Brooke Silcox: Riding Shotgun on Meal Tickets

February 16, 2018
We talk with the producer of the extraordinary rock documentary Meal Tickets, which charts the evolution and dissolution of Aussie band The Screwtop Detonators, incorporating almost two decades of footage.

“It’s an observational documentary that’s filmed over 12 years, with 19 years worth of footage – this is what actually happened.”

So says Brooke Tia Silcox, producer of the extraordinary music documentary, Meal Tickets. The story of Perth band Screwtop Detonators, the film is remarkably intimate and encompassing, owing to the fact that director Mat de Koning  – interviewed here – was a longtime friend of all the principal players, having gone to school with them. However, when it came time to start whipping his exhaustive footage – over 700 hours worth – into some kind of cohesive shape, he knew he needed an extra set of eyes and hands. Enter Ms Silcox, another Kalamunda High alumnus.

So how did you become involved with Meal Tickets?

The truth of the story is I went to high school with Mat, and when we were in high school we knew that someone that we went to high school with was gonna be famous, we just didn’t know who it was gonna be. We went to school with The Panics, and The Panics walked around school like they were rock gods when they were 12 years old. Mat and I got into theatre quite early on, and he at one point in time decided that he was just gonna film everyone, because he wanted to track the journey and be a part of it and be a filmmaker. Then in 2004 the Screw Top Detonators met Dave Kavanaugh, who would become their band manager, and then he took them to the US. 2004 was when it started for Meal Tickets, but Mat was filming all the guys skating way before then, all through high school. There’s footage in the film that was taken in 1998 in a school gymnasium, so there’s 19 years of footage from start to finish.

When did you come on board?

In 2011 Mat called me up and said, “Hey Brooke I’m going to do a screener of the first act, the first 110 minutes, in Melbourne.”  – that’s USA or Bust, which is now 16 minutes of the film – it was previously 110 –  “I want to film people watching the film, how do I get a release?”

I was studying to be a lawyer at the time and I had a rough idea what he needed to do, and I did a bit of research. Then he called me up a little while later and asked me if I’d ever seen [1995 Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle] Dangerous Minds. At the start of Dangerous Minds, Michelle Pfeiffer is in the classroom and tells all these really dysfunctional kids that they’ve got an A, but it’s up to them to keep it. “Brooke, you did so well on that release stuff, you’ve got a producer’s credit, but it’s up to you to keep it.”

I was being a banking and finance corporate lawyer during the day, and producing and editing Meal Tickets in the evening and all of the weekends. Anyway, Mat had gotten one release for the film that he had been shooting since 2004, and so I learned how to be a producer, I tracked a whole bunch of weird and wonderful people down all over the world in order to get them to sign off on appearing in the film.

That must have been challenging, considering the way the film was pieced together.

I’ve got a couple of favourites that I can tell you about.

Partway through the film the band is on their way to a gig in Adelaide and then the car breaks down and they get a guy from RAC to come and fix the car – I found the guy from the RAC.

There was a busker on the street playing drums on Brunswick Street – I joined a busking site and posted a picture of the guy asking ‘Do you know who this is?’ and got his release.

There was a woman in the film that I couldn’t get a release from for ages and I actually saw her walk past me in a bar and I chased her down the road. We only had a pen and she’d just bought a new item of clothing so she wrote her name and her phone number down on the tag and gave it to me, so I was able to get her release a couple of weeks later.

The number of people I’ve been able to track down in the US – I needed to find the bassist for Muse. Facebook has become my best friend in tracking people down. Facebook has been my main tool, but Also MySpace and the remnants of things past leave little clues. I felt like it was more detective work than producing.

What did you bring to the post-production process, from a creative point of view?

Because I went to the same school as Mat, because I grew up with him, even when I saw the 110 minute cut, I knew the story he wanted to tell. It was still really rough around the edges and you couldn’t see the shape of it, but I could see the heart. I knew what he was trying to nail because it was the same sort of emotional journey, it was the same sort of learning, it was the same sort of stuff as a kid that I was processing. We were in the same crowd with the same people; we were thinking the same thoughts, we were surrounded by the same context. It’s quite a close relationship, producing this film, for a lot of the time. We know the people in the film as well as each other. When other people who don’t know the people tell us the story could go this way or that way, we know that’s not true to the people involved. I think having me produce, who knew them, helped Mat a fair bit.

You also helped edit the film?

I had to learn how to edit out of necessity. Mat gave me a couple of Final Cut Pro short cuts and said “help!” and gave me a weekend’s worth of will Stoker gigs and was like, “Can you make 10 seconds worth of film please?” – I get lovely little tasks like that. “Here’s 20 hours of footage – we just need 10 seconds!” Then Matt and I went down to Walpole [in Western Australia] for what we thought would be a week to pull the last little bit of the film together. It ended up being three weeks, and by the time we left we’d locked down 16.22 seconds of the film – we just needed to work out the other 89.7 minutes to get us to the 90 minutes it was gonna be.

It’s a very long production process, with 25 edit drafts – what took so long?

One of the things was that this was being done outside of our day jobs, and we were trying to fit it around other things. And also Mat hadn’t finished filming. When we started it didn’t feel finished, and so Mat was still out capturing by the time I came on board. But then there was a moment when it did feel finished, a real line in the sand where it was “stop filming, this is done”. Then it was just a matter of massaging, breaking it up and figuring out how it would work.

Was there anyone involved who refused to be part of the film?

They’d probably prefer me not to talk about them because they chose not to be a part of it, but yes, definitely. Mainly girls who had moved on or thought that they would be misrepresented , but that was it. Everyone has been enormously respectful throughout the process, because everybody knows that Mat has worked so hard – everyone respects the process, but some people do not want to have anything to do with it at all – and that’s fine, because it was their life. It’s people’s lives, and how many people want to look back on their 20s and have them on screen in their 30s?

Meal Tickets:

Friday, February 16, Dendy Canberra, 7pm.

Saturday, February 17, Dendy Coorparoo, Brisbane, 7pm.

Sunday, February 18, Dendy Newtown, Sydney, 4pm (Q&A to follow).

Friday, February 23, Nova, Melbourne, 6.45pm (Q&A to follow).

Tickets available here.




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