FRAN STRINE IS A REBEL WITH A CAUSE By Sandra Castillo
FRAN STRINE IS A REBEL WITH A CAUSE
By Sandra Castillo
If one could measure the strength and fortitude of a man, based solely on the mien of his stare, then a person could honestly assume Fran Strine is one, tough mofo. By the looks of a certain, black-and-white portrait taken of the famed film director, it’s safe to say that only the most oblivious of observers will be able to turn away from the magnetic pull of his gaze, intent on searing a hole the size of Mars through any shadow of a doubt, which would, justifiably, warrant a knock upside the psyche, delivered by the mighty fist of Rock and Roll. Because if anything screams louder, longer or more fiercely than Rock and Roll, it is the man whose imposing glower could easily push over a stack of Marshall amps, if given the opportunity.
Perhaps, that cool and cocksure eye lock is the result of many years spent paying his dues in an industry built on the premise that only the strongest, most dedicated of musicians will survive the wild ride of Rock and Roll. For all the endless hurdles jumped and hours logged, while traveling the world with some of the biggest names in music, Strine certainly knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in a business that involves more than just cranking out “three chords and the truth.” Of course, the guts and glories of Rock and Roll, with all its victories and vulnerabilities strapped across its armor-plated engines, will unleash itself on those who decide that music is something to be pursued, tasted and embraced, if one is truly willing to throw himself into the fray, headfirst. These rogue warriors, with axes to grind, kits to beat and keys to pound on, are custom-built to withstand the brutal truths of Rock’s stone-cold realities. Whether it’s landing a permanent residency with a signed, major artist or getting fired, without even a 24-hours notification, from the dream gig of a lifetime, the “hired gun” lives on the serrated edge of an existence, automatically separating the counterfeit wannabes from the diehard, driven champions.
Strine has seen more than his fair share of what really goes on behind the gilded curtain of Rock and Roll. Having trekked the globe with the likes of Heavy Metal stalwarts Nickelback, Slipknot and Staind, as a touring photographer and videographer, he has personally witnessed the extreme highs and lows for those who are at the epicenter of the Rock and Roll storm. He can also attest that all is not “glamorous” in the careers of many working musicians, especially the ones who have established themselves alongside some of the most prominent names in the business. These are the men and women who perform their duties, as backing musicians for the principal contenders, and do so with a level of professionalism and acumen that leaves no musical stone unturned. However, these musicians take on these contractual obligations with a certain degree of obscurity. Much like their constituents, who were showcased in the Academy Award-winning 20 Feet From Stardom, the 2013 film that showcased the careers and personal struggles of the artists supporting the main star, the unsung heroes of Rock and Roll are finally receiving much deserved guerdon, by way of the film Hired Gun.
Directed by Fran Strine, Hired Gun shines the white-hot spotlight on the musicians who have contributed to the music and legacy, by way of their own talents, of the superstars who are recognized and revered the world over. Along with Strine, Jason Hook, guitarist of the explosive, hard-rocking band, Five Finger Death Punch, came up with the concept to make a film which features the men and women of Rock, who were instrumental in wielding their musical prowess to help deliver the goods to the forefront for the artists most of the free world has known about and embraced for decades. The documentary closely examines the lives and career peaks and valleys of their chosen profession, as many, who go into the music business for a living, know their journeys will be wrought with victories, as well as personal setbacks and defeat. Strine’s intelligent, introspective spin on the music industry and how it has ultimately impacted those who have given so much of themselves, with varying degrees of recompense, will certainly open the eyes of viewers, whose pre-conceived notions, of what it really means to be a “hired gun” in music, will be blown out of the water.
Recently, RG Magazine contacted Strine to speak with him about his own incredible voyage and how Hired Gun is successfully carrying the torch for those who’ve helped bring many a song for the main act to the forefront of music. This is what he shared with the publication…
What or who inspired your decision to pursue a career as a “visionary,” which has allowed you to successfully establish yourself as one of the best visual artists, photographers and videographers in the industry?
Actually, I had none. I used to bring my camera to concerts, just to capture images for my memories. After a few years of doing this, friends were telling me I had a great eye.
I took a chance and submitted my photos to all the music rags and was turned down by them all. Not because the photos were bad, but they had so many freelance photographers that they didn’t need one more.
I had called Sterling McFadden, who published a Hard Rock magazine called “Metal Edge,” and they gave me the Editor’s HOME ADDRESS! She loved my work, and I was on assignment for several years, and the rest is history.
You possess a certain Rock and Roll sensibility, evident from your creative alliances and choices. Because of your dedication and loyalty to music, do you play any musical instruments?
I’m slightly dangerous on guitar.
What was the first band you cut your musical “teeth” on?
Judas Priest and Alice Cooper.
According to Wikipedia, the band Iron Steel was formed out of you being “bored one day and you wanted to make a song.” Elaborate a bit on the decision that you made to kick start this into a reality.
Oh, God! That “band” was a joke that went too far, but we had a great time doing it!
You’ve traveled the world with several bands, including the Heavy Metal ensemble, Staind, and various others. What was it like for you to be on tour with them, where you were able to work with the group on such an intimate level, as their tour photographer and videographer?
Working with Staind was great. It was like a big family. The hardest part was some of the fall-out during the making of the band’s last record. I actually stayed at Aaron Lewis’ home for seven months during that recording period, and it was very stressful and sad to watch. There is a documentary that lives on Youtube that fans can watch.
You have a dog named “Fang.” What’s his story?
Fang is my best friend! He rescued me 12 years ago. He’s just a mutt and has the best personality. The ladies LOVE him!
Family seems to have a direct/indirect influence on an individual’s decision to pursue a certain career or so it seems. How instrumental was the Strine Family in your decision to pursue the career you’ve chosen for yourself, which has made you, by default, a “triple threat” or more specifically the consummate photographer, videographer and film director?
You know, I think I’m the only one with the creative bug in the family, and both my parents supported me. My son, Zach Strine, is following in my footsteps, as a filmmaker. He loves classic film, and the bug has bitten him!
Your film, the critically-acclaimed Battlefield of the Mind, showcases the lives of homeless veterans who suffer terribly from the devastating effects of combat which have resulted in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for so many returning home from war. What made you decide to do this documentary?
I had moved to San Francisco a few years ago, and I was stunned at the number of homeless people living on the streets there, and so, I started asking questions. Soon, I found out that a large number of these individuals were veterans, who were really young. So, I HAD to make this film, and with the help of Aaron Lewis and my great friend, Todd Poulson-who are both huge supporters of our troops and returning veterans-I was able to make this film that, I believe, helped make a difference.
You’ve made it clear that you’ve had no formal training, whatsoever, to prepare you for the career you are now firmly entrenched in. Is it safe to say you are “self-taught” in your vision quest, as you have certainly proved to the world that you know what music fans definitely want, when it comes to all-things-musically-and-visually-relevant.
Absolutely. I had the laser focus, drive and hunger to do this. I started out as just a live-concert photographer, then added studio session. After I discovered “moving pictures” that could tell a story, that was it! I was struck.
For the millions of fans who love Country Music legend Dolly Parton, there was, most likely, a mad rush to add her album, Pure and Simple, to their collection. I understand that you photographed her for the front cover of this record. Talk a bit about how that all came about. Also, how did you end up working with her on Dolly: Live In London, as Director and Cinematographer of the project?
It’s funny, Danny Nozell, who was the tour manager for Slipknot at the beginning of their career and who I had met at Ozzfest many years ago, and I built a great, working relationship with Slipknot and their team. I received a call from Danny, telling me he was now managing Dolly’s affairs, and she was doing two sold-out shows at the O2 Arena in London and asked if I’d be interested in directing and producing a live DVD. Of course, I jumped at the chance, and it was very successful, garnering me a certified gold sales plaque.
Then, last year, while I was at SXSW for the World Premiere of Hired Gun, I got the call, again, from Dolly, asking if I could be in Nashville later that week to photograph her latest album cover. This would be the second time I’ve had the extreme pleasure to do so. I have to say, Dolly is Dolly, 24/7. She is the sweetest, most fun and full-of-energy person I’ve ever dealt with, and she is hysterical! I can’t wait to work with her again.
What does it personally mean to you, to be able to integrate your love for music, filmmaking and the visual aesthetic to have created a canon of work that has now become a part of the legacy of major Rock and Roll artists and, ultimately, your own life?
Well, I’ve never thought about it like that, I guess. I mean, I know I have a unique career, and I am aware that I’m good at what I do or I wouldn’t get repeat business. As a filmmaker, what’s more thrilling to me is when I see Hired Gun played all over the world, and I’m sitting there in the theater with the audience, and the reactions I was hoping I’d get, while making the film happen. Man, that’s a great feeling. Because, I’m feeling it with them, still, after watching this film dozens of times. That’s special to me. And, if the audience enjoys my work, as a photographer, music video director or filmmaker, then, I have done my job.
Are there any unforgettable moments that have occurred during your career you would like to divulge?
I’d have to say the craziest one is when Dolly asked if she could shave my head and, then, did so!
What, specifically, does your production company offer your clients, in terms of meeting their particular needs?
I’ve a new production company, Voltage Productions, and we offer everything from commercials, music videos, website design, editing to graphics. I’d like to think of it as a one-shop creative lab!
How did the concept for the film Hired Gun come to see the light of day?
Hired Gun came to me, as I was burnt out from the touring life. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I had to travel around the world for the past 15-20 years, but I’m ready to settle down a bit, and I thought, Why not make a film that’s compelling, full of laughs, tears and great music? So, I did!
It’s been noted that drummer Liberty DeVitto was the very first one you contacted to see if he wanted to take part in the filming for the documentary. Is this correct?
I learned of Liberty from a good friend of mine who told me his story in a nutshell. WOW! I had no idea how to track him down as he didn’t have a manager or PR. So, I found him on Facebook and messaged him. After ten minutes, I knew I had to interview him; his story is so insane and unbelievable, he became a focal point in the film. People love him, for sure!
How did you determine who would make the cut to be in Hired Gun? What was the criteria for these musicians to meet, once you established the premise for this movie?
That was the toughest part. We interviewed roughly 60 musicians-we wanted to make sure we had the very BEST stories. Unfortunately, the audience can’t fall in love with 60 people in a 90-minute film, so very difficult decisions had to be made. You have no idea how much sleep I lost, having to make the calls.
The accolades and universal recognition for Hired Gun keep on rolling in and deservedly so.
We have won several, really, nice awards though-two “Best Documentary” awards, one “Best Director” award and an “Audience Choice” award, which meant the most to me!
What was it personally like for you to be able to bring this film to the forefront of the American public, especially for those who love Rock and Roll?
I am honored and delighted that the musicians trusted me with their personal stories. I will be forever grateful to them for that. I think the audience will really see what it’s like for these guys. The reality is this-that it’s not as glamorous a life as they think it is.
What do you hope Hired Gun accomplishes in the long run? Has it met your own, personal expectations?
I really hope it resonates to the audience how hard these musicians work and how quickly it can be taken away from them. Appreciate the guitarist, bassist or drummer that’s standing next to the star…because they aren’t getting the same treatment. That’s for sure.
What does Rock and Roll mean to Fran Strine?
Rock and Roll, to me, is an escape! Where you can let go and just let your mind take you somewhere else and a journey of self-expression.
If you could have something written on your tombstone, what would that be?
“I don’t have time for this”