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Illinois State ties add flavor to alum’s Sriracha documentary

Sriracha bottles

Sriracha bottles at a Huy Fong Foods facility in California, one of the spots visited by alum and documentary filmmaker Griffin Hammond.

Griffin Hammond ’07, M.S. ’09, had produced thousands of videos. Now he wanted to make a film.

The Illinois State alum returned from last spring’s South by Southwest festival inspired and determined to see a film of his own on the big screen in 2014. Hammond had already won awards for his online video projects, but he wanted to think bigger, to stretch his storytelling skills on a larger subject, to explore something that he loved through a documentary that he himself would want to see.

The subject he chose? Hot sauce.

But it’s not just any hot sauce. It’s Sriracha, the chili pepper-based sauce that’s become wildly popular in recent years and broke through as a culinary headline-making darling in 2013. Hammond’s half-hour documentary Sriracha, which he directed with help from a network of other Illinois State alumni and students, explores not just the sauce’s passionate cult following, but also its untold (and fascinating) history.

Griffin on Thai boat

Illinois State alum Griffin Hammond in Thailand to shoot scenes for his documentary Sriracha.

“For all the fans out there, it struck me as strange that people didn’t know much about it,” Hammond said.

STATEside won’t spoil the story—you can download or watch the film online for $5—but Hammond’s journey took him all over the world, from the California factory that produces the most well-known version of the sauce, all the way to Thailand where the flavor originates. The personalities he meets—most notably the charming Vietnamese immigrant who makes Sriracha—give the film a lot of heart.

Hammond discovered his passion for documentary filmmaking at Illinois State, inspired by Associate Professor John McHale in the School of Communication. He also cut his teeth shooting tons of news stories for TV-10 and getting involved with the Documentary Project student organization.

“Without those things, I wouldn’t have realized this was a possible career path for me,” Hammond said.

That career path began with an internship (and then full-time job) at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, where he worked in social media before proving his video chops. In 2011, Hammond took over as executive producer and host of Indy Mogul, a Google/YouTube “lab channel” that taught low-budget, do-it-yourself filmmaking techniques to more than 600,000 subscribers.

Hammond began work on Sriracha last spring, drawn to the subject because he’d been a fan of the now-trendy sauce for the past decade. He shot 32 hours of video on and off over eight months, traveling with help from $21,000 raised from 1,300 supporters on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.

“It’s pretty tightly edited. I could’ve done a feature-length film if I had the time, but I’d rather just show you my favorite stuff,” he said. “Every line in the film is the one that makes me laugh or makes me smile.”

Hammond’s very first interview in April was with Tyler Raineri, the Illinois State student who was one of three national finalists for a $1 million Lays contest because of his Sriracha-flavored chip idea. (Raineri didn’t win but still took home $50,000.) It was one of many Sriracha-flavored headlines in 2013, in addition to Subway’s embrace of the sauce and a controversy in California.

The film is full of Redbirds, including interviews with students on the Quad and other crew members:

  • The assistant editor was fellow alum Skylar Guimond ’09.
  • The end credits were designed by Associate Professor Brent Simonds’ son Dylan Simonds ’08 and Dylan’s wife Mallory (Davlin) Simonds ’12.
  • Nick Bodmer ’07 did additional camera work.
  • Production assistants included current student Mateo Aguirre and Bodmer’s wife, Kristen (Ferreri) Bodmer ’08.
Roy Magnuson

Alum and composer Roy Magnuson.

While it features a shocking amount of real songs written by real people about the hot sauce, the film’s musical feel is set early by an original score composed by Instructional Assistant Professor Roy Magnuson ’05 from the School of Music, a friend of Hammond’s. The score was recorded at Kemp Recital Hall back in October, with just Magnuson on piano and his wife, Shannon (Maney) ’12, on violin.

Magnuson’s beautiful score plays over the opening sequence, which reveals the farm labor, big machinery, and the full scope behind the industrial-sized Sriracha-making operation in California. The music nails what Magnuson and Hammond call an almost agrarian tone, while also hinting at the “Made in the U.S.A.” roots of the operation. The exotic-tasting sauce, after all, is grown, made, and bottled in the U.S.

“I wanted to write something that sounded kind of American,” Magnuson said.

Hammond, who is now a full-time freelance videographer and editor, is “profoundly talented” and a terrific musical collaborator, Magnuson added.

“It was a great experience, and it’s a really neat thing for ISU since it’s so home-grown,” Magnuson said.

You can watch the film at SrirachaMovie.com. The film should make its festival debut later this year.

Listen to an interview with Hammond on WGLT’s Sound Ideas program.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.

 

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