By Tim Merrill | February 6, 2004

Steven Soderbergh is the executive producer of Tribute. At what point did he become involved?
RICH FOX: When Soderbergh got involved…we had been shooting for about two years, and we made a ten-minute demo tape. We were showing that around. And I’ve known Stephen Mirrione, Soderbergh’s editor, since film school; we’ve been collaborating for years. That’s basically the connection. Steve had been helping us with editing. He cut the ten-minute demo and showed it to Soderbergh, who – by total coincidence – was a fan of tribute bands. He told us, “I go see this Rolling Stones tribute band in town, I’m fascinated by the whole subject.” He totally dug the demo and said “Just show me when you’ve got more.” So we said, “Oh, this is a big opportunity.” I quit my job – I’d just gotten my first job editing this cable reality TV show – and started cutting, putting the movie together. After about a month, we had a rough cut.
KRIS CURRY: A really wicked month, I have to say. We quit right before last Christmas, and Rich spent around 20 hours a day for a month obsessively editing. We knew we had a pretty small window of opportunity where Soderbergh would have the free time to watch our tape, so it was go for broke. After a month, we had a rough cut. It ran a little long, two-and-a-half hours or so. We have a lot of deleted scenes now.
RF: The first version we showed to Mirrione was like three hours, a totally jumbled mess. But at some point he just said, “I think it’s ready to show to Soderbergh – it’s long, but that’s okay. Let’s do it.” We showed him the tape, and he just went for it. He loved it.
KC: We met with him the next day, and it was amazing. It was a dream come true. He was working on Ocean’s Eleven, and Steve was cutting that. So we just sat down in the editing room, and he was incredibly gracious. All the things you fantasize about.
RF: He has true composure, and he’s very relaxed. We were obviously a little bit nervous, but he puts you at ease. He made us feel…calm.

Did he help you with funding at all?
KC: He helped with a lot of different things. Basically we said “Listen, we’ve never done this before.” He was very gracious and flattering about what we’d come up with, what a great movie he thought it was, and asked how he could help. We said, “Well, funny you should ask – we have a whole bunch of things we need help with, including but not limited to the fact that we’ve never posted a movie. What kind of strategy do you use to get it out there into the world, to take it to film festivals?” We know enough to know that there’s a right way to do it, and without someone helping us to figure it out we could easily bungle it. We also needed help clearing the music, which is a huge deal.

You have a lot of music in the film, obviously. How are you dealing with acquiring rights to all the songs?
RF: Hope for the best!
KC: There was a lot more to it than that. Like, if you wanted to explore the world of tribute bands, why wouldn’t you shoot the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? Well, because you could never afford to clear their music. I’d worked in docs for probably five years before we started Tribute, so I knew enough about music clearance to know that if we weren’t careful, we could end up with a movie that was completely unreleasable in any way, shape or form. We did some homework at the beginning, met with music supervisors and lawyers and tried to get a sense of which bands you can clear and which bands are impossible even for all the money in the world.
RF: It was still a risk, though. We just didn’t know – we still shot all of this not knowing whether these bands would ultimately come on board with us. That’s one of the things that Soderbergh has helped us out with the most. He hooked us up with this music supervisor named Frankie Pine, who did Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven.
KC: We basically gambled our life savings by not knowing. We funded this movie with credit cards and day jobs, and we had no way of knowing whether it would be a lost cause or not. We’d get cold sweats at night, two years in: “Holy crap, we’ve spent how much money on this?” We followed the Queen tribute, Sheer Heart Attack, for three years. The Kiss band, Larger Than Life, their arc was almost three years. That’s three years of wondering, “Will this ever see the light of day?”

Well, distribution certainly seems like a strong possibility now.
RF: Theatrical distribution for documentaries is a tough sales job. People have a preconception about docs that’s unfair; you have to convince people that a doc can be entertaining. And there just haven’t been as many great rockumentaries as there should be. All along the way, when we were pitching this project about tribute bands, people would say “Shouldn’t it be a narrative?” But we wanted it to be a documentary. It’s fascinating that real people are out there doing this, and if you turned it into a movie you wouldn’t believe it. The movie Rock Star is a good example – in script form it just became generic. It was like any other fairy tale about getting to live your dreams. But the fact that that story really happened is incredible; it’s much more interesting in reality. With (Judas Priest singer) Tim “Ripper” Owens’ story, what struck me most was that this guy really did work as an office supply salesman. In Rock Star that was just one little moment, that’s all you saw of him at his day job. But that was his life, and to go from that to being in Judas Priest is amazing! You didn’t get a sense in Rock Star of what that must have been like.
KC: The Judas Priest episode of “Behind the Music” is so great. It’s so much better than fiction. It’s interesting to speculate about why the narrative movies that tell these stories are never as good as documentaries. I think it’s because the banal, embarrassing details actually make a story tangible and relatable. I mean, there were shows where we’d set up and wish that there were more people in the audience, because it would look livelier in the frame. But then we realized that’s just what it was.

It’s much funnier that there are only three drunk guys there. Humor does help a lot in documentaries, makes them easier to sell. And the music angle should help too.
KC: The premiere screening was a real mind-blower. It went so well, it exceeded every possible wild hope we had in our hearts. There are people, total strangers, who have already seen it two or three times. We’ve applied to a bunch of festivals – Sundance, Slamdance, South by Southwest, Berlin – but we’re doing it all on our own. We’re also going through Chris Gore’s book, the festival bible, to figure out who else we can go to. But my ambition for the film is…I just think it would make a really great midnight movie.

So all of the bands involved have been okay with the project?
RF: So far everyone’s been cool. They’ve all been into the movie.

And why shouldn’t they be? It’s about people who are obsessed with them.
RF: Right, it’s all about their biggest fans. These bands understand why it’s good to have tribute bands out there; it helps sell their records. It’s all about how huge their legacy is as rock and roll stars. So it’s very flattering to them, I would think, that these bands are out there doing all this.

Get the rest of the interview in part three of DON’T STOP BELIEVING: “TRIBUTE” FILMMAKERS>>>

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