Unlocking the Truth
Luke Meyer follows viral band Unlocking the Truth in his documentary “Breaking A Monster.” What is different about this documentary compared to others about the music industry is that it follows two seventh graders, a guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse and lead vocalist Jarad Dawkins. Together, they formed an American metal band hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Meyer’s documentary is both powerful and revealing in its subject. Meyer, who is currently premiering his latest film Fourth Wall, a history and aftermath of a livein psychotherapy community on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, talks to us about decisions and processes.
In work, you do what you know. So how did you come across “Unlocking the Truth?” What drew you to these seventh grade metal musicians?
Initially I was asked to make a short film about the band when they were still performing in Midtown Manhattan. There was some buzz building around them, but the music industry hadn’t taken significant notice yet. It was clear that they were really talented, but it was still unknown what that would mean for them. That film focused on what it’s like to be young and have unrestricted dreams about who you want to be in the world. It was a picture of a moment in time, when everything is boundless because it exists in a state of potential.
Later, when I made the feature Breaking A Monster, the idea was to make a film about what happens when some of those dreams started to come true for the band. So for me, I saw this film as a chance to explore the complex, and sometimes messy journey that happens when dreams shift into reality. In addition to that, there was the child stardom angle devel- oping in the UTT story that was interesting to see both from the band’s own experience, and also by watching how adults handle kids in situations like this.
At any stage of this process, did you ever get upset about the industry process when it came to these two young boys?
When we were making the film, there were often times when we were wary of the decisions and processes being made by and around the band. However, we never could be sure about where things were heading. We were following the story of the band in real-time, and there were some situations that began questionable which ultimately became a good move for them – and vice versa.
“The story in the film feels like the experience they had. This isn’t always the case in documentaries. There are plenty of times when the subject of a film had a completely different experience than the one portrayed by the filmmaker.”
Film and documentary has an unparalleled power to influence culture. How would you perceive this in regards to Breaking A Monster?
With Breaking A Monster, we wanted to closely tell the sto ry of the band’s experience as they were initiated into the business world of music. We worked hard to gain access to meetings that are usually quite private. It was important for us to be there for as many of the steps they went through as possible. This is how the film came to be such a direct look at their process.
When the band finally saw the film, they endorsed it. The story in the film feels like the experience they had. This isn’t always the case in documentaries. There are plenty of times when the subject of a film had a completely different experience than the one portrayed by the filmmaker. So it was really rewarding for me to hear that the guys in the band felt their actual lives were reflected in the film.
Part of why I think the film feels so accurate for the band is because it’s very intimate. The film stays really close to the lives of the three band mates. I have no idea if or how this movie might influence culture, but if it does, I imagine it would come out of the intimacy and access this film offers into a world we think we know but haven’t really seen first hand before.
Where are you now, and what are you working on?
I’m already working on my next film called Fourth Wall. It’s about the history and aftermath of a live-in psychotherapy community on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was la- belled as a “cult” back when it was in the press – but the way the power-structure worked in this group, the story goes far beyond the typical cult-narrative and ends up tracing political and cultural trends of late 20th century America in its reflection.
Aside from that, I’m also developing episodic non-fiction projects.
What was it like, the experience, of working with people considered to be a part of a “cult”?
It’s striking how much alike they are compared to everyone else. They aren’t categorically any stranger or more unusual than you or I. In a lot of ways, this is what this new film is about actually. We all have the potential to be cult members – some of us already are and don’t even realize it yet.
Do this type of subjects impress you because you tend to choose subjects that are indifferent to the “system”?
It’s inspiring to see someone be more concerned with what they themselves believe than what they think they’re supposed to believe. There’s a freedom to it. If you approach a story of an outsider with compassion, where the outsider is the protagonist and not an anomaly, then the culture they’re standing apart from starts to appear strange and worthy of contemplation. Most of us belong to some part of a mainstream culture. So it’s this process of finding distance from what’s familiar, and that lets us really see where and what we actually are.
Becoming a director takes an undue process, and is demanding in many ways.
I didn’t have a great deal of interest in making films when I was younger. The desire came on quick and powerful when I was in my early 20s. I had been an intern and working some entry-level jobs in the New York documentary world, but I didn’t really consider myself a filmmaker until I went out to try and make a film on my own for the first time. My first attempt to making a film didn’t work out. It was never finished. But I gathered experience and self-knowledge by fumbling through this initial attempt that was vital when I did make my first film.
Technology and relatively inexpensive equipment has made it more possible to learn filmmaking by simply doing it. It may still take some time to figure it all out, but the barriers to entry are now easier to cross.
Finally, do you have one film that you prepared as a personal project that you hope to develop in the future?
I have a film I keep working on periodically, in between other projects. It’s about the ways we categorize our- selves: personality traits and community boundaries, that sort of thing. It’s hard to tell how commercially reason- able it will be, so that puts it on a mys- terious timeline.