By Alan Todd
John Billings was presented as "just an ordinary guy in a small town in Colorado," but after an intimate group watched a private screening of a new documentary Thursday night at Ridgway's Sherbino Theater, few were left with ordinary thoughts.
Billings, a Ridgway resident and maker of the Grammy, invited several dozen people to watch "Chasing Life: The Grammy Man Story," a one-hour documentary made by Outpost Worldwide film out of Lenexa, Kansas in association with 7 Pillar Studios in Cisco, Texas.
The documentary was filmed over a two-year period, with crews coming to Ridgway from Kansas City and Cisco on at least three occasions, staying several days at a time.
"They worked their (tails) off on this thing," Billings said. "These guys put everything they had into this thing."
"This is about a man who is dedicated to his craft," said Mike Wunsch, executive producer of Outpost Worldwide as he introduced the documentary to the small crowd. He remarked that Billings works "in a town that obviously cherishes creativity and individualism."
The documentary is about Billings, not necessarily the Grammys, and his dedication to his craft. It is unscripted yet takes the viewer on the path through Billings’ life, his family, his mentor and his devotion to his work.
Scenes from Billings’ family life show his two brothers and his sister Kathy Gottel, who came from California to the Thursday night event.
"I thought she was going to cry," Billings said. "She and my mother were my champions."
Also included was a segment on Bob Graves, Billings' mentor and the original maker of the Grammys. It was in Van Nuys, California where Graves tutored Billings. Graves died in 1984 from complications due to diabetes.
Billings continued to build the Grammys, working for Graves' widow for $5,000 a year. He bought the business two years later, moved it to his garage and continued to produce the award in California until he moved the operation to Ridgway in 1993.
"Bob didn't make the whole Grammy," Billings said. He outsourced many of its parts and assembled it. Back then, Graves was producing about 80 awards a year. Now, Billings produces approximately 600 between the Grammys and the Latin Grammys.
Area residents will recognize Susan "Lupita" Baker, Ridgway mayor and local artist John Clark, and the late artist and sculptor Michael McCullough. Tears were shed in the audience during the private screening as viewers watched McCullough and Billings discuss art, life and the afterlife in McCullough's waning days before succumbing to cancer.
"The piece with Michael was priceless," Billings said. As McCullough was describing how he was going to light comet tails and smash stars and planets together in big displays in the afterlife, Billings said his reaction was evident on camera.
"That was super," Billings said. "I could see my reaction. I thought, wow, you've been doing some thinking about this.
"I thought, how can you do an hour documentary on the Grammy man," Billings said. "But they filled it with other town characters and eye candy," he said, referencing the incredible shots of the area. Filming was done with the same type cameras used to film the movie The Hobbit.
"There were incredible shots of the town," Billings said.
The concept of the documentary stemmed from...