WAM INTERVIEWS: Mat De Koning, Director of Meal Tickets
Meal Tickets, the highly-anticipated, critically-acclaimed, ten-years-in-the-making feature documentary directed by Perth filmmaker Mat de Koning, is set to make its WA premiere at Revelation Film Festival at Luna Cinemas in Leederville on Saturday 8 & 18 July 2017.
Already earning Official Selection at Melbourne International Film Festival and Sydney Independent Film Festival, Meal Tickets is a cautionary tale of life in the world of modern day rock ‘n’ roll, and its realities versus its aspirations. De Koning has captured the rollercoaster journey of The Screwtop Detonators, their manager Dave Kavanagh (an ex-mentor to The Libertines) and their one-time roadie, Will Stoker. Whilst it focuses on WA-born acts, the themes have a very global relevance, with many lessons to be learned for those in the music industry, and a heck of a lot of fun to boot.
WAM’s Aarom Wilson interviewed Mat de Koning.
Flitting between Perth, New York, Melbourne, Los Angeles and beyond over the ten-year period, at what point did you realise recording this journey was something definitely worthy of a documentary?
As soon as I began filming the lead up to the USA or BUST tour in 2005 I had confidence that this journey was worth capturing. Dave Kavanagh has great taste in pop culture, so the tour party he put together felt like they were all straight out of central casting, from management, to the band and roadie. Perfect for my aspirations of making a modern-day ‘This is Spinal Tap’.
The Screwtop Detonators’ manager Dave Kavanagh is quite the character. He’s also the producer; a believer to the end. How was it working with a producer who is opinionated and also involved in the film, and how did you get together your team?
Dave didn’t hold back in telling me that the early edits weren’t hitting the mark. He tells it like it is Dave. As far as having any conflicts between his ‘producer’ hat and his ‘character’ hat, his ego never got in the way of the edit. His mantra throughout the entire process was ‘as long as it’s honest’. Like the Screwtop Detonators, Brooke was a friend from high school who had many talents I admired. She started helping out on various tasks with the film, so one night I sent her a text along the lines of ‘I’m giving you a producer credit for Meal Tickets, it’s your call if you want to keep it’. I got the inspiration from that Jerry Bruckheimer film Dangerous Minds where Michelle Pfeiffer’s character tells her students that they all have A’s, it’s up to them to keep them. Sure enough Brooke stepped to the producer challenge and then some.
Dom Pearce the co-editor had done some great work on the Hunter documentary. Being both a filmmaker and musician, he had a good understanding of what I was trying to achieve with this film. Ian Hale had championed the project the entire time and has been a great support network whenever I was loosing my MoJo. He came onboard as an Executive Producer in the later stage and has been getting the film in front of influential people, and using his awesome Backlot Cinema as a bit of Meal Tickets HQ for all publicity screenings and press shoots.
Having a close bond with the Screwtops as friends first, how difficult was it to then see through your lens close-hand the trials, tribulations and frustrations the guys went through?
In many ways I felt like the fifth member of the group so any set-backs or missed opportunities were also frustrating for me, I wanted nothing but the best for the band. When the split happened with Charlie, he and Mitch stopped talking for a few years which was hard on all of us. Fall outs between close friends always have a negative ripple effect on the friendship circle.
Starting out as a roadie with dreams of stardom of his own, Will Stoker is a fascinating character, and certainly his New York stint with rising fame looked like crazy times to film. How was it seeing his journey, from these beginnings to the cusp of actually achieving stardom, but then again falling away?
There were times where I thought Will had some serious momentum going, but to talk to him you’d never know it. He barely ever celebrated the small wins along the way. I don’t think fame changes / would change Will a great deal for that reason. Now that his ambitions in life has shifted slightly, he’s generally a much more upbeat happy fella. He’s much more grounded and I’d love to see him gain a bigger audience from the film. His live shows of late are better than ever!
Over those 10 years, many big changes in the music industry have occurred. What do you think were the hardest things for Screwtops / Stoker to contend with over that time?
One would have to be the demise of record labels. When your Napsters of the world started impacting the sales of records, many record labels started collapsing through lack of revenue. For bands like the Screwtops, getting a record deal became all that more-harder and countless bands had to turn to self-promotion on the internet. For humble fellas like the Screwtop Detonators, self-promotion through social media was a burden, but somewhat of a necessary evil as your social media presence is largely how people judge a bands success these days.
The film is at times a pretty harsh reality check on what it takes to achieve success in the music industry. What do you see as some of the biggest takeaways for other artists trying to ‘make it’?
In my early 20’s my mentality was ‘people with backup plans end up resorting to their backup plan’, if you’re serious about your ambition you have your back against the wall and there is no plan B. But the reality for musicians in particular is, unless you’re in that elite .1% that makes the big time, a career in music often becomes teaching music or playing in a cover band. As Dave Kavanagh said during the USA or BUST tour ‘the hungry fighter is the better fighter’. My advice to young artists is to give it all you’ve got in your late teens early 20’s, because on the other side of 25, life has a way of interrupting our dreams. And for those bands out there sitting on an albums worth of material, get into a recording studio and cut an album, don’t sit on your material for too long.
You filmed 700+ hours of footage for this. Being on tour with a bunch of crazy young dudes, we’re guessing there’s some footage unused due to being incriminating…any chance we’ll ever see an R-Rated version of this out? And what are the plans for the film (internationally, national release etc)?
The USA or BUST tour edit is a pretty rukkas adventure, but for the sake of everyone’s mental health, I’m keeping that as a one-off screening for those that rocked up to my LA fundraiser event at FTI in 2012. Possibly in decades to come it will become a film in it’s own right. Then many of the good scenes that didn’t make the final cut are getting released online in what I refer to as ‘Meal Tickets Tapas’. As far as getting the film out there, hopefully there’s some more festivals to come after Revelation and MDFF and some paid screening opportunities present themselves. A VOD deal would be good. Or we might take the path that so many musicians are taking these days and just start giving it away to create a buzz.
What’s next for you as a film-maker? Or any musical pursuits?!
I’m off to Los Angeles in October to keep working on my Matt Doust documentary and laying the ground work for an exhibition we’re having at REN Gallery in Down Town LA in August 2018. The show is in honor of five years since Matt’s passing and will be a large part of the documentary. I plan to spend a good stint in LA next year to make this happen.
And a few upcoming acts in Perth that you think have that have a similar ‘x factor’ to these artists, and you hope they can make it?!
There’s a Perth comedian called Cameron McLaren that hails from the same 6056 stomping ground as I do. To me he has all the makings of an international act. There’s many Jim Jefferies wannabies out there, but Cameron is a true original. He owns who he is and speaks from the gut in a completely no holds barred way.
- Saturday 8 July 2017, 6:30pm, Luna Leederville (plus after party/launch of Club Rev at Babuska!)
- Tuesday 18 July 2017, 2.30pm, Luna Leederville
- Filmmakers in attendance for Q&A in both sessions!