As a fan of baggy pioneers The Stone Roses from the peak of their popularity to their messy dissolution too-few years later, Shane Meadows saw the opportunity to document the band's reunion last year as nothing less than a dream come true. Empire caught up with Meadows as he was putting the finishing touches to the film in late March, and wondered how it felt to be playing a real-life Marty Dibergi to his favourite band in the world...
Shane Meadows with Ian Brown
Did you have a particular, if you will, rockumentary model for your approach to Made Of Stone? Over the years I've seen some amazing music docs; I loved the Metallica one where they're all in camp, and obviously Anvil!, while The Devil And Daniel Johnston is one of my favorites. But when it came to making this I suppose it was The Last Waltz, that idea of someone having personal access to something, coming from a personal place, and obviously [Martin] Scorsese had a very close friendship with the singer. And I'm not saying I've got that, but it wasn't like I was a director for hire. I'm also not a Julien Temple, who forges a career out of making music docs; it was pretty much always going to be a once-only affair for me. You know, I'll probably say that and then I'll be doing them for the rest of me life now! (laughs) But the thing for me was that I had no idea where the band were gonna go, whether I'd end up on tour for three years, whether I'd only go to Warrington, they'd find me a real pain in the arse and tell me to go home, so I just kind of took it all as a day-by-day experience. There was no master plan.
Yet it became your biggest film yet...
'If you'd told me I'd be shooting with 30 cameras, I'd have wet the bed!'
I started off literally just filming on my iPhone, just to get a view, so I didn't intrude too much. Then there was the rehearsal, which is for me one of the most special pieces in there because the band were looking at each other across the room, whereas at a gig they're all staring out to the crowd. So when I was in that barn I could see all the chemistry of the band, and I was thinking, "I've got to capture this for the fans like myself". Obviously Warrington became another challenge [because] I'd never used more than two cameras in my life on anything and I've suddenly got, like, 13 or 14 camera people. And then you start going, "Geez, we didn't even have enough cameras on that, and Heaton Park takes 75,000 - I'm gonna neeed 30 or 40 cameras!" So it was a constantly evolving and growing process. If you told me on the first day, "You're gonna be shooting with 30 cameras," I probably would have wet the bed!
Did The Stone Roses have a preference to the kind of film you'd make? From their point of view, they didn't just want it to look like a two-hour glossy film set on a massive stage in Manchester; they knew that they had to be seen all the way through from the very beginning, breaking the old songs down [in rehearsal] and learning to play them again.
Ian Brown asked you to make this. How did that come about? Well, I met Ian a few years back at a Banksy exhibition in Bristol. I saw him there, he's like one of me heroes, and I thought, "Should I say something?" You know, the classic sort of, "I'll never see him again...". So I went over and introduced myself, which I don't do very often. I felt like a bit of turkey, but he's such a great bloke, and it was one of the lucky things where he'd heard of my stuff and seen some of my films - it wasn't like we became best mates in five minutes, but he basically kept in touch with me. I got him in to do a little cameo in This Is England, the TV series, as a policeman, and then we nearly worked together on a pop video. I'd probably not spoken to him for six or eight months and I just got a phone call at 9.30am on a Thursday in a taxi on my way to East Midlands Airport. He said, "The Roses are getting back together. Me and the boys have spoken and we want you to come and film a press conference". They had no idea how far they'd wanna take it, but he sort of said, "Why don't we just start and see where it goes?"
Ian Brown on stage
They say you should never meet your heroes, don't they? They do, yeah! You hear of these horror stories where people meet their heroes and hate them, or the heroes hate the people. But I think we've got a lot in common in terms of where we've come from - not a classically trained background in our fields. So I think there was probably some common ground there. And, yeah, it was a joyous experience. I kept thinking that the wheels were gonna come off and everyone was gonna think I'm a complete fat jerk with a big camera that wouldn't go away, but I think I've learnt over the years working with actors that I can sense an atmosphere. I can sense when people want you there and when they don't. I mean, I'm not like Martin Bashir trying to get some filth out of Michael Jackson. I was there as a fan and I wanted to capture something as a fan, and I'm still a bigger fan than I was when I started, and so that's testament to how great the band are.
It's interesting you say that, because there's an awkward moment in the film Reni stormed off stage in Amsterdam and it looked like the band had split again, and you were on screen saying, "I don't want to be shoving a camera in their faces right now..." But was there any part of you that was thinking, "Well there is a story here, shouldn't I be pushing it a bit right now"? Oh no. I mean, all I thought was that there was a choice to be made there. It's a bit like the choice I made with Thomas Turgoose for This Is England, where there was another kid who went up for the part, who had the same sort of qualities as Tom has but was just was a bit safer, a bit more professional, and, you hear a voice saying, "Maybe should should take this route." And in Amsterdam, most filmmakers in my position would have gone, "Oh, this'll be amazing for the film. This'll sell tickets," and I was just sat there thinking, "Me favourite band of all time are gonna split up before they've even played Heaton Park." It didn't really enter my head, other than, I'd rather be a decent human being, I'd rather be me as I would be at home. I've never been one for taking cheap shots, and that was probably quite an important moment in my relationship with the band.
It didn't go unnoticed, because I packed my bags and basically got everyone on a minibus and got them out the way. I did get a text from Ian saying, "There's not many filmmakers that would've done that," and I think from that point onwards they knew that it was a trusting relationship, and what I'd said I wanted to do at the beginning I was being true to that. I'm a big believer that to get to the core of something, or the core of the emotion, you don't have to go down that obvious route, and sometimes less is more, and in that case I think it was. It's not like the film is a glossy, over-the-top fan perspective, waxing lyrical and licking peoples bums. It's honest.
Shane with The Stone Roses' Alan 'Reni' John Wren and John Squire
One of the best parts of the film was the way you shot the build-up to the secret Warrington gig, and all the little stories you found among those fans trying to get their free tickets. It played out almost like a little Shane Meadows movie in itself. Yeah, it did. Honestly, I would probably audition those people for one of my films. Like the young lad with the hat and his dad's asking him questions about songs and says, "You wouldn't last five minutes on Mastermind!". They're like lines from my films!
I like the guy who said, "They're the reason I've never worn a tie." If I'd written what that guy says as a monologue - "There's a reason why I've still got my hair like this after all these years, there's a reason why I've never worn a tie, there's a reason why I still listen to that album, every week, and it still makes me tingle" - I'd be as proud as punch. What I realised more than anything on this is that I went into it thinking I was their number one fan, and you go to Warrington and you go, "Oh my god, I'm not. I'm actually part of a family of fans who are all as obsessed with these people, and as moved by their music as I was". It was a beautiful day. On the day when we were shooting it, there was actually a couple who, once it'd come on Facebook, they went dogging in the park opposite in the middle of the day. So you've got this dirty couple knowing there was cameras down there trying to get us to, like, video his arse at it in the bushes!
No way! It was just one of them mental days, you know? The mad thing is I thought, "I'm gonna show the band this 25-minute section where they are not in it, and they will be like, "˜I thought this was a documentary about us!'" But it's their favorite bit of the film!
Have you seen the film Spike Island, by the way? No, I haven't mate. I know of it obviously because it was one of them where, I heard the title and I was like, "Flipping heck, what?". I thought, "We are gonna have two Robin Hoods and I might end up being the one with the bloke with the 'tache in it," but then when I realised it was a drama, rather than any kind of documentary, I knew they were never gonna clash. I'm over the moon they made a film about Spike Island and I'd love to see it!