Doug Hamilton makes his feature documentary debut with his latest project Broadway Idiot: which follows Billie Joe Armstrong as he brings hits Green Day album American Idiot to the stage.
We caught up with Hamilton to chat about the film, how he first got involved in the project and what lies ahead.
- Broadway Idiot is the new film so can you tell me a bit about it?
Broadway Idiot follows Billy Joe Armstrong, one of the biggest singers in the world with Green Day, as he experiences turning his album American Idiot into a Broadway show.
The show has gone on to be hugely successful: and that has surprised no one more than Billy Joe Armstrong himself.
- You are in the director's chair for the film, so where did the project start for you? And what ignited your interest?
I had worked in theatre for about ten years as a stills photographer and documenting the process. I was in the room - that is what they call it - where theatre is created, and it is a really interesting place.
So when I heard about Green Day coming into that room, I thought 'that could be a really interesting one to film' just because it is so unexpected. I work as a documentary filmmaker a lot, and so I decided to put down my still camera and do what I normally do and make a film out of it.
- I was reading that you are a big theatre fan so what was it like for you really getting in there and seeing a show develop right from the beginning?
I am really interested in the process of creation and the creative process: how ideas are developed into something that you see and hear. That can be with a nuclear physicist, a painter, a choreographer or a theatre director.
I think that the creation of ideas is one of the great human achievements, and to understand that process better is important. I think it is important because there are a lot of young people who don't know how to do it: they love movies but they don't know the first thing about making movies.
When you see the finished product, it is often intimidating because it is so perfect, and so I think it is helpful to see how it becomes that. I think that is something can relate to.
- To take an album and to put it on the stage is quite an interesting concept. So why do you think it has worked and been so successful?
It works because it is a great album, and it is such amazing music. The album also told a story: this was an unusual album in the fact that it was a narrative album and a concept album. These songs all related to each other.
It was brilliance of Michael Mayer, who was the director and co-creator, who heard this album while he was driving back and forth to a movie set for a month. He just realised that there is a great theatre piece to put up there.
It was incredibly visual, colourful and the music is fantastic as well as having enormously talented actors - Billie Joe said that they could since better than he could.
And it was thrilling for Billie Joe to hear his music coming back to him in this totally different and unexpected way. Some people might find that uncomfortable, but he found it thrilling.
- How big a Green Day fan did you become in that time?
I am in that mosh pit right now, body surfing. I am a huge fan. I love the sound of the music, but I was also impressed with the content as you read the lyrics of American Idiot like poetry. It is an incredible portrait of post 9/11 America.
You see in the film that he is not good at small talk, and he is not good at just chatting.
He just speaks from the heart with such originality, insight and intelligence that it is fascinating: I think that is why he is such a brilliant lyricist as he just sees and says things in a way that no one else does.
- How keen were the cast to you making this film? Were they quite open to you being there during the rehearsal period?
At first, they didn't want me there (laughs). I was in the theatre room when they first came in, and I think they weren't sure what to make of me. They are certainly being around cameras: however, they are used to performing for cameras, and so I need to get beyond that.
So it took a long time, and I had to spend a long time with them and with Billie Joe. I would show him scenes from time to time so he could understand where I was headed.
I needed him to feel comfortable around this and understand that I wasn't looking for a performance from him. They were terrific to even let it happen, but beyond that they were supportive.
I had finished the film and mixed it ready to go to our big coming party at South By Southwest festival when I showed Billie this one scene that we had done, and I had found some footage of him as a fourteen-year-old singing at a nursing home.
It was very cute, and it was wonderful to see him before he came a star. However, he said 'I can do better for you'.
He went to his cousins and got some old family footage of him singing at a family reunion: it was just spectacular. I had to go back in and re-mix the film in order to include that new footage.
- You have led into my next question. Billie Joe Armstrong does feature very heavily in this film, so how did you find your time with him?
Billie is fascinating to watch. The camera loves him and there is something endlessly interesting about him. He is just a fascinating character, and I just found that intriguing.
I was appreciative that he let us in without walls: we were in there at their recording studio watching them create their music. He is amazing. He asked the company to come with him to the Grammy Awards: so we got to go along and film them at the Grammy Awards.
- How have you been finding the response to the film so far?
People have responded really really well. I did not make this for Green Day fans, and I wanted this film to open up Green Day to a much larger audience.
I wasn't sure what their reaction would be. We had our first screening at the South by Southwest Film Festival; 1,200 people came, and many of them were hard-core Green Day fans.
I was really nervous and didn't know how it would go. I was relieved right away because they started laughing everything: even at things that I didn't know people would laugh at.
They were just so perceptive and completely engaged in the story. I think that is why Billie did it; he wanted his fans to understand how important this was for him and what it was like.
- How excited are you to be at London Film Festival?
I am very excited to be at the London Film Festival because it is such an extraordinary festival, I am honoured to be a part of it.
To be around all of these other wonderful filmmakers is really rewarding. To think that my film is going to be playing in Leicester Square is very exciting.
- How have you found the transition into feature length documentaries?
The transition felt really liberating. I had worked in television documentary, where you have some very strict boundaries that you have to follow: it has to be fifty three minutes and twenty three seconds.
To work without those limitations was exciting. It was fun for us to say 'we don't know what this film is going to be and we the material will tell us what is should be' - that was very satisfying.
- Finally, what is next for you?
I am in the midst of doing a big production for public television for next year: next year is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and so I am doing a film for that. I am going from Green Day to D-Day.
Tagged in BFI London Film Festival