Regrettably, I must inform you that ‘Oldschool Renegades’ is currently unavailable for purchase or online streaming. However, if you are interested in showcasing the film at a nearby music or film festival, I kindly invite you to direct them to this page and request that they get in touch with me for further information.
My Takeaways from Producing a Documentary on Underground Music
I learned valuable lessons producing an underground music documentary, including the importance of name-dropping, building relationships, capturing B-roll footage, and utilizing film festivals. My documentary, ‘Oldschool Renegades,’ explored the evolution of electronic music and featured interviews with original artists. Despite difficulties with a failed distribution deal, I leveraged my strengths to create an engaging teaser trailer and promote it. The film was ultimately showcased at several film festivals, demonstrating that they can serve as a valuable platform for niche or underground content.
A Brief Introduction to Oldschool Renegades
The idea to create a documentary about the early days of house and rave came to me in 2009. I aimed to explore the evolution of electronic music from the house sound of Chicago through the raw techno sound of Detroit to the hardcore techno we were creating in Rotterdam. I thought that having the original artists speak about their experiences would be the best way to achieve this, so I compiled a list of the artists who had the most impact on me as a music producer and reached out to them to tell their stories. ‘Oldschool Renegades’ is the result of this effort.
Lesson 1: The Independent Route May Not Be the Best Path
If I had been aware of how difficult it would be to handle all aspects of the project alone, I might have reconsidered starting it. Once the documentary was completed, I formed connections with Vice and Noisey, who would have made ideal partners. However, I ended up signing a distribution deal with a major record label, TopNotch (Universal Music), which provided no input in the creative process. Collaborating with a well-known company like Vice or Netflix could have facilitated access to the artists and their representatives. However, the distribution deal with the major record label fell through, leaving me on my own with my rights stuck in a global distribution agreement. The label had provided funding, and I had paid for most of the production costs myself, with the assistance of free labor from my cameraman. Additional financing was only necessary to film interviews in the United States. I eventually conducted interviews with The Prodigy, Moby, Franky Bones, and Lenny Dee in the US. Unfortunately, the label’s legal department refused to clear the 100+ tracks, citing cost as a barrier. They did not attempt to find a solution. I still believe that most of the music in the documentary could have been licensed with a reasonable deal. In the future, if I have a good idea, I will approach Vice, Netflix, or Amazon Prime.
Lesson Two: Generating Some Buzz (Without Overdoing It)
To hype your project, start by leveraging your strengths. Personally, I am not the best director, but I excel in editing and sound design. Thus, I started by creating a music collage that captured the essence of the era I wanted to showcase. I also filmed close-up shots of a Technics SL-1210 MKII turntable, featuring a record with a ‘smiley’ logo on the label, and edited it to the music. To complete the trailer, I added a logo and animated text on top and began promoting it. The first version of the trailer included a few artist quotes, and it received excellent feedback from the audience. I even sent out a press release to renowned music journalists in my country, stating: ‘Poing producer creates a documentary about the early Rave scene.’ The press release got picked up by several websites, including ‘VPRO 3 voor 12’, a famous music website in The Netherlands, which revisited the project two years later, leading to a deal with TopNotch (Universal Music). However, after the hype comes pressure, as the audience keeps asking when the project will be released. At this point, you have to finish the project, no matter what. I struggled with this, but the knowledge that a group of people wanted to see my finished product motivated me to keep going.
(Richard Hall a.k.a. Moby, filmed at his house in Hollywood)
Lesson 3: Master the Art of Reaching Out to Rockstars
When I made the teaser trailer, I showed it to Joey Beltram, an old friend who was one of the original pioneers of the early techno scene. He had created classics like “Energy Flash,” “My Sound,” and “Mentasm” at a very young age and was thrilled to do the interview. What made it even better was that he had never talked about his early work on camera before. After mentioning his name, I was able to get access to other artists from the scene, who were not necessarily big-name rockstars but still important to the movement. However, it took a lot more effort to reach Moby and The Prodigy. My advice is not to use the front door when trying to reach out to artists. Going straight to the artist’s manager or record label will likely get your request screened and weeded out as unimportant. Instead, find someone close to the artist who is more likely to be receptive to your cause. Build a relationship, and if your intentions are good, there is a chance that they will introduce you. This is especially true if you produce your project for an established channel.
(Liam Howlett, the driving force behind The Prodigy)
Lesson 4: Increase the Amount of B-Roll Footage
I had a strong focus on capturing the stories of the artists, which resulted in a lot of interview footage in the documentary. While die-hard fans of the genre will appreciate this, it’s important to also consider a wider audience and keep the film engaging by incorporating additional visuals. Fortunately, I was able to source videos and photographs from old raves, but in hindsight, I would have liked to capture more of the artists' everyday lives. Sometimes, the best stories come from unexpected moments, like chatting with a rockstar while they’re doing mundane tasks. It’s important to take them out of their comfort zone to encourage them to share more. Another lesson learned is the value of B-roll footage. Having a secondary camera rolling can capture those extra shots that add more depth and variety to the final product.
(Manuela Kamosi aka ‘Ya Kid K’ of Technotronic)
Lesson 5: Increase Your Exposure by Submitting Your Work to Film Festivals
Fortune smiled upon me as I didn’t have to submit my film myself. ‘Melkweg Cinema’ invited me to showcase it at the Amsterdam Dance Event in 2013, marking the movie’s official premiere. Serendipitously, someone associated with the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) had seen it, and not long after ADE, they sent me an invitation to screen my film at their event. This was not only a momentous festival, but they were also going to exhibit the film multiple times across different theaters. They arranged for my transportation, accommodation, and other amenities, making me feel like an artist again during my 90s tour days. At one screening, I had the privilege of sitting among the audience and witnessing their reactions - the cheers, laughter, and applause - as they enjoyed the film. It felt like watching a crowd respond to a record you’re playing. The experience was surreal, and it confirmed my aspiration to evolve from music to film, and become just as successful. I also had the honor of participating in a Q&A session after the credits rolled. It was a magical moment for me since presenting my film in a theater had been my goal since my days producing music videos in 1995.
Lesson 6: Embrace and Make the Most of Your Momentum
After returning to the hotel, I was approached by the crew from BeatFest, a film festival in Moscow, who had seen my film and wanted to include it in their lineup. I believe their interest was piqued by the rare opportunity to feature a lengthy interview with all members of The Prodigy: Liam, Keith, and Maxim. Given the band’s massive fan base in Russia, I’m certain that the screening was a sell-out success. Surprisingly, without any effort on my part, the film was also selected by six additional film festivals. If I were to produce another movie, I would definitely submit it to any suitable film festival I could find. My experiences have been nothing short of fantastic. Due to my “distribution problem,” film festivals have become the only platform to view my film, rendering it as underground as the scene it depicts once was.
(Q&A sessions are the most fun and rewarding part of the experience for me)
Oldschool Renegades (2013)
Featuring: Richard Hall (Moby), Liam Howlett, Keith Flint, Maxim Reality (The Prodigy), Frankie Bones, Joey Beltram, Lenny Dee, Ben Stokes (DHS), Graham Massey (808 State), Nick Halkes (XL Recordings), Matt Nelson (SL2), Eamon Downes (Liquid), DJ Smiley (Shut up and Dance), Acen Razvi (Acen), Renaat Vandepapeliere (R&S Records), Cisco Ferreira, CJ Bolland, Frank de Wulf, Ya Kid K, Patrick de Meyer (Technotronic), Olivier Abbeloos (T99, Quadrophonia), Nikkie van Lierop (Praga Khan), Miss Djax, DJ Paul Elstak, Orlando Voorn, Jeroen Flamman, Guido Pernet (Human Resource), Danny Scholte (Rotterdam Termination Source), Oliver Bondzio, Ramon Zenker (Hardfloor, Interactive), Jens Lissat (Interactive), Sven Rohrig (3rd Phase), John Walker (DJ Kutski). Check it out on IMDB