Talihina Sky: The Story of the Kings of Leon debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and is preparing to make its way to Europe. But, before that, filmmakers Stephen Mitchell and Casey McGrath made sure the family of the Kings of Leon got a chance to see the movie, in which they all played a major role, at the deadCenter Film Festival in Oklahoma City. I got a chance to sit down with Mitchell and McGrath and talk about the documentary and what it means to the Kings of Leon.
What is interesting about your involvement is you did not have to accentuate yourself into the Kings of Leon’s life after they became famous. You knew these guys before anyone knew who they were.
Stephen Mitchell: Sure. And that is probably why they provided me with this opportunity to tell their story. A lot of their goal was to be accurate in telling their story. So many people around the world, the band is huge overseas obviously, so people around the world have tried to tell their story and gotten close. But, I think the boys wanted someone to tell it that they trusted would tell it accurately. That’s why I think they picked me to direct the film.
It sounds like you have avoided mythologizing the band and you’ve told a story that is very true as to who they are and where they came from. Talk about how you came in with that in mind.
Stephen Mitchell: I think you could do a glossy piece here, a behind the music, and those are great programs, or we could have just done a gravy train piece or something where we just gratuitously pump the band up. They didn’t want to do that. One of the goals they put out to Casey and I was to put it out there, warts and all. Some of it may not be pretty, sometimes the truth isn’t pretty, but they wanted us to put it out there. They are people just like you and I.
Once the Kings of Leon saw the final product, were there any misgivings about what ended up on the screen?
Casey McGrath: What is important to mention about that area specifically is that their willingness and openness was the key to the movie being what it is. So many things we thought were going to be roadblocks weren’t. They were really, really willing to let it all hang out there. They deserve a lot of credit for that. There were so many moments where we unearthed this moment that was cringe worthy and we were nervous but they were like “¹…”hey, that’s great!’ They were so cool. There were some fights here and there. There was a lot of controversial material but we tried to be as respectful as possible.
There is a montage in the movie which intercuts them playing with footage from a classic movie with Pentecostal themes that is said may have made the band feel uneasy. Could you talk about that scene and how it came about.
Stephen Mitchell: Casey was recommending an editor to me, Paul Greenhouse, who ended up editing the film for us. That was one of the very first things he put together to show us. It gave me goose bumps. When we showed it to the band, it struck a chord. The particular film is a film from 1972 called ”Marjoe“ and it won an Oscar for Best Doc. If you notice, that is in the Pentecostal Church and a tent revival and it is the real deal. That filmmaker lives in New York and we were able to have her over to our editing suite and showed her what we were thinking. That was a pretty powerful scene in putting the film together.
Casey McGrath: That was one of the first things we looked at and it was a little moment of relief. In the early stages, we realized we were going to be OK because there were some passionate and powerful images and its going to be real. To have something like that, early on, helped when we had moments of doubt. We’d go back to that and realize it was there and we could create more moments like that.
Not many bands have had the super nova experience that the Kings of Leon had. What made the difference?
Stephen Mitchell: It was meant to be. I don’t think a lot of young bands realize how much work it takes. Any great sports team or anybody that does well in business or has a goal in their life, if you are not willing to get up early, work harder, travel harder, play more shows – these guys are insane. They are one of the biggest bands in the world and, when they come off a break, they get in a sweaty hot rehearsal space to cuss each other out because they want to win so bad. They are driven and always had that chip on their shoulder and drive that made them believe they were always going to accomplish something.
Talk a little about being here at deadCenter and what it means to bring the film here to Oklahoma City.
Stephen Mitchell: Yeah, it means a lot to us. One of our big scenes in the film was a beautiful shoot at the Ford Center. We had their grandparents and family, and you’ll see that tonight, as they come, getting the family involved. Just with the family being here and the family reunion being down in Talihina, the reason the film has that title, we had to come do this.
Casey McGrath: We had the World Premiere at Tribeca and this is the only other American festival that we will do. We weren’t going to do anymore and then this came up and we we’re like ‘Oh, duh. We are doing deadCenter for sure.’ Oklahoma is so important to the bands story and is central to the theme of the movie. Oklahoma is a character in the movie.