Blood Sweat and Beers is a hard movie to explain, but a very easy movie to love. It tells the story of musician and producer “Money Mark” Ramos Nishita — a musical mastermind known for his work with everyone from The Beastie Boys to Beck to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Rolling Stones — and his brief, bountiful collaboration with The Sloppy Boys, a comedy-rock act you may have never heard of.
But in the joyous new documentary Blood Sweat and Beers: The Making of a Comedy-Rock Classic, Money Mark elevates the comedian-musicians to flashes of musical brilliance, and teaches us all lessons about the power of good collaboration.
Is the album they made together, entitled Sonic Ranch, actually comedy-rock classic? I don’t know, but the movie might be.
Meet The Sloppy Boys
El Paso news anchor Robert Holguin directed the film, which premiered to a very happy response at the El Paso Film Festival on Friday night. Holguin said the project came about because he was an old friend of Money Mark and a fan of The Birthday Boys, a comedy team championed by Bob Odenkirk that had a show on IFC for two seasons in 2013-14.
Three of The Birthday Boys, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis and Jefferson Dutton, spun off into The Sloppy Boys, who host a successful podcast and released three albums prior to Sonic Ranch.
Holguin explained at a Q&A after the premiere that he wanted to make a fun documentary to break up all the serious stories he covers for El Paso’s KFOX14. So he approached the Sloppy Boys and Money Mark and pitched an idea: Would they want to spend five days collaborating together at the Sonic Ranch, the residential recording studio outside El Paso where some of the world’s greatest musicians have made beautiful music, free from outside distractions? Everyone agreed.
Holguin has a great eye, and, despite his considerable charisma, a reporter’s instinct for not making himself the story. He disappears into the recesses of the studio and mostly does straight fly-on-the-wall reporting — a great move, because the dynamic tension between the master and his sloppy students provides comedy galore.
The band’s Mike Hanford protests throughout the movie that he isn’t even a real musician. Plenty of songs and riffs seem annoyingly basic in their early iterations. But Money Mark has remarkable patience as the bandmates figure out what they want. And the producer also demonstrates a mastery of how to bring out the Sloppy Boys’ best without forcing ideas on them. By the end of the film, it’s clear they’re much better musicians than they considered themselves at the start.
The most exhilarating moment comes when Kalpakis searches for an earworm to anchor one of his songs, a hip-hop seduction theme called “The Gardens of Gomorrah” — and creates it with help from two cables and a Mexican coin. It’s the very first hook you hear here:
I went into the movie with zero expectations — party rock is not my thing and I don’t love the word sloppy — but I laughed throughout Blood Sweat and Beers and was sorry to see it end.
Holguin won the festival’s El Paso Filmmaker Award. Asked if he had a lot of outtakes, he explained why he really doesn’t.
“I come from news background so I shoot very efficiently,” Holguin explained. “I don’t just let it roll and roll and roll — to my detriment, I think, sometimes, in projects like this. So I had to learn to stop hitting stop, because I would stop a lot, and I would stop too soon sometimes.”
His restrained approach made the film easier to edit — he estimated that he only recorded about eight hours of footage over five days of recording. That meant less agonizing about what to leave out, but also few deleted scenes.
“I don’t have that much more that you didn’t see,” Holguin said.
The film has no distribution yet, but would play very nicely on Netflix of HBO. Blood Sweat and Beers might be hard to explain to people who aren’t familiar with The Sloppy Boys, Money Mark, or Holguin — and may not realize how weird and wonderful their collaboration is. But I think almost anyone who watches the movie will be won over.
Many viewers — myself included — went skeptically into Friday’s premiere at the Philanthropy Theater, and came out so impressed that we followed the band down the street for a live show at The Reagan, one of the coolest bars I’ve been to. Taking chances and saying yes to the uncertain pays off for artists, but audiences too.
Main image: Tim Kalpakis, Jefferson Dutton, and Mike Hanford, aka The Sloppy Boys, performing at The Reagan.