“Hired Gun” Film Documentary Spotlights World of Backing Musicians
Three years have passed since “20 Feet from Stardom” – a film about the unsung world of backup singers – won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Now, a new documentary titled “Hired Gun” aims to bring similar attention to the world of backing musicians. The brainchild of videographer Fran Strine and Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Jason Hook, Hired Gun had its genesis in a conversation that took place, fittingly, on a tour bus.
“[Strine and I] were talking about how much we loved documentaries,” explains Hook, who served apprenticeships as touring guitarist with Alice Cooper and pop artist Hilary Duff. “We loved ‘Grizzly Man,’ we had a lot of favorite films in common, and Fran was jonesing to make a new one. I said, ‘What if I pay for it? What if we get together and do it as a team?’”
As reported in a lengthy feature in L.A. Weekly, Hook and Strine spoke with 55 musicians and accumulated over 300 hours of interview material. Among the musicians featured in the film are Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, former Billy Joel drummer Liberty DeVitto, bassist Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Quiet Riot) and Hook himself. Hook, who originally ventured from Canada to L.A. with $200 in his pocket and dreams of stardom, ended up living for a time on the beach in a beat-up automobile.
“The A dream is to be an artist that sells millions of albums and everybody loves you,” he explains, in the L.A. Weekly story. “But if you can’t connect to the A dream, the B dream is, ‘Well, I still love to play and I want to get paid a bunch of money to do it. Nobody likes what I create on my own, but I can lend my talent to another artist.’ I think a lot of these players are grateful to still be in the arts, and if you can make a great living, or a decent living, just playing your instrument, you’re already ahead of 95 percent of musicians out there.”
I create on my own, but I can lend my talent to another artist.’ I think a lot of these players are grateful to still be in the arts, and if you can make a great living, or a decent living, just playing your instrument, you’re already ahead of 95 percent of musicians out there.”
Indeed, when Strine and Hook began showing limited screenings of “Hired Gun,” aspiring musicians who saw the film started asking how they could land such gigs. As Strine explains, however, “The chances of somebody getting one of these gigs is like getting struck by lightning.”
Strine further notes that many hired guns are formally schooled musicians who were educated in their craft at places like Berklee and the Musicians Institute. Having the right personality, or the ability to “make the hang,” is a major consideration as well.
Another myth exploded by “Hired Gun” is the widespread assumption that all of these musicians are well paid. Many of these players — including Sarzo – point out that it’s the freedom and the musical variety that attracts them to the job, not a hefty paycheck. Indeed, Stine and Hook hope that the behind-the-scenes stories in “Hired Gun” will resonate with non-musicians who identity with the hardscrabble — but rewarding — lifestyle.
“I was very specific about not wanting to target just musicians,” says Hook. “We shared the vision that this has to be entertaining to the public.”
“I hope this movie is a learning experience for people,” adds Strine. “When they see an artist like Billy Joel or Pink, I hope they’ll look at these players onstage with them, show them some respect and cheer for them as well.”
Learn more about “Hired Gun” at the documentary’s official website.