Catching Air takes a power stance at the Screenland this Saturday
If you have even the slightest notion of what the world of competitive air guitar is like, you know who Eric “Mean” Melin is. If you don’t, then know that he’s the drummer for local acts like Ultimate Fakebook, Truck Stop Love, and the Dead Girls, and he’s the 2013 World Air Guitar champion.
To continue on in his evangelic quest to spread the gospel of airness, Melin helped write, produce, and star in Catching Air, a documentary about “competitors who channel their own personal creativity through the purest form of rock n’ roll expression: playing the air guitar.”
It has its one theatrical screening outside the festival circuit at Screenland Armour on Saturday, September 16, at 3 p.m. Melin will be flying in for the screening, and so will Jamie Hitchings, the movie’s director. If you can’t make it to the Screenland on Saturday, Gravitas Ventures acquired Catching Air, and it will be available on hundreds of digital platforms on Tuesday, September 26.
We spoke with Melin and Hitchings via email about bringing the story to your screen.
The Pitch: How did you use Air Guitar Nation as a template, and what did you want to do differently?
Jamie Hitchings: I really enjoy Air Guitar Nation. It was fun, had a great pace from an editorial standpoint, and really gave strong introductions to Air Guitar. But What I was really interested in was the community. I actually heard Eric being interviewed on NPR, and I was hooked! The way he spoke about the people involved and how much care I heard in his voice about everyone, I needed to know more. I actually didn’t screen Air Guitar Nation until I had developed a partnership with Eric.
Eric Melin: I love Air Guitar Nation. It was absolutely my gateway to this crazy sport/art form. But there was a conscious decision in that movie to have the main characters play “characters” rather than be genuine, and having met and performed with all the diverse people in the world of air guitar, I knew for a fact that they were way more interesting as real people, ad that all of them had their own stories about how air guitar changed their lives or inspired their creativity in their lives. Jamie was really intent on focusing on that. Yes, it’s a joke, but the work that goes into making that one-minute performance pop is no joke. And the interesting ways it intersects with people’s personalities to me is the most compelling part of the story.
Where’d all the footage come from?
Hitchings: The short answer is everywhere! We had many people donate footage from the Air Guitar community. Eric had connections to people who had footage of him and his different bands. Everyone was so generous, and it really confirmed how tight-knit yet welcoming the community is! And finally, we shot all of the interviews on location in KC, Merriam, Kansas, and Austin.
Melin: Also, this movie could not have been made without the cooperation and partnership with the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland, and U.S. Air Guitar. There was a need to illustrate the variety and reach of air guitar, and that footage really helped that aspect. A ton of old-school local footage and all the wedding footage—which was crucial to the bigger themes of the picture—was shot here in KC by Dustin Schirer.
What were the challenges in not being able to license music?
Hitchings: Licensing one song might have cost more than the entire documentary itself. That might be a bit of a stretch but music licensing is expensive. Early in the process, we looked into costs, and they really added up, and we realized even if we could get the music, we would have to pick and choose what we could actually afford. At some point, I decided to try it without music, and I think it worked very well. Eric and his bandmates were kind enough to let me use their catalog.
Melin: Licensing music will always be the number-one challenge of anything that has air guitar performances in it. My world-winning performance song was played and written by myself and Doug Minner, so that was free, but most air guitar performers don’t write their own cut, so it’s tricky. The Dead Girls—a band where all four of us have competed in air guitar contests—donated some tunes as well.
Why did you choose to focus on American competitors?
Hitchings: For me, it was about community, and the community I had the most access to was the American competitors. Also, there were some really interesting things going on in American Air Guitar, as you saw in the film. But World Air Guitar also supported us with footage of both American and International talent.
Melin: Had Jamie been able to interview some of the amazing international performers, our film would have turned into a series. There are seriously so many people—from France to Japan to Belgium to Germany to Australia to the UK—who are amazing, creative people: teachers, musicians, filmmakers, graphic designers, animators, you name it.
I’m not joking when I say someone with more resources than us could easily design a Formula One: drive to Survive linear documentary TV series each year for the air guitar world. You’d never run out of interesting people or performances. And Netflix would have the budget for the music licensing.
Who do you see as the next generation of air guitarists?
Hitchings: I think there is a lot of pressure on many people in society to fit in. Take the normal route, graduate school, go to college, and find a stable job. I feel a lot of us don’t really fit into that expiration, and Air Guitar is a great creative outlet. I hope in the future, we see more new competitors that just stumble on this awesome yet silly sport and give it a try. I assume the community will welcome these newcomers just as they welcomed me.
Melin: Hopefully, our movie getting a digital distro deal and being available everywhere will help. There’s a play called Airness by Chelsea Marcantel that has made its way across the world since it premiered in 2017 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, and it’s blowing up pretty big. Airistotle is currently the technical consultant on an L.A. production, and we’ve already seen actors and fans of the play place really high at US Air Guitar Nationals.
In addition, Oulu, Finland (where they hold the AGWC each year) has been awarded the 2026 European Capital of Culture, so I’m sure its international recognition will only get bigger after that. The editing tools people have at their fingertips now are helping people put together mini-masterpieces of sound and movement all over the world, and it’s only going to get more awesome. I can’t wait to see where it’s headed.
Catching Air is at the Screenland Armour on Saturday, September 16. Details on that screening here.