Dan Solomon aka: Bongo Boy

by Liza Mitchell
Dan Solomon has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
His film work was featured as part of a recent multi-media installation at the Cummer Museum of Arts & Gardens, where clips of his short films rotated on a gallery screen. He was hand-picked to direct a series of comedic webisodes with a group of actors based in St. Augustine about two young would-be actresses trying to break into the business from Jacksonville. He was selected as one of the top ten finalists for his first full-length feature script, The Orchardville Diaries, during the Jacksonville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. And an auspicious encounter with the president of the film board, Nadia Ramoutar, may translate into funding dollars to shoot the feature film abroad, if all goes well. So far, so good.
“As it turns out, [Ramoutar] has dual citizenship in the United States and Ireland,” Solomon says. “She grew up in Dublin and fell in love with the script.” If the Irish Film Board agrees to green-light funding of the project, Solomon says Belfast would be the ideal backdrop for his film.
The Orchardville Diaries is based on the life and music of the Irish band, Energy Orchard, which featured Solomon’s friend and real-life bandmate Spade McQuade. Solomon is the percussionist with McQuade and the Allstars. The modern-day Dickensian tale follows the journey of two young orphans from Belfast as they make their way to London to see the reunion show of their favorite band, Energy Orchard.
“Along the way, they learn about life and becoming their own people in the world, falling in love and having their hearts broken,” explains Solomon.
The heart of the story mirrors the evolution of Solomon’s career as a filmmaker. In his early days, Solomon says he wanted to write about “guns, explosions, sex and violence.” That penchant for shoot-’em-up type fare receded, leaving in its wake a more mature, thought-provoking style with more meat than murder.
“Now I want to write and create something that is more worldly, stuff that can actually make a difference,” he says. “I know that sounds cheesy and clichéd but it’s true.”
Solomon has a new project in development that seems, at first glance, a violent wolf in sheep’s clothing, but is at heart a character study focusing on the impact of war on those assigned to capture its gruesome imagery for our consumption. War photographers often find themselves on the front lines, witnessing the chaos and death that war brings with no other weapon than their camera.
“When they come back into the world, they say they come back with the same problems as soldiers do; PSTD, drug addiction,” he says. “The project will compare two subjects returning home from two different conflicts, each with their own set of struggles as they re-assimilate into the ‘real world.’
“When people go through something like that, how they readjust doesn’t affect just them. It affects their family and friends. It’s a social commentary on how they are treated when they come home,” relates Solomon. “These people are not soldiers. They are highly educated professionals, not trained to be killing machines. It’s not polite in real life to do some of the things they are asked to do.”
Not all of Solomon’s projects reek of Hollywood glitz and glamour. He still needs to keep the lights on and gas in the car. To help pad his income, Solomon has filmed a series of corporate shoots for Nemours Children’s Hospital. The project spotlights the hospital’s Bright Starts program, which assists young children who may be predisposed to dyslexia with testing and tools to overcome the challenges they face.
“It helps change their outlook on learning to read and helps bring them up to speed,” he says. “It makes what I do even more worthwhile and makes me feel good at the end of the day.”
Solomon’s newest comedy project offers a refreshing change of pace to his normal regimen of writing, producing, casting and editing. For this project, he doesn’t have to juggle multiple duties. He is acting only as director and going down a path he’s not often traveled. The project will only be Solomon’s second foray into comedy but he’s itching to sharpen his skills on screen. In real life, he gets plenty of practice with the band who affectionately refer to him as “Bongo Boy.”
“I play a djembe and the guys could never remember the name so they started calling it a bongo,” Solomon says of his humble beginnings as “Bongo Boy.”
The nickname more than stuck. Solomon was boarding a flight to Philadelphia when a voice from the back of the plane called out the name of his alter ego. It tuned out the man was a regular at the Fly’s Tie, where Spade McQuade and the Allstars play on alternate weekends.  
“We are like the Island of Misfit Toys,” Solomon says. “Like everyone, we all have our own idiosyncrasies. At the end of the day, we are a really dysfunctional family, but in a good way.”