Dayton funk: UD student documentary explores music’s local connection

We’re several decades removed from funk music’s heyday in the 1970s and early ‘80s. Yet the music and its connection to the Gem City inspired the documentary “Funk: The Sound of Dayton,” which premieres in the Roger Glass Center for the Arts at the University of Dayton on Thursday. The new UD student project was created by a group of 14 senior media production majors from different parts of the country, and outside the United States.

“The project really started around this time last year,” said Brayden Chayer of Holland, Mich., a production manager, writer and audio technician on the film. “You have to be a senior to take this class and so we applied as we were coming to be rising seniors. Then we had to have a meeting with our professor Greg Kennedy in May. We talked to him and pitched what we wanted to do.”

Claire O’Brien from Columbus, a writer and visual effects artist on the project, picked up the thread.

“We decided we wanted to shed light on Dayton’s rich music history and how funk kind of originated here,” she said. “Around August we assigned roles. There are 14 of us and each person is assigned to different teams. There are 10 different teams, like writers, cinematographers, editors, visual effects artists, production managers or audio and you can be a part of them.

“There are five writers, and each one was assigned to a different act,” O’Brien continued. “We took it in chunks and each person wrote out the act they were in charge of. Brayden was act three and I’m act five so I’m the person wrapping it all up. We took each person’s soundbites, and we selected the best ones for that act. That’s been really interesting to work on.”



Teambuilding exercise

“It’s been a truly great process,” Chayer said. “With act three, I’m in the middle of the documentary. It’s a lot about the impact of funk music during the ‘70s, kind of the meat and substance. My interviewee was Keith Harrison from Faze-O. He was fun to talk to and an amazing storyteller. I got to put a lot of people in the act like the Troutman brothers. My main priority was working with the musicians because they’re telling it from their experiences.”

With 14 students and 10 teams, the participants were able to experience the various aspects of documentary filmmaking.

“Being on different teams emphasizes the collaboration,” Chayer said. “Claire is a writer as well as a visual effects artist. She brings her knowledge from sitting in the writers’ meetings to the visual effects. I’m a writer and I’m a production manager and I’m on the audio team so I have to make sure everyone sounds good and works alongside the music and transitional pieces.

“It was such a fun process,” he continued. “And though we were working in chunks, it’s still 100 percent a collaborative experience. We were talking with each other and making sure nobody was doubling a soundbite. We had to make sure each act flowed well so it didn’t feel very choppy.”



Being succinct

For O’Brien, the hardest part of the project was distilling the history and cultural impact of funk music into the required 15-minute run time.

“It’s been a passion project,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we told the story accurately and gave it justice. We only have 15 minutes. That’s what we’re allotted for the project but with funk music in Dayton, there is so much that we could keep going about. We’re really hoping in these 15 minutes that we’re giving voices to people and we’re telling this story accurately. I mean, funk is not dead. It’s still here. It’s everywhere and we want that to be heard.”

The students’ first cut of the documentary was 50 minutes long.

“Some people wished we could make a 50-minute documentary,” Chayer said. “We could show much more detail, but we’re not given that amount. We had to consider the core essence of what we’re trying to get at and then decide what told that story. It’s not just the history of Dayton. It’s not just the history of the music’s evolution. It’s a combination of the two and the most important part is the human experience.

“No matter how old the music, the stories and voices of these subjects are still very important,” Chayer added. “We’re all proud of the documentary. I hope it brings attention to the fact this was a time in our city that we shouldn’t forget. We’re not Dayton locals but being at UD you still feel the impact of the community on campus. It’s important to tell these stories and represent the history of Dayton and funk music.”

In their own way, these 14 outgoing UD seniors are doing just that.

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or

How to go

What: UD student documentary “Funk: The Sound of Dayton”

Where: University of Dayton’s Roger Glass Center for the Arts, 29 Creative Way, Dayton

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Cost: Free

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