Director Paul Devlin leads a Q&A with his film subjects, members of the band The Loaded Poets following an STF screening of THE FRONT MAN.
© 8 Salamander Productions, Simon Luethi

This post was written by STF blogger Krystal Grow.

Following the STF screening of THE FRONT MAN, filmmaker Paul Devlin leads a Q&A with his film subjects, members of the band The Loaded Poets and their musician friends.


Thom Powers: How did you start filming this and what was the evolution of this film.

Paul Devlin: Well, it started because I had to answer the question of “what’s your next movie?” and I was doing a lot of different projects and I said to Jim one day, “I’m just going to start showing up with a camera every time we get together and see what happens,” and it was really just for fun at first and we had a really good time. It was a lot of laughs, and we were just joking around. And then things started to evolve and the ‘baby no baby’ sequence happened, and then she actually got pregnant, and then I realized “ok this is more than just a gag.” And then we just kept shooting and I would do other films and drop it for a year or two and then Jim would say that something was happening and we’d start again and I’d edit through the whole thing, and then we brought Glen and Graham into it and that brought a whole other dimension to it.

Powers: Jim, from your end, Paul followed you around with a camera for many, many years. What did you think of this process?

Jim Wood (The Loaded Poets, vocals): I loved it. Paul said, “I want to follow you around with a camera and see if anyone who doesn’t know you will think you’re funny,” which is kind of insulting, you know, but by the time we played it to a room full of strangers and they liked the film, I said “We’re done, mission accomplished.” It was over a long, long period of time, so there would be months, almost years where nothing would happen at all. I think the most profound thing for me is watching myself, taking a step back and watching my life on screen. He fixed my life in the editing, you know? So, I now realize I’m leading a charmed life because of the film. Whereas in the day-to-day shooting, it’s not so great.

Powers: Graham, you’ve seen the other side of rock ’n’ roll success, I wonder if watching a story like this, of someone striving for that…what are your reflections?

Graham Maby: When Paul and Jim came to my house 6 or 7 years ago, they didn’t really know what was going to happen with it, and I couldn’t figure it out either, so it’s a thrill to be here tonight and to actually see the whole thing come together. I think it’s a great film and I think it’s great that it’s being touted as a comedy, because it’s hilarious, right? I was just jealous. Like Jim, I love attention, which is kind of why we got into this. I’m like Jim, I was never really trying to achieve the goal that Jim achieved, I was just kind of swept up in somebody else’s dream, and I guess that’s still how it’s going, because I’m here.

Audience: Any prospects for a sequel?

Wood: Oh my god. Front Man 2 is in production. It’ll be out in 2045, so stay where you are.

Audience: Any plans to release your music at all?

Dan Snyder (The Loaded Poets, keyboards): We have a lot of stuff we recorded over the past 30 years. We’ve actually recorded about five CDs that never actually came out, so we’ll probably put them out at some point on the website or on iTunes.

Devlin: There’s a soundtrack at There are T-shirts and soundtracks and DVDs eventually. They had a previous CD release 10 years ago and that’s available too.

Audience: Do you feel like in some ways you are a rock star now?

Wood: I say this at every Q&A but this is my ‘fame sampler.’ I go to the film festivals in California and people are recognizing Dan and I in the streets and then I go back to my job and push commas around and sit at my computer, so it’s the best of both worlds. Do I feel like a rock star? Yes and no. I guess I’ve always felt like one and I’ve never felt like one, you know?

Audience: Are you still making music?

Wood: We will make music until we’re physically unable. We’ll do it until we can’t do it, and so far we’re still able to do it. There’s no reason to stop at all. It’s a wonderful hobby, it’s expressive, and it’s creative. There’s no reason to stop creating your art for any reason, even if your wife tells you to stop. As long as it’s not messing up other parts of your life and you’re fulfilling your obligations and taking care of the people you love, produce your art, take care of your business, persue your passions and just don’t hurt anybody.

I have a question for Glen. That line about Styx is one of the surefire laugh lines of the movie, how do you feel about that? Are you comfortable with that?

Glen Burtnick: That’s the first time I saw that live and I think it’s great, and all I could think about is what is Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw going to say about this movie. I never really came out and told them that, but I think it’s another rock ‘n’ roll film. When I was first hired and joined that band, we had these big road cases, wardrobe cases, and I was so into Spinal Tap at the time, so I would always have posters of the guys in the band Spinal Tap, and slowly I started to find out that Styx took that movie very personally. The manager of that band that brought them to their success was the main advisor on that film, so they thought it was about them, of course. So apparently I was pissing them off by having those posters. When I joined the band, they had Styx picks and they said they’d put Glen on mine and I said, “No, put Nigel,” so that’s what I was thinking when I saw that clip. I wondered if those guys were ever going to see it.

Audience: I really liked the part when you came out of the audition for the Don Dollar movie you said “Why can’t I apply this type of motivation to my life. He makes feature films in his spare time. Why can’t I apply that kind of motivation to my band?” So after 30 years, were you able to sort of tackle that? What motivated you and what kept you motivated to keep going?

Wood: The sad thing is the film makes it look like I tried. I never tried. I just didn’t try. I was one of those guys that in high school, I won all the talent shows, and sang and danced and everyone in high school blowing smoke up your ass like, “Oh, I knew you were going to win,” and “You’re going to be famous,” and all that. But you go through life thinking that someone is going to come find you, and if you don’t have someone in your life that’s going to guide you and tell you that that’s a friggin’ fantasy, they’re not going to come and lift up the rock and pull you out and make you famous like Jim Morrison.

It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of ignoring a lot of other parts of your life. I think if I had truly tried to become famous, Christie probably wouldn’t be in my life, Tessa probably wouldn’t be in my life. I don’t know where I’d be now, but I probably wouldn’t be here. But even if I did get signed and get a hit when I was young, I’d probably be back in my hometown already, hoping for a VH1 Where Are They Now, you know? I never really did things right, in terms of trying. We did sign a record contract with a guy over in England, and that was all Dan. He’s the most motivated one in the band from a business perspective, so he was flying over to England and meeting with this guy and this guy was blowing smoke up our asses too, walking up and down, and saying like “You need to lose weight,” and “You’re almost good looking enough,” and all this stuff. So we sign the contract and we go into the studio, and he brings in this hip-hop mix guy, who tries to marry our tunes with the hip-hop beat. It doesn’t work at all, and he just walks away. So that’s like the closest we ever came.

Snyder: That was close enough.

Wood: I think our biggest success is the fact that we’re still together, ‘cause we were part of a New Brunswick rock scene. How many bands that we played with when we were in college are still together and making music? They’ve all just kind of given up for one reason or another and gone on their merry ways, and we keep it together, not only for the music, but for the friendship. We love each other very much.

Audience: Did you ever break up?

Wood: No. We had various solo projects, but we never broke up, if that makes sense.

Audience: One of the fascinating things about this movie is that it’s an entire life. How do you edit someone’s life? Can you tell us about that process?

Devlin: That’s my wife Emily by the way, asking me a really hard question. That’s one we haven’t rehearsed in other Q&As! Well, it was a thrilling process. I cut scenes along the way as I could, but there was always something going on. Actually Glen’s scene was one of the first things I cut because it was self contained, and then I would cut another scene and another, but the problem was how do you string this together into a whole movie. It was brutal I’ve got to say, but it was just a lot of time. So we shot for 13 years on and off and then I would start going backwards too. That’s when I realized I had to condense it and make the narrative sustain the entire film. It was an editing challenge. It’s was a puzzle. I had puzzle pieces up on the bulletin board, moving things around and stuff like that. I’m interested in seeing Boyhood too. That’s the fictional counterpart and I can’t wait to see that. It’s like a genre suddenly.

Audience: Who shot the wedding scene?

Wood: A soundman had done the show for us. He filmed like, all the early shows, and so he just happened to be there.

Devlin: That wedding scene was a really early piece. There were a few pieces in there that really motivated me to finish the film, because I thought, “This has to see the light of day, people have to be able to see this.” The Howard Stern footage and a few other things. So really the whole movie basically is making sure that gets seen. How do I make a story that people will sit through and will get to those gems?

Audience: How much of yourself do you see in this film and how much did you learn by making this film?

Devlin: This is really my story. Jim is just a surrogate. Jim’s a metaphor. It’s great to be here, but I’m not Spielberg. When I was 18, I thought I was going to be Spielberg. We were all going to be famous and rich, but this is good too. I have a day job and a wife and all that, and a lot of us have the same things. So I wanted to tell that story. I was struggling for an end. We joke about it now, but I kept saying to the guys, “You’ve got to get a hit. How am I going to end this movie?” And they’re looking at me like, “You don’t understand your own movie Paul!” But I finally realized that I have to accept not just the movie, but my own life. That I’m not going to be the Spielberg, and then I could finish it. That was an acceptable end, and I was satisfied.

Audience: Does Tessa have her own band yet?

Wood: She’s very reserved and shy socially, which is kind of cute, but she’s into all the teeny-bopper stuff right now, and Christie is right there with her, because Christie is just a grown-up teeny-bopper. They’re going to see One Direction in August, and Tessa’s very happy about that. She was a spaz after we gave her those tickets. She’s got a good voice and she can sing, but she’s reluctant to do so publicly, so I’m not going to push her.

Audience: Is she drinking with you yet?

Wood: She’s not. When she was 2, she used to take sips of my beer and she loved it. But now I see that and I get chills because I’m like, “She’s 12 now,” but we say ‘he’ in that scene when we’re talking about that, so no. I don’t want her to do the bad stuff that I do, I just want her to do the good stuff, but I’m just waiting to see where life takes her.

Powers: So where can people find out about the film?

Devlin: We’ve had a great run. Five film festivals culminating in this screening and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York. She has written for TIME LightBox, the New York Times Lens Blog and the DOC NYC blog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.

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