Fans pay tribute to The Boss in ‘Springsteen & I’

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First Posted: 7/16/2013

Director Baillie Walsh wasn’t a diehard fan of Bruce Springsteen when he was asked to make a documentary about “The Boss” and his massive following, but he soon gained a newfound respect for the singer/songwriter when he completed “Springsteen & I.”

The 53-year-old New York resident has directed music videos with Massive Attack, INXS, and New Order; a documentary on Oasis; and a film he also wrote starring Daniel Craig called “Flashbacks of a Fool,” but this was a completely new and innovative project. The filmmakers asked Springsteen fans from around the world to submit videos to a website that explained how Bruce changed their lives, and the response was touching, funny, and inspiring.

Produced by Ridley Scott Associates, the film will be broadcast in almost 500 select theaters, including the Cinemark theaters in Moosic and Stroudsburg on Monday, July 22. The Weekender talked with Walsh about the difficulties of putting together such a massive project, what he learned about Springsteen and his fans, and what the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer thought of the finished product.

THE WEEKENDER: What is your personal connection to Bruce Springsteen? Were you a fan of his music before this?

BAILLIE WALSH: No. I was an admirer; I can’t say I was a fan, and I think that was a good thing to walk into this film kind of objective about it. In a sense, I kind of didn’t come with my own playlist here. I allowed the fans to kind of lead me through the experience of Bruce and to learn as I went along.

The idea essentially came from the film “Life in a Day,” in the sense that it was a user-generated film and it was the same kind of concept where you put a call out to fans. On that film, basically they asked people around the world to make a film of their day, a particular day of the year, and they compiled a film from those films. So it’s the same kind of essential idea – we put a call out to Bruce Springsteen fans asking them to make films of why they love Bruce and his music.

W: What made you want to direct this film?

BW: Well, I loved the concept of how to make it. I loved the idea that I had no idea what the film would be, and that puts the fear of God in me, which is always a good sign; it means I don’t know what I’m going to do and I haven’t done it before. I haven’t seen a film like this. That’s always very exciting. And I love the idea that it was Bruce because he is a brilliant storyteller, and I was very aware of that, and I thought that that might inspire his fans. I thought that they might be good storytellers too, which they are.

W: What kinds of submissions did you receive from fans? Did you have any crazy ones?

BW: I didn’t really have any crazies. The only crazy I can think of is someone who sends in 60 films. That starts to be a bit kind of extreme, and we had a few of those… The films that stood out to me are the films that you watch in the film.

For me, these people have heart. I believe they’re emotional, and they have incredible charm and honesty about them. And that’s a thing that I kind of filtered through in the sense that there were much bigger stories, much more obviously emotional stories, but somehow these stories spoke about Bruce in a very discreet way in a sense, and in a very charming way. That was the appeal for me.

W: Did anything surprise you about these stories?

BW: Most of it surprised me, I’d say… There’re lots of surprises in there, lots of humor and lots of laughs. The amount of humor within the film, I think – “surprised” is the wrong word – I was delighted by the amount of humor in the film. I didn’t know I was going to get that.

W: Was there a particular song or certain traits about Bruce that people seemed to latch onto more than anything else?

BW: Obviously I got lots of stories of “Dancing in the Dark” because Bruce includes his audience in that and he pulls up his “Courteney Coxes” from the audience and always gives them an opportunity to participate… That was very difficult to choose which one because I had to use one of those because I think it’s a very big part of his live performance, so it was difficult to choose which one I was going to show. We eventually showed a girl called Rachel, an English girl. I tried it with a montage of lots of different people telling the same story, but somehow it lost its charm and lost its power.

What I found about this film is the smaller I kind of kept it, in a way, and the less grandiose I made it, the more charm the film had.

W: What were some of the biggest challenges of putting all this footage together?

BW: The biggest challenge was to make a film out of five-minute clips, thousands of them, and how do you make something that you can sit down and watch for an hour and half without feeling that you’re watching hundreds of clips and not connecting with that? What was very, very difficult for me, and the challenge for me was how do I make this all connect? There is no structure here; there’s nothing to hang this on, apart from, of course, Bruce’s music, which plays an enormous part in the film, and Bruce’s career that expands 40 years. I do have a lot of archive footage in there, and I think that that’s a very big part of the film.

W: Would you make another film like this, using crowdsourced footage again?

BW: Yeah. I don’t know that I could do it about another rock star because I think that this is a perfect project for Bruce, but I would certainly, with the way this film was made, be interested in making another film like that. It’s such a collaborative experience, and I really enjoyed that.

W: Did you hear from The Boss or his camp at all?

BW: Yeah. They really, really love it. Bruce watched it and really, really enjoyed it.

W: What are you hoping people take away from this film when they see it?

BW: A broader idea of it is that music can really change your life and help you through your life and influence your life in a really positive way.

Bruce is a really good influence on people, and I think he’s a brilliant role model. He’s inspiring to me. He’s 63 years old and making some of his best work.