Documentary: 'Surviving The Police'
Issue: April 1, 2015

Documentary: 'Surviving The Police'

For millions of fans of The Police, the new feature-length film Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police, based on guitarist Andy Summers’ 2006 memoir One Train Later, will be the next best thing to being out front and backstage at one of the supergroup’s shows. Starring Summers, Sting and Stewart Copeland, the film, which is being released by Cinema Libre Studio, tells the inside story of the band’s meteoric rise, headline-grabbing break-up, and reunion 20 years later, through rare archival footage and Summers’ personal collection of photos. And Summers, who’s always been a multi-faceted artist — a musician, songwriter, composer, photographer and author — can now add filmmaker to his resume, as he was the driving force behind every aspect of the project.

Summers describes the film as, “a musical journey that uses live footage from the ’07-’08 Police reunion world tour, along with lots of archival footage, both from The Police’s early days and the London punk scene. But it’s not done as a chronological story. We establish the fact we’re doing the reunion tour early on, and then it dips in and out of live Police concert footage, and then starts going back to the earlier days.” 

Narrated by the guitarist, the film also incorporates rare footage dating back to the ‘60s and Summers’ involvement with the early British rock scene and seminal artists including Zoot Money and Eric Burdon, as well as many still photos taken by the rock star along the way. “I was always interested in photography, so it was very natural for me to document everything,” notes Summers, “whether it was backstage at some grungy club or on early tours with The Police. So there’s a lot of intimate moments and interesting shots and archival stuff, especially in the first 25 minutes of the film, with the Sex Pistols appearing and so on.”

Following his book’s lead, the film also documents the serendipitous nature of the formation of The Police, one of the biggest bands in rock history, when the guitarist “just happened to bump into” drummer Stewart Copeland getting off the subway in London one day in 1977. The two decided to grab a coffee and discuss forming a new band with then-unknown singer Sting, whom they’d just met. “One train later, and it all might never have happened,” recalls Summers, “which is why I titled the book, One Train Later.” 

This film also came together “somewhat quickly,” says Summers, who, after the book was published, was working in England on a photography book with a book designer. “We were talking about a film we both really liked, The Kid Stays In The Picture, made almost entirely of still shots with a voiceover, directed by Brett Morgen, and it sparked the idea of doing a similar thing about The Police, especially as I’d already done two books about my years with the band and I had all this photography,” he explains. “And by chance, I met someone in Los Angeles who’s friends with Brett and who connected us. And then around the same time, I met Norman Golightly — he was Nicolas Cage’s producing partner for many years and an enormous fan of The Police. We got together to discuss a possible collaboration and the film idea suddenly became a reality.”

To Summers’ amazement, the deal happened almost instantly. “We literally sold the film the first afternoon, and I was shocked,” he admits. “I’ve lived in LA for a long time, and I know a lot of people in the movie business, and it usually takes years to get films made, if ever. So it was thrilling to get this far so quickly.” And although ultimately it did take several years to complete the project, the timing “couldn’t have been better,” he notes, “because in that time, the band got back together and we went on this huge, very successful global tour.”

The live concert footage was directed by Lauren Lazin and shot by DP Tom Hurwitz, whose credits include Wild Man Blues, Valentino: The Last Emperor, The Queen of Versailles and Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. The first big challenge was shooting the band live at the Anaheim Convention Center. “It’s a huge venue, and ultimately it was quite a challenge to color correct the footage, as we shot with both HDV cameras — Sony Z7Us and Z1Us — and HDCAM — the Sony F900R, which is what I used on the job,” he reports. “Secondly, I was the only stage camera, and it was pretty amazing shooting the band at their sound check and then at the actual concert. And being in ‘the pit’ — this catwalk that runs along the front of the stage — my movement was limited as I had to shoot the entire show looking straight up, so it was very physically demanding. But the results were spectacular.”

Hurwitz and his team used a total of four cameras to record the show, with the film’s producer Brett Morgen manning one of the HDCAMs. “Two of them were wide shots, and Brett had another tighter-shot set up,” he notes.” And we just went with the concert lighting on the day.” The New York-based DP also used a Canon 20-1mm zoom, “which is unusual for me, as I have my own modified zooms, but I was on the West Coast. But I used my own lenses for the rest of the film.”

After shooting the live performance, the DP then followed the guitarist on his travels around the world for the best part of a year, documenting everything from his life off-stage to the publication of his memoir One Train Later and a book of photography. “We filmed at his house, at three openings and book signings of his books, as well as two exhibitions of his photography, in New York, backstage with The Police, and walking around England reminiscing about his childhood,” he says. Hurwitz shot all this with the Sony F900R, “a marvelous camera that still produces some of the most beautiful images anywhere,” he points out. “I love it because I have a huge amount of control of the look. I have my own settings which I’ve worked out over years, and the color sensitivity is so easily controllable, along with the contrast.”

With all the raw footage completed, Summers and his team, at Morgen’s suggestion, then enlisted Brooklyn-based Emmy-winning editor and filmmaker Andy Grieve to pull the final cut together. “He’s a real artist and was able to re-sculpt all the material into a very well-paced, interesting narrative that’s also a little bit off-beat,” says the guitarist of Grieve whose credits include editing Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure, and working with Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney on We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks. “I watched him work and it’s very impressive. And I gave him access to all the various tracks I’d done for the score — some rock, some jazzy, some quirky — and he made these very interesting choices. He used much darker and weirder bits of the music I’d done than a more conventional editor and director might have done, and I really liked that.”

Editing and post had originally been started by the concert footage director Lauren Lazin, “but the producers and Andy Summers wanted to take the film in a new direction,” notes Grieve. “So when I came on board, I went back to the drawing board by crafting a new script from the text of Andy’s memoirs and directing the film in the edit room around this new script and the countless hours of archival material at my disposal. The trickiest part was incorporating the reunion tour into the story since Andy’s book starts and ends in the early 1980s when the band broke up. In the end I think we came up with a great way to balance past and present to really tell this story of an amazing musician and his crazy journey through rock and roll.”

Summers reports that all titles, visual effects, 2D animation and motion graphics were done at New York’s Edgeworx Studios, along with the additional offline and HD conform. Sound post was provided by Gigantic Studios in New York, and the team included re-recording mixer/supervising sound editor Tom Paul and dialogue editor Eric Milano. Digital Intermediate finishing services were provided by Goldcrest Post, also in New York, with veteran DI colorist John Dowdell. 

Post work also included Burbank’s Cinema Libre Studio (CLS) senior editor Tom Von Doom, who worked with Summers to develop the theatrical trailer, which includes a new guitar riff, that was created entirely in-house with CLS staff and resources, including graphics, transitions and sound mixing to the final DCP file creation. Post on the film also benefited from the input of post production veteran Todd Brown, a co-founder/owner of West Post Digital in Santa Monica, who recently joined CLS as VP, post production and business development. Brown, well-known for introducing new technologies to the post community, oversees CLS’s post production capabilities in their new location in Burbank, at the former THX offices. The company’s expanded 7,400-square-foot facility offers Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve color correction, Avid ProTools sound editing and mixing, Apple Final Cut, Avid and Adobe Premiere editing in 2K/4K, and encoding for delivery to all major digital platforms.

Inevitably, the film also focuses on the break-up of the always-combustible and often acrimonious trio. “It’s obviously a very painful and poignant moment, when we all realize, ‘Well, that’s it,’” says Summers of the ’08 footage documenting the band’s final dissolution. “The camera lingers on all our faces, and you can see the raw emotion there. It’s very bitter-sweet.” As for ongoing rumors that The Police may reform yet again for another tour (their 30th reunion tour grossed over $350 million, making it the third-highest-grossing tour in history), Summers doesn’t think it’s likely. “But then I never thought we’d get back together to do the last tour, so I never shut the door on anything,” he states.