Staff Picks: FilmBuff Rock Documentary Collection

4 acclaimed music docs. 4 ways to support artists directly.

In this edition of Staff Picks: a series of sonic journeys, curated by the cinephiles at FilmBuff. The FilmBuff rock documentary collection includes four acclaimed films that put a lens on contemporary music: from punk to broadway, from the American South to surf breaks around the world. Grab the Bundle for $15 to unlock the 4-documentary edition: including Broadway Idiot, Fading West, The Big Easy Express, and The Secret to a Happy Ending.

Broadway Idiot (2013)
From punk rock to the Great White Way, go behind the scenes with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and watch the transformation of American Idiot from GRAMMY Award-winning album to hit Broadway musical.

Fading West (2013)
Part rock documentary, part surf film, and part travelogue, Fading West follows GRAMMY Award-winning alt rock band Switchfoot as they travel the globe in search of new musical inspiration and perfect waves.

The Big Easy Express (2013)
This 2013 GRAMMY Award-winning film documents a cinematic musical journey with indie folk heroes Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Tennessee’s Old Crow Medicine Show, and Britain’s acclaimed Mumford & Sons as they climb aboard a vintage train to tour America.

The Secret to a Happy Ending (2009)
The Secret to a Happy Ending follows Drive-By Truckers, their congregation of fans, and the redemptive power of rock and roll. Filmmaker Barr Weissman combines tour footage, studio film, and legendary live performances to explore music in the changing American South: its tangled past and strange beauty.

We talked with Doug Hamilton, director of 2013’s Broadway Idiot, about capturing the creative process, from sold-out arenas to the Broadway stage.

The sitzprobe is the first time the cast and band come togeher

BitTorrent: What attracted you to this story?

Doug Hamilton: I came at it through the lens of Broadway. I’d worked as a photographer in the theater world. I love being inside the creative process; the mechanics of bringing a script to stage. When I heard about this project, I thought it would be a good way to show that process. Not just for theater insiders. Green Day attracted a different audience. It was mass appeal; a broad world of people who’d maybe never make it to Broadway.

The goal was really to bring people inside this creative process. That’s what I’m drawn to as a filmmaker. Here was a story of a world famous artisting trying something new – and going “behind the curtain” (if you will) into the world of theater. That’s the point of film. It brings you to places you don’t know, haven’t been to before. In this case, it brings you inside the world of a band, doing something odd and brave.

I think art and the creative process is the best of humanity – and so documenting it is an incredible privilege as a filmmaker, and, I think, really important. When you go to a film, when you listen to a song, when you look at a painting: it doesn’t necessarily reveal all the work that went in to it. It just works, and you don’t know why. Films about the art and the creative process help us not only understand the art and the artist better – but they can help us understand how art is made. And hopefully encourage other artists.

BitTorrent: Punk and Broadway are musical objects that seem at odds. Did you expect conflict?

Doug Hamilton: The process was really the starting point. How would rock and theater resolve themselves back stage? I expected conflict, creative differences. But the remarkable thing about the process was that there were very few differences. The relationship between Billy Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer was incredible. They were able to work together in a way that surprised everyone involved.

A lot of that was due to Armstrong’s generosity of spirit. He was this artist who was trying to do something different, something odd, something where everything could go wrong. He had the most to lose. And he let his baby (the album American Idiot) be re-conceived and re-shaped by someone else.

The set goes up...

BitTorrent: Do you see the world of music changing? Where it’s okay to be hyphenate, theater and punk, underground and mainstream?

Doug Hamilton: Broadway in its heyday was about celebrating popular music. It’s become a bit more buttonholed, or associated with a certain genres. But why shouldn’t it encompass diversity of song – and of story? Directors like Michael Mayer, and his producing partners Tom Hulce and Ira Pittelman really have done extraordinary things to move Broadway into a new era where different kinds of music are acceptable. Mayer/Hulce/Pittleman’s Spring Awakening was really one of the first waves of that movement: the first musical to organically use and embrace rock; to compose it for theater. American Idiot was also ahead of the curve in this space. It helped pave the way for productions grounded in contemporary music culture.

BitTorrent: What were some of the best moments on set?

Doug Hamilton: What I hope comes across is that being part of a company, making a piece of theater, making music, making art — is a really seductive thing. You have young, beautiful, and talented people living together, working as a team, investing in the creation of a new thing. It leads to incredible moments of fun, of joy, of artistic discovery. You can see that in this film: when Armstrong watches what the cast is doing, and he’s blown away. At the beginning of the film (and the process) he’s a bit skeptical. But overtime you see him get drawn in.

BitTorrent: What were some of the challenges that came with filming?

Doug Hamilton: The challenge with filmmaking is always: what is your story? For this project, it started out as a story about conflict; the idea of punk versus theater. But it became a more universal story about an artist and his pursuit. As a director, you have to recognize what is happening, and you have to respond. You’re doing a million things, which you need to reconcile and shift as the story evolves.

I also had to get the artists to trust me. They’re celebrities. They’re guarded. They’re protective of the creative process that we’re trying to document. They were skeptical at first. And then the saw, bit by bit, that we could be trusted to tell an honest story. And so they began to open up.

BitTorrent: What do you see as the role of documentary film?

Doug Hamilton: Often what success looks like in documentary film is a project that that explores the deep, dark part of the human experience. But life is more complicated than that. And documentary is about recognizing and capturing all aspects of the human experience. Everything is fair game.

It’s about putting a lens on life, which can be beautiful, and vast, and complex. Our failures, and our successes. It’s also about telling a story. And there’s nothing wrong with having a good time when you watch a doc.

Kitt, Armstong and Mayer discuss acoustics

BitTorrent: What got you started down this path?

Doug Hamilton: I was always more interested in longer-form stuff: the craft of storytelling. My background is journalism: CBS, 60 Minutes, Frontline. I started out in public affairs reporting, which is often about exploring man’s failures… over time I’ve become more interested in looking at man’s successes. The thing is, there isn’t a good place in broadcast television for arts programing. The only way to tell a story like Broadway Idiot was to do so as an independent film.

BitTorrent: How do you hope to see filmmaking change? What’s your goal for this Bundle project?

Doug Hamilton: It’s about shifting the revenue back to the filmmaker. It used to be there were very few options for filmmakers. I mean, not that long ago, there were just three networks. Now we have a lot of ways to get work out there. The thing is, most of those paths are controlled by companies that ask for hefty fees. Fortunately, the technical cost of production is coming down.

Anything that can help get more options to the filmmaker, and help them realize as much renumeration from their project is going to lead to better content. This isn’t just good for the filmmakers. It’s good for everybody who wants to watch good films.

One of the hardest things for films out there is finding an audience. Of course, there are people out there who are specifically into a particular movie or a topic – and they can find a lot of interesting stuff. But one of the hardest things about searching online is you tend to find only what you’re looking for. You used to be able to do research by flipping through pages in a book. You’d bump into things that would inspire other thoughts, other directions; that pushed your thinking. This became part of the process of creativity. Now, it’s much more linear.

I’m hoping that these Bundles help fans who are interested in music, or specific bands, find new films and stories. Maybe a person who is interested in classical music will find a story about a punk rock artist who gives his best on Broadway, for instance.

The cast perform '21Guns' with Green Day at the Grammies

About BitTorrent Bundle

BitTorrent Bundle is a publishing project made with and for the world’s creative community. Our mission is to help artists connect directly with fans, inside the content they share.

Each BitTorrent Bundle allows artists to distribute content directly to the Internet. And each Bundle comes with a key. Fans can unlock artist content with an email address, or a direct payment to the artist. The idea is to make each song a storefront, and each file more valuable, every time it’s shared. Got ideas for the next BitTorrent Bundle? Hit us up.

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