By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
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By Kyle Swenson
Aaron Morris has long been a supporter of the arts and was instrumental in establishing such institutions as the Miami Film Festival and the Miami Book Fair International. And he's known Bunny Yeager for twenty years. So when he received a fax she sent about her nephew's film, he decided to take a meeting with Billy.
With his trusty bag of clippings and notes spread out on a restaurant table, Yeager made his pitch. Morris and others in attendance were "fascinated." It seemed so over the top, yet if Yeager actually possessed the footage he described, he had a story to tell.
"I'm a trusting person, and Billy seemed to be very honest," says Morris, displaying a faith that those more familiar with Yeager's tricks might have withheld. The Cultural Development Group, along with Aunt Bunny, agreed to kick in a few thousand dollars and help him get his film done.
Next he met Faust Pierfederici, an independent filmmaker experienced at working with beginners. He was willing to entertain the daunting prospect of making a movie out of Yeager's footage. "At first I thought it would not be possible," says Pierfederici, "but Billy was very organized." He went over Yeager's notes and looked at some of the footage, and mainly gauged Yeager's motivation. By Pierfederici's exacting yardstick, the beginner had what it took.
Now all the pieces were in place. Deadline for submissions to Sundance was fifteen days away. Pierfederici and his fellow editor and wife, Justine, entered Yeager's world. Spending twelve-hour days in the cramped editing suite, the couple treated the task with utmost seriousness and helped the crazy musician focus on reaching his goal.
The story was being formed as it went along and still being shot as they cut it together. Yeager was shooting 16 mm music segments, and the inexperienced filmmaker wasn't even sure if the unfamiliar camera was working. He could only hope he had usable shots by the end of the day. To some degree, he did.
Driving their well-traveled route between Hollywood and Miami Beach, Yeager dictated each day's editing notes to his girlfriend, Maria, the woman behind the man and often behind the camera. She could only scribble down the cryptic code he barked at her, the directions only he would understand when the time came. He played and replayed the movie in his mind, cutting it in his head. Like all his mad schemes, his recording sessions and his gimmicks, Yeager was flying by the seat of his pants, improvising each riff upon the next. "It's scary. You have to be trusting, but not trusting, ya know?" he asks, actually defining what it means to be in the moment. Zen and the art of filmmaking, Yeager-style.
His style was also precipitating a creative crisis. He figured there was only one way for his character to surpass the Jimmy Story hoax and resolve his failure: suicide. Yeager was planning to construe the whole film as a hoax unto itself. He would end the film with his own videotaped suicide and attendant confirming documents. The idea was that his sign-off note had included instructions on how to edit this final testament to his tragic life and times.
Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the rough-cut. Yeager had been discovering things about himself while learning to make a film, realizing what his life was really all about as it revealed itself to him on the editing screen. Watching the film take shape, making editorial decisions on the fly, exhausted and caffeine-frazzled, he arrived at a moment not unlike Coppola did with Apocalypse Now, totally stuck on how to end the damn thing. To conclude in tragedy would make Billy Yeager's whole life tragic.
Yeager's character does indeed kill himself in his movie. The less charitable may wonder why he didn't do it years earlier, as the continuous rejection he's suffered would have been reason enough among more sensitive souls for suicide. But Jimmy's Story doesn't end there. The film may be overlong, by turns glacial and rapid-fire in pace, but it is always beguiling. Yeager says his final product is "a story of hope."
Whereas Yeager could be perceived from his past stunts as a megalomaniac, a one-man band unwilling to share the stage or studio with others, his autobiographical film reveals someone quite different. A certifiable character, true, but one able to get over himself. And the wacky adventure of his life is no solo album but a collaboration featuring an orchestra of loving friends.
Yeager's old Hollywood pals are a chorus extolling his virtues and recounting his infamous deeds throughout the film. Often drafted to play roles in his schemes, theirs are eyewitness accounts. They may have been thoroughly directed in their commentary, but no film artifice could fabricate their genuine affection for Yeager. Balding boomers clad in Dockers and often wearing ties, their proximity to the daring Yeager shows how they are still beach bums at heart, glad to have their friend still around to remind them that some dreams of youth never fade. In the scenes where they discuss Yeager's death, they actually rise to the level of becoming actors.