BY LILY MOAYERI
These days, anyone can virtually live musicians’ lives right alongside them through their social media channels. Whether in the studio, on the road, or at home, the camera is almost always on. This was not the case in 1978 when Stewart Copeland of The Police began filming the band on tour in the United States.
Almost 30 years later, he assembled that raw footage together for the well-received documentary The Police: Everyone Stares. Today it is being released for the first time on Blu-ray and digital streaming services, and re-released on DVD.
The original success of the documentary is, in large part, due to the spontaneous, unplanned nature of the footage and the grainy Super-8 film quality. There is no script, or narrative, even—Everyone Stares is simply a drummer’s-eye-view of a band on the brink of major success. It is a rare peephole into the early days of what would later become one of the biggest and most enduring groups of the ‘80s.
“It’s certainly not pristine,” says Copeland. “But the perspective is unique. That’s my favorite thing. You get the back of Sting’s shoulder on one side, the back of Andy’s head on the other, and when you’re watching the movie, your name is Stewart and fans are coming right at your face.”
“When you’re young, you’re too stupid to know how impossible your mission is. I wish I was still that stupid.”
For the re-release, Copeland didn’t make any changes to the 2006 version, choosing to keep its visceral aesthetic. When he was originally shooting, it was as a tourist with nothing more in mind than creating a home movie to reminisce over later. Even so, he put the Super-8 footage away and forgot about it until many years later, when he was editing footage of his children at the beach and remembered the tour footage.
“I’m a post-production guy,” says Copeland, who has spent a large part of his professional music career as a film composer. “This film is all about post-production. When I shot it, I was just living the dream, living the experience as it was going by. At the time I thought I was Cecil B. DeMille or Richard Attenborough.
But I didn’t get any establishing shots or any reaction shots. Yet I have this incredible material without any clear idea of how I was going to finish it. Years later, editing it was entirely a post-production experience, which is a world I am very familiar with.”
Copeland is no stranger to filmmaking, especially documentaries. He made Rhythmatist, a docudrama on exploring the roots of rhythm in Africa, in 1985, and Orchestralli, a traditional style documentary accompanying the album of the same name, in 2004.
In Everyone Stares, the use of the Super-8’s largely self-focusing lens and the addition of a wide-angle lens allowed Copeland to gather a lot of watchable footage. If anything, the shaky shots and crooked angles bring a personal feel to the ancient looking film.
“I wish I had focused the camera a lot more,” Copeland says reflectively, adding, “I should have probably been more pleasant to my bandmates.”
It wasn’t just the camera that drew Stewart Copeland to film. The chance to score them was also alluring. “It was an easy, natural, beautiful transition from the dark entanglement, the thorny bed of nails that is The Police,” he says. “From the Prada suit made of barbed wire that was The Police experience, to go into the loving embrace of Francis Coppola in Sausalito (California). That was really a siren’s call away from the band.”
Copeland is referring to Coppola’s Rumble Fish, his first foray into film scoring in 1983. “When I first started doing scores and I was playing everything to the picture, it was very engrossing,” he says. “It was an inspiring organizing principle—instead of building music around a verse lyric and a chorus lyric, I was building music around Matt Dillon and Diane Lane and Larry Fishburne doing a scene.
It was a really fresh, new use of music for me. A certain arrogance carried me through any challenges there might have been. When you’re young, you’re too stupid to know how impossible your mission is. I wish I was still that stupid.”
More recently, Copeland has taken his scores on the road, performing selections with symphony orchestras under the banner, “Stewart Copeland Lights Up The Orchestra.” His score selections are interspersed with Police songs and material from the various groups of which he has been a part.
The intention is to have the orchestra show have the same energy as a rock concert. He also plays drums as part of a symphony orchestra that performs the score of the 1959 epic Ben Hur in complete darkness while the film plays on the screen.
“When you play much more quietly, your drums sound better and your chops shine more beautifully.”
“I’m playing drums a lot lately,” Copeland says, “but the thing I’ve learned is that when long periods go by that I don’t even look at a drum set because I have other livelihoods, and then I come back to the drums, I’ve really improved. You need to tidy up your chops, but it comes back better than it was.”
He continues, “The other thing I’ve learned is, if you can, get your guitarist to get an amplifier a quarter of the size they’re using right now. When you play much more quietly, your drums sound better and your chops shine more beautifully. All your ruffs and drags, the vocabulary actually has relevance, and you don’t get a headache.
Volume is the main thing. Your dynamic range is from eight to 13. Guitarist make do with 11, but drummers have to physically carry it to 13. The drummer carries the entire band, every foot down the highway. The drummer is the forward motion. If the drummer stops, the music stops.”
Stewart Copeland is currently working on a documentary for the BBC called What is Music and Why?, which examines the effects of music on emotion. Everyone Stares is available on Blu-ray, streaming, and DVD May 31.