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The Naked Truth with Dave Barron-

STRINE’S HIRED GUN IS BEST MUSIC DOCUMENTARY OF 2016

Lately, there seems to be a plethora of independent music documentaries coming out about bands or music, and many have been received with luke warm reviews. Either the story doesn’t merit the recognition, or the featured artist(s) isn’t interesting enough to warrant public appeal, and time and time again these films get slammed.  Not all, but many documentaries don’t live up to the hype.

For instance, Quiet Riot‘s 2015 documentary film was a fan favorite but not well received by all in the media, as this LA Time’s writer felt it was too narrow of a story to appeal the masses (http://tinyurl.com/jznkugl).  But, being a rock fan, I, as well, saw that the film kind of stretched it into a full length feature revolving around Kevin Dubrow‘s sudden death in 2007.  

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 “He(HIRED GUN) gets the gig because he is an elite player”-Jason Hook, Five Finger Death Punch

However, today I have found an incredible music documentary you will enjoy and is a “must see”.  If you are a fan of the blues, rock, metal, and or pop music, you will love director Fran Strine‘s latest 2016 documentary, HIRED GUN: The Untold Story of Your Favorite Musician from A Drama Kills Creative.  

With Executive Producers Jason Hook, and Todd Poulson, and producer/editor Tim Calandrello.  Strine carved out a story about the “work-for-hires, or freelance musicians”, in the music business.  Fran masterfully weaves these untold stories of classic music from the past with so much clarity, I felt as if I was right there in the studio when it was all going down.  

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For example, Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, Bob Seger, John Fogarty, Elton John) explains how he dealt coming up with an awkward drum solo for John Cougar Mellancamp‘s, Jack and Diane, in 1983.  Aronoff then just rips into the solo “air drums” style. That was a cool moment for me, as that song was number one my senior year in high school, in 1984.  

HIRED GUN is so good you will want to watch it over and over!  It’s really that good. Strine and his partners made an incredibly entertaining film that every aspiring musician and music fan needs to see. The entertainment value goes to 11!!! Here is the tailer-(https://vimeo.com/105225037)

Guitarist, Hook (hired gun in Mandy Moore, Lizzy Maguire, Alice Cooper) states, “A hired gun is an assasin, the best available musician, who gets hired to go on tour.”  Hook, who has found success joining heavy rockers, Five Finger Death Punch in 2009, after leaving Alice Cooper, continues in the film, that once he was on retainer with Hilary Duff, he bought a house, and then the hammer fell, and he lost his gig, and he added, “In one nanosecond, there’s no security.”  HIRED GUN, follows the rollercoaster these great musicians encounter, and it’s a hell of a ride!

“Before pro tools there were pros!”-studio musician, Jay Graydon.

The film chronicles the life and times of some of the greatest music ever made by some of the greatest players, that the average person has never heard of. It’s basically, the good, the bad, and the ugly of the music business of being a hired gun, with some light hearted funny moments, moments when or where greatness was born, which sometimes might be on the toilet. In one of the film’s funnier moments, guitarist Jay Graydon (Steely Dan, George Benson), reveals the exact moment he came up with the melody for Benson’s, Turn Your Love Around, with Toto’s Steve Lukather  playing the piano on the phone in the background (laughing).

But, you can’t make a docmentary about this subject matter without having all these HIRED GUN‘s jam. Strine brilliantly incorporated live studio musical segues with the hired guns from the film  to stitch his vision, insert some cool bites to pace the film. Over a year ago, I had the pleasure to take a sneak peak behind the scenes of the filming of HIRED GUN, and witnessed the magic of Derek St. Holmes(Ted Nugent) jamming on “Just What the Doctor Ordered” with Devitto, Kenny Aronoff, Phil X, Michael “Fish” Herring, Paul Bushnell, and others at East/West Studio in Hollywood. Tearing up their own hit songs, and thats what Strine’s film is all about. The MUSIC, and the HIRED GUN‘s who made it

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The star of the film is hands down, Liberty Devitto. With his thick accent,  quick wit, and joe coolness, Devitto candidly reveals how he and his buddies from Topper became Billy Joel‘s main band. Devitto brings an insight to how it all came together and how it abruptly ended with Doug Stegmeyer (committed suicide in 1995), and Russell Javors, and Joel.  Comically, Devitto claims while growing up,  his parents got him a drum set because prozac wasn’t invented at the time.  That decision was a life changer for Devitto.  He sums up the life, the pressure of being a hired gun, “You have to play great all the time, because you entertain the name, if you’re not great tonight, you may lose your gig tomorrow.”

“You work for a company(rock band) that many years you get a watch and a pension, i didnt even get a phone call,” –former Billy Joel guitarist Russell Javors, commenting on when he heard on the radio he wasn’t in the band anymore.

There are so many great stories told in HIRED GUN, not all were pretty ones. Randy Rhoads from Ozzy Osbourne and Cliff Burton of Metallica,  their tragic deaths, Brad Gillis and Jason Newsted replacing legends Rhoads and Burton, Rudy Sarzo decides to leave Ozzy for Quiet Riot,  David Foster‘s (Earth, Wind, and Fire,Alice Cooper, Chaka Kahn, Kenny Loggins, Kenny Rogers) struggles early on transitioning from a studio musician to producer. He proclaimed, “I used to think producing was getting a bunch of great musicians together and making a great track, but its not what producing is, producing fundamentally, is finding great songs and pairing them with great artists.”  On hiring a hired gun, Foster added, ”To be a great studio musician, you have to be a great musician. You can’t be mediocre. Good is the enemy of great.”

As a filmmaker myself, I thought Strine did an admirable job handing the tough parts of the film, and found a way to resolve a situation and leave you thinking there is hope.  Devitto, near the end of the film, after he spilled the guts of the Billy Joel breakup(lawsuits. etc), says, “It became love me, love my band, to get the fuck out of my dressing room. I thought was gonna make it one day, and now i realize fuck, its never gonna happen!”  Devitto to this day is loyal and loves Billy Joel, and even after everything that happened, claimed his wife buried him in the sand with a divorce, and Joel kicks him in the face.  Liberty, unfazed by it all, says, “If he (Billy) called and said, I’m sorry, do you wanna play again? I would say yeah…”.

Does Strine kick Billy Joel in the face with this film?  I don’t think so, I just think it makes you wonder, if Billy Joel is a dick or not.  It was implied throughout the film that he was.  But, the viewer can be the judge.  There are expertly placed soundbites, btw.

“The power of having a great song and you being the singer, changes everything, ” –Singer, guitarist Richard Patrick, Filter

HIRED GUN goes full circle with Richard Patrick of Filter, when he was in Nine Inch Nails in the early 90’s, living with his mom, all the while knowing Trent Reznor was living the good life in New Orleans. Patrick was soul searching, and decided to record the Filter demo. He gets a call from Reznor’s office offering a gig to deliver pizza.  Patrick bitter, sarcastically states,  “I have “Hey Man Nice Shot”, have a manager, and have 5 record deal offers, and they offer delivering pizza!  What would you do?”

He adds, “It goes from me being hired gun to me being the guy who has to hire a band.  I get why Trent(Reznor) was so heavy handed. Now, I am in the hiring position, I to this day, I sit them down and say, I am not gonna offer you anything. You are gonna go on tour, gonna have a good time playing music I wrote, and thats what you are gonna do.  Phil Buckman, former Filter hired gun bassist remarked, “Laughable what we got paid. We were the lowest paid band members.”  Patrick smugly states, “Stay on the bus, you dont need a hotel room!”  Buckman reiterated, “I would rather sit home, and not be in a band, and not have to deal with them another day.”

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“You start at the bottom and the goal is to get to the top, then once you get there, the trick is to stay there. There’s plenty of room at the bottom. Staying at the top is next to impossible,” bassist Rudy Sarzo.

HIRED GUN, is a slick film, laden with classic music, played for some of the biggest and baddest names in music. Some of the featured hired gun’s resembles an all-star lineup including –Liberty Devitto, David Foster, Rudy Sarzo, Steve Lukather, Steve Vai, Kenny Aronoff, Rob Zombie, Derek St. Holmes, Alice Cooper, Richard Patrick, Jason Newsted, John 5, Ray Parker, Jr., Nita Strauss,Russell Javors, Eva Gardener, and many more. I give HIRED GUN two thumbs up, a 10 out of 10, and would recommend to anyone. I didnt want it to end, actually. Runtime is 107 minutes, soundtrack by the The Crystal Method, captured in color and technically serviceable.

Film website link-(http://www.hiredgunthefilm.com).  Imdb-(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4026034/?ref_=ext_shr_eml_tt )

Hired Gun Documentary Q and A-

Director: Fran Strine

06.27.2016

DB-just to get this out of the way, There were no guns used in making this movie?

FS-HA! Right?

DB-Fran, can you tell me how many bands you know of, that still have the same original band members today, that they had on day one?

FS-Hmmmm, I’ll take a few guesses.. U2? ZZ TOP?

DB-Fran, tell me the genesis of your latest documentary, Hired Gun. How did it all come together? What was the reason you decided to do this film?

FS-You know, I’ve been touring pretty heavy as a touring photographer/Videographer for almost 20 years now and the last tour I was on, we were working our way around the planet and all I could think of was being home, doing anything other then being on planes and busses any longer.

I sat on the tour bus with Jason Hook, guitarist for FFDP and he’s a massive fan of documentaries so I told him about my wishes to not tour anymore and that I was hungry to make another Doc. He and I basically came up with the concept and off I went!

Jason is my partner in the film venture and was a joy to work with. He got the idea and him once being a Hired Gun was able to help out with that side of the story.

DB-How instrumental was your team, Jason, Todd, Tim, Gavin?

FS-Man, very instrumental! Looking back I wish I had the dream team I ended up with in the later part of production.

Jason was very cool about letting me take the ball and running with it and really never saying, “no” to anything and gave me total creative control, all he really wanted was a great documentary under his wing and I think I delivered that for him, something with his name on it that he can be proud of.

Todd Poulson is a really good friend of mine who came in and believed in me and the project, he took all the risk upfront financially. Again, like Jason, never said no, no matter what I needed, it was approved and provided. He’s also a mentor to be honest with you, he’s really driven like I am in regards to how we do business and our work ethic and I have learned so much from him on the business side of things and how to handle some very tough situations, he’s the first person I call. There is no doubt, Hired Gun would not have been made in the fashion if it weren’t for Todd. He knew my vision of production quality and made it really easy for me.

Tim Calandrello is a tremendous talent and find. He basically came in at the finish line and absolutely killed it under so much pressure, truly thankful for him! He was so patient with me and he KNEW exactly what I was looking for in terms of fleshing out the main cast in the film. I had the upmost trust in him and he just killed!

Gavin Fisher is another great talent. I had a style of what I wanted this film to look like and he delivered, big time. I’ve been told a few time that this probably the best looking documentary out there, and that’s all on Gavin, Gavin also colored the film and he’s at the top of that game.

I can’t forget about our wonderful and talented Archive Producer, Kate Lingey. I gave her a tough assignment in finding us rare photos and video clips and she knew exactly what was needed for these scenes and scoured all the dark corners to find them, then there’s Julie Glaze Houlihan who is our music supervisor and she had the challenge of clearing some very big songs for us in the film, I have no idea how she managed to do it, but she really is the soundtrack to the film!

DB-How difficult was it to recruit players for this project? Can you give some examples? Coordination hell?

FS-That was really the easy part believe it or not, we just had to wait for a few of the players schedule’s to open up. The wildest challenge was the All-Star jam in the film where we had about 20 of the cast show up and just freestyle, I basically had to produce the entire thing, on my own. That was a very stressful yet surreal week!

DB-For some musicians, freelancing can be less glamourous than it appears. What challenges did you have telling this story? Getting Hired Guns to talk, real talk…

FS-You know, the cast was really very open and transparent, with the exception of a few players, they let it all out. It was cool because I know the tour and studio world so well, it was more of a conversation then it was a Q&A and I think the artists felt really comfortable since I’m very familiar with their world.

DB-As a filmmaker, where does this film stand in the long resume of credits you have built?

FS-100% the best. From the get-go I knew exactly what I wanted to make. The stories had to be real, authentic and move the audience, the film had to look amazing and sounds even better. We cut no corners, because I had a lot of people counting on me to deliver gold and once I got the team I need, it just made it so easy to do it.

I went so far as to contact Skywalker Ranch to do our sound mix, just reach as far as I could and to my surprise, I received a email from them saying they HAD to mix this film. Spending the time at Skywalker was insane, it still hasn’t sunk in that it even happened!

Scott Lewis was our mixer and what made it so awesome is that he was a total fan of the film! He even paid his own way to come to the World Premiere at SXSW.

DB-Battlefield of The Mind, your 2013 documentary, dealt with issues regarding returning vets who are homeless. That film had an obvious point of view(the plight of the veterans being homeless, etc), what did you learn this time around with Hired Gun, that you didn’t know going in?

FS-Look, I made BOTM for one reason only, and that was to bring awareness to the Veteran homeless situation. It was really heartbreaking and not a lot of fun to make, but I think the film made a difference and we help a lot of people. That was my payment for making that film.

What did I learn this time around? That it’s a LOT more difficult making a film like Hired Gun because of the hurdles of licensing music and footage. Without the perfect elements of those 2 things, you don’t have a movie.

The other thing I found out, quickly, is if you have made something successful that people want to attach themselves to the project with little or no work! LOL! I say “BEAT IT”!

DB-That film was grittier, Hired Gun, was a production. How fun was it shooting and recording in hollywood at the Famous recording studio where Thriller was recorded?

FS-Wow, it took me a few days after the East/West session to really have it sink in that it even happened! We had producer Johnny K. fly in from Chicago and he was great man, he took control of the session and it ran really smooth and with that many players he really pull through and gave is a great mix on top of that.

It was great experience over all, watching the cast was a trip! NO EGOS at all, they all played nice and there’s a reason these artist are 1st call players.

DB-Your film has screened around the globe. How has the reaction been so far? Examples?

FS-We’ve screen the film about 5-6 times so far and its been met with the same reaction every time. People cried, were in shock, moved, laughed and cheered in the right spots were I had wanted and hoped for. We have a few more festivals lined up and I am sure we’ll get the same reactions.. What’s really great is this film has an audience outside just the music loving crowd. There’s something in the film for everyone, as I said earlier, the stories go way beyond just being a player, I was able to get inside and bring out the essence of who these amazing player are and what they have endured behind the curtain.

DB-Getting the to finish line in any project is always the goal for any filmmaker. Now that it is “in the can” and on the festival circuit, this film doesn’t seem to be finished. What is the plan for Hired Gun, moving forward?

FS-Right now we are still on the festival circuit and we have a sales agent that will be seeking distribution in the coming weeks.

DB-Would you tell parents-”dont let your kid grow up to be a filmmaker”? What’s next after Hired Gun?

FS-Not at all, My Son Zach is an aspiring filmmaker and I let him go onset with me both as a photographer and filmmaker at a young age and he really soaked it all in, and he’s got a great eye, a creative mind and I’m really proud of where he’s headed. He knows it’s not an easy road.

Next for me? I am developing a docu-series under my Voltage Productions umbrella, I can’t say too much about it yet, but it’s a great concept and Tim Caladrello is involved as well.

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