Playing as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, Meal Tickets is an up-close and personal look at former Perth band Screwtop Detonators. It’s an inside view of what goes on during a tour, the grind that goes into making it in rock and roll, and the elation and despairs of the music industry. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to director Mat de Koning about his insightful documentary, and the exhaustive process that went into creating it.
Meal Tickets is the culmination of 12 years of work and a staggering amount of footage. De Koning has been there since the beginning of Screwtop Detonators. Well, if we’re being strictly correct, even before that. “If we start from the beginning, it was me attending a festival at Kalamunda High School, seeing a bunch of bands, and saying ‘I have to come to this high school and start a rock and roll band’,” admitted de Koning. “Which I did, because I had the confidence to be in a band, but not the talent. So film-making became the dream. By age 16 I became set on being a career film-maker. So I began making music and skate videos.”
Hence those musicians that he had jammed with, went on to form other bands. So when things started to heat up, de Koning was in the perfect place to capture the events. “By 2004 the Screwtop Detonators were getting a lot of recognition, and Dave Kavanagh began to manage them; when Tommy Ramone checked out one of their gigs I thought there was an interesting chemistry there and started following them,” he says. “When they toured the US I followed them.”
What followed was a 30 day tour across America, which forms the first act of Meal Tickets, as the Screwtop Detonators verge on being signed by a major record label. It’s a full-tilt experience, that gives a very personal access into the rock and roll lifestyle, with minimal intrusion from directorial narration.
“I never set out to be a Herzog type narrator, but due to the ten year breadth, I needed to fill in a few story-lines for the audience,” de Koning says. “My policy was to say the least. It’s the dream of many to go on a crazy rock and roll tour. I wanted the audience to experience what it was like to go on a tour like that.”
The footage really does speak for itself – raw and occasionally anarchic, but crammed with a genuine sense of energy. “They (Screwtop Detonators) had a great gang of four dynamic. They’re a gang, and good friends. So I thought they would make for good characters in a documentary.”
Yet that is only the first act, and things get rather interesting from there, as a number of larger than life personalities clash. One of those personalities is former Bachelor contestant Will Stoker, who’s story weaves into the Screwtop Detonators, before heading off to a convergent path.
“Will starts as a roadie that is not too good at his job – you see me reading his resignation letter in the film: ‘I want what you have’. When I heard his demos and saw him perform, I saw him as a contender. It naturally unfolded that Will became part of the story. Constant natural crisscross between the Screwtops, Will, and Dave. It just seemed right.”
All this represents about 400 hours of footage. 700 if you include the related footage of artist Matt Doust, which de Koning hopes to pursue as a separate documentary in the future. All spread across 9 different film formats, as de Koning continually upgraded his equipment during the period. Which made for a bit of a challenge in post-production, but one that de Koning managed to eventually overcome.
That change in technology is also charted in the way bands promote themselves, as it shifts with the advent of social media. “It used to be getting yourself out there was gigging hard, a few interviews, and maybe a poster run,” de Koning. “Since 2005 when everything became social media based, it relies a lot on self promotion, and that was something the Screwtops struggled with.”
In all Meal Tickets is something that de Koning hopes will “strike a familiar chord with musos”. As a documentary it certainly does this, and there’s much that anyone who has been in a band, or even worked in the industry, will relate to.
Meal Tickets is screening at Luna Leederville on Saturday, July 8 at 6:30pm (with a performance by Will Stoker and The Embers at Club Rev @ Babushkas after), and Tuesday, July 18 at 2:30pm.