By Sean Palmerston
Last summer when the movie Iron Maiden: Flight 666 came out, I contacted Sam Dunn about doing an interview with Hellbound to go along with a special we did on the film. I had interviewed Sam previously for Hamilton’s View Magazine when Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey was released and had kept in touch with him, but the timing wasn’t right when I asked him about doing another interview. “Sorry man, I’m knee deep in this Rush documentary we’re doing right now and can’t do it,” was the response I finally got back from him a few weeks later after asking.
I was bummed he didn’t have the time, but I was also intrigued – well, frankly, I was rather giddy – to find out exactly what this Rush documentary was going to be and excited to know that Banger Films was going to do a feature on another one of my favourite bands.
Rush holds a special place in my heart. The first major rock concert I ever attended was their Power Windows tour, live at Maple Leaf Gardens in March of 1986. While I wasn’t a big fan of the album, I was blown away at seeing Canada’s greatest band in one of the most infamous hockey arenas in North America – not to mention their hometown. I’ve always followed them, always picked up their new albums and always been intrigued with what they’ve done. I’m pretty sure that both Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen were pretty much the same way too.
After not getting the chance to interview them for Flight 666, I wanted to make sure to speak to them about this new film before its release. So, on the eve of them leaving for Europe to film segments for their upcoming new Metal television series that will be airing on VH1 in the fall, I did a phone interview with the two of them at their Banger Films office. Most of that interview follows below.
I have to say that I think Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage is a great, engaging documentary. How did the film come to be? Did Rush or their management come to you with the idea of you doing the film or did you guys approach them?
Scot: We actually approached them about doing it. We were thinking about future projects that we would like to do and Rush was on the top of our wish list. They are close to me and were part of my upbringing.
Did you know what your story was going to be when you pitched them on doing the film or was it more a case of seeing what you could make out of their history?
Sam: We didn’t know what the story would be going into it. Of course there was a fascination with their career and the fact that they kept creating vital music through the past forty years. We did know there were certain moments that we wanted to cover in the film, but we also knew we wanted it to be a long term project that went from the beginning to the modern day.
We knew we wanted to tell the history of the band, but they were concerned that it would be boring doing just that. There was just a huge story though and we knew there were things we wanted to touch on that stand out: their massive influence on music in the past thirty years, we wanted to discuss the robes and the haircuts throughout the years.
The celebrity fan segments and interviews about the band are amazing. Did you already know that all of those people were Rush fans or what that stuff you uncovered?
Scot: Some of the people we already knew were big fans and others we discovered were when we started looking into it. The most important thing was that the people we approached were all genuine fans.
Was it hard to get some of the people interviewed to agree to take part in the film? Were there any other people that you tried to get involved in the film that wouldn’t take part?
Sam: It was actually the opposite. We had no problem getting people to do interviews with us for it. We were actually surprised just how excited some people got about speaking to us. I guess the time was right.
The only people that we tried to get for the film that didn’t work were Radiohead. We had been told that members of the group were fans but it didn’t happen.
Sam has always been a part of your previous films. Why was the decision made this time around to not have him narrate the story?
Sam: It just didn’t seem right this time around. That and I was just sick of seeing myself on camera (laughs). Even when we made the Flight 666 movie, I had intended to not be the narrator on it, but it just made more sense for the way it was done. We felt that if I did that this time it would interfere.
Neil Peart has always been known as the difficult member of the band, the one who doesn’t do interviews, but he appears very candid. Was it hard to get him to agree to do interviews and to participate?
Sam: Because Geddy and Alex do all of the press, it can be difficult to get them beyond their typical stock answers. Since Neil rarely does any of the press interviews, it was really fresh and exciting to speak to him and he was actually very into it. He was very comfortable and relaxed doing it and we feel that some of the best material in the film comes from him because he does so very few interviews.
Neil was actually very into the movie right from the beginning. He was on board and thought that making a film on them could be really great.
I wanted to ask you about some of the archival footage that is used in the film. First off, there is live footage with John Rutsey still on drums that is taken from what looks like a television show. Where is that from?
Sam: That was from a local variety show called Bandstand that was filmed at a high school in St. Catharines, Ontario. It was a show that was made and shown on a local CBC affiliate. That footage had apparently been lost for a long time and we found it when searching through boxes of archives in the Anthem Records basement. It was on a very old type of videotape and on the outside of the box was a note asking “What the hell is this?” We sent the video off to Holland, to the one place in the world that could transfer this type of video to see what was on it and then when it came back we found it was this golden treasure. Anthem had assumed that it was long lost, so that was a major score when we found it.
One of the other clips features a very young Alex Lifeson in what looks to be a documentary, arguing with his parents about finishing school. Where did that footage come from? It’s incredible that it is even here.
Sam: That comes from a documentary that was made called Come On Children by a filmmaker named Alan King. He had this idea about making a documentary about teenagers growing up and wanted to make it in a Cinema Verite style. He auditioned over 500 teenagers from across the province to be part of it and Alex was one of the ones who auditioned and made the cut. They went and took the kids and their parents out to rural Ontario and had them discuss the growing pains of being a teenager at that time. It’s just coincidence that he was picked and then went on to become one of Canada’s most famous musicians.
It seems like the band gave you access to everything. Was that something you requested going into the movie?
Scot: That was something that we requested going into it, we wanted full access to everything that they had and they agreed to let us do it that way. We were lucky they did, because we were the first to get a lot of that footage, like the Bandstand show with John Rutsey.
They really did let us see everything. Sam went over to Geddy’s house and he was pulling out photos that were hidden under floorboards – things like that. They were amazing with us.
How long was the time period that you took to film the movie? Was it all done in one fell swoop or did you have multiple sessions with them to work on stuff?
Sam: It was actually shot over quite a long period. The first work on the film goes back to October 2007. We were working on it and then while we were into it, we got the go ahead from Iron Maiden to film Flight 666. So, we had to go to Rush and their management and make sure that it was okay to put the filming on hold, which they agreed to.
We started again doing things after Flight 666 was finished and we worked right up until this year. The last interview for the film was completed in early 2010, so it was more than two-and-a-half years work, on and off, on the film.
The 2112 live footage that is in the film, is that taken from Massey Hall when they recorded the All The World’s A Stage live album?
Scott: No, if you listen in the film the announcer says they are from Canada, so it is from an American show.
Sam: I think it was a show in Passaic, New Jersey.
There is a shot very early in the film at a concert that looks like it is in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. Is that right?
Sam: The actual live footage from the Snakes And Arrows tour is taken from the live DVD that was released, but yeah, there is a quick shot early on that is the band live in Toronto. You’re good!
Thanks very much to both of you for doing this. I know you’re leaving for Europe tomorrow, so I just have one last question. We are running a feature on Hellbound.ca on Canada Day where our writers will pick their favourite Rush album and why, so I was wondering if you guys could tell me which is your favourite?
Sam: I would say that mine is Hemispheres. I came to Rush in the late 80s when I bought one of their newer albums. I thought it was okay, but it wasn’t really my thing as I was already way into metal like Iron Maiden and destruction. A friend of mine told me that if I really wanted to hear the real Rush that I should check out Hemispheres and lent it to me. I was hooked.
Scot: Fly By Night is my favourite one. When I was a kid my older sibling had it on vinyl and it was my first real introduction to them.
Sam: Now that you’ve asked us, what is your favourite one, Sean?
Well, it’s kind of funny that you guy picked those two albums, because it is a toss-up for me between Fly By Night and Hemispheres. The first rock album I ever owned was Hemispheres on 8-track, as a neighbour gave it to me. I hated it at first but grew to love it. Fly By Night was something I fell in love with as a teenager.
Sam: I can see that, those are two really important albums for Rush. Fly By Night was their first foray into the progressiveness that would change the band and Hemispheres is the band at their absolute most progressive.
For more information on Sam and Scot’s company Banger Films, please visit their official website.