Chris Metzler: I guess 2006, 2007, so the film took threeand-a-half to four years to make. What we'd do is spend two or three days a month with the guys in Los Angeles, kind of filming their goings-on and doing other interviews with folks. Then we went on tour with the band: first in Europe a couple of times, then a couple of times domestically.
Really, the making of the film was kind of trial by fire. Once we knew Angelo [Moore, singer] and Norwood [Fisher, bassist] were onboard, we joined them in Europe a couple of weeks later and went on tour with them for a month, learning how punk rockers live on the road.
How did you get the band to agree to the film?
We just approached Angelo and Norwood outside a venue they'd played in San Francisco and said, “Hey, this what we're thinking, and this is why we think it'd be an interesting film,” and Angelo and Norwood were intrigued. But I think they were a little hesitant to get involved in a documentary because they were like, “Well, we're not dead yet. Documentaries are about people who are dead,” you know? They're out there touring and creating new music and things, and they didn't want to be treated like a historical reference point.
I said, “Here's an earlier documentary of mine — take a look at it.” That was a thing where, when Angelo and Norwood saw it, they were like, “This place is trippy. It's a little bit weird. You'll get Fishbone. Let's give this a shot.” It was something that helped push them over the edge, in that they recognized the style and the approach that we could kinda bring to something. It was something that synced up well with something that Angelo and Norwood would want to be involved with.
What this really comes down to is art, you know? In that they knew that we'd take some sort of unique perspective on things, and in reality, that helped through the making of the film because Norwood and Angelo — we showed them our rough cut to get their comments and things, and they didn't really have any. They were like, “You're on a good path. We trust you. Just keep doing what you're doing.” I think the analogy is kind of like, if they were in the recording studio working on an album, they wouldn't want to be bothered, people telling them what to do. “Make the film you wanna make,” you know?
Regarding the “unique vision” of the film: I like the fact that, while most documentaries have a bunch of talking heads, you opt for accompanying the narration with animation. Where did the idea for that come from?
Well, I think it was kind of twofold. One, we just felt that most music documentaries are kind of made up of talking heads, talking about how great a band is. We're all in agreement that Fishbone's pretty special, but in the end, telling somebody something really isn't going to convince them. We wanted to put you, the viewer, and the audience into the world of Fishbone.
And Fishbone has been around for 30 years and was involved in so many different scenes and interesting stories, that we wanted to figure out a way to impact you emotionally. So that was through the use of different sorts of animation, collage-based graphics, and et cetera — showing footage — because we felt that, if you didn't get a visual impression, you wouldn't get a feel for the place and what made Fishbone so unique.
Plus, you know, film's an inherently visual medium, and that's one of the important tools you have in telling the story, so why would we leave that one on the plate, you know — when have that one available, and we have so much to be able to work with?
The Fat Albert animation was really inspired because the seminal moment in Fishbone's history was the story of these five young black kids from South Central L.A. getting bussed out to the predominantly white suburb of the Valley, where they meet the one other black kid in school, Angelo, and through their love of music and being some of the only black kids in school, start this band, and just kind of change the music scene in Southern California from then on.
The thing that's always been cool about Fishbone — what was interesting to me — was that these were six very different guys. They're guys that normally wouldn't have started a band together but, due to this kind of moment of serendipity, and given unique circumstances, form this band. We wanted to put you in the moment where you're meeting these kids. There's childhood photographs and junior high yearbooks and things, but we felt that animation was the best way to establish a sort of caricature for each person's personality.
What better way to do that than emulate the sort of Fat Albert style of animation? It was obviously a popular cartoon at that time, but it was young African-American kids growing up in the '70s. It was something that they watched, but Fishbone continues to play the Fat Albert theme at concerts, so it just kind of seemed to sync up really well.
What the style of rotoscope animation was about — the style of the poster — was that we wanted to tell a story not just about the band but the larger black experience of Los Angeles during the last several decades because the city informed who Fishbone became, and Fishbone has a unique perspective on the city. So a lot of that rotoscope animation was influenced by a lot of the Black Panther artwork of the '60s and '70s that Emory Douglas did — kind of this unique, social propaganda stuff. That influenced a lot of where Fishbone came from, so we wanted to bring that into the story.