Artist Interview: Independent filmmaker Mat de Koning
Mat de Koning is the director of the rockumentary, Meal Tickets. Over the course of ten years Mat filmed his friends' band, the Screwtop Detonators. The documentary is an affecting examination of the aspirations and struggles of the members of a rock band. He spoke to Follow Magazine about how he put the film together and where he's finding his audience.
A documentary like Meal Tickets relies on the ability to find the story amongst a mountain of footage. How did you go about finding that story?
Through the long process of culling through the footage, I found many poignant moments that felt right for the story, so I built a series of sub-edits for the various chapters of the film, and eventually had about a five hour loosely edited presentation that played out fairly chronologically. From there I started sculpting out the story and experimenting with the juxtaposition between The Screwtop Detonators and Will Stoker. A three-act story started to present itself, with the first act ‘USA OR BUST’ centered around the period where the Screwtop Detonators were managed by Dave Kavanagh and Will was their roadie. The second act ‘DIY or DIE’, looks at the six-year period where the Screwtop Detonators were self-managed and Will Ferrier created his alter ego Will Stoker. Both bands were slugging it out whilst the music industry was experiencing drastic changes with the collapse of many record labels and the rise of social media. The third act ‘A BAND APART’ looks at the life of both bands once The Screwtop Detonators had broken up and Will was re-evaluating his life after his debut album fell short of expectations. After receiving funding from Screenwest we worked with editor Dom Pearce for two drafts. I somewhat took off my director hat during this time and Dom, Brooke and I were all wearing editor hats which largely became filmmaking through democracy. This process got us closer to a more presentable film, but resulted in many compromises that I wasn’t prepared to live with. I took the film to Canada and re-cut it in my own time, consulting Brooke along the way. It was not an easy edit to say the least.
Did you get funding for post-production?
We received funding under an initiative Screenwest had developed called ‘discretionary funding’. It allows SW to contribute up to $50,000 to projects that don’t fall into their usual funding categories, but demonstrate market potential.
How did you pitch your concept to potential financiers? Did you make a trailer to communicate what you were doing or develop some other way of communicating the idea?
I went to Melbourne in 2012 and held a DIY screening in Collingwood. I presented three 30 minute segments from various stages of the story. Between each segment, we had DJs playing. It was pretty much your typical gig, but it was Meal Tickets content instead of bands.
During the DJs, I ran around vox-popping audience members, and had cameras set up in the room to capture the audience response to the film. I edited this footage together into a three-minute film that clearly demonstrated there was an audience out there for this kind of no holds barred style rockumentary.
I sent it to Ryan Hodgson at Screenwest which got us an invite into their office. After telling me what an audacious fucker I am for pulling this stunt, he went on to say that it definitely looks like my film had legs and can they see more. I think I’d won Ryan over with the strength of band manager Dave Kavanagh’s character alone. Ryan went in to bat for us with Screenwest and after Brooke nailed the paper work, we had $50,000 on the table. It took us at least six months of legal nightmares, but eventually we had the sign-off from all of the key characters and went straight into the recording studio to lay down songs for the soundtrack before one of the guys moved to the UK.
Once you finished the film did you develop a marketing strategy? Did that strategy pan out how you expected?
I didn’t really finish the film, Brooke entered a draft into MIFF (Melbourne Independent Film Festival). It was something like draft 22, or so. We had the good fortune of getting selected. During MIFF, we got hit up by a bunch of overseas festivals wanting to screen Meal Tickets, but after a meeting with Madman in Melbourne, I declined those grass roots festivals in the hopes of getting into Sundance or SWSW so that the likes of Madman would give us a distribution deal. That didn’t work out. It’s funny how similar that decision is to the many career-stumping decisions made by both bands throughout the years of shooting this film.
Fair to say we lost a lot of momentum from that decision, and I can’t help but feel like an attempted sell out. After MIFF, I should have jumped into the arms of any festival that ‘wanted the boy’ as the Ben Affleck/Matt Damon saying goes. So, with our upcoming screenings at Revelation Film Festival and Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July, we’re going to re-launch a new marketing strategy. Meal Tickets marketing 2.0.
Do you work independently of the festivals that you’re appearing in to find your own media coverage and build an audience via social media or do the film festivals generate coverage for you?
MIFF was great, straight off the plane I did interviews with JJJ, JJ, RRR, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. That was all set up by the MIFF publicity team and I was mad for it. Set up interviews with established media bodies and I’ll talk about this film till the cows come home, but get me to self-promote via social media and I turtle the fuck up. It’s just not my bag. Again, this was the same struggle that The Screwtop Detonators faced, none of them wanted to spend time self-promoting their band on social media.
If you do your own media campaign, what does that look like? How do you go about generating media interest?
In Australia media interest has been fairly easy for us, large because the film was shot over a ten-year time frame. That’s a hook that the media can grab hold of straight away. In the lead up to REV, we’re about to start pushing out micro clips from the many unused moments that didn’t make the cut. I refer to them as ‘Meal Tickets Tapas’. We’ll also have a new website out by the time this article is public and have made good use of the positive publicity we got from MIFF, plus harnessed some of the responses the film gained from Australian Rock 'n' Roll royalty like Suze DeMarchi from the Baby Animals and Australian pop culture guru Myf Warhurst. I dare say our social media platforms will look a lot more impressive once Revelation Film Festival takes place.
Do you have a distributor for the film?
No distributors, I took a few meetings with interested sales agents in the US when I was living in North America. They tell you things like ‘if you give us $6,000 to cover our overheads, we’ll sell your film to as many of our contacts as possible’. I didn’t feel like any of them entirely appreciated Meal Tickets and why it’s going to stand the test of time. They also weren’t fussed about pushing the film on the festival circuit, they just wanted to start selling it asap. None of them felt like the right fit and I didn’t have $6,000. So, as it stands we are without distribution, or a sales agent.
Once the film is finished on the festival circuit, where will it go from there?
VOD would be good. I look forward to it finding a steady home so that it can start generating a buzz and building an audience.
Over the course of making the film you must have looked at different ways of telling the story. What was it that made you finally settle on this parallel tale of The Screwtop Detonators and Will Stoker?
The underdog story of ‘Roadie quits tour and tells the band he wants what they have, starts his own band and reaches greater heights of success’ works well during pitching sessions, however I think it’s a much smaller story then what I believe Meal Tickets is about. In the traditional sense of the word, neither of these bands reach any form of real commercial success, but in searching for it, they experienced the highs and lows that make life a bitter sweet symphony worth living. One of my favorite lines in the film is after the Screwtop Detonators have broken up and Mitch sais ‘Some of the best times I ever had were playing in the band, and if you can say that, that’s successful’.
You picked up the camera and filmed your friends as they grew together and fell apart, are they all comfortable appearing in the documentary or have you encountered resistance from some of them?
I’ve encountered resistance from all of them for all different reasons, and all understandably. Charlie very bluntly stated his position on what he was and was not comfortable with in the early stages of editing, so when we premiered at MIFF, he gave the film his full blessings and support because he’d been involved in the decision-making process. The other three STD members seemed willing for me to include the material that made the final cut, but when MIFF happened, they jumped ship and decided not to support the film. Lee and I had a big D&M before the second screening at MIFF where he told me he felt like I’d sold them out for cheap laughs. That’s a fair comment, but it does get big laughs, and as I pointed out to Lee, if it wasn’t him up on screen, both he and I would be laughing as well. We share a very similar sense of humor in that sense. Forever fans of FUBAR! Lee ended up coming to the second screening and the banter between he and ex-band manager Dave Kavanagh got huge laughs and was one of the highlights of my MIFF experience.
After working with the footage for so long you must know it inside and out. Have you found that as audiences come to the story with fresh eyes they respond to things in the film that you didn’t anticipate?
Not really, I’ve just been happy that journalists and audiences are responding the way I hoped they would, noting it as a documentary with insights into friendship and the trials and tribulations people experience in their 20’s. ‘Spinal Tap meets Stand by Me’ has been my creed right throughout making this film. There’s a lot of small subliminal things in the film that may be picked up once people start watching it in their own homes. Or I might just be me overthinking things.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been working for a London based record label shooting a documentary about Hank Marvin’s new album ‘Without a Word’. So far, we’ve been releasing short clips on Facebook to build up anticipation for the album release in June, which will coincide with an online documentary I’m currently editing. It’s been super satisfying seeing how much Hank’s fans appreciate the content we’re creating. It’s also been great spending so much time with Hank. For a man that’s considered one of the most influential guitarists of all time, you couldn’t meet a humbler person, who at the same time has a great sense of humor. Many a laugh has been had during the long hours in his recording studio. I’ve also been spending a lot of time on my public spaces business Skate Sculpture. We’ve designed three parks in the last six months. Now Brooke and I are gearing up to commence work on our next feature documentary about the late artists Matt Doust.