Director Christopher Duddy took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with The Knockturnal about his upcoming documentary, It’s So Easy and Other Lies, set to be released on June 3, 2016.
The documentary will no doubt appeal to Guns N’ Roses fans, as it chronicles the life of bassist, Duff McKagan, revealing his struggles with drugs and alcohol and how he found meaning and direction in his life. We spoke with Duddy about his vision for the documentary and how Guns N’ Roses played a part in McKagan’s life, not the other way around.
So first thing’s first, how’d you come to doing this project, how’d this come about?
Duddy: It came about, well Duff and I were friends first, we actually met walking our kids to school and we became friends and we loved sports and we’d watch football games together and stuff and then he, and then he wrote his book and he asked me to read it and of course I read it and I was really just kind of blown away by the book. I knew his story like most people do from Guns N’ Roses forward. I didn’t know his history, his backstory, where he really came from and that kind of stuff and it really was interesting to me and I just thought his story was so inspirational and moving that after I read his book, I approached him about making a documentary. I just thought his story would be a great documentary, and initially he was hesitant; he said no, you know, half a dozen times, but I was just persistent because I thought his story was one that needed to be told onscreen.
You know, as a filmmaker, these kinds of stories are like finding a little piece of gold, so finally when the book came out, it was a New York bestseller on paperback, so he finally called me one day and said “hey my book’s coming out on paperback and I’m doing this book press,” he goes, “why don’t you start coming with me with your camera and shooting stuff and maybe we’ll do a documentary?” So of course I start going with him and he was doing like great shows and book signings and stuff and sort of the defining moment of the project was when Guns N’ Roses was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he asked me to go with him to Cleveland to shoot stuff and of course I was like really excited to go do that so he said, “come a day early because the day before I’m gonna do a book reading show at the House of Blues in Cleveland.” I was like, “a book reading show what’s that?” And he said “it’s just this thing I’m testing out on audiences so come check it out, bring your camera,” and I went and I really was blown away by this show.
So when I saw him do this book reading show, I mean it was a much smaller version in Cleveland than it was in the movie, it really moved me the way the audience reacted to this book reading show and we had talked a lot about, you know, making this documentary different and unique and how can we do it and how can we make it stand out and do something a little bit out of the box as far as documentaries go. So when we got back to LA after that weekend, I approached him with doing (using) that book reading show as a catalyst or a device to drive the storytelling of the movie in a really unique way, and of course Duff really loved that idea and so we put together that show that’s in the movie. I wanted to make it a bigger more grandiose show than he did in Cleveland and he hired a string quartet, more pieces to the band, and we shot at this beautiful old theater in Seattle where Duff grew up and just really turned it into something really unique and unorthodox as far as documentaries go, I think, and you know that’s really something we strived to do, we really wanted to make this something kind of different, so that’s how I came about the project.
Would you consider yourself to be a big fan of rock music? Prior to reading the book, were you a big Guns N’ Roses fan?
Duddy: Yeah, I mean, you know I’m a couple of years older than Duff. I grew up with that, I was a huge Zeppelin fan and classic rock, that’s what I grew up with, and Guns N’ Roses was a big part of my youth at that time. When I met Duff, I knew who he was, but what I didn’t know about Duff was just getting to know him and being friends first, and we were parents, we walked the kids to school, he’s just one of those guys who’s like really down to earth, you know, real relatable, and just a really nice person, but, yeah, I wasn’t like a Guns N’ Roses fanatic, I mean I loved Appetite for Destruction and I actually really liked their other album, Lies, but you really strive to not make this movie all about Guns N’ Roses. A lot of people at the beginning stages really wanted this to be more about Guns N’ Roses, but Duff and I really wanted it to be his story about his journey, and of course Guns N’ Roses is a big part of that, that was a big part of his life, it is why he is what he is today because of that whole journey, but you know, we wanted it to be a story, an inspirational story, so people could be uplifted by it and see a way out if they are in a dark place, there’s always a way out and I think it leaves a good message to them.
So were you able to conduct all the interviews that you wanted?
Duddy: No. I was telling an interviewer earlier that when we first started putting this movie together, you put together a list of all the people you want to interview, and of course there was a lot of people that I would love to have interviewed, but you know either it didn’t work for the story part or it didn’t work schedule-wise or people weren’t available, mostly it didn’t work for that part of the story. We weren’t just gonna try to get rock stars in it just because they know Duff. If they didn’t have any pertinence to the story or any relevance, we weren’t just gonna go after them, you know. There’s quite a few interviews that actually didn’t make the movie just because they didn’t sit, and initially you go “oh I’m gonna interview this guy,” and then it didn’t work. So interviews didn’t make the movie and other interviews did for whatever reason.
So with this documentary what was kind of different is that usually with musical journeys people tell the story backwards and they go through different flashbacks. In this particular case, you started from the beginning, so was that always the idea: to start his story from the beginning chronologically? Or did you decide later that it would be better to use this technique versus kind of using the typical route?
Duddy: That’s a good question. That was a topic that we talked about in the beginning because his book, I don’t know if you read his book, but his book is a little more nonlinear than the documentary. I mean he starts the book out with his daughter’s 13th birthday party and then he goes back, but I just felt like this story, the way for on the screen, it just felt better to be linear with it and to go from the beginning to the end so you could really see a clear path and you could really see what he went through along the way because sometimes nonlinear forms get confusing and I just wanted to be real clear about what this movie was about, what the messages were and are for the movie. We did toy around with doing that and we kind of did a little bit with the opening animation sequence and it opened with the day he almost died and OD’d, well not OD’d, but he had the pancreatitis thing and then it starts from the beginning, so in a way we did do that, but no, the rest of the movie was linear.
How much creative liberty did Duff have?
Duddy: He, I mean he he had a lot and my big thing with this movie was that, you know, when you’re making a documentary about somebody else or about somebody, you know, you have to be very sensitive about their story because, you know, you’re basically interpreting somebody’s personal life, so I wanted him to be involved as much as he wanted to be, probably I wanted him to be involved more than he wanted to. I remember the first time I took him to editing to watch the first rough cut of the movie and I said to him, “I want you to be happy, most of all because if you’re happy then I’ve done my job,” so he was involved, he was really into it like what they wore in the book reading show and all the music in the book reading show was chosen by him, so he’s a very creative guy. I wanted him involved.
Can you explain your multimedia approach that you used? You used interviews, sound clips, primary sources (as in pictures and stuff). What was that all about?
Duddy: You know, with documentaries you sort of have to create a life to use all kinds of formats, so we wanted to do something with this movie, we really wanted it to stand out. It was such a great story. We didn’t want it to just be talking, not that it was a boring story, just saying that on screen it can be a little boring, so we wanted to keep the pace up, and keep it exciting, and keep the movie moving and the book reading thing was a great device for different parts of the story because, of course, for different parts of the story we had interviews. We got really lucky with the archive footage. All the early Guns N’ Roses footage was from this one guy, this guy, Marc Canter, who was Slash’s best friend growing up. When Guns N’ Roses first got together, they basically handed him a camcorder and said, “hey you’re our photographer,” so he shot like their first 50 shows in LA, and he basically gave me all that footage, and he said, “it’s been sitting in my garage for 25 years now,” so we got really lucky with that. We got all the exclusive rights to all that footage or as much as we wanted to or could use, which most of it had never been seen before until this movie, so that was exciting too, to use that kind of exclusive footage.
You mentioned that documentaries sometimes can falter to the idea of being a little boring because history in itself can sometimes be deemed boring, but your documentary is really a compelling journey of Duff’s evolution and how Guns N’ Roses was a part of everything so what’s your approach when you’re directing? Do you think about how things can be perceived or just go based off of your own instincts?
Duddy: No, you definitely think prior to how things are going to be perceived. With Duff’s involvement, he was really concerned and wanted to protect the integrity of what he was doing and what he had been doing with his music, and we didn’t want to make it a self-indulgent piece or a fluff piece about himself. We really wanted to make it more about, and again in those book reading shows, more about the music and that’s why we could’ve easily made this about Guns N’ Roses, but there’s a lot more to Duff’s life than that. There’s that one clip in the movie where they put up all the names of his bands over like one of his interviews and Duff’s been in like 50 bands. This is more of a Guns N’ Roses reunion thing which is happening now and I’ve never seen anybody as busy as that guy like he would constantly go on tour and we’d have to stop for a month. He’d go on a tour and come back and he was in like three different all-star bands so it’s more about the music for him. So that’s why at the beginning of the movie it was kind of a history of punk in Seattle, so that whole beginning part of the movie, I didn’t know any of that stuff until we started making the movie. That all started to reveal itself the more I was up in Seattle and talking to people and interviewing people and we’d hear Duff’s stories about the early days before. He was in bands, he was like 15 years old, playing live shows, you know.
Is there anything you wish you could have added to the documentary that you kind of weren’t able to do?
Duddy: I mean, not really. I think because we have the book to base the documentary on, we really had a good template and utilizing this book reading show, we had a really good (template). A lot of documentaries that I’ve been involved in, you don’t really have a script, you have an outline, you have kind of an idea of what the story is, but you know documentaries tend to find themselves while you’re making it, and the good thing for me as a filmmaker is that we kind of knew what chapters to cover beforehand, so there wasn’t a lot of shooting of interviews that didn’t make the movie, so there wasn’t a lot of disappointment on my end as far as that. Did I learn a lot making a music documentary? Of course, there’s always a learning curve. If you don’t learn along the way as a filmmaker, then you’re close-minded, you know, you gotta keep an open mind. Growing and learning as a filmmaker, it’s always a learning curve, always.
The film will be screened in 50 cities beginning May 26, prior to its LA theatrical release on June 3.
|May 26||ArcLight Hollywood||Los Angeles||CA|
|May 26||Reading Valley Plaza||Bakersfield||CA|
|May 26||Landmark Shattuck||Berkeley||CA|
|May 26||Reading Rohnert Park||Rohnert Park||CA|
|May 26||Angelika Carmel Mountain||San Diego||CA|
|May 26||Landmark Embarcadero||San Francisco||CA|
|May 26||Landmark Chez||Denver||CO|
|May 26||Landmark Atlantic Plumbing||Washington||DC|
|May 26||Landmark Midtown||Atlanta||GA|
|May 26||Consolidated Ward||Honolulu||HI|
|May 26||Landmark Century||Chicago||IL|
|May 26||Landmark Keystone||Indianapolis||IN|
|May 26||Landmark Kendall Square||Boston||MA|
|May 26||Landmark Harbor East||Baltimore||MD|
|May 26||Landmark Main Art||Detroit||MI|
|May 26||Landmark Tivoli||St. Louis||MO|
|May 26||Reading Manville||Manville||NJ|
|May 26||Landmark Sunshine||New York||NY|
|May 26||Landmark Ritz East||Philadelphia||PA|
|May 26||Landmark Magnolia||Dallas||TX|
|May 26||Landmark River Oaks||Houston||TX|
|May 26||Angelika Mosaic||Fairfax||VA|
|May 26||Landmark Guild||Seattle||WA|
|May 30 & June 6||UltraStar Mission Valley||San Diego||CA|
|May 31||Hollywood Theatre||Portland||OR|
|June 1||Showcase Cinemas Bridgeport||Bridgeport||CT|
|June 1||Showcase Cinema de Lux Lowell||Lowell||MA|
|June 1||Showcase Cinema de Lux Revere||Revere||MA|
|June 1||Arts Quest||Bethlehem||PA|
|June 1||Island 16: Cinema de Lux||Holtsville||NY|
|June 1||Springdale 18: Cinema de Lux||Springdale||OH|
|June 1||Marcus Addison Cinema||Addison||IL|
|June 1||Marcus Bay Park Cinema||Ashwaubenon||WI|
|June 1||Marcus Point Cinema||Madison||WI|
|June 1||Marcus Lincoln Grand||Lincoln||NE|
|June 1||Marcus Duluth Cinema||Duluth||MN|
|June 1||Marucs Elgin Cinema||Elgin||IL|
|June 1||Marcus Gurnee Mills||Gurnee||IL|
|June 1||Marcus Oakdale Cinema||Oakdale||MN|
|June 1||Marcus West Acres Cinema||Fargo||ND|
|June 1||Marcus Twin Creek Cinema||Bellevue||NE|
|June 1||Marcus Crosswoods Cinema||Columbus||OH|
|June 1||Marcus Ridge Cinema||New Belin||WI|
|June 1||Marcus Valley Grand||Appleton||WI|
|June 1||Providence Place Cinemas 16||Providence||RI|
|June 2||Alamo Drafthouse Cinema||Winchester||VA|
|June 3-9||Arena Cinema||Hollywood||CA|
|June 16||Capitol Theatre||Cleveland||OH|
|June 16||Southside Work||Pittsburgh||PA|
|June 24-25||Pickford Film Center||Bellingham||WA|