Reporting Brian Ives
Lots of artists claim that their fans are the best in the world, but how many fanbases get their own feature film?
Springsteen & I, which opens tonight (July 22), focuses on Bruce fans and their devotion to the man, four decades into his career. It’s a documentary about Bruce, in which his songs and fans do the talking, so Springsteen himself only appears in live concert footage. In fact, director Baillie Walsh didn’t shoot a minute of footage or record any voiceovers. The entire movie is comprised almost entirely of fan testimonials, shot by the fans themselves and submitted for inclusion.
Related: Read our review of ‘Springsteen & I’
Walsh told Radio.com that after putting the call out to fans for self-shot testimonials in November of 2012, he quickly received about 300 hours of material. He actually watched every single submission.
“I felt very much a responsibility to do so,” Walsh explained. “Enormous effort went into [filming those submissions] from thousands of people. I was worried that we were going to get 4,000 hours, that would have been a real problem. Three hundred hours was manageable. Every day we saw something new. Every day was exciting.”
Directing the film was mostly an exercise in editing. Walsh spent six months in an edit, and had lots of decisions to make when putting together the final cut. While there’s certainly a lot of love for Bruce in the documentary, there were some things that he steered away from.
“There were stories about how generous he is, stuff about 9/11, and he comes off a bit god-like, and I didn’t feel comfortable with those stories,” Walsh said. “I think this film doesn’t build Bruce to be a god. There’s an undercurrent that he’s a very decent man, and that does come across in the stories that are told. It’s just very heartfelt stories of people talking about how Bruce and his music has affected their lives. One guy from Israel says, ‘Bruce taught me how to be a man — a decent man.’ That’s who Bruce is. I really tried not to make it heavy-handed. I didn’t come to the film as a Bruce Springsteen fan. I’m leaving it as a great admirer. I think his career is astonishing. I think the fact that he’s still producing relevant music — the fact that [in 2012 he released] Wrecking Ball at the age of 60, that’s an amazing achievement.”
Walsh notes that he could have done some interviews with fans for the film, but ultimately, he’s glad he didn’t. Some of the testimonials come off as confessions — just one person, alone in their room, talking to a camera.
“From the start, it was a decision from me, I wanted to keep the film pure and I didn’t want to be ‘present’ in the film,” he said. “Part of the charm of the film is how these stories are being filmed. If I got involved, it would become something very different. There is a real honesty to it, because they filmed it themselves. With a crew in the room, they’d be more self-conscious and they’d behave in a different way.”
The film was produced by Ridley Scott’s RSA Films, which had previously produced a crowd-sourced film in Life In A Day, the National Geographic film that documented what different people around the world did on July 24, 2010. They decided to use crowd-sourcing again to take a look at Springsteen’s diverse fanbase, and though Walsh wasn’t Boss fan, he loved the concept. After Walsh signed on, he and RSA met with Springsteen’s management to convince them to sign off on the film. They could have done the film without permission from Bruce’s camp, but they needed publishing clearance in order to use the originals. Of course, the Boss’s backing was crucial in raising awareness of the project, both in obtaining distribution and in marketing the finished film.
Was it a difficult meeting? No, Walsh says: “It was surprisingly easy. We approached them with the idea, and they ‘got it’ immediately. It seemed like a no-brainer to them. They turn down a lot of [film] offers. This one I think they just loved the idea. They were incredibly generous. They said, ‘Go ahead – we have no editorial control, you’ve got access to the archives and access to the songs. Show us the finished film.’”
So, has the man himself seen it?
“He has seen it,” Walsh reports. “I think he really enjoyed the humor in it. The people in the film were really eloquent. I got the message back from management that he really enjoyed it.”
With 300 hours of fan footage, there was a bit of material left on the cutting room floor. It’s worth wondering if any of it will make the DVD release, giving hardcore fans another shot at a moment of glory.
“That’s not for me to say — I hope there is, there’s a lot of great stuff that wasn’t in the film,” Walsh said. “They want more live stuff on the DVD and more Bruce on the DVD, the distributor believes that that’s what is gonna sell this movie. I believe that it’s the heart and the emotion that sells this movie, on top of Bruce’s music. I’m going to make a strong case [for more fan footage on the DVD].”
Springsteen & I is being put into theaters by Fathom, a company that specializes in one-night-only theatrical events. This being Bruce Springsteen, it will be theaters for two nights: July 22 and July 30. Theater and ticket information is available at Fathom’s website, and more about the film at its official website.