FROM THE UPCOMING BIOGRAPHY: PUNK ROCK FILM SCHOOL
In His Own Category: The Work of Darren Doane
For Darren Doane, it all started with music videos -- a lot of them: He’s “the most prolific director of his generation,” according to MTV’s Matt Pinfield. At a time when David Fincher and Michael Bay were transitioning into feature films, Doane was breaking new ground with alternative bands and directing and editing techniques that would soon become the mainstream. Blink 182, The Deftones, Pennywise, Strife, The Promise Ring, AFI, MxPx, Jimmy Eat World and Thursday would all break into the regular rotation of MTV, FUSE, Headbangers Ball and 120 Minutes -- and Doane helmed videos for all of them. The young director defined the entire generation of music video direction as it was then, but that wasn’t all he did: Doane also provided the vision and image for the artists who would shape the 90s and the new millennium. Pinfield had more to say about Doane, and called him “the single most influential director in the alternative, punk rock scene. Without Doane, the underground scene would of had no visual representation.”
As a director, Darren Doane defies categorization. Both a rebel and a leader, he’s a prolific filmmaker: music videos, action flicks, documentaries, satire, comedy, commercials, interviews, studio projects and indies -- Doane bucks trends even as he sets them, and his production slate is never empty. But Doane’s path hasn’t been easy: his single-minded faithfulness to his own vision has made him enemies, and Hollywood is no friend to the true pioneers. Doane’s life story has been all about making films, and his driving passion in life is to see what a camera and a director can do when they’re pushed to the limits. That’s what gives him his intensity. For Doane, filmmaking has sometimes been painful. But it has sometimes been glorious, too. And that’s what still drives him.
After his success mainstreaming the underground scene, Doane got a chance to jump into a feature film, and a blistering array of full-length movies followed. The first was his cult following, indie breakout Godmoney. Doane had always wanted to make a movie: “Features are this monster you seem to want to tame. But they always get the best of you." Once he had gotten the taste for feature films, Doane never quit, and features have remained an important part of his creative vision today.
A student of John Cassavetes’s approach to “just making films,” Doane hated being pigeon-holed, and his next movie played with different themes entirely. An absurd comedy starring Aaron Bruno of AWOL Nation fame, 42K was based on late-night jokes and inside cultural references of an alternative demographic. "I was inspired by, but didn’t quite relate to Clerks and Slacker,” Doane said. “I was a suburban kid who liked martial arts, surfing, and listening to Iron Maiden. 42K was more for southern California kids." What’s more, it showcases another side of Doane the director: the humorist. And “intense humor” is a winning combination. Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Hateful 8) called 42k "the funniest movie I have ever seen,” and went on to commend Doane: “People rarely have the nerve to actually make what they think is funny and instead cater to an audience. Doane did what all great indie filmmakers should do: bring us into a new world and teach us what is funny, strange, or interesting.” That’s the first big filmmaking lesson Doane took from features: don’t show people what they think they want to see, show them something you find fascinating.
Action films Black Friday and Ides of March were next, and the lessons Doane took from those features were less positive (but just as influential for his views on filmmaking). The whole experience exposed the worst side of corporate Hollywood. Doane reflected, “When someone offers you $200K to make an action film, you take it. You’re young and dumb and just want to keep making movies. Then you take money from the wrong people, and they end up trying to kill you.” Doane remembers it all vividly: “All of a sudden filmmaking sucks, and you realize it’s not worth it. An industry full of creeps, perverts, liars, and countless meetings with people you have no respect for but just want their money. You realize you are becoming what you hate.” Doane always has that in the back of his mind: if there’s one thing movie-making could stand to lose, it’s the gate keeping establishment. And if that sounds punk to you, that’s because that’s a big piece of who Doane is. But that doesn’t make him wrong.
Doane took an opportunity to get back into music videos and commercials via an invite from Nike/Hurley. "Bob Hurley and Paul Gomez were fans of my videos, and asked if I would come and work with their athletes to create a new form of visuals and approach to action sports." Doane was brought on to create the Phantom boardshort line media and mini films for surfers Yadin Nicol and Rizal. But Doane wasn’t given the freedom to make the whole thing work, at least according to Vice President Paul Gomez. "The problem was Doane was way way ahead of his time. The industry didn’t get it or want it. I would watch Doane walk out of meetings just shaking his head after showing people an edit. I even remember watching him square off in the parking lot ready to throw down with someone and me pulling Doane away.” Gomez told Doane not to let it get to him: "I told Darren that he was wheat bread, and the world was still eating white bread. But the world would catch up.” But Doane wasn’t willing to compromise his filmmaking for Hurley, either. Gomez remembers, “He left the company that day. He really is punk rock and not beholden to anybody. He’s the original Preditor. Producer/Editor. Shooting, directing, finishing edits the same day. No one did that before Doane.” Doane’s fierce spirit and uncompromising nature make him a true trendsetter, but that’s seldom the most comfortable place to be, especially for Doane, who, for his whole career thus far, had been tied to other people’s opinions about his art. Journalist and acclaimed filmmaker Peter King remarks, “Everyone talks about being a rebel, following your heart and being an original. Doane actually does, and it looks very messy and painful -- and five years later everyone is doing what Doane was doing, and he has moved on to something else."
So Doane swapped Hurley for something completely different where he could continue to figure out his life’s work. A small, self-built cottage in his backyard became his new headquarters. Says Doane, "I just needed to get away and start filming every day. Editing every day. Shoot, edit, score, repeat. I wanted to push myself to create non-stop. No meetings, no trying to explain to people what I was ‘going for.’ Just making films every day. Whether it was my kids playing, or hopping fences with backyard pool-skating legend Steve Alba, or re-imagining scenes from the Bible. Just create.” The personal and the legendary, the family and the job, the Bible and the skateboard -- Doane definitely was developing his own style.
For Doane, this “home front” is still a vital part of his process, and has helped him mature as a director and filmmaker. At the time, it also refueled his desire to start shooting for others again, which was good, because big gigs started coming. The phone rang and it was Toyota. Then Jason Mraz. Then Buckcherry. Then Van Morrison. Christopher Hitchens, Colbie Caillat, The Zac Brown Band, Kirk Cameron, Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker, Matt Nathanson. "It all just got crazy. Music videos for the biggest acts in the world, award nominations [CMT Director of the year], making a movie with Van Morrison, and hanging with the late Christopher Hitchens debating the existence of God.” This last marks the start of a new passion in Doane’s filmmaking career -- full-length documentaries.
From his earliest music video days Doane had always dabbled with documentaries. Doane was always traveling with bands on the road and stitching real-time narratives together, with Pennywise’s "Home Movies" and Strife’s "One Truth" tour being the best-known examples. Pennywise frontman
(and legendary troublemaker) Fletcher Dragge states, “He was always with us, camera in hand. Fights would be breaking out and riots would be going off, cops beating kids down, punches flying, and there would be Doane in the middle of it smiling and running to get the shot.”
The time with Hitchens eventually turned into the doc Collision, and once again Doane changed a genre. Screenwriter Brian Godawa remembers, "I saw an early screening of Collision and just stared at the screen. No one had ever done what Doane was doing. Religion, debate, metal music, hip-hop beats, over-saturated colors, black and white, intense hand-held… What? Non-linear storyline editing. I was in the middle of making and editing two docs and just thought to myself, well, this changes everything.” Collision would become the visual representation of what Time magazine called the “New Calvinism,” and for the first time Doane felt like a project showcased both his skills as a director and his exciting and diverse personal history. He’s proud of it: “Collision was the first project that I truly made for myself. Not in some selfish way, but this enjoyable combination of all the concepts, styles and techniques I really love. Theology, philosophy, worldview and debate are just as exciting as a UFC event. I wanted a UFC, ESPN, NFL film for two men battling over the the most important question of all time.”
Kirk Cameron took notice of Collision and asked Doane to take a look at his documentary, which he was having a hard time finishing. They were just about out of money when they brought the film to Doane, who at first didn’t think it was a good fit. “I took a look at it and thought it was great and didn’t need me," Doane remembers. But Kirk continued to push Doane to see if he could add something with a bit more bite to the film with the $50K they had left. Doane eventually had Kirk sit down for an interview and was able to get him to sum up the point of film in the opening line, “Everyone keeps telling me that the world is going to hell” -- and from there something clicked. Doane re-shot and wrote about half of the final documentary. He also created all the interludes, music supervision, and interviews for the film. The finished project was called Monumental, and Doane only took a "Craft Service" credit on the film. Monumental would go onto be the second highest grossing doc of 2013 behind Black Fish, shattering Fathom Events’s one-night numbers. Doane had done for Cameron what he had done for top artists through his music video directing: He gave Kirk a riveting voice and a visual identity, effectively re-branding a teen-star evangelist as leading culture warrior (and turning a stalling film into the breakout faith-based film of the year in the process, all for $50K).
This time, though, Doane knew enough to do it on his own terms. Kirk jokes about this: “Darren is kind of frustrating. He doesn’t want to talk or explain what or how he wants to do something, he just wants to do and make.” And that wasn’t the end of their partnership, as Kirk got the benefit of the full force of Doane’s prolific intensity, redirected to full-length movies once again: “I held onto his ears for dear life, and within three years we had made five feature films,” Kirk laughs. Monumental was followed by Unstoppable, which together would become two of the highest grossing Christian documentaries of all time. Mercy Rule was a family-friendly feature, made without a studio and released direct to fans through VHX online and WalMart. “Doane said, let’s make a kids’ baseball movie, and just release it ourselves. No studio or execs -- he really despises studio notes -- and go straight to fans,” remembers Kirk. Remember Doane’s first foray into action films, which soured him on Hollywood? Perhaps a sort of salute to his action-flick directing past, Doane featured ex-UFC fighter Bas Rutten in Mercy Rule -- but this time around, as Kirk Cameron put it, “It worked!"
Next came the polarizing Saving Christmas, which was a hard-to-categorize movie-pageant about the history and typology of Christmas traditions, all wrapped up in an celebration story of the whole commercialized holiday surrounding Jesus’ birth. Surprisingly, Darren calls it “the most punk-rock project I have ever made.” He explains that “All the right people hated it. All the uppity Christians and uber-cool atheists came together to proclaim their hatred for it. Perfect. Job well done.” Saving Christmas went on to be in the top Indie 50 grossing films of 2014 and the number one indie faith-based film of 2014. Doane himself loved “everything about” the project, and went on to explain why: “People love it. Like change-their-life love it. I got so many letters about people’s lives changed, families reunited, parents asking for forgiveness, joy being brought back into their lives.” Oddly, LifeWay, a large chain of Christian retail stores, refused to carry the film, claiming that they didn’t want to support the traditions of Christmas trees. Doane thought that was funny: “Sony pointed out that they have Christmas tree trinkets all through their stores. Then they said they just didn’t feel the film was ‘quality enough’ to meet their standards for movies. What? Have you seen some of the stuff they sell in that store?” In typically indie fashion, though, Doane didn’t really mind: “But it’s their stores. They can do what they want. I’m a capitalist. Love the free market.” He went on to say the real reason they wouldn’t carry the movie is because they were getting “cool-shamed.” “Cool-shaming” is the process by which cultural elites use both acceptance (“cool”) and mockery (“shaming”) to silence viewpoints that differ from the establishment’s opinions -- and Saving Christmas was due for a whole lot more “cool-shaming.” Early in 2015 the movie was a recipient of the Razzy Awards for worst film. This in turn sparked a campaign from atheists to make it the worst film of all time by way of a Reddit campaign. But this time Doane didn’t let other people suck the joy out of his craft. On the contrary, he says, “I was honored. I was nominated with one of my heroes, Michael Bay. As long as I keep alongside Bay, I’m doing pretty darn good.” In typical machine-gun style, Doane has more to say: “I got the attention of Christians and atheists who don’t know how to laugh, and online blog critics. People really should lighten up. We live in a world where Hot Tub Time Machine 2 gets made, and 50 Shades of Grey is taken seriously. Theres plenty of room for Saving Christmas.”
Doane is revelling in the freedom, grateful for where his own story has brought him. And in the future he wants an even more independent slate of films. This is what he’s learned from his life’s study of filmmaking. “‘Indie’ to me is not just freedom from studios, but the freedom to make what you’re honestly curious about. I know it’s dangerous to have ideas that have never been done before. There’s no template. But that’s what I keep moving towards.” In this way he’s inspired by an eclectic list of directing “greats”: John Cassavettes (one of the first indie filmmakers), Harmony Korine (a director unafraid to follow his vision into the surreal, the absurd, and the hilarious), and Michael Bay (of block-buster action-flick notoriety). “No one understood Cassavettes making films in his backyard. Everyone thinks Korine is crazy. And people just mock Bay. But those three are my favorites."
That diversity may be even more evident in the slate of films Doane has been working on. They Grow Up Fast and The Free Speech Apocalypse are Doane’s best-reviewed recent documentaries, and he has another doc releasing early in 2017: his second amendment project Keep and Bear. Kill The Dragon Get The Girl is a big family-friendly action-adventure feature releasing in 2017 as well. The TV series Shorebreak starring world-famous wave photographer Clark Little has taken Doane back to his Hurley roots and friendships -- more prepared this time. And his current doc, Cut You Down (in production March 2017), is based on comic-book artist and painter phenom Rob Prior. Each one is an example of Doane’s unflagging pursuit of cinematic diversity. So what’s next?
Doane’s keeping quiet about everything for now, but whatever project there are, they’re going to be exciting, according to Brent Smith of the highest charting rock band of all time Shinedown. "Darren is always sending out little links to projects he’s working on. It’s like Christmas when you get a link from Darren. What’s he doing now? How’s it going to look like? What’s he up to? He’s an original.” And Brent should know -- over the past decade he has worked with Doane on eleven music videos with over 100 million views (and counting). "He's 100% fearless. Afraid of nothing. Every video I have asked him to make something brilliant and different, and he's never blinked an eye. ‘Genius’ is overused. I get it. But Doane just does his own thing. He doesn’t compete with anyone. On the outside he looks very intense and focused. And he is. But he's also one of the funniest people on the planet. Just look at his cameo in [Shinedown video] “Asking for It.” I mean, that’s some funny, next-level stuff. And family. My goodness. Him and his family. So awesome. And he’s ready to talk about Jesus at the drop of a hat. Like Johnny Cash old time religion. Again, he's just in his own category.” And the cool part is, Doane made that category for himself.