I think most people are fans of something, but might not label themselves a “fan.” You may consider yourself a collector, a researcher, or some other tag that speaks to the amount of knowledge and passion you have for a certain subject too, but I think one could argue all those are ways of speaking about your fanatic love for something. Between sports, music, movies, comics, software, phone manufacturers, automobiles, and so on, there’s no shortage of “things” that lend themselves to fandom, and often we find ourselves devoted to a particular brand. So given you might be a fan, let’s say you had the chance to be on the other side of the fence, how would you reward fans? What do fans like? What could a heavy metal band, specifically, give fans that other people might not appreciate, or at least “get” the way that fans get it. And I draw the distinction to mark a very obvious gap between those that are fans and those that are not; that’s a chasm of difference in most cases. Fans “just know” by proximity, dedication, observation, and passion, “things” that the casual observer would never get on first pass; or the actions which a band might take, say, or do will resonate more with fans because of a thoroughly understood knowledge. An enigmatic song title reference within an interview or something said on stage between songs would only resonate with fans, or at least resonate on a level that only fans might understand. So back to the base question, “what does a heavy metal band give to it’s fans as a thank you, say, in the form of a documentary?” I think the most obvious answer is access and transparency.
Doing research for this documentary, one of the first films I watched, and subsequently re-watched several times was “Back and Forth,” directed by James Moll, which chronicles the fifteen year history of the Foo Fighters. I’d say I’m an above average fan of the Foo Fighters, mainly because so many of my friends are die-hard fans. By association and proximity, I learned a lot, saw a lot of footage, and know about some of the more intricate details of the band, it’s members, and history. That said, I felt extremely disappointed by “Back and Forth.” I felt like I didn’t learn anything new, saw very little new footage that peeled back the curtain, and overall felt like there were a lot of key points in the band’s history that were under-discussed, or presented from limited perspectives that swept the potentially interesting aspects under the rug. I remember discussing the film with friends afterward and mentioning that our parents would’ve known almost everything that was in the documentary just by being in the same house as us,. It’s not like the filmmakers didn’t have access to the band members, but maybe there was pressure to present things in a certain way. It was clear that “Back and Forth” was intended to be for the super casual fan or those that had never heard of them except the odd song on the radio – which is fine. If that was the goal, they flawlessly achieved it and there could be a thousand reasons why they couldn’t release an expanded version. If it was never intended to be longer by design, it’s hard to invent that version too. Again, not hating on the film, just left me, as an above average fan, disappointed, yet something I’ve probably watched a dozen times which also speaks to the level of filmmaking within the film. Given my reaction to that film, and really a few other films I could mention, what would I want to see in the Kittie documentary if I was a “true fan?”
With twenty years of footage shot by Kittie, and friends of the band, I had unparalleled access to moments and events that were both familiar and rare to see in any documentary. Immediately, I start flagging anything where the band has their guard down and isn’t “playing to camera.” Let’s call it “character” moments. Next, I flag anything that covers “process” which includes a lot of recording sessions and prepping for a show, tours, or making music videos. And lastly, I pull footage that shows the eras of both the band and the music industry. I actually love how when you watch the film you can see the members of Kittie mature through the years and “grow up” before your eyes. It’s really great and adds a layer of value and importance to all their archived material. Okay, I’ve got some great footage ear-marked but now what? How do I make this for the fans?
The first cut is two and a half hours long and it includes some of this rare content. Then I start to “fine cut” the film. Fine cutting usually means hacking away any pieces that still feel extraneous, or slow down the progress and pace of the story. Again, there’s some meandering comments that get cut, tangents get trimmed or eliminated, and so on, and that includes some of this archival footage. After the first fine cut, the film sits at about an hour and fifty minutes. Can a fan cut be that short? Have I made the fan cut, “fan enough?” I walked away for a few weeks to get perspective, during which time I returned to Canada to shoot with Siegfried Meier, who produced the band’s most recent albums, “In the Black,” and “I’ve Failed You.” Adding Siegfried’s interview to the film had two immediate effects: First, it lengthened the run-time, which is pretty obvious, but second, I was also able to use his role as a producer and place within the band to lengthen the archived recording segments that were included – and that’s something that was hard to do with other producer’s we interviewed. Siegfried has a very involved role when he produces, from the footage I’ve seen, so it’s a bit more natural to show more of that involvement rather than restricting those studio clips to familiar riffs or disassembled melodies. His comments and position allowed me a creative license to include more. Could clips be cut down to something more traditional? Sure, but it became more revealing and more transparent to spend those moments in the control room, or in the tracking room as the band sorted out how to arrange three-part harmonies, or how they laid down bed tracks that in turn, informed guitar leads and bass tracks. You get the feeling like you’re an observer in the room specifically because the length of the clips keep you grounded in one spot. Parts of the film started to feel like it was for fans. For example, I’m guessing only a fan would wanna watch a 3 minute uncut, single camera shot of guitar tracking for a song released on the Japanese-version of “In the Black.” It’s authentic, rare, unique and flawlessly RAW. Wait, “raw?” You were thinking that this is going to be a smooth ride that’s slick, polished and professional? Let’s talk about that next.
One of the things that a lot of people adore when it comes to Kittie, who they are, and the music they create, is the rawness and blunt honesty that they use to execute anything; so it was important to communicate that same approach when sharing their story because it’s another element that shows truth and transparency. That’s not to say you’ll have a jarring experience when watching the documentary or feel “Saving Private Ryan” sick from concert footage. Instead, you’ll know immediately that I’m not trying to hide anything, and always showing all the cards dealt my way, scars and all – would you really want something that’s neat and tidy, anyway? The archived footage is rough. Correction: really rough most of the time, but Kittie’s a rock band, not a group of cinematographers. Again, “authentic is gooder” and once you string enough examples of this material together and lace the entire cut with it, it becomes more of a style that informs the tone of the film as well as reinforcing a lot of what’s communicated in the present day interviews. So, you get this constant hand off between members and other significant folks sharing this story and see examples of the moments captured when they occurred, be it in 1999 or 2013. But it’s not a one-way hand off either. it’s not always the interview prompting a cut to archived footage. We also get a lot of archived footage, sometimes ten minutes straight that then gets supported by interviews. There’s also a third layer of material that I insisted we shoot for even more depth: on the fly footage.
Love it or hate it, the tropes of reality TV are part of our viewing lexicon. We know that addressing the camera in a confined space is like a private aside to the viewer. We know that, no matter how scripted something might be, cameras one step behind the action, racing to capture some dramatic moment feel more real because it’s like when we hear a sound and race to discover what has transpired. There’s a bit of authenticity in that style of shooting and I chose to shoot some “on the fly” footage with Kittie. Nothing planned, no questions submitted ahead of time, just a general length of time I wanted to shoot and a location. Specifically, I shot with both Morgan and Mercedes at their houses and just started asking them questions; it’s very exploratory stuff. Morgan shows me around her living room, a few VHS movies, her video game collection, and her guitars while Mercedes shows me suitcases full of band related flyers, pictures, letters and more. I never expected to see any of that or have any of that in the film when I came on board, but it’s the kind of thing that elevates the film because it testifies to the character of Mercedes and Morgan. You can tell there’s no act, and they have no idea what I’m going to ask or film next. Couple that with the inherent feeling that most people have to keep talking when cameras are on, you can see who these people are aside from any rock n’ roll resume. This is when I think they’re the most human, and if they’re human, we can relate to them and it’s universal. It’s a pretty rare treat for a fan too, because fans usually get access to their fav bands by way of rock magazines, youtube videos, or some more polished, strategic presentation. So, ultimately this stuff not only makes the film and the subjects more accessible, it makes it more worthy of inclusion for the sake of the fans. I write all of this without really mentioning one key thing, that also weighs on me when making this film: Kittie has always been about rewarding their fans, interacting with them, and treating them with respect regardless of circumstance.
In July 2015, aside from a few more interviews with other band members, the film was loosely written and structured. I knew the order of events, the asides, and included the significant and interesting deviations from the main trajectory. Of course the ending was up in the air, but I’ll get to that later. With everything mapped out, the question remained, “Was this fan enough?” So, I did the one thing that every filmmaker fears the most: I showed the clients! Since hiring me, Morgan and Mercedes had been pretty hands off, trusting my judgement and my sensibilities as a filmmaker. They never asked when a cut would be ready. We had very, very loose timelines and milestones in place mainly because interviews were shifting a bit due to schedule constraints; it’s not easy or cheap to constantly fly to Canada from Vegas, so we had to make the most of my trips back home. That said, they’ve been the easiest people to work with and as professional as any other producer I’ve worked with too. And believe me, their producing credit isn’t a token credit by any means. Anything that I’ve asked for in terms of help, they’ve came through. So I send them a cut of the film and become anxious that I may have botched their life story and the story of the band. Also, it’s still a work in progress, and some filmmakers don’t like sharing something half way done, so I broke “that rule” by sharing too but on the grounds that as musicians they would understand the creative process. Panic and concern riddle my brain as I send them the cut. It’s a long film, now that the run time is back over two hours so I don’t expect to hear anything that night or even until the weekend. Fifteen minutes after sending the cut, I hear from both Morgan and Mercedes in separate text messages. “It’s real. It’s a real documentary. This thing is finally real,” to paraphrase Morgan. You’ve gotta understand, I came in a year after they successfully crowdfunded the project. So for a year, they were trying to make it work with David Brodsky and organize all their material. That takes a lot of time and they’ve been thinking about this documentary for years, so to finally see something exist, is always a big deal. Mercedes echoed similar sentiments and we were able to chat about the entire cut in the coming weeks. While it was good the overall vibe was that I had glossed over a lot, and not included stories and moments that they really remember fondly that they thought the fans would like as well. It gave me pause to reconsider all the interviews I had shot and the archived footage that I hadn’t used. I spent the next month going back over everything. It wasn’t “fan enough” … yet.