pare it down to a more watchable size. The cuts tailor the stories so they complement the film as a whole.
During the film Dyke talks about why he began drawing caricatures, his first year at the MSF, how he survived several rain and wind storms and of course he reminisces about his customers. He loves to hear their stories and tell and retell their stories to others. Stories about people with original Dyke monikers, like the Corn Dog Guy, the Red Shirt Guy, the Cotton Candy Lady and Sun Shiny Sharon.
In the film Dyke says the money isn’t why he draws 17 hours a day each year at the fair.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “There’s something interesting about leaving my regular, comfortable life and doing something totally different. It’s not a vacation by any means …”
While shooting film of Dyke in his tent, Hinkle said he brought the camera low and shot upward. With this angle, he projects Dyke as “larger than life.” Interviews with Dyke’s friends were shot straight-on.
Creating the documentary “If You’re Really Ugly …,” has showed Hinkle what’s important. It’s not always about the equipment, but it’s telling the character’s story.
“One of the things I’ve learned as a filmmaker, is putting a good story in front of the camera,” he noted. “Jim Dyke is a great example of that.”
“If You’re Really Ugly …” will be playing Aug. 11-21 downstairs in the Fine Arts Building during the Missouri State Fair. For more information about the film or James Hinkle visit www.cinemaddact.com.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.