It was January 2015 when I received an email from Kittie bassist, Trish Doan. Trish and I had attended be same college, were from the same town, and had chatted just eight months earlier when I requested a Kittie song for use in, “Nintendo Quest.” When Trish and I first connected she mentioned that Kittie was in the process of crowdfunding a documentary and a book to help tell the band’s twenty-year legacy. Of course, being somewhat of a natural sales guy, I asked if they had a director in mind, and they did.
David Brodsky was slated to lens the doc which included making use achieved footage from the last twenty years. Yep, the band had been shooting video since their inception. Hearing that fact alone is the kind of thing that got me really excited especially after watching “Turtle Power,” directed by Randall Lobb – another film that had oodles of archived material. Why the excitement? Anytime you can use material that was shot “in the past” by the participants, you get an extra boost in terms of goodies that no one has ever seen before and there’s also the impossible-to-replicate aesthetic of home video footage that makes documentaries that much more authentic, and in this case, would serve to really showcase the length in which the band had been creating music. Brodsky was a natural choice for the band as he’d worked with them before on music videos and established a relationship and level of trust that’s hard to compete with as a new comer. I was looking forward to the results as much as the other fans and gladly backed the project on Indiegogo, resigned to wait for the finished product while I toured “Nintendo Quest” around North America.
Flash forward to January 2015 and that fateful email I mentioned earlier. To paraphrase the content of said letter, “Dave’s been busy and it seems there might be an opportunity if you wanted to explore it.” In typical McCallum fashion, I think I emailed Trish back within seconds, “Hell yes, I’m interested.”
A series of phone calls and Skype chats followed between Trish and I and then between myself, Morgan Lander, and Mercedes Lander. Morgan and Mercedes are sisters and have been the back bone of Kittie since it’s inception. They had a pretty clear vision for what they wanted the documentary to achieve: something fun for the fans that have supported them for their entire career. I thought about it, we talked budget, timelines, approach and then I signed on the dotted line. I was now writing, directing, editing, and producing the documentary on Kittie; a band from my hometown who’d carved out a faithful audience of heavy metal maniacs. I was grateful, nervous, excited, scared, and energized.
With all the paper works squared away, I was anxious to start shooting and get my head around the materials they’d archived and kept to themselves. I started researching. And researching. And then I got frustrated. As I combed through article after article and interview after interview it was clear that a lot of press was really hug up on an apparent “gender curiosity.” It was like a prerequisite for a journalist to ask about certain things almost every time they interviewed anyone in the band. These staple questions are as follows: the origin of the band’s name, the earth-shattering decision to have only women in the band, and by extension how their band of women is different than other metal bands, explicitly and implicitly suggesting that “female metal” was a genre unto itself. Answering those questions was probably twice as stale as it was to read and it set me on a path of what to include and what to avoid for the interviews with the key people.
Right away I didn’t want to make some sort of gender/feminist thesis statement with the film, if I was even qualified to entertain that idea as a white middle-class guy who likes pop-punk and top 40 metal. Instead, I decided the best through line and focus was the a “rags to riches” story at the heart of the events: the ultimate rock n roll fantasy: what if you and your teen-aged friends got a record contract, got to tour around the world, and create some amazing memorable music? That’s what was compelling to me and something so many people wish they could experience which made their story universal. But every journey needs to have obstacles and tragedy if it’s going to be compelling and maybe even reach the audience in ways they weren’t expecting. As we began to shoot, I learned in short time that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of that rose colored rock n roll fantasy that some may think transpired for Kittie. Various band members came and went, record label disputes and lawsuits were common place, family tragedy strikes when you least expect it, and the constant question of creative worth was peppered across every moment of Kittie’s twenty year history. So with the theme, the hook, the depth, the archived material, what else was there to cover?
From our first conversation, it was clear that this documentary had to be for the fans. It was the band’s way of saying “thank you” but what did that actually mean? And how does one concoct that result with present day interviews and archival material? Well, those questions lead to more research. I started watching a few music documentaries – then a lot of music documentaries. Then I watched a lot of “director’s cuts” and looked at what was included versus what was cut to make the theatrical cut, with the logic being that fans typically prefer director’s cuts. The research boiled down to set me on a path of length, meaning a longer cut which opposed he traditional 90 minute length preferred by distributors, and to include intimate footage that wasn’t flashy, but honest and revealing. This couldn’t be a two hour expose with intriguing sound bytes and memorable one-liners. A series of cleverly timed sound bytes was exactly the antithesis of what I wanted to show of a band and its members who’d tried to stay out of the spotlight and never reveal what was happening behind the scenes. Lastly, though never said, it was clear through the interviews that no one in the band ever had a forum in which to tell their story, those events, from their very distinct perspective and that was something I wanted to achieve and I hoped to do so by eliminating any presence of myself. No voice over was the first rule and minimal title cards that would be strictly factual to connect the dots IF needed at all. This was their ONE CHANCE to set the record straight and I don’t think that some outsider should come in and arrange a loose linear narrative that gets the audience from forming the band to current day in his or her own voice. Let the band tell the story, otherwise, what’s the point?
Shooting began in March 2015 with Morgan in which I captured six hours of footage. Mercedes’ interview followed where we gathered five and a half hours of material. There was a lot to talk about and a lot I could relate to as well. I didn’t need to be a pro-rocker to understand their story or struggles; I “got it” which hopefully meant, the audience will “get it” too when they watch the film. Other interviews ranged between one and two hours long regardless of the the role or connection to the band. Making the film long or giving something of length to the fans, wasn’t going to be an issue. We had lots of material. Too much! But most times, that’s a good problem to have as an editor.
After the initial week of shooting, I began to catalogue all the footage by making notes of each topic discussed, and roughly sorting the material from all the interviews into timelines by common subject. All the usable material talking about their first album went into one bin, second album into another and so on. Two more sessions of shooting followed in the coming months but by July 2015, we had a working cut that was two and a half hours long after trimming a looser cut that was four hours long! What? There was a four hour cut that had everything we talked about in a loose, seemingly intelligible way. But that cut also included a lot of repetition. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have every band member tell me that they recorded their first album, “Spit,” over nine days. It’s repetitive. So, you use the best take and have back ups if you need to include more content from other participants or if you need to vary how the story plays out. Morgan might have the best takes when talking about everything on “Spit,” for example, but it can’t just be her perspective, everyone has to chime in; that’s where those common sound bytes come into play. So was it really a four hour cut? Sorta, but it trimmed down to two and a half hours after I eliminated most of the repetition.
Knowing 90 minutes was a length for the film we didn’t want to even aim for, having something almost twice that length felt good. It was freeing to discard to the conventions of market demand and make something that we wanted for our own reasons and within our own restrictions but was it “good” and was it “for the fans?”