The Beastie Boys turned 50 fans loose with cameras, and wound up with the quirkiest of all concert documentaries
Peter De Marco of Albany, New York, sat down in front of his computer on October 8, 2004, anxious about the show the Beastie Boys would be playing at Madison Square Garden the very next night. De Marco, 22, had scored tickets and wanted to see what other fans were talking about on the rap legends’ message board.
|A crowd shot taken from the Beastie Boys’ 2004 show at Madison Square Garden.|
“The first post was, ‘Who wants to be a cameraman at MSG?’” he recalls, the thrill still in his voice more than a year later. “I was like, that’s too good to be true. It was from the administrator of the board, so I figured it was legit and put my name in. Maybe two hours later, I got a message back saying ‘Meet us down at the city two hours before show time at this specific gate.’”
De Marco was part of a harebrained scheme hatched by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (MCA) who, these days, sports a gray beard that would give pause to Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan. “I got the idea from something I saw on my website,” Yauch says. “A kid had apparently filmed a lot of one of our concerts on a telephone and uploaded it onto our website.”
The visceral footage was grainy and shaky and, well, total shit, but Yauch got a kick out of the personal take on what was happening on stage. Thing is, inspiration struck only three days before the sold-out, final show of their Challah at Your Boy world tour. Yauch had to move fast.
“We posted on our website and asked if people would be interested in shooting,” he says. “The show was sold out, so we got seating charts and picked people with tickets who were spread out evenly around the arena.”
The result of Yauch’s scheme is Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That, a concert film which recently screened at SXSW, and is now hitting select theaters.
Fifty fans were chosen and asked to record everything they saw, absolutely everything, and, judging by the footage chosen for the film, the shooters took it literally. Many of the 50 Hi8 videocams were rented, but most had to be bought because who the hell carries 50 of any camera to rent? In the end, those that were bought were simply boxed up and returned the next day. With friends and professionals who were chosen to carry cameras, too, each with 90-minute tapes, almost 100 hours of footage was shot.
“There was about a year of editing and putting it together after that,” Yauch says.
De Marco, who had never seen Beastie Boys live (the last time he bought tickets, the show was cancelled), arrived early and, as he puts it, “totally psyched.” “We all went downstairs and met up in this room,” he says. “Producer John Doran told us what we needed to do. ‘Have fun with it no matter what,’ he said. ‘Don’t be too worried about getting the best shot you can, just as long as you’re shooting all the time.’”
The result is pretty much what Yauch wanted: a concert film shot by fans who felt the music, rather than camera operators distracted by mounting union dues. It’s about the experience, not the gloss. Sure, it drags a bit six or seven songs into it; sure, some camera effects look stolen from home-video cameras of the early-’90s; sure, it could benefit from some fan interviews of Yauch, Mike D, and Adrock. But, hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
“There’s so many other concert movies out there where you know it’s set up, where the camera angles are going to be, and they’re just focused on what’s going on onstage and there’s a few crowd shots,” De Marco says. “But with this, it’s really like you’re at a concert because everything that goes on at a concert is in there. You’ve got to go to the bathroom, you’ve got to go get more beer, you’re looking at people around you ’cause you know people-watching is hilarious. So there’s all these different things incorporated into it that people fixate on and it’s all there, not just the standard shots.”
That “you’ve got to go to the bathroom” line you just read refers to one of the cameramen slipping off for a quick leak and continuing to film. De Marco laughs when asked if that was his urine streaming past the camera lens. “No, I wish it was, ’cause that was by far one of my favorite parts in the movie,” he says. When asked which shots bear his fingerprints, he says, “One of my favorite songs off the newest album is ‘Open Letter to NYC’ and I don’t remember doing it, but apparently halfway into the second chorus, I tilted the camera toward myself and was just belting out the lyrics. I really don’t remember doing that, but I definitely shot that.”
The film has debuted and the concert is long over, but would Yauch change anything? He answers like he’s already given this one plenty of thought. “I would’ve told people to start shooting before the concert,” he says. “I think it would’ve been more interesting to give them cameras and batteries and let them start earlier.”
“That would’ve been great if they had done that ’cause there is all that build up,” De Marco agrees. “The night before, like, I was just going nuts, telling everyone, ‘I don’t know if this is for real, but I just got this message that says I’m going to shoot the Beastie Boys concert.’”
Regrets aside, the experience turned into one that 50 fans will never forget and Yauch helped do that for them. So what did they get for their effort?
“We received, I think it was $150, and we had to sign forms for that day so they could take ownership of whatever you shot,” De Marco says. No free tickets? “No, no free tickets.” What about T-shirts? “Wait, we did get a tee-shirt.
I forgot about that.” •