Exclusive: The Directors of Rock the Bells INTERVIEW

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News Stories - WuTang

from: http://comingsoon.net/news/indietopnews.php?id=14266

Easily one of the best music-related documentaries at the 5th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, is Rock the Bells, which is more than just a concert film about the reunion of the Wu-Tang Clan at the 2004 Rock the Bells Festival in San Bernadino, California.

The festival was the brainchild of California entrepreneur Chang Weisberg of Guerilla Union, who had staged a number of hip hop concerts, but took on the daunting task of trying to reunite all ten members of the Wu-Tang Clan to headline his first all-day festival. Filmmakers Casey Suchan and Denis Henry Hennelly were there with camera crews to cover the event, but it was almost a concert film that was destined to fail from the beginning, because the popular hip-hop group was notorious for its members pulling no-shows. Ultimately, they edited together an amazing documentary thats far more entertaining, almost a primer on how NOT to stage a hip hop festival.

ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk with the two filmmakers earlier this week.

CS: How did this movie first come about, as far as when you first heard about this festival and wanted to make a movie about it?
Casey Suchan: Dennis and I worked with QD3 Entertainment, producing documentaries "Beef" and "Beef 2," "Thug Angel" and "The Freshest Kids," and we left to start our own company, and we were looking at what seemed like viable products in the straight-to-DVD marketplace . We were looking at concert videos in particular, although we wanted to do concert DVDs a little bit differently, not just straight-up performance. Dennis came to me one day, and he was like, "The Wu-Tang Clan is being reunited in San Bernadino, and dont we know this guy?" Chan Weisberg was putting it together, and we had a little bit of correspondence with him. He had been big down there, because he used to run Insider Magazine, and had run a few covers for "Beef," the movie on the history of MC battling. He was interested, we went there, and it kind of blew up from there.

CS: How did you first hear about this concert?
Denis Henry Hennelly: It was the wonders of the internet. I was searching through every concert that was going on in Southern California to find something that was interesting, and the line-up just seemed really great. It was so diverse, so we knew that no matter what, wed have something really interesting. We just went and met with Chang said, "We want to do this a little different than a regular concert DVD." Hes always thought that it would be great to have cameras around, because some of the things that have happened during shows theyve done with DMX and Cypress Hill, he always wished afterwards that there had been cameras there. He was really willing to let us shoot anything we needed to. He gave us absolute 100% access to everything, which was great.

CS: So it was Changs idea to film other things besides the actual concert?
Hennelly: No, no, we wanted to do something that was the whole experience of what its like to be at the show. What weve found is that whats really appealing to fans of any kind of music is what you dont get to see. Most concert films are like what you get to see if youre there anyway, except closer. We knew we wanted to do something that was the angle that you dont usually get, something along the lines of some of the concert movies we thought were classics. Chang happened to be on the same page when we got there, which was great, because it very easily could have been somebody who wouldnt have wanted to let us into that world.
Suchan: When we sat down with Chang, his personality jumps right out at you. We just thought weve gotta get a camera on this guy. It would be so fascinating to really spend the next few weeks with him. It was just serendipity, really.

CS: Knowing the history of the Wu-Tang Clan for pulling no-shows at concerts, were you at all worried about that happening at this festival?
Hennelly: We fought really hard to try to find somebody to finance it in some way before we shot this, and we were constantly told, "Oh, yeah, we heard about that show, but we dont want to put any money into it, because its the Wu-Tang Clan and they wont show up." We were always thinking that it would be just as interesting if they dont show up, regardless of what happened. That was never really a concern for us, whether or not they would be there.
Suchan: We often thought that it will be a great movie if theyre there. Itll still be a great movie if they dont show up. As we were shooting every single day with Chang and Carla and Brian and going to the police meetings with them, we just thought that it was going to unfold very interesting regardless. It was really hard to get financing involved because that was the question: if Wu-Tang doesnt show up, weve thrown away our money.

CS: Were you at all prepared to film a massive riot if they didnt show with all those people waiting for them?
Suchan: We spoke with the camera people when it looked like things were getting heated, and said, "By all means, if things get hectic, protect yourself, first and foremost," but we were prepared to shoot anything. Our camera people were pretty amazing, like the kids who were out at the gate breach were in the middle of some pretty sick stuff. I know that the guy who had a camera on Brian Valdez had a bottle just miss his head. It was pretty hairy out there, and they were up for the challenge for sure.
Hennelly: I think we were really clear that people needed to take care of their safety, but camera people are rabid for the good shot, the good ones. Theyll be safe, but they want to get the shot. I went around to everybody right before the Wu-Tangs hit the stage, and I was like, "Alright, the back door is open behind the stage. You can get out there. If anything crazy happens, then leave, take care of yourself first, because we already have the movie." At that point, once they take the stage, weve got the movie. Dont kill yourself trying to get anything else at this point. Fortunately, everything sort of became celebratory.
Suchan: Yeah, it diffused. It got like a big party in there.

CS: Where were you two during this whole time in order get all that coverage?
Hennelly: We had walkies. Everybody had a walkie on, so we had constant walkie communication, and we could sneak into the production walkie channels to hear what was going on there. I had a camera, so I was running around seeing what was going, and then Casey was also dealing with interviewing all the artists. A lot of our interviews were done the day of the show to get that energy of the show day, and what was going on there.
Suchan: At the end of the day, all of us could barely walk. The grounds are really, really huge, and we had to constantly be chasing and following up. We were running tapes and batteries to every single one of the camera people all day long, so that was a really good way to keep up on what was going on over here. What are you getting? What does this camera need to be focused on?

CS: Was it hard getting the members of the Wu-Tang Clan to talk on camera?
Suchan: Not at all. Theyre very open, very down to earth guys, and very humble. I think they have a real sense of where they were not to long ago and how far theyve come, and theyre very willing to talk and help that next person. Thats the sense I got from every single one of them. Theyre really wonderful and theyre great interviews, too.

CS: With all the coverage you had, I was surprised there wasnt anyone in Old Dirty Bastards hotel room, while all of that drama was going on with him passing out and not wanting to do the show.
Suchan: We planned on having a camera to pick up ODB. We wanted a camera there, and Chang said to us, "Anything with ODB makes me really nervous. I dont want any reason for him to turn tail and run." The day of the show, we had several scheduled interviews with him that just didnt happen for one reason or another, and obviously, the reasons are all in the film. Without actually getting a chance to talk to him myself, I think he was pretty camera shy in a lot of ways. I think when he came out of prison--I dont know if he always this way--but he certainly was not the person to be sitting down in front of the camera and giving it up, really.

CS: At the beginning of the show, when they go over the schedule, the Wu-Tangs were supposed to go on at 10pm. After all the problems, what time did they end up actually going onstage?
Hennelly: It was an hour and fifteen minutes after they were supposed to, so it was 11:30. It was definitely a long time
Suchan: The turnaround time between these acts is just a couple minutes, because they know that once the kids start sitting around, they get really jumpy. They dont want a whole gang of people waiting around for very long without a real sense of whats happening.
Hennelly: The production is a lot easier than a rock concert. Every act before that, there was like five or ten minutes between them throughout the day, so that was sort of the rhythm that had been established. In the world of that day, there was a little more stress about the length of time, because usually, between the sets is much quicker.
Suchan: I think there was also some added stress because a lot of these people had literally been waiting in line for several hours, and though everyone was there for Wu-Tang, but some people wanted to see Sage Francis, the Inabilities and Dilated, and they missed the show, so there was a sense that these people already maybe felt a little cheated. It makes the time pass even slower.

CS: Have you seen the movie with an audience yet, and are you surprised by what gets laughs that come at certain sections?
Hennelly: We watched a little test screening back in L.A.
Suchan: I think the biggest audience weve seen it yet is maybe 30. I think a lot of the things that get laughs are the same things that made us laugh as we were putting it together, which is why that stuff is in the film. We had close to 200 hours of footage for the film, and I think our first real cut was 12 hours long. From there, it was really about pulling the storylines, and its actually really rewarding to see people get the same jokes that we see there. Im really looking forward to seeing it with a lot of people.
Hennelly: I think one of the important things for us is that the movie does have a sense of humor, because hip-hop is presented in the media with a lot of posturing that isnt really what weve seen in the art form the few years weve spent making films about it. Its a really human, really emotional, really open community, and it has a sense of humor about itself that isnt really in the media, so that was something we always wanted to show.

CS: Speaking of humor, the case of Sage Francis, is he fairly popular over there in L.A.? Hes kind of a strange character but he seems to have a following.
Suchan: You know, Sage definitely has a very strong, very commited fanbase. He played Rock the Bells the following year to a crowd that was very into him. Hed just been signed to Epitaph when he did that show, so I think hes gotten a lot more known since that show. There were several people in that crowd that were there to see him and that knew his words.
Hennelly: Its not in the film, but when we interviewed Chuck D (of Public Enemy), he knew who Sage Francis was. Hes known within the community, but hes definitely a certain branch of it.

CS: So has Chang actually seen the movie and if so, what did he think of it? He doesnt exactly come across very favorably by the way you cut it together.
Suchan: Chang, when he saw the film, did not ask us to change a single thing. I gotta give him a lot of credit for that. Hes very honest. He said, "You know what? Everything thats in this movie is true, and I stand by that." Bless him.

CS: I was surprised that Chang did more of these festivals since then, so did he learn anything from this one that hes applied to them?
Suchan: Thats a question really that youd have to ask Chang. Ive talked to a few people on their team about just that. They look at this film and they go, "Oh, yeah. We do things totally differently now."
Hennelly: I know they have the line go out from the door instead of running along the fence. I think they want better security, but theyre dealing with a union house there, so theres set security that isnt necessarily their call, so theyve changed what they can.

CS: Has anyone in the Wu-Tang Clan seen the movie or will they see it at the premiere?
Hennelly: RZA saw the movie this week, and he had the same reaction. He felt like it was true, he really liked it. When we work on these documentaries, we always try to make sure that people see them before they go out into the world, just to check facts mainly. Were not going to change things if people dont like them, but we will change things if theyre not true. Generally, thats the only thing that people dont like in the hip-hop scene. As long as its true, its going to be alright.
Suchan: The Wu-Tang talk about that theyre very real. Thats one thing that youll hear from every single one of them, and it really is true. I think that was what RZA said after seeing the movie. "This is real." Which is a huge compliment coming from the RZA, right?
Hennelly: No other members have seen it yet, but theyll be seeing it Friday, hopefully.

And that would be at the world premiere of Rock the Bells on Friday, April 28 at the Tribeca Film Festival with more screenings scheduled in the week to follow. Although the world premiere is sold out

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