Scouts Honor

"Scouts Honor" looks at a year in the life of the Madison Scouts drum corps.


Mac Smith is a sound effects editor for Skywalker Sound in northern California, which means he’s had a hand in movies like “How To Train Your Dragon 2” and “Cars 2.”

But while those films are full of memorable cinematic sounds, from a dragon's roar to Lightning McQueen's revving engine, he may be proudest of the massive joyful noise he’s captured in his new film — the sonic blast of the Madison Scouts drum corps.

Smith is the director of “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood,” a new documentary about the Scouts that was a big draw at April’s Wisconsin Film Festival. The film is back for a one-night only screening on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave.

Tickets are $10 through or at the door, and the film will be followed by a special performance by Black Star Drum Line and the Madison Scouts Alumni Performance Group. On Saturday at 7 p.m., drum corps fans can see the real thing in person at Drums on Parade at Breitenbach Stadium, 2100 Bristol St. in Middleton.

Smith was a member of the corps for one summer in 1995, and credits that experience with changing the course of his life. Corps members spend 12 grueling weeks touring the country, performing and honing a single 11-minute performance. A drum corps performance mixes brass, drums and dance into a high-energy mix of athleticism and artistry.

At Skywalker Sound, Smith befriended several other corps veterans from around the country. When a fellow sound man showed him footage of a drum corps that captured the performance’s expansive surround sound, Smith knew he could make a Scouts documentary that would do drum corps justice.

“The fans had come to the conclusion that you could never capture what it feels like live,” Smith said. “We were like, ‘I think we can come closer than anyone has come before.’”

Building off that, Smith and producer Tom Tollefson (also a ’95 Scouts veteran) wanted to make a documentary that showed not just what it sounds like to be a member of the Madison Scouts, but what it feels like for the young men who take part. (Unlike many other corps, the Madison Scouts is an all-male group.)

The film follows three Scouts on very different paths through the 2012 season. Brandon is a returning corps member having trouble taking on a leadership role within the Corps, while Hunter is a 15-year-old newcomer adjusting to the intense life of a Madison Scouts member. Finally, and most poignantly, Joe is a HIV-positive member who, despite the health challenges that being in the Scouts presents, finds more support among his brothers in the corps than he does back home.

Smith said the fact that he and Tollefson were both Scouts helped immensely, both in understanding how the corps operated and earning the trust of the members.

“It definitely helped,” Smith said. “Right away we let the members know that we were their brothers from ‘95. We were family. We were let back into the fold right away. I felt like I was home again.”

While Smith feels a profound connection with his fellow Scouts, he wanted to make sure that “Scouts Honor” honestly reflected life in the corps. To that end, viewers see coaches being demanding and relentless on scouts, who have to maintain an arduous schedule both physically and emotionally as they tour one city after another.

“We didn’t want to sugarcoat the activity and make it look like a commercial for the Madison Scouts,” Smith said. “We wanted to show what it takes to do this.

“It’s because it’s so hard that people come out so much stronger. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it wasn’t for that one year in drum corps.”


Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.

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