Davis Guggenheim won an Academy Award for his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” His follow up to that was “It Might Get Loud,” a documentary about the electric guitar featuring legends Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White discussing their musical inspiration, their craft, and of course, lots of rock and roll.
The movie is one of the first exclusives Apple is offering as part of the new Music Movies initiative designed to drive digital music fans to iTunes’ video content. In this Q&A, the director shares his thoughts about the state of music-themed movies, physical versus digital distribution, and how the music and movie business can better work together moving forward.
What do you think of Apple’s decision to get aggressive with the marketing of music films?
It’s perfect. If you’re just a guy out there that loves movies, rock and roll music, and rock documentaries, you’ve seen all the music and movie venues disappear. The local music store, the local art house theater… they’re gone. That’s the bad news. The good news is now there’s a home for documentaries and music movies, and you don’t even have to leave your home.
How important are DVD sales to the revenues for documentary films, especially music-based documentaries?
I’m not the guy to talk to about the business. I know that the sand is shifting in terms of how people are going to make money off their movies. The formula that we’ve known for the last 10 years is clearly changing. Where are people going to see movies, where are they going to pay for movies? There’s no doubt that’s changing, but that’s about all I know.
But certainly as a filmmaker you have to be concerned about what the outlets for your films are if you want to continue making more of them.
For music movies and music documentaries, it’s such a niche market. The fans are rabid, but those fans—and I’m one of them—feel like “hey what happened to us?” We need a place to find these films, to see these films, to talk about these films. Maybe if you lived in Greenwich Village in 1978, that could have happened. But those venues have dried up. You drive to Best Buy and Wal-Mart, you’re going to find great movies, but you’re not going to find that experience of searching through them. When you’re obsessed with music, you’re following a path. How many times do you go to a record store thinking you’re going to buy one thing and you discover this other album? On iTunes, you can do that. There are hundreds of great documentaries you can get.
What effect do you think the iTunes Music Movies program will have on the development of new music documentaries, not just the ability to find existing ones?
I think it is the future. For the last 10 years, you could catalog a hundred articles calling for the death of Hollywood, or the death of distribution. Prognosticating that this industry is dead, the music industry is falling, the movie industry is next. My sense is screw the prognostication and just go with your gut.
As a filmmaker, do you have any concerns about the quality of film distributed digitally versus DVD?
I did. Even six months ago I used to assume the quality was terrible. And for a while it was. But I downloaded "The Sting" the other night and I couldn’t tell the difference between that and a DVD. I think the quality issue is gone. The issue for me is how long it takes to download, but it’s still just 12 minutes to download a movie, which is faster than driving to my favorite video store.
So you don’t have a strong opinion if people buy “It Might Get Loud” on DVD or download on iTunes?
I want this movie to make a profit, because I want to make more of them. I don’t want the business to dry up. But people who hold on to an old technology or an old system are going to lose. That’s clear. The music business proved that. I think there are people who loved my movie who will buy it on Blu-ray, and there will people who say they just want to see it tonight. So one will download it on iTunes and one will buy the Blu-ray. Sometimes they’ll buy both. But saying you’re going to hold off the new technology, those people are Luddites and they’re going to perish.
Should labels and artists make more music documentaries as a way of compensating for the decline in recorded music sales?
I think we found that on “It Might Get Loud.” People want more. They don’t just want the album. They want to know how The Edge wrote that song, they want to know the songs that The Edge loves, they want to download the video of the band that The Edge loves. So a music documentary is perfect because it’s the next level; it’s something special.
Any more music documentaries in your future?
I hope so. Making “It Might Get Loud” was one of the best experiences of my life. I love almost everything music. I’d make this movie again tomorrow. One of the dissatisfactions of making it was wondering where the home for it was. The fact that iTunes made a home for it where music lovers will find it… is really great.