The inspiration to tell this story was clear to me from the start. Personally, I was curious to know what had happened during their 23 years. Curious because, outside of being a filmmaker, I am a musician, and curious also as to how the band had achieved their longevity despite numerous career setbacks. A lot of talk about a band that changed their name after the 9/11 tragedy had given Shihad notoriety here in New Zealand but beyond the outcome of that one event, in fact, here was a bunch of guys who as teenage boys had set out to be the best band in the world. 4 uniquely difference personalities coming from the tiny country of New Zealand and setting out to conquer the daunting US Music business.
Beyond the band story and beyond the music exists a human drama that explores the meaning of loyalty, desire, friendship, loss, success and purpose. This is the universal story that many other band documentary have failed to explore. In Shihad: Beautiful Machine one of the main things I've drawn from the film and notice whenever we screen it, is that it gets people talking. It's a film about goals and dreams and whether or not fulfilling those goals necessarily bring you the success you'd hoped. It explores what place New Zealand has in the Americanised arts world which has become almost entirely focused on commercial gain, rather than artistic merit.
In 2009 when we first discussed the idea of the film I had a sit down meeting with a friend of the band who told me many of the stories that had occurred during the bands career, and it started to paint a picture of the adversity they had been up against. Beyond the band itself also exists family and personal relationships that have all feed into the story of survival of New Zealand's longest running rock act.
The difficulty from that point in telling the story would start with how truly open the band would be to telling it. Luckily they were, and from the very start they had expressed an interest to tell their story warts and all, avoiding spending too much time on the music and delving more into the personal journey that they're been through.
Several passes at an original treatment gave us a framework for which we could now use to sell the idea and get funding. Resourced with this and our own passion for the film, we were able to secure the funds and go into production in 2010. The next step to getting this story on screen was somewhat more difficult. The band throughout its career had been interviewed hundreds of times and without some unique approach it was difficult to set the stage for a unique interview, where we would delve on the Shihad world in an entirely new way.
The answer came in the form of our Director Sam Peacocke. Sam is a young and up and coming Kiwi director had having already developed a relationship with the band having directed a number of their music videos. He used the trust he'd had gained and took the band out of their comfort zone and into a entirely unique space where questions couldn't be answered so automatically. This style produced a very genuine response, and from then on the story began to build in depth and honesty.
Relationships with wives, girlfriends and families are a key part of this story and in many ways help to set it apart from other music genre documentaries. Meeting the parents of the band members and relating to their observations of their sons upbringing and journey in the group. And then the wives and girlfriends which helped define in many ways create the voice of the band, none more so than the relationship of Jon Toogood with his Partner Ronise Paul with much of Shihad's lyrical material drawing from that relationship.
This film serves up an example for all NZ artists who desire to take their art to the world. In some ways it's a cautionary tale and in others it's about a balance between your goals, friendships and family. For the producers we are proud to have created a truly unique NZ film experience and hope audiences will gain insight and be challenged as much as being taking on a great ride of 23 years of Shihad history