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Harvey Robinson’s Kitchen

by Carole Perkins

Harvey Robinson adjuststhe settings on his JVC GY-HD 110 camera perched on a tripod in thedoorway of the kitchen in his white duplex in the Aycock District ofGreensboro. Headphones rest on his neck underneath a blackbaseball cap as he bustles to shoot a documentary with Ed Cone,professional journalist and blogger. Ed steps carefully aroundthe tight space, dodging the thick, black camera cord that snakesacross the patterned vinyl floor. He crouches to pet the cat who claimsa napping spot beneath the camera. “Wow, funky variegatedbrown and black cat,” he says to the tom who is missing part of an ear.“That is Baffi Lungi,” Harvey explains, “but his street name is Snags.” A 1K Soft box light blazes Ed sitting in a straight back woodenchair in the center of the boxy kitchen contained by counters ladenwith spices, coffee mugs, and dishes drying in a dish rack. Amicrophone strings around the ceiling fan and a white plastic officecalendar confirms future dates. “Can you move about six inchesto your right?” Harvey asks, peering through his wide angle lens. Edmoves, joking, “Is that right? Is that your right or my right?” “Let’sjust play around first,” Harvey suggests, placing his headphones overhis ears. Ed, dressed in khaki shorts and running shoes quips, “Who’sdoing my hair and makeup?” Harvey bows his head and chuckles into hishand. Leaning against his refrigerator, he motions with his hands as ifpulling at information.

“Canyou tell me a little bit about how you started venturing into the worldof blogoshere?” “Am I looking at you or the camera?” Ed asks. “Justlook at me,” Harvey nods. A white backdrop that folds from ceiling tofloor transforms the ordinary kitchen into a makeshift studio wheredozens of artists and musicians flock to lay stories and music down toposterity. Legendary Greensboro musician Bruce Piephoff ignited the explosion of documentaries known as the “Harvey’s Kitchen” series. “My friends and I began doing spoof documentaries of monkeywhale.com.” Harvey says of the website he and his friend Vijay Java started about a year ago. “I’ve been friends with BrucePiephoff for a number of years. He was playing at Center City Park oneday and Bruce said,’Hey Harvey, is that your camera? You shoulddocument me. I’m a legend and I could retire soon,’” Harvey says. “Acouple of weeks later I called him and said,’Hey, why don’t you come bymy kitchen and I’ll ask you some questions. Maybe you can play yourguitar a little bit. “So I started getting phone calls from peoplesaying, ‘Hey, I want to do that.’ So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll do it untilpeople don’t want to do it anymore then I’ll stop.’” Over the lastyear, the former dishwasher and Dunkin’ Donuts server, where he worked“with a number of ladies laid off from Cone Mills,” has filmed over 80documentaries with cynosures ranging from Greensboro Symphony ConductorDimity Sitkovetsky to Tennessee’s Sam Quinn and Japan Ten. A graduateof Appalachian State University majoring in theater, Harvey worked forover 15 years as an actor, appearing in movies, plays and commercials. “Idecided I wanted something more so I applied to the NC School of theArts,” Harvey says, “not because I thought I’d get in but I’d kickmyself if I hadn’t tried. I think there were 4,000 applicants thatyear. I got in based on my writing. I was pretty amazed I was acceptedbut I didn’t have a financial plan so a bunch of my friends gottogether and raised money for my tuition for the first semester. Then Iwas one of two students to get a full scholarship. I was working fulltime at the Flatiron and driving back and forth to Winston-Salem.During my third year the school had fiscal problems so I couldn’t goback. “So, I was really depressed for a couple of years working as abartender,” he continues. “One night there was a guy wholooked like Henry Winkler who tried to get in a fight with me because Iwouldn’t serve him another drink because he was a belligerent drunk.That same night I had to clean vomit off the ceiling of the women’sbathroom. I decided, you know, there’s got to be more to life. So, Istarted focusing on what I could do. I started working with a couple ofother videographers and made some money I invested into my own gear.During that time I knew I wanted to make films so I taught some of myfriends how to use the equipment so we could compete in the 48 Hourfilm festival, a national competition where teams compete with eachother from all over the world. We’ve been doing it for about three years.” Harvey is co-founder with Vijay Java

of MonkeywhaleProductions, not to be confused with the porn site. He is alsocinematographer and creative director of monkeywhale.com andmonkeywhale.tv.

Todayin Harvey’s kitchen, Harvey is filming his longtime friend and musicianJoshua West. Old friends from the days working at Pappa John’s Pizza,Harvey and Joshua banter back and forth as Harvey sets up lights andcameras. Joshua is in the straight-back chair, already sweating asHarvey uses oven mitts to adjust one of the four standing lights. Thecat’s water bowl is stagnant, his toys abandoned in a corner. BaffiLungi, AKA “Snags,” passed away in Harvey’s arms just days before.“Alright,” Harvey says holding his arms our by his side. “Don’t move!”“But it hurts,” Joshua cries in mock pain. “Just kidding,” Harveyassures. Harvey decides Joshua should stand instead of sit. He removes the chair. “Canyou move about six inches to your right?” Harvey asks. “My right oryour right?” inquires Joshua After one take, Harvey takes his camera“off the sticks.” Sweat glistens on Joshua’s forehead as Harveyinstructs him to turn slightly to the side and hold up his guitar. Standingwith his legs braced wide, Harvey hoists his camera on his shoulderlike a heavy machine gun. Joshua belts out verses to his song,“Halleluiah.” As the melody softens, Harvey takes a step back and swaysslightly. Joshua hits his crescendo as Harvey tightens his grip on thecamera inches away from Joshua’s face. “Come on,” Harvey says. “Let’sgo out on the front porch and do your other song.” They clomp downHarvey’s steep steps accompanied by Carolyn de Berry, Harvey’sgirlfriend and photographer. Joshua sits on the antique whitemetal glider with his guitar. Three sets of wind chimes dangle over astuffed black cat with a sombrero on its head standing on the railingthat surrounds the duplex. Harvey sits with his camera in hislap peering down into the lens. He changes chairs and aims at Joshua’sBirkenstocked feet tapping on the green hardwood floor. A blue jaysquawks as a car rides by. “Nice,” Harvey says when the song isfinished. “Next time can you do it better?” he jokes Harvey steps ontothe front yard for the next take. He stands like a stalwart soldier asan American flag attached to the porch billows around his lens. Hetakes his right hand partially off the camera to still the flag. DeBerry unobtrusively walks over to hold the flag while Harvey films. “Stayright there,” Harvey instructs Joshua. He turns abruptly and walks overto the sidewalk to film a young neighbor sitting on the sidewalksmoking a cigarette.

Harveyis a master auteur whose visual acuity unwraps layers of artifice likea mummy’s sheath to bare the fine crinkles around beautiful MarthaBassett’s eyes or capturing Samantha Crain’s sweet smile that sheoffers to another singer who misfires on the chorus, “Oh, oh oh.” Hecrams bands into his kitchen like bodies in a Volkswagen but manages tocapture the nooks and crannies of each facial expression and nuance.Sometimes he encourages bands to ramble around in his yard to sing andplay. Neighbors often gather on their porches to watch the shows. “Somepart of filming people is systematic,” Harvey says. “There are specificconstructs that you kind of have to work with and I think until you getthose down you can’t really break the rules. I’ve been stretching alittle bit lately where instead of just having a matching shot I’llhave a shot that’s sort of jolting or I’ll alter it by a few degrees.If you look at the film I shot on Filthybird, you’ll see a number ofclose ups on Renee’s face and then on another take I would have movedthe camera a few degrees. Then I’ll move it on a beat so it’ssort of surprising. I sort of went along with the theme of the song. “Ihad them in the kitchen about five hours,” he continues, “so I had alot of time to think about lighting: what the image meant more thanrather or not it was a pleasing composition. When I went to the Schoolof the Arts I didn’t go for cinemantography. I got accepted because ofmy writing. I did my five-minute pieces the first of the year and oneof my friends said, ‘Your writing is great but you are visually inept.’So, I got a camera and started shooting and I haven’t stopped since.” Harveystays afloat by working for other filmmakers and videographers doingcommercial work. He says one of his biggest hurdles is finding money tofund his projects. “We applied for a grant from the UnitedArts Council to get a server so we could host these videos becauseright now I’ve got several hundred hours of footage of people, localmusicians and I don’t have enough space to keep them all on hard drive.We were denied the grant. They said, ‘Part of the Dotmatrix Project,that’s fantastic. But we’re not part of the Domatrix Project. TheDotmatrix Project embeds our videos. We shoot here for monkeywhale sothe assumptions are we are part of Dotmatrix Project but we’re not. “Ithink all of those elements; Artbeat, Dotmatrix Project and monkeywhaleare confusing to some people because we are all walking around inuncharted territory. We are all advocates for the art scene inGreensboro whether it be music, film or art. We are experimenting in amedium that people have not found a way to capitalize,” Harvey says.“There’s a huge underground music scene in Greensboro that’s not onanyone’s radar. There’s this guy, and he’ll call band managers and saycome to my house. So it’s the perfect stop for them. There’s this wholescene going on and it’s not on anybody’s radar. It’s kind of upsettingthat there’s so much disconnection between bands. I really wish therewas a medium sized venue in this town that embraced the music scenethat was in someway subsidized by the city. We have a total artisticcommunity that is totally ignored. I think it’s a huge mistake. I mean, about the bands that ply in this town and the patchy can play, theGreen Bean, the Flatiron and the Blind Tiger. We need a place wheremedium-sized acts can come in and at an affordable rate. The potentialis huge. The Flying Anvil opened up and all of the sudden there wasthis tremendous surge of excitement in Greensboro. We were, like, ‘Holycow we have a medium-sized venue in this town.’ It’s what this townneeds and it needs to be within walking distance to restaurants so youcan have a direct connection between people coming to see the bands andthe restaurants.” Harvey’s Kitchen, along with Artbeat and theDotmatrix Project are linking arms to use online blogs and socialnetworks to create an artistic fabric in the community that hasn’texisted before. “My friend Pete Schroth asked if monkeywhalecould help promote a show with the Holy Ghost Tent Revival and MollyMcGinn. Both acts had played in the kitchen so we said sure and sentout messages on Facebook and the show was sold out on a Monday night.” “I’menjoying just doing it for now and enjoying the fact that people I hadknown who had been in different bands that there was a chance forsomeone else to hear that music. It was also an opportunity to hone myskills and become a better videographer. One of my goals is tobasically have a venue in Greensboro, that being Harvey’s Kitchen,where people come in, we record them and it becomes another reasonGreensboro is a scene,” Harvey says. Harvey is motivated by “whateverthe next thing is.” He says, “I try to know what the next thing isbefore I finish the one I’m doing. That’s the biggest lesson Ilearned from Woody Allen. I’ve read his biography and watched all hismovies. Just keep an eye on whatever the next thing is.” A monkeywhalefestival is in the works Oct.2-3. Bands who have played in Harvey’skitchen have agreed to play to raise money for essentials such as tapestock and more hard drives. Clips of “Harvey’s Kitchen” will be shownbetween each band on Friday and Saturday night. It will be broadcastedlive on the monkeywhale page so people can comment and talk tomusicians between sets. Harvey’s submission to the 48 Hour FilmFestival won Audience Choice Award, Best Editing and Best Actingawards. “When I think about where we were a year ago and wherewe are now… it’s just overwhelming how much support we have receivedfrom musicians, friends and family,” Harvey says. “Besides, I get acouple of concerts in my kitchen every week,” he smiles. “ You can’tbeat that.”

Brian O’Sullivan takes a seat in Harvey’s Kitchen. Previous page: Irata goes live.

HarveyRobinson, far left, has been known to cram whole bands into the tinyspace in his apartment, like this shoot with Lost in the Trees. ‘Itry to know what the next thing is before I finish the one I’m doing.That’s the biggest lesson I learned from Woody Allen. I’ve read hisbiography and watched all his movies. Just keep an eye on whatever thenext thing is.’

Holy Ghost Tent Revival gets things cooking in the kitchen.

‘Istarted getting phone calls from people saying, “Hey, I want to dothat.” So I thought, “Okay, I’ll do it until people don’t want to do itanymore then I’ll stop.”’

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