To celebrate the March release of A Stirling Performance, featured bonus material on the Perfect Square DVD, A Lonely Goat, aka Deborah Hogan and Andy Cronk, have kindly put together a retrospective on the making of the documentary. Read on and learn the whole story behind the making of the film which chronicles REM’s three-night stand in Stirling, Scotland, during the Up Tour in 1999.
Behind the Scenes of A Stirling Performance
It’s almost five years since we started on the journey that was to become A Stirling Performance. It’s a film that shouldn’t really have happened and came about almost by accident. There were times when we thought it would never even get finished let alone be screened anywhere. So it’s incredible to be looking back at how it all came about as the film is released worldwide on DVD.
In the summer of 1999, we were in the late stages of planning a documentary about a music festival. Two weeks before we were due to start shooting, our funding was cancelled. Rather than sit around moping, we decided to channel our anger and energy into another idea.
My co-director Andy Cronk and I had seen REM’s UP tour schedule and in disbelief saw Stirling Castle on it. Stirling, the wee friendly town that one of my friends was from and where Iâd spent a great deal of time over the years. We thought it would be impossible for a town like Stirling to be unaffected by REMâs presence and we started to talk about how this would make a great film, about how the B&Bs, pubs, shops and an historic site like Stirling Castle would deal with it all.
Most documentaries involving bands are used to promote an album and so are paid for by record companies. A Stirling Performance would be different because it would be independent. We had a definite idea of what we wanted the film to be — an intimate look at a big band in a small town told from the townâs perspective, definitely not a rockumentary. We wanted it to be funny and down to earth and let all the personalities shine through.
We got carried away with the whole idea. Then we noticed when the Stirling concerts were taking place. Two weeks time! It seemed impossible but we didn’t want to let this one get away. We set about trying to organise everything and drew on the contacts we had in Stirling. REM were obviously a key part of the story but we thought it highly unlikely they would have the time or inclination to take part in the film. Still, we thought we had nothing to lose by letting them know what we were doing and so sent a short fax to Bertis. What we really didn’t expect was a phonecall from him the next day saying they liked the idea and wanted to be involved! That obviously changed things dramatically and meant we could tell the story from both sides.
We left for Scotland almost immediately and started knocking on doors, trying to find people to interview. Soon they were finding us! It didn’t take long for news to spread about the film and within a couple of days we were in the local paper and on the local radio station. We had so much help from everyone in Stirling and met some fantastic people who agreed to appear in the film, including local B&B owners Roy and Margaret Stirling (yes that really is their name). When Margaret said their B&B was full and she could take that extra money and buy a new pair of shoes, I knew we were achieving what we had set out to do.
As well as people in the town, we were also filming the progress of the stage at the castle. Being huge music fans, it was amazing for us to see what goes into putting a show like this together, from measuring where the stage will go to putting all the lights in place. Stirling Castle truly is an incredible place to see a band play. The set up is such that you can stand virtually anywhere and have a great view of the stage. When REM came on stage the first night, we had to remind ourselves we were working and stop jumping up and down! For the live sections, we tried to capture the feeling and excitement of being there. Of course, being the middle of summer in Scotland it was absolutely freezing cold and pouring with rain. The footage we shot of REM on stage shows the rain and wind blowing and the view from the fans’ perspective. Itâs anything but glossy but it looks real.
And we realised what a coup we had when we heard the tour manager refusing entry to a local news crew, saying that no press were allowed on the tour. I think that’s why there’s such a relaxed feel to the interviews with the band as they didn’t have hundreds of journalists asking them questions for days, just us! We talked to Peter when they had just arrived in Stirling and right before the first concert, Mike before the second night so he could comment on the setting and Michael after the last concert to reflect on the whole event.
Soon it was all over and we were back in London trying to recover from our 18 hour working days and the fact that we had spent every penny we had (and didn’t have). All the amazing footage we had shot had to stay in a box under our desks for months on end until we could afford to do something with it. It would be almost a year before we had a first cut of the film and were shaking with nerves on showing it to Bertis. As it turned out, we had nothing to worry about. He loved it and has been incredibly supportive, not to say instrumental, in bringing about the film’s release.
Revealing the film to the world for the first time was even more terrifying. I thought I would barely be able to watch the screening at the Raindance Festival in London in October 2000 but I was glad I did. The audience reaction was fantastic and made all the hard work worthwhile. Since then it’s gone on to have many more screenings with each audience reacting and laughing at different things: Edinburgh was the first time all those that appear in the film got to see the finished results and couldn’t believe they got equal billing with REM; the US premiere in Atlanta was nerve racking again as we were worried no-one would understand the Scottish accents! But it went down a storm and it took us more than an hour to get out of the theatre afterwards as we had so many questions to answer; Athens, Georgia was probably my favourite of all. A very receptive hometown crowd.
For the last two years we have been in various talks to release A Stirling Performance. It’s been a long, drawn out and complicated process. We were still getting a lot of emails from people asking if it would be released and we just kept saying hang in there, we are! And now it’s out there. We’re really proud to see it in all it’s low-fi glory next to the glossy brilliance of the Wiesbaden concert on Perfect Square.
The one question everyone asks us is, “What was it like to work with REM?”. I think the best answer to that is, if it had been any other band, I really don’t think we would be in the position we are today.