This week’s guest on the Imperfect Podcast is Director, Fran Strine who created the music documentary Hired Gun now available on Netflix. Fran captures the stories of the music industries elite musicians who are only “20 feet from stardom” yet rarely receive credit for their work. Featured in the documentary are Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel), Ray Parker Jr. (Ghostbusters), Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot), Jason Newsted (Metallica) and dozens more.
Fran Strine talks with us about his passion for music and why telling this story was important. As a touring music photographer for bands like Staind, Nickelback, Shinedown & Seether he lived alongside some of the greatest musicians in the world. From finding investors to shooting 2 years of footage to having the music produced at Skywalker Ranch this interview is both inspiring and educational for filmmakers looking to break into the documentary world.
Hired Gun worked so well as a documentary because someone like Fran was so passionate and dedicated to the story and seeing the vision through to completion. There is no substitute for hard work when it comes to making a documentary of this magnitude and with the caliber of talent that was involved on and off screen.
Watch Hired Gun
Fran Strine Interview Highlights
The Motivation for Filming Hired Gun
- Fran Strine was a touring music photographer for years
- After being on the road for 20 years and ready to take a break, Five Finger Death Punch made him an offer he couldn’t refuse
- When the tour wrapped, Fran was about to turn 50 years old and he decided to take his chances and make a film
- He had no formal training as a photographer or videographer, just a lot of hard work and dedication
Getting started in Film
- Fran was the photographer for the Tattoo the Earth tour in 2000 with a bunch of metal bands
- He happened to bring a video camera with him and started shooting the bands live
- While in Atlanta with Sevendust the head of A&R approached him about doing a Bonus DVD for the making of the album
- Fran took the upfront money they gave him, bought a camera, a Mac and Final Cut for Dummies which is how he launched his film career
- That led to more music videos
Battlefield of the Mind
- In 2012 Fran filmed Battlefield of the Mind
- A documentary focusing on homeless Veterans that suffer from PTSD.
- How can this happen in the wealthiest country in the world?
- What can we do as citizens?
- That’s what this film explores.
Hired Gun: Concept to Production
- Fran had seen 20 feet from stardom and it really touched him
- He knew there was another story there and was aware of the “hired gun” from touring with musicians for 2 decades
- After making a sizzle reel, he found an investor who was a good friend he met through Battlefield of the Mind
- The budget was less than $1 Million
- Production on Hired Gun lasted 2 years while waiting for musicians to come off the road
How Do You Tell A Cohesive Story With So Much Footage
- Fran’s goal was to get the best stories from everyone involved
- The first musician he reached out to was Liberty Devitto because he couldn’t believe his story as Billy Joel’s drummer was real
- After interviewing Rudy Sarzo Fran knew he’d be a big part of the documentary
- In total, 65 musicians were interviewed to make Hired Gun
- Gavin Fisher was the editor on almost 90% of the film
Music Licensing for Hired Gun
- Julie Glaze Houlihan was the music supervisor responsible for clearing the music
- There are two sides to licensing a song
- Publishing rights that belong to the song writer
- Master recording that belongs to the record label
- Donald Fagan and Walter Becker gave us permission to use a Steely Dan song however the record label denied us
- Jay Gradon was brought in to re-record the guitar solo from Peg just for the documentary on the same guitar and amps used on the original recording
Assembling the Ultimate Jam Band
- Everyone in the band was interviewed for Hired Gun
- All of the musicians happened to be in town for NAMM that weekend
- One day of rehearsals and 3 days at the studio
- It was a nightmare to assemble but there were no egos and watching it live gave Fran chills
Distributing a Music Documentary
- We didn’t have a distributor going into the world premiere at SXSW
- Vision Films setup Hired Gun a screening at over 300 theaters nationwide
- In August of 2017 we launched on VOD and then received worldwide distribution working with Sony
- The Netflix deal came early on after a screening at the SOHO House
Mixing Audio at Skywalker Ranch
- Spending two weeks in Los Angeles to mix the film was not appealing
- On a whim, Fran sent an unsolicited email to Skywalker Ranch with the sizzle reel and synopsis
- The response from Skywalker Ranch was “Can we submit a bid?” which shows how much they believed in the project
For Fran Strine, he accomplished everything he had hoped for Hired Gun elevating his career to the next level. We wish Fran much success in his future endeavors. Have more questions for Fran? Leave them in the comments and we’ll make sure answers them.