It’s So Easy and Other Lies, a documentary about Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan based on his best-selling memoir, opened Friday (June 3) for an exclusive theatrical run in Los Angeles. Directed by Christopher Duddy, the nonlinear film, distributed by XLrator Media, takes viewers back to McKagan’s youth in Seattle and candidly addresses his near-death struggles with addiction, his joy in fatherhood, and, of course, the music in not only Guns N’ Roses, but other outfits such as Loaded and Velvet Revolver.
Duddy discussed how he met McKagan, the fine line he tread in the film, and why Guns N’ Roses lead singer Axl Rose is nowhere to be found in the documentary.
You and Duff met in the least rock and roll way possible: walking your kids to school.
We had moved in to a nice neighborhood in Sherman Oaks [in Los Angeles], and unbeknownst to me, Duff lived about three houses up from us. We became fast friends. We’d watch NFL games together. We saw each other every day. It was cool to see somebody like that was super down to earth, a guy you’d want to hang out with.
How did you go from friends to helming the documentary?
We all know Duff from Guns N’ Roses forward. I didn’t know much about his backstory. The book struck a chord with me so I approached him [about] a documentary. He said no, he didn’t want to do that, he thought the book was good enough. I just didn’t give up on it.
What changed his mind?
[After] the book became a New York Times best-seller and was being released on paperback, he asked me to go with him to Cleveland when Guns was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame [in 2012] and go to a club gig with Loaded [at the House of Blues]. Duff sat on a stool and read pages out of his book, while his band basically scored it. I was totally blown away. When we got back to L.A., I pitched him the idea of using the book reading as the catalyst to propel the storytelling. We staged a bigger book reading with bigger orchestration. He got a string quartet and I had 10 cameras and we shot at the Moore Theater in Seattle. It took the movie to a different level than just a normal documentary.
The movie is a redemption story as Duff deals with addiction not once, but twice, before triumphing. How important was sharing his recovery?
I think it [was important for] both of us. That was part of the reason he wrote the book. It’s a scary place when you’re writing a book about yourself and then turning it into a documentary. A lot of people, especially famous rock stars, don’t necessarily want to pull the curtain back too much to show their real dark side. Duff wanted to be honest to help people see that there’s ways out of that dark side.
The documentary spends little time on Guns N’ Roses. Duff talks about the first time he hears Axl sing, but there’s no footage of them in the studio or mention of their breaking up. Why?
Duff was real adamant from the beginning that he didn’t want this to be a Guns N’ Roses documentary. I didn’t either, because it’s a story about his journey through life and successes and darkness. During the course of us making the movie, the talks started about the reunion tour and Duff wanted to be real sensitive about that and not convolute anything with that going on.
Guns N’ Roses members Slash and Matt Sorum are in it. Did you ask Axl to participate?
We reached out gently. He can be a volatile guy, so we really didn’t want to disrupt anything with his camp and with the talk of this reunion tour. I sent his manager a rough cut of the movie. I didn’t want to push too hard on that. It is what it is.
And, as you show, Duff’s story is so much more than his time with Guns N’ Roses.
I think the Velvet Revolver period was as interesting because of what happened. They all fell off the wagon. I didn’t know that part of the story until I started making the movie. There was a lot of stuff about Duff’s life that was revealed making the film, like the punk scene in Seattle and how important Duff was in that scene as a teenager and the influence he had on a lot of different bands.
Did Duff have the final edit and was there anything he asked you to take out?
Yes and yes. As a filmmaker, it’s always a struggle to keep everything in that you want. If it was up to me, the movie would have been three hours long. Duff was conscious about making it not too much of a self-indulgent piece. There was stuff that he wanted me to take out because of those reasons.
This was shot over a three-year period?
It was shot in spurts over three years. Before the [Guns N’ Roses] reunion, Duff’s been in like five bands. He was constantly going on tour and I would lose him for a month at a time. I’ve never seen anybody as busy as that guy.
What happens after the Los Angeles theatrical run?
The plan is to release to VOD and iTunes and on DVD in the beginning of July. Then expect to see it on Netflix shortly thereafter.
Are you tying in with the Guns N’ Roses reunion tour or is this timing just coincidence?
It’s pretty much lucky coincidence for the filmmakers and producers. This movie was done a year ago. Not in our wildest dreams did we know this movie was going to hit the same summer they’re doing this monster tour. That was just luck of the draw. That’s the silver lining at the end of this very long process.