It’s So Easy to Direct a Documentary, and Other Lies

Filmmaker James Winn talks to Christopher Duddy about his new Duff McKagen doc, It's So Easy and Other Lies.

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It’s So Easy to Direct a Documentary, and Other Lies

When we heard there was an innovative new documentary, It’s So Easy and Other Lies, coming out about Duff McKagan (bass player for Guns N’ Roses) we knew exactly whom to put on the case. Filmmaker Jason Winn (The Fat Boy Chronicles) is a longtime friend of the magazine, and an even longer-time GnR fanatic. Sure enough, he devoured the movie and couldn’t wait to interview its director, Christopher Duddy. What’s it like making a documentary about one of the hardest rocking bands ever?

Paste Magazine: I really loved the movie.
Christopher Duddy: Oh good, you had a chance to see it?
Paste: Yep, I watched it last night. I mean, first of all, I’m a Guns N’ Roses fan from 25 years back.
Duddy: Yeah, me too!

Paste: But more than that, just as a filmmaker, I was really impressed with your artistic choices as to how to tell what could be kind of a similar story to what we’ve seen a lot before. So: Tell me about the genesis of this whole project.
Duddy: Duff and I were friends first. We were neighbors and we actually met walking our kids to school about ten years ago. And we just shared a love of sports, and being dads. I was taken aback by how down-to-earth he was, and how much we had in common. We were friends for about five years before he wrote the book, and when he wrote it he asked me to read it. And of course I did. I knew his story from Guns N’ Roses forward, but I didn’t really know anything about his past. So when I read the book, it was really interesting where he came from, and where he is, and how he accomplished that. It’s a very inspirational story, right?
Paste: Totally.
Duddy: As a filmmaker, I love inspirational stories. So I kind of mentioned that we should do a documentary of it. And he said no. He probably said no the first ten times I mentioned it. But I kept pushing on him, because I just think his story is so great. Finally, when his book was coming out in paperback, he said, “Why don’t you start following me around with a camera, and we’ll use it for press for the book release?” He was doing morning shows and stuff, and we were shooting B-roll. I didn’t know what it would turn into.

I thought we’d find something eventually as to what the movie was going to be. This went on for about six months, and he said, “Hey, will you go to Cleveland with me? We’re getting inducted into the Hall of Fame.” And I said, “Holy shit, of course I’ll go.” He said, “The induction’s on Saturday, but come Friday because I’m doing this book reading show.” I didn’t even know what that was. I went to the House of Blues with my camera bag strapped to my shoulders, and he said, “Can you carry my bass?” [Both laugh.]

So he starts the show, and he’s reading pieces out of his book, and his band Loaded is scoring it. And I thought, This is really cool! The House of Blues was packed. It was sold out. And I just was taken aback by how the audience responded to this book-reading show. Afterwards I was going to go back to the hotel, and he said, “No, stay—Slash and the guys are going to come in and we’re going to rehearse.”
Paste: Oh my God.
Duddy: They hadn’t played together for like 20 years, all of them together. At first he was like, “You can’t shoot this.” But then I pulled out my camera for like the third song and sort of had it on my lap shooting. And then after a couple of hours, I was up on the stage with my camera, shooting, and everyone was into it. Hardly any of that is in the movie, maybe none of it.

Paste: I didn’t see any of it in the film, but that’s such an amazing experience.
Duddy: It was crazy. And then the Hall of Fame speech was amazing, and Duff’s speech was amazing, and they played with Slash’s singer…
Paste: Myles Kennedy.
Duddy: And they sounded great. So we got back, and I told Duff, “We should do a bigger, louder version of the book reading show for the movie. It’ll be a great device to tell stories and move through the chapters of the book.” I had a clear vision then of what we could do with the movie. We didn’t want to make kind of the cookie cutter, standard, talking head documentary. We wanted to make it unorthodox, and have a chance to stand out. And inspire people. Duff’s story, what he went through, with his rise to fame and then his fall into the dark of alcohol and drugs, and then having a second chance and taking the reins of that second chance… I mean, the guy is incredibly successful outside the rock and roll world. I was just really taken aback by how personable and down to earth he was. That helped me be able to tell his story, because it’s a really delicate situation as a filmmaker to put yourself in to tell someone else’s story like that. You have to be real sensitive.

Paste: What got me was the opening animation, and then going into spoken word. I didn’t know if it was going to be more about Guns, but then in the first 15 minutes, I saw that it was really the story of Duff, and I got it. The film was able to transcend the fame and fortune, and at its heart it’s a beautiful inspirational story of one man’s struggle to overcome demons—a story we can all identify with.
Duddy: Yeah, that’s a really relatable thing on a human level. When Duff was doing the book tour, I went with him to Book Soup in Hollywood for a book signing. This was a really defining moment for me in the project. There was a line down Sunset Boulevard, and this one guy waited for like two hours, and he finally got up to the front to have Duff sign his book. And he said, “Duff, can I hug you?” And Duff was like, “Sure man,” and got up and hugged him. And the guy said, “I gotta tell you, you saved my life. I read this book when I was in rehab, and I’m still sober.”

I’ve got goosebumps just telling you this story. People respond to Duff like that. He’s a real beacon for people’s optimism about coming through things. He’s a perfect example of “You can do it.” You can overcome your demons. You’ve just got to funnel it into something else. When he first got sober, it was mountain biking, and now it’s just working out, and kickboxing. When we first got to know each other, he’d work out hard every single day.
Paste: Like two or three hours a day.
Duddy: Yeah! He’s hardcore. He climbs mountains and stuff. But that’s his AA meeting.

Paste: Absolutely. So what are the plans for the film? I think it deserves a wide distribution; I think the fan base alone would love to see that side of him.
Duddy: Before we even made the movie, just based on the strength of the book, we had already sold it worldwide. Now that it’s turned out this well, I’m hoping it builds an audience through strength of word of mouth. It doesn’t hurt that Guns N’ Roses is doing this whole tour this summer.

Paste: Yeah, that was great timing!
Duddy: Yeah, pretty good timing. So it’s got a limited theatrical release in North America, and hopefully that will grow wider. In early July they’re releasing it on VOD and iTunes, and in September on Netflix. So hopefully people will love it like you did.

Paste: I think people will respond to it for a myriad of different reasons. The rock element might be the draw in, but I think the takeaway is much more than that. So what’s your next film?
Duddy: I have another rockumentary my brother and I are working on about the Procaro brothers from the band Toto. That’s kind of in the early stages of development. And I’m shooting a remake of Nosferatu. And after that I’m off to Thailand to shoot a family adventure movie that my wife Joely Fisher is directing.

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