Tim McPhate | KissFAQ
In conjunction with KissFAQ’s month-long NovElder retrospective, “The Elder” film writer/director Seb Hunter has gone on record regarding his feelings about the album and what has led him down the path of making a film. Hunter also details the film’s progress, shares how he wants to approach Gene Simmons and KISS, and fires off a message at critics of his film, among other topics.
The following are excerpts from Hunter’s interview with KissFAQ’s Tim McPhate:
His thoughts on “The Elder” album:
KissFAQ: Seb, some KISS fans love “Music From The Elder” while others loathe it. Another segment is ambivalent. Where do you stand?
Seb Hunter: I’ve always liked it, but then I’m a bit of a contrarian. Everybody comes into the KISS back catalog at their own point. My first-ever real-time KISS album was “Animalize.” I thought it was good. It was Mark St. John and this kind of whole non-makeup thing. And of course, in those days, it was pre-Internet so you had to figure everything out for yourself. AC/DC were my first band. I think I went from them to Iron Maiden to Judas Priest. I was looking for the next thing. I saw KISS and [they had] a scary look, you know. So I made the plunge with “Animalize.” I liked it enough to investigate the rest of their work. There was a huge record shop near me. I went through “Destroyer,” and all the ones with the coolest covers. “The Elder” took awhile to get to because the cover didn’t draw you in. I think the cover is something we’ll come back to, because I do genuinely think it’s a fucking awful cover. It just doesn’t work for what they’re trying to do: to render a rich, alluring, mysterious [album]. It just doesn’t do the job. I mean we all like it now, because it’s part of [the band’s] history. But it really doesn’t draw you in as a child. I mean, “Creatures” is incredible visually. “Lick It Up,” I think is incredibly strong visually. “Unmasked” is a masterpiece visually. But “The Elder,” it’s just like …
KF: What are your recollections of first listening to the album?
SH: I think everybody always says the same thing, that they were confused. (laughs) Everybody wanted to like it. I thought, “Right, I’m up for this journey, this odyssey.” And the titles were portentous and slightly pretentious and alluded to something deep and weighty and mysterious and mystical. And the album didn’t really deliver. The album had certain songs that were great, that kind of made the album totally acceptable. For me, I don’t think I was old enough to have the guts to say, “I like this album.” I was so utterly, utterly in love with KISS and what they represented. And they had such an incredible narrative from the first record up until “Unmasked.” They certainly had their ups and downs, with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and all that stuff. It was just another part, albeit it bizarre-shaped, of the KISS puzzle for me to untangle and to discover. I remember thinking, because Ace was always my favorite, I wanted more Ace [on the album]. I was a young musician at the time, and you could tell when Ace was playing and when he wasn’t playing.
The impetus for a film based on “The Elder”:
KF: Seb, I want to get into your film. I recently jotted down a quote from one of your film teasers, and I’m going to read it to you: “I want to make ‘The Elder’ film because I will be righting a historical wrong.” Explain.
SH: (laughs) Because even though it is the black sheep of the KISS canon, for me it is their best album. Although it wasn’t fully realized — despite everything I’ve said so far — I still love it. And I think it works musically. I mean I don’t think it works as a full concept album. But musically, it is their richest, their most diverse — you know they stretched themselves on this record like they’ve never stretched themselves on anything else. So that alone is reason to celebrate it. It is hated by a lot of people, it is the black sheep in their back catalog, it was a commercial disaster. [But] we want to kind of restore it. I think it would be really, really wonderful — if you forget our film as a film — just to play a part in perhaps turning “The Elder” into a success after all these years. A kind of notorious failure turns into a belated success story: I think that would be quite fun and romantic, and a lovely thing to be able to do.
KF: You’re not only a KISS fan, but you have some writing experience as a published author. When did the idea of producing an “Elder” movie germinate?
SH: I was writing to Julian Cope, an English musician, a rather psychedelic, eccentric UK visionary musician. He’s one of my heroes, in fact. I had an email correspondence with Julian Cope’s wife. You know, when sometimes you’re just writing stream of consciousness email? I was writing a stream of consciousness email to Dorian Cope, and [Julian] is a big fan of “The Elder” and KISS and so on, and so is she. And suddenly in the middle of the email, I said, “I’m going to finally make the film of ‘The Elder.'” It was a joke, it was literally a joke. And her email response came back, saying, “Well, that’s a fucking great idea. That’s a brilliant idea.” And I looked at the email and I thought, “You know what, that really is a good idea.” (laughs) So I was kind of excited. You know, sometimes when you have an idea, you think, “You know, that’s a killer idea.” Months passed, and I spoke to a few people, and I said, “Hey, I’m going to make a film of ‘The Elder.'” And some people laughed and just thought, “That’s stupid. That’s ridiculous.” And some people looked at me and said, “That’s the greatest idea I’ve ever heard.” Enough of those people over a period of about two years said that they thought it was a good idea. And over that time I started to develop how it might work, what it might be, because I am a writer, I’m a published author — you know that’s what I do, I’m comfortable doing that. I’ve never made a film [or] never been interested in making a film before. I never even thought about it. So engaging with the whole thing took a long time. It wasn’t something where I could click my fingers and say, “Well, I’m just going to make a film.” It demanded a lot of subconscious activity. So after about two years I started to build up an idea of what it would be, and have conversations with my friends. My best friend Owen is a Shakespearian actor. He’s had film experience, TV experience and he’s a KISS fan as well. And we discussed it. I spoke to a company called Mentorn Media, who are a big independent production company in the UK. I had a meeting with them and I said, “Well, this is my big idea.” And they just loved it. And they decided to run with it and decided to do a little kind of a taster, which you can see a snippet of on the website. We did that and they were very keen on doing a documentary that followed my attempt to do it. So they pitched that documentary to the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky Atlantic, the main sort of terrestrial broadcasters here. And eventually the broadcasters showed some interest and we got a little bit down the road, but they all said it was too niche, and, “Oh, we don’t like heavy metal.” So they eventually bailed. Then Mentorn eventually said, “We’re really sorry, we really love this project, but we can’t afford to do it without further commission.” Of course, I had anticipated this because I was thinking, “Well, great. If people are filming us doing it, it gives the project publicity and the oxygen of existence.” But when it actually happened, we had come sufficiently far down the road for it really not to matter. So we carried on anyway. By that time, we had started a website and we had worked out a concept for the screenplay and the story, so it really didn’t matter. When they pulled the plug on the documentary, we already had enough momentum to carry on. And it really hasn’t made a difference. Now we’ve got this guy Steve Webster who is making our documentary. He’s putting up little snippets on YouTube. He hopes to make his own sort of “making of” film, we’re hoping as a kind of DVD extra.
On trying to secure Gene Simmons to star in the film:
KF: And again, you’re hoping to get Gene Simmons to play the role of Blackwell?
SH: Very seriously, we very much hope to persuade Gene to play Blackwell. I’m writing the role around him. I think he’d play it really well. I was a big fan of [his movies] in the ’80s, “Runaway” and “Wanted: Dead Or Alive.” I thought his acting was very good. I’m hoping that is almost the catalyst we might be able to lure him in with. But we’ll only be able to tempt him if he likes the script and if he thinks, “Yeah, this is good.” But also, we’re very aware that we don’t want people to just see KISS, KISS, KISS, KISS. We want people who have never heard KISS in their lives to come and see this film and like it. Hopefully, we’ll make a film that everybody will enjoy. But KISS fans will get extra special levels of understanding and appreciation and lots of in-jokes and things that other people wouldn’t kind of get, you know what I mean?
If KISS does not support the project:
KF: Seb, if KISS should turn down participating in the film, have you given thought to your “plan B”?
SH: We’re completely prepared for it. We’ve always been prepared for that from the beginning. We always knew that KISS might say, “Look we don’t want to get involved with this. And also we don’t want you using our copyrighted images.” Since last November, I’ve been bracing, every time my phone goes I think it’s going to be Gene Simmons’ lawyers trying to shut us down. A few months ago we did hear from the label [but] I can’t tell you what they [specifically] said but it was generally positive. They just sort of approved in principle but they insisted that we pay proper market rights to use the music, which of course we were always planning to do.
To answer your question, we hope to convince [KISS] otherwise. Or at least certainly convince them that it’s a credible thing and that we’ll be able to pay to use some of the music. But if not, if they say, “No you can’t use the music. We don’t like it. We don’t like you. We don’t like the film. We don’t like any of it,” we’ll just change it. But this is one of the reasons why we made our own world, why we kind of re-contextualized it. We can just say, “It’s inspired by.”We’ve got the technical people, we’ve got the technical cameras, we’ve got editors, we’ve got proper filmmaking people — we’ve got a really good team now. We could go out and make this film next week and do it low-budget and it’d be OK. But we would like to, ideally, in a year’s time go out and do it with proper money and a bigger, better team and a bigger, better investment. It would be a shame if KISS didn’t want to get involved and got lawyers involved because (pauses) … I don’t know, I don’t know why they would do that. I hope they can see the potential in this. We totally respect them. I know what you’re going to say. I’ve read the interview where Stanley talks about it, and he said, [“We hear little bits and pieces through the grapevine, and quite honestly, if every fan who wanted to mount a film got publicity or credibility, it would be a disservice to the rest of the fans. We hear about this and I’m sure it’s done with good intentions but we know nothing beyond that.”] I’ve read that and that’s all he can say at the moment. We haven’t gone out there and pitched them. We’ve just been letting them know what’s going on. But at some point we will go out there and attempt to convince them. Until then, they have to kind of warn people off. But what he didn’t say in that interview is, “No. They must be stopped.” (laughs)
A message for his detractors:
KF: Appropriately, with “The Elder” being such a polarizing album, reactions to your film have been mixed. Seb, you have the floor. What would you like to say to your detractors?
SH: Well, I totally understand them having unkind things to say. There is no truth online, there are only opinions. And I respect people’s opinions and I totally understand that people are cynical and expect this to be a complete disastrous pile of shit. But we hope to be able to prove them wrong. I totally understand all that and I have attempted to sort of persuade people. But there comes a point where some people aren’t just going to like it and they think it’s a stupid idea. And they don’t like it and they don’t like you or anything about you. And there’s nothing you can do to change it. Even if we produce “Mean Streets,” they’re still going to say it’s a piece of shit. There’s nothing you can do. So you’ve just go to realize that. You’ve got to put it aside and just get on with it and stay positive and do your best. And that’s what we are determined to do. I haven’t got any beef with these people. It kind of inspires you, it pushes you forward. It makes you think, “Fuck you. I’ll show you mother fucker.” But you can’t get caught up with it. That’s the thing, you can never win an argument with the Internet ever, man. We all learn this. Sometimes you try to enter into discussions or arguments with these people, and it’s pointless. You’ve just got to get on with your own thing and don’t let the fuckers get you down because otherwise you’re wasting your energy on this stuff. What’s the point? Don’t engage with it, just go out there and make your thing bigger and better and make it work.
Full Seb Hunter interview:
“The Elder” film trailer:
Through a series of brand-new KissFAQ interviews, original features and related special content, NovElder will shine a spotlight on “Music From The Elder” like never before throughout the month of November. More than 10 hours of interviews were conducted with various individuals who either worked on the project or have a connection of sorts, including professionals who have never told their “Elder story.” These interviews will provide interesting insights and unique perspectives regarding the album’s creative process and this fascinating period in KISStory, in addition to fun anecdotes and personal recollections. A series of topical features will shed more light on KISS’ activity in 1981 and early 1982 and dissect the album further with in-depth musical analysis, biographical information on the album’s participants, a revised KissFAQ Album Focus, and much more. NovElder will also take a look at the climate of the rock genre in 1981 and look at the bloodline of rock concept albums.
The odyssey continues this November at http://www.kissfaq.com/novelder/