When he was a student at Kalamunda High School in Western Australia, Mat de Koning began shooting video of his mates mucking about on skateboards. When his mates – Ben Ward, Lee French, Mitch Long and Charlie Austen – formed the punk band Screwtop Detonators, he kept filming. When the band embarked on their first US tour, he went along. Now, a decade later, he’s whittled down over a hundred of hours of footage into Meal Tickets, a startlingly intimate biopic of a band, from its birth to its downfall.
The guts of the film covers Screwtop Detonators’ first US tour, a 30 day odyssey organised by manager Dave Kavanaugh, who comes across like a mix of Arthur Daley and Malcolm McLaren as he tries to steer the group towards his idea of success. “I came back from the US tour with over 100 hours of footage in the can,” de Koning says. “I cut a music video from the material and spent many hours watching through the tapes, laughing my ass off. I knew I’d have an engaging tour film on my hands, but I wanted to tell a story with a great deal more depth than just the turbulent times of a band’s first international tour.”
That includes the inevitable comedown after touring, as the film contrasts the month long rock ‘n’ roll adventure with the mundane realities of being a working musician in Perth. “As soon as we got back from the US the realities of small city life kicked back in for the Screwtops as they continued playing gigs at the same few Perth venues, getting back with their girlfriends and rebelling against the direction Dave was trying to steer their band down.”
However, what really sets the film apart form your standard rock-doc is the incredible intimacy that de Koning achieves – a result of his long-standing friendships with his subjects. Meal Tickets is at times painfully raw, capturing the unalloyed fears, insecurities and jealousies of a young band on the road and at home. “The presence of my camera became so second nature that the audience are getting a pure slice of life. It was during the editing that my closeness to the subjects put a strain on the filmmaking process.” de Koning notes. “I found the ‘depth’ I was chasing largely came from the relationship moments I captured as a result of being such close friend with my subjects. So whilst I was filming the gigs, recording sessions and radio interviews, I was also bringing my camera to the BBQs, skate missions and other life events.”
The effect on the film is that de Koning managed to capture all kinds of nefarious nonsense that a more distanced filmmkaer would not have been privy to. “There’s all of the infidelities, drug taking and generally dysfunctional shit we got up to in our early 20s. Things most musicians get up to at that age, but that we had caught on camera. This is a coming of age film, so these shenanigans in our early 20s were important to include so that the audience grows up with us as we start to discover what’s more important in life as we approach our 30s.”
To that end, the film goes beyond the band’s demise (the Detonators called it quits in 2010) to track the former members lives for the following few years as well. “I was interested in where life would take them next. Some traveled, some got married and most started new bands.” However, the primal drive of making music was no longer dominating the former Detonators, which gave de Koning a natural, somewhat elegiac end place. “Once the music was no longer the strongest driving force in everyone’s life, I felt I’d finished filming.”
Meal Tickets is screening at the Revelation Film Festival. For tickets and session times, hit the official site.