Eric Okamoto will soon add a movie soundtrack to his already jammed drumming resume. The Cary drumming teacher holds two world records in speed drumming and attracted the notice of independent film producer Doc Carmichael.
Carmichael, who is producing and directing the musical, “Too Far From the Tree,” at various locations in North Carolina, asked Okamoto to lend his expertise not only to the soundtrack but to the authenticity of the film. Okamoto will show four actors how to drum for the movie.
Okamoto is excited about the community collaboration aspect of the film because Hollywood often limits the number of people funding major films. Carmichael is allowing anyone to contribute who wants to through July. He hopes the G-rated content and public investment convinces Hollywood to rethink its policies.
Q: What will your involvement with the film be?
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“Too Far From the Tree” is a rock and roll musical with 15 to 20 original songs. Doc Carmichael will play on the soundtrack, and so will I.
The actors will be lip-syncing to the music, so before the movie is filmed, we have to complete the studio work in May. The whole soundtrack will be completed by mid-June because the whole script will be built around our songs. Then I have to train the actors; they have to look like they’re really playing the drums.
Q: How difficult is it to train someone, not to play the drums, but to look like they are?
It depends on the person. The movie will cover both 1960 and 1980 blues numbers, so the actors will have to learn how to hold the drum sticks in a traditional grip, which looks like they’re holding them sideways.
The actors will have to rely on muscle memorization to mimic my drum parts in the music. It will take some effort, but I’ll teach them to relax and pick up from the wrist.
I’ll have to teach them some showmanship, too. This is rock. Some wonderful drummers just sit there. I’ll be showing them how to give the kind of show Keith Moon from The Who would give.
Q: And while you’re working on the movie, you’ll be working on more world records?
Yes, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is in Nashville in July. I will try to break my world records. Speed drumming in double strokes and paradiddles uses mathematics to prove that I’m not buzzing the sticks. I have to state how many strokes I’ll make exactly. Last year, I said I’d do 1740 in a minute, and I hit 1744.
Speed drumming is like sprinting, very cardiovascular. I work out and run three or four miles every other day to stay in shape. After 30 seconds of drumming that fast, your muscles start to fatigue, and single stroke drummers might slow down. Double stroke speed drumming doesn’t allow for slowing down.
Q: Will you still be teaching while you work on the movie?
Yes, I teach six days a week, about 60 students, and I train a lot of All-State Champions.
I also teach special needs students with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, autism and mental and physical challenges. I’ve had students with special needs come to me and want to be on the drum line but doubt their abilities. I told one to give it a few months and see what we could do. He became the drum captain.
I tell my students that they should be first chair in the band and compete. I want them to be the best at their schools.
I say that in order to work with me, they need to be full percussionists, not lopsided. I want them to know the rudiments. No matter where they go, no matter what kind of percussion they are asked to do, I want them to be able to do it.
My goal for teaching is that when they leave me, they help other drummers. If they can’t pass it on, they’ve learned nothing.