By Kathy Anderson
Legendary KROQ radio jock – responsible for breaking David Bowie, Oasis and Coldplay in the U.S. – in town to promote the fab new documentary about his surreal life, Mayor Of The Sunset Strip
Rock History was made and documented by legendary KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer. Editing the documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip, which chronicles his life and contributions to the L.A. rock scene, was a daunting editorial journey through over 400 hours of various film formats (16mm, Super8 negative, Super8 reversal, 35 mm (flat and anamorphic)), 12 video formats in NTSC (DV, BETA SP, Digibeta, Betamax, Hi-8, VHS, VHS-C, SVHS, 1-inch reel-to-reel, laserdisc, DVD), several hundred photo stills and innumerable rock mementos.
For editor and coproducer Julie Janata “the hallmark of this show is that it just kept on growing and morphing into more than we ever imagined. The footage shot for the film was mostly 16mm, with some DV, so I expected to transfer some video, cut negative and blow up to 35mm. But then we kept shooting. And the archival footage came in—loads of it, piles of tapes, floor to ceiling, and wall to wall. I was drowning in footage. But it was incredible stuff, decades of rock history, with Rodney at the center of it all, surrounded by his rock star friends.
“The biggest problem was we had too much that was great. How could we ever choose? From the archival footage, I often watched a six-hour VHS tape, digitized10 minutes, cut 20 seconds into the first cut, then finally cut it out altogether. And it was all live single camera, so the concert scenes had to be built by intercutting footage from multiple songs, syncing the drums, then the guitar, finding good audience reactions, then back to a chorus from farther down in the song. It was exciting but challenging to craft a compelling hour-long documentary for release on 35mm.”
The idea for the film came from producer Chris Carter. Chris and Rodney had been friends since 1986, when Rodney discovered Carter’s band, Dramarama, and was instrumental in getting them signed. Being a rock historian himself, Carter was determined to chronicle Rodney’s life, and started shooting home video of Rodney and his friends. Carter found director George Hickenlooper, who brought in producers Tommy Perna and Greg Little, who arranged for the financing. They started shooting in late 1997, Janata started cutting in December 1999, and they premiered in June of 2003.
Janata states, “This film was a technical challenge, but the bigger challenge was in building the story. This kind of documentary, without a script to start from, is really written in the editing and from the available footage. You ‘get it’ or you don’t—no multiple cameras, no second chances. We had great DP’s, including George, who managed to get great footage under the toughest conditions. And the huge volume of footage meant we could tell almost any story we wanted to.”
After sorting through it all, Janata selected 150 hours to digitize into an Avid using 1.5 terabytes of storage. RAID storage backed up the media, which was especially important given the fact that so much footage had no time code. The first cut was 12 hours long.
The team sometimes had trouble finding the decks to play the older footage. When they got a final cut, almost every shot in the film had to be re-transferred from the masters and eye-matched back. With the footage coming in all aspect ratios, they needed to reposition virtually every shot for the final 35mm in 1.85. The final path was to online to Digibeta, color-correct, then upres the Digibeta to HD.
“We used Quantel’s iQ, at Modern Video for the upres, dirt fixes, VFX, all the repos to 16×9, then titling in HD. We discovered a problem with the sequencing of shots, since we were mixing 24-frame and 30-frame material almost randomly, so Modern went through every shot in the film to check and correct the pulldown to 24p HD. At Efilm we upresed again to 2K and filmed out to 35mm in 1.85, then made our prints at Deluxe. Our sound editing was supervised by Mike Chock at Soundstorm, and mixed at Levels Audio to Dolby SR and 5.1 SRD. It was an incredible job by an amazing team,” said Janata.
By Kathy Anderson