Concert documentaries work because everyone gets the best seat in the house to see global headliners at affordable ticket prices wherever they live.
The key to success is pairing the right filmmaker with the right artist or group--and then finding the right timing to put the movie in the marketplace. That was the winning combination in domestic theaters for concert hits like Paramount's
($65.3 million in 2008).
Next up in the concert spotlight is the worldwide music phenomenon One Direction, whose five members star in Sony's
), opening nationwide Aug. 30. That's good timing that will put it in megaplexes when moviegoing expands for the summer's final holiday weekend, ending Sept. 2 on Labor Day.
Spurlock's documentary cameras provide an intimate all-access look at the blockbuster English-Irish pop boy band's life on the road, telling the story of the meteoric rise to fame for Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. The focus includes their humble hometown beginnings to competing on The X-Factor
--they finished third in the UK show's seventh series and then signed with TV producer/personality Simon Cowell's Syco Records--to conquering the world.
I had a chance to catch up with Spurlock recently to discuss the making of One Direction: This Is Us in 3D,
a film he he was excited about directing from the very first moment he learned he was up for consideration.
Q: How did this movie come about?
A few years earlier, I'd been called to come meet with the studio about the Justin Bieber film, but we were making Greatest Movie Ever Sold
at the time so I couldn't do that film. Then last year I got called again to see if I'd be interested in coming to meet about the Katy Perry movie. At that point, we were finishing and delivering both Comic-Con
so there was no way I could even think about adding another movie.
So when I got the call about this last June, I really just jumped at the chance. As a documentary filmmaker, opportunities like this are very few and far between. One, to work with a studio. Two, to have a budget larger than any film I've ever made. To have access to the type of equipment and technology. To make a movie in 3D. To tell the story of a band that is at this incredible massive explosion in their careers--one of the biggest bands in the world and they're continuing to like shoot through the stratosphere in a rocket.
You also have to understand that as a filmmaker, you want to make movies that people will see. The day this movie comes out, it's going to come out on more screens and in more countries around the world and be seen by more people than any movie I've ever made to date. It was a no-brainer.
Q: So you went in and talked to Sony?
I had to really hustle for it! It took a real kind of pitch process. There was a long courtship. They whittled it down to three directors, of which I was one, and then it was last August or September that I found out that I was going to get the job. We began pre-production and didn't start shooting until January 2013.
Q: How do you prepare to do a big film like this?
The biggest thing was figuring out what story we were going to tell. For me, the root of this story was about dreams and family. How do we tell the story with these boys--and get the access to do it?
We started breaking down our production schedule. When will we start shooting? We locked into the first time the boys went to Japan as being the start of our film, the following them through the launch of their new tour--the UK/European tour--and climaxing in Mexico. We knew that was going to be our time frame and our timeline. And then it was just getting access to them and their families to tell the bigger story beyond that.
Q: Had you known the guys in One Direction prior to that?
Not personally. I knew of them because about two years ago I was doing a TV series for Sky Atlantic in London called New Britannia
. I was basically shooting all over the UK when these boys were exploding. Everything they did was in the press. Every story about them was front page news. I was kind of witness to this phenomenon happening. So when the studio called and said, "Have you ever heard of this band One Direction?" I was like, "Of course I have. They're one of the biggest things out there." And they said, "Do you want to come meet with us about making a movie?" I was like, "Absolutely, yes, I do."
Q: When did you first meet the guys and how did that go?
The very first time I met them would have been June 2012. I flew down to Charlotte, North Carolina just to meet them and see a show. It was very cordial (and) nice. They knew I was one of the filmmakers up for the gig. I watched their show and as I was watching 20,000 girls just scream at the top of their lungs for two hours. I was like, "This is going to be a fun movie!"
Q: So you were seeing how you'd put all that together on film through a director's eyes.
Yeah. Even from that first minute when I saw the pandemonium that was happening around them in Charlotte. I was like, "There's something really special we're going to be able to do with this movie."
Q: Over the years, we've heard people talk about other groups--typically, The Beatles--and how the guys react to this constant screaming and fan attention. How does One Direction handle that? Are they oblivious to it by now?
I don't think it's one of the things you'll ever get used to. At some point you start to realize that it just becomes part of your life. I think it can still be overwhelming. I think it can still be exciting. I think it can still be scary at times, depending upon the situation. But they are at their core very grateful for the opportunity they've been given and they are so good to their fans. They're so open and giving to them, spending time with them, talking to them. I think that's one of the reasons why they continue to be so successful.
Q: This movie must be very important to them.
They made a concert movie that they filmed in the UK a couple years ago, but this is the first one that's really given access in a way that you haven't seen before. You're spending time with them. You're going home with them. You're meeting their families. It's intimate. My goal from the beginning was to try to create a really intimate portrait of each one of them. And in an hour-plus movie, that's a lot to try and take hold of. The film really delivers on that.
Q: Being a documentary concert film, was there a screenplay? Did you structure anything on paper?
I had an idea of the story I wanted to tell, but nothing where we sat down and wrote out (a screenplay). Whenever I start a movie I write an outline. And on every film, no matter what, the minute you start shooting all that stuff you wrote down, it doesn't happen, so you throw it out the window. But at least it gives you a kind of roadmap of where you want to be heading. And when things start going in different directions or don't happen the way you imagined, it enables you to make decisions that help you support a narrative in a way that is most beneficial to the movie.
Q: Tell me about shooting. In a typical fiction movie, you might begin shooting on day one with a scene that's at the end of the movie.
That's right. And it's the same thing with a doc. The thing we were shooting first was a scene in Tokyo with the boys arriving at the airport. That starts about minute 25 into movie. It's not something that happened very, very early on.
But when you're making a documentary,you want to make sure you're hitting big story points. It's the first time the boys have gone to Japan. They've never performed in or been to an Asian country. So this is a big moment--not only for them personally, but for the band and the fandom. We wanted to make sure we shot that.
From there we went back to the UK and started shooting them preparing for their tour. You're seeing the rehearsals. You're seeing the fittings. You're seeing the practice that goes into that. It's all about access. Bands like this tend to get thrown under the bus quite a bit. I think it shows how much work goes into being a band like One Direction.
Q: Were you shooting in 3D or did you convert to 3D?
The only thing that was shot in true native 3D was the actual concert itself. Everything else was 2D that was post-converted.
Q: In shooting, what were some of the biggest challenges?
Time. You're always fighting against the clock. This is the first time I'd ever been hired to do a film where the day that I started, I was given a release date. "We're so happy you're making the movie. Congratulations! Oh, by the way, the movie comes out August 30." And you're like, "Oh, wow, I've got quite a bit to do in the next nine or 10 months." So you're constantly fighting against time and you're working against these schedules. These guys are some of the busiest guys on the planet right now. You're trying to get access to these intimate stories, and that doesn't always fit in with the time frames.
There were days when shooting was difficult, but the boys were really committed and wanted to power through. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to open up your life to someone with a camera and a documentary film and I really commend the boys for doing that. There's a lot of trust that goes into making a movie like this and I think that over time I earned that trust.
Q: It's as if you were doing a reality TV show...
Yeah. We were spending days and weeks on end with them. I was really fortunate to have a great team of producers on this film. Ben Winston, who produced the movie with us, has known the boys for a very long time. As I came back to start overseeing the edit, he was able to go out and field produce and make sure we were getting great stuff. Having somebody like him on board was a real asset.
Q: With all that footage to go through, editing must have been a challenge.
There was a huge groundswell of material. The ratio of this movie was about 500 to 1. We shot almost a thousand hours of footage--doc footage and concert combined. So to go in and whittle that down to what essentially becomes a 90 minute movie is a tremendous undertaking.
Q: How long did you shoot?
About six months. Post-production also started in January (2013) and took about seven months.
Q: Looking ahead, will you ever be able to make a small documentary film again?
I hope I always can make documentaries. It's going to be hard going back to making small low budget documentaries after this. I hope I don't have to! [Laughs]
Q: The leap from doing this to doing other big studio films could certainly be there.
From your lips to God's ears. That would be an incredible (thing). When I was a kid, I always wanted to make movies. When I was 6 or 7-years-old sitting in a movie theater, I wasn't saying, "I can't wait to go make documentaries." I started making documentaries when I got out of college and fell in love with the medium and became incredibly passionate about it--the stories you can tell, the lives you can affect, the situations that you can actually get yourself into. But I've always wanted to make the leap into telling narrative stories and, hopefully, out of this will come something really spectacular.