Director Liam Firmager has created multiple documentaries about various fascinating subjects, from the Peter Brock bio Brock: King of the Mountain, to the look at one hit sensation Ricky T with Ricky! The Movie. Now he sets his sights on American rock goddess, Suzi Quatro, with his doco Suzi Q.
Andrew put eight questions to Liam to find out about the working process that went behind creating this documentary, and what it was like collating the wealth of interviews in a tight feature.
- Where did the idea for doing a documentary on Suzi Quatro come from?
I had been wanting to tackle a music documentary for a while as I myself had come from a music background – a mutual friend had mentioned no one had made a documentary about Suzi Quatro, which blew my mind! Surely that’s not right as she’s an absolute icon.. that was something I had to remedy. So I reached out to Suzi and the rest is rock history as they say.
- There is a great deal of affection for the music of the seventies as is made evident by the many great interviews within the film. How did you go about getting the interviews and what challenges did you face when having to edit the film down to a feature length?
Chasing down the interviews with all those legends was actually a lot easier than I had anticipated. Most every single person put their hand up and replied “when do you want me?”, as they all recognized that Suzi had been unfairly marginalised in her importance and influence as the first successful bass playing woman in rock. Scheduling was the real challenge as they obviously all have very busy careers and are constantly in demand – but to their credit they all made time to sit down and talk. Having Suzi’s little black book on hand certainly made the process easier. Without her support, the film wouldn’t have taken off.
- Your work has celebrated a variety of different icons, whether they are still active (Suzi Quatro), passed on (Peter Brock), or forgotten idols (Ricky T). How do you approach each life story, and what differences have arisen through each production?
The Brock project had a very obvious arc. Like any posthumous story – the narrative is essentially dictated by the tragedy whereas Ricky T was an affectionate tribute/parody to a self-perceived icon and the absurdity of rock n rock mythology. Suzi on the other hand is alive and well and shows no signs of retiring any time soon. So the approach was very much an examination of a hugely influential and successful survivor who changed the course of rock music for women.
- Adding to the last question, what is the allure for you as a filmmaker to explore these icons lives?
I’ve always been fascinated by icons and the most curious thing to me was the cost of that fame. Was it worth it? How did it change their lives, do they still connect with their roots or is it tokenistic? Is it self generating or self fulfilling? A thousand curiosities really…
- Suzi Q is a very open film about Suzi’s life. I’m curious about how you managed to encourage that openness?
Suzi and I agreed from the start that the documentary must be truthful, even if it was painful, embarrassing, cringeworthy or funny. It took a awhile for Suzi to really trust me and open up completely… but as she saw rough cuts of the edit coming in, she began to appreciate the direction I was taking and really embraced the spirit.
- On top of this, what surprises did you find along the way?
That Suzi is just as vulnerable and complex as the rest of us mortals.
- I’m interested to hear what the production path was like for you as an Australian director creating a film about an American icon. Did you have any push back from funding bodies in Australia? And what challenges arose when going to interview subjects in America?
We struggled initially to generate support from the funding bodies as they generally only support Australian only content. Tait (producer) and myself put together a nice little proof of concept piece which highlighted that even though Suzi was born in Detroit, her story is a quintessential Australian success story. Suzi is pretty much an honorary Australian at this stage. Interviewing the subjects in the US was the easiest part! Everyone from Cherie Currie, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry etc.. were an absolute joy to work with and were all very enthusiastic about celebrating all things Quatro! The biggest challenge was travelling across the US as a one man film crew with my camera, lights, sound gear.. all tucked into my odest carry on case like a game of technological Tetris. I certainly gave the Airport security people a minor coronary.
- Finally, can you talk about your experience as a documentarian in Australia. What are the challenges and freedoms afforded to Australian documentarians?
I would wager most Australian documentaries are labors of love. Due to budget considerations I ended up shooting most of the film myself, editing the rough cut, creating most of the VFX, and flying around the world as a one man crew essentially. But I was happy to do that as I’m a self confessed workaholic. The support does exist, but the competition for grants is fierce. We were blessed in telling a story which resonated with Australia, but also appealed to a broader international market – which made it easier to secure International sales agents and distribution.
Suzi Q is currently in Australian cinemas. Make sure to check out the website for further information.