Stewart Copeland is no stranger to the movies. He began his career as a film composer back in 1983 with Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and has since scored everything from Wall Street and She’s All That to the TV shows Dead Like Me and Desperate Housewives. But the former Police drummer truly crossed over into filmmaking in Beziers, France, in 1980.
The Police were just cresting into superstardom with their third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, and whenever Copeland’s hands were free, he documented the ride on Super 8. On this particular night, he took things one step further, rigging up the camera on a tripod with a mic-activated remote. As Sting scatted through “So Lonely” (“I feel lo-lo-lo . . .”) Copeland provided play-by-play and gave the drum’s-eye view. Capturing the moment became as important to Copeland as the gig itself.
Twenty-six years later, Copeland’s cinematic bent has finally paid off, with his documentary Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out. The film premiered at last month’s Sundance Film Festival and hits stores on DVD March 28th. Part vacation video, part real-life This Is Spinal Tap (Copeland includes some winking references), Everyone Stares takes full advantage of its inside vantage, including scenes of Sting having a shave, scores of girls banging on the band’s limo and guitarist Andy Summers yelling “too fast!” at Copeland during a furious performance of “Can’t Stand Losing You.” The documentary also features a soundtrack that’s a kind of mash-up of live recordings and original studio backing tracks. Assembling the tunes, Copeland was reminded of how much he loved being in the Police. Says Copeland, “I’ve never found musicians the caliber of those two guys who fired me up the same way they have.”
Why, after all these years, did you make this movie now?
It’s really simple: technology. The technology wasn’t available before to digitize this material onto a medium smaller than a house. Memory became cheap — that’s kind of poetic. But I mean hard-drive memory. That’s when it became possible for me to just download the movie. With Super 8, you don’t have a negative. I tried earlier to copy to video but it just looked like crap on video.
So you never physically cut your film at all?
Back in the day. When we were on tour we had our little projects. We’d check into a hotel and call for our various toys, you know? Mine was a little editing thing. I’d have to put on the little white gloves, physically cut the frame, shave off a little bit of this to make the celluloid thinner. Then a little drop of glue. Every edit was a huge process, and not undoable — “undo” is a modern concept. I had no idea, and there was no possibility of learning . . . I realized that pretty soon, and so I put the [footage] away.
This time around, did you have a certain level of intuitiveness?
Well, yeah. I like to sell myself as this idiot savant, this naif who, just out of the box, has all this talent for filmmaking. But no. I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life in post-production: My day job is “film composer.” So I’ve sat with the directors trying to figure out how to make the pace of their movie work better. And Everyone Stares is all about post-production. So I actually do have a lot of chops. I understand the technology, I understand the conceptual mechanics of telling a story: pacing, where you put the important stuff, where in the movie you cut to the chase, where in the movie you slow down — all this kind of stuff.
Were you thinking, I’m going to make this for the world, or I’m going to make this for myself and see what the world thinks?
At the time, I thought I was Cecil B. DeMille. In my arrogance, I had no idea that I was not Cecil B. DeMille. That’s sort of an assumption that you make when you’re in a band and everyone’s treating you [like a star].
Do you feel more comfortable in the film world or in the music world?
I’m a film guy now. The whole Police experience was another life. I’ve got a new job, a new family, a new life. I’m a different guy. Actually, I’m the same guy, just a little bit older and wiser. I’m still totally a musician — I’m a composer of orchestral works, and I’m a film composer — and now I’m a filmmaker. And I rather like this filmmaking thing.
Playing drums is a hobby for me now. And as a hobby, I am much more rabid in my enthusiasm for it. I gave up for ten years — I never played. It was my buddies Trey Anastasio and Les Claypool who pulled me back onto the stage [in jammy trio Oysterhead]. I go to Italy and play for a month: big shows, beautiful outdoor shows. I recorded an album there [Orchestralli] . . . Forgot all about it, and then I got a [Grammy] nomination, for Best Rock Instrumental [for the song “Birds of Prey”].
So, no real nostalgia for playing in a rock band then?
I’ve slaked that thirst. I played in bands as a kid, but as soon as I got close to adulthood I never thought I’d be a professional musician. I published a magazine, I was a disc jockey, tour-managed — I did everything other than be a musician. And from the perspective of those different jobs, I sort of saw being a musician as being a product. You are, personally, the can of beans. And I’d had all these other jobs selling the can of beans. But it just, as they say, kept pulling me back.
The movie shows you guys coptering into the U.S. Festival, but there’s nothing from the big Shea and J.F.K. Stadium shows. How come?
Well, I started to put the camera down. I realized I was missing it, because I was trying to shoot it, and I thought, “I will drink this up with my eyes, and it will go into my soul rather than my camera.” What a fucking stupid idea that was! [But] I already had pretty much everything.
Presumably, you were around each other less as well . . .
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. It wasn’t the three of us in a car anymore — we each almost had our own entourage. Which is really a drag. I didn’t like that. I am a youngest sibling, and my happiest place is within a band. Like when the three of us were together [at the Sundance festival], I just felt this warm, cozy feeling that all is right in the world. As a composer it’s a totally solitary experience, whether I’m composing operas or orchestra works or working for the man. And I can do it, but I just love . .. the feeling of being part of a band. The camaraderie is something that just works for me.
But were there tense moments between the three of you that you deliberately left out of the film?
I didn’t have a frame of tension. There’s a scene where Sting’s beating the crap out of Andy, both of them laughing hysterically. When it came to the end of the movie, when I had to talk about why we parted ways, I was stuck for shots of anybody looking anything other than cheerful. This movie showed me — and I hope it shows the world — that it’s a myth. This thing about the Police fighting all the time is just not true. We did argue — but any band that is a decent band, that has any kind of vitality, has creative tensions. The bands where there are no tensions are lame bands, or bands where there’s one guy and the rest of them are passengers.
Do you want to direct a movie again?
I do. I do. I wouldn’t do a dramatic movie — I’d have to start at the bottom, and it takes a year and a half of your life away. Documentary’s a different story: that only takes six months. I can afford that hit. It’s pretty much art for art’s sake, but I really enjoy it. And I’ve got a really cool idea for what I’m going to do next.
Which you’re not going to tell us.