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Local director follows clowns for documentary

Daniel Espeut of Espeuté Productions recently launched a documentary called “GreasePaint,” a film about an American Clown Circus. Members from the Nojoe’s Clown Circus, form left Hernan Colonia, Jamie Thurmond and clown Joey Thurmond are currently performing at the Gwinnett County Fair in Lawrenceville. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Daniel Espeut of Espeuté Productions recently launched a documentary called “GreasePaint,” a film about an American Clown Circus. Members from the Nojoe’s Clown Circus, form left Hernan Colonia, Jamie Thurmond and clown Joey Thurmond are currently performing at the Gwinnett County Fair in Lawrenceville. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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David Poveda, 8, participates during Nojoe’s Clown Circus’ show at the Gwinnett County Fair. (Staff Photo: Jenna Soucia)

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Gail Mirabella performs a dog show during Nojoe’s Clown Circus with several tricks with four dogs. (Staff Photo: Jenna Soucia)

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A documentary about the circus called “GreasePaint” will be screened at Collins Hill High School Thursday evening. (Staff Photo: Jenna Soucia)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Before 2010, Daniel Espeut didn’t know much about clowns — until he met Joey Thurmond.

“I had no idea about circus clowns or anything,” the Lawrenceville resident said. “I just knew people were scared of them.”

After two and a half years of research, he has released a documentary called, “GreasePaint,” which follows Thurmond, the founder of Nojoe’s Clown Circus, and his family as they travel around the country performing the art of American circus clowning.

The movie has a screening at Collins Hill High School on Thursday night while the circus group continues to perform at the Gwinnett County Fair through Sunday.

The two men first met through mutual friends. They decided to work together for a Nojoes promotional video with the concept to sell the video as a short documentary. The audience would watch Thurmond put on his makeup and talk about clowning.

“This guy knew so much about something that I didn’t even know went that deep,” Espeut said. “This was the first time I met him and I said, ‘We should make a documentary about clowns. I don’t think anyone has done it.’ I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.”

That promo video turned into years of dedication for one documentary.

Espeut traveled the country researching the history of clowning and interviewing influential people — or their family members — in the industry. He spoke about Michael Polakovs, the first Ronald McDonald for the fast-food chain, and Lou Jacobs, a clown who performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for more than 60 years.

“I was salivating at this,” Espeut said. “These are people that someone who knows nothing about clowns or the circus will know.”

In 2011, the young filmmaker realized he needed to hit the road with the Nojoe’s crew to capture for more of the story.

Over several months, Espeut and his crew visited 10 cities with the circus, watching backstage, helping with props and being roadies while gathering information.

“It wasn’t bad,” Joey Thurmond said with a laugh. “Our show is like a family anyway, so it was like we adopted a few new members to the family.”

One thing Espeut didn’t want was fake acting and drama.

“I didn’t want anything staged,” he said. “That’s the nice thing about the film, but however, you have to run the cameras all day.”

That means many hours of footage. Between 700 to 2,000 hours, according to Espeut.

“For all of 2012, it was editing,” he said.

After a drafted cut was screened to an audience in Dallas, Ga., “GreasePaint” had a few changes. The final version saw its world premiere at Gwinnett Center International Film Festival at the end of July.

“I’m all about keeping things local, so it was amazing the Gwinnett Center was hosting this film festival,” Espeut said.

The film was nominated for Best Director and Best Non-Fiction Feature at the event.

“We didn’t win those, but we did win Audience Choice Award for Best Feature,” the director said. “To me, that’s the more important one.”

Thursday, there is another screening of the movie at Collins Hill.

Each ticket includes admission to the red carpet arrival at 6 p.m., the movie screening at 7 p.m., Q&A with Espeut, the film’s director at 9 p.m., and meet and greet with the “GreasePaint” cast at 9:30 p.m. Attendees also receive a movie poster.

In October, Espeut is bringing the film to the 5th Annual Louisville’s International Festival of Film in hopes to reach out to more people.