Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Death to the Mockumentary! A Chat with Brothers of the Head co-directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
8/04/06 Knight at the Movies EXCLUSIVE
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Brothers of the Head co-directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton onset, conjoined twins Barry and Tom Howe ripping it up onstage in
a concert sequence from the film, Pepe, Fulton and stars (twins) Luke and Harry Treadaway at the film's New York premiere on
July 26, 2006.
Personal and professional partners Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe jumped head first into the business while finishing up film school in
Philadelphia. A short film they made caught the eye of director Terry Gilliam and he asked them to document the behind the
making of 12 Monkeys which was shooting there in 1995. They went on to shoot several more of these “making of” documentaries –
including the disaster prone Gilliam epic about Don Quixote that eventually had to be cancelled. Fulton and Pepe’s ensuing feature
length film, Lost in LaMancha, received rave reviews. Now the two young gay co-directors (and partners of almost 15 years) have
helmed their first fiction feature, ironically, a faux documentary, Brothers of the Head.
I spoke with the two young directors, one right after the other, the night after a triumphant premiere of the film in New York City.
Excerpts from our separate conversations:
Knight At The Movies (KATM): First of all your background as a documentary filmmaker kind of explains an attraction to the form for
Brothers of the Head but can you tell me what else drew you to this story?
Keith Fulton (KF): Just that the novel had a kind of gothic, creepy quality to it—
KATM: (LAUGHS) Kind of?!
KF: I mean you know the idea of plucking these twins from this desolate place in Northern England and shaping them into a rock
band. I mean it sounds on the surface absurd but the way that it’s told in the novel…it’s told by these people who have this intense
nostalgia for the experience and who are trying desperately to understand what made Tom and Barry Howe so special and so
alluring. I don’t know, there was a really beautiful, elegiac quality to the novel as well as its gothic tone.
KATM: It’s kind of “Dickensian” if I’m saying that word correctly.
KF: Yes it is, precisely, correctly.
KATM: I haven’t read the book but isn’t it also written in documentary style; they’re all a series of interviews?
KF: Yes, it’s done as a sort of literary equivalent to the talking head format.
KATM: Okay. This is sort of an “anti-mockumentary,” sort of the flipside of Spinal Tap and all the Christopher Guest movies.
KF: Yeah, that wasn’t our intent per se but I always thought the word “mockumentary” doesn’t fit this film very well.
KATM: Oh no, not at all – death to the mockumentary! I think you caught that whole Pennebaker/Maysles Brothers/Wiseman
cinema verite style.
KF: Yeah and Lou I in film school watched so many films by the Maysles brothers and Fred Wiseman and Ricky Leacock and all the
American direct cinema filmmakers and that style of filmmaking is hugely appealing to me. You don’t really see it much anymore,
not in its pure form. But truly observational documentaries – like Salesman and Grey Gardens – they’re better than fiction films. They
tell stories as powerfully but there’s something about a kind of quiet observation of characters that you see in that style of
documentary that you never see in fiction films. In fiction films everything is too much dialogue and everything is over explained
and the plot works like clockwork. I like the atmospheric, intense character study that you find in that kind of documentary.
We wanted to give the film a much more authentic, kind of gritty feel and to call attention to the presence of the camera. You see
characters in Brothers of the Head who are constantly askance into the lens and they’re awkward with the presence of the camera and
to us that highlighted the feeling of exploitation which is one of the themes of the film. The twins are in the process of being deeply
exploited and then turning around and exploiting people in return. The feeling that the presence of the camera gives was by design
to heighten the feeling of exploitation – just to use the word “feeling” four times in a sentence.
KATM: Please do. Please use if five times – go ahead.
KF: (LAUGHS) Okay. Please edit out three of them.
KATM: No, this is going to be a documentary interview – no editing whatsoever.
KF: I really like editing, I must say.
KATM: Obviously – you’re probably used to hours and hours of footage as a documentarian. Even though this isn’t a comedy you
used some of that improv technique with your actors. Was there a lot of stuff that got left on the cutting room floor?
KF: No. There are many layers to this film and you’re talking about the verite documentary layer. In that layer almost nothing went
on the cutting room floor because everything was precious to us when we got to the editing room. It was the strongest, most intense
part of the film. It has the look that it’s culled from hours and hours of footage but it’s not. There’s actually very little footage from
that part of the film. Where we cut was in the talking heads stuff – there was much more of that, much more of characters placing
the music in a context and trying to describe the music and we thought that that stuff gave the film – in its first incarnation anyway –
gave it a mockumentary feel and we didn’t want that. So that where’s the stuff ended up on the editing room floor. There are many
characters who were shot and weren’t included.
KATM: Speaking of the music which I loved – it’s a really interesting period to capture – that early Bowie-Iggy Pop-Gang of Four stuff
right before punk and when that glam thing was starting to happen.
KF: It was a more exciting, fertile period to choose musically. It would have been easy to say, “Okay, we’re going to do a full on
punk band of the Sex Pistols or post-Sex Pistols period.”
KATM: But that’s still a bit in there with the impresario Zak, seems a touch inspired by Malcolm McLaren.
KF: Yeah but he’s a hokey version of McLaren. Zak is much more an old school guy; he’s more like the Bay City Rollers manager.
KATM: There you go.
KF: And that’s what Zak was envisioning for the band. He was hoping for something a little popier and got something he didn’t
expect. We chose that musical period we thought to go for a full on punk band in 1978, say, it could have easily fallen into parody.
It would have been a big cliché and we thought it was more interesting to go in this direction. You have the bass player in the movie
playing them Kinks song to bring it back to that 60s grungy garage band sound.
KATM: Oh right – “All Day and All of the Night.” There’s a real edge to the relationship between the twins, obviously. It reminded
me a bit of the Mantle twins in Dead Ringers – even though they’re not conjoined – and I also detected an undercurrent of the private
world of the two which is destroyed by the third person, the woman coming into things. And I had this feeling that Barry was secretly
in love with Tom and that Laura wrecked it. Was I fantasizing that?
KF: I think that goes a bit both ways with the characters in the film. I think Tom is a bit in love with Barry and vice versa. I mean to
say, “in love with” is a bit strange between brothers but they love each other deeply, obviously and in this case their intimacy is more
than anyone could imagine. They can’t get apart from each other and we wanted to give you the feeling that they had a secret world
that you couldn’t really understand; that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. To me one of the themes of the film is our inability
to accept things that are hard to understand. To leave them alone. I think all the characters in Brothers of the Head want to dissect
Tom and Barry; they want to understand what makes them tick. So we wanted you to get that alienating feeling that there is this
incredibly special bond between them that you can’t quite get.
KATM: And you captured that very well with that creepy documentary filmmaker – all those voyeuristic, pedophile moments where he’
s shooting them while they’re bathing and asleep with that flashlight.
KF: Eddie was a very, very suspicious documentary filmmaker. You don’t follow your subjects into the bathroom.
KATM: And that is never commented on or the brutishness of the band manager or that interesting moment where he’s kissing
Barry. It’s like he’s closeted.
KF: No, the band manager isn’t kissing Barry. That’s the bass player.
KF: Well one of the things that we like to do when we make films is put a lot of richness into a character’s backstory and the
character Paul Day in the film is a gay character but we don’t make any issue of it – he’s just a gay man and he’s accepted by the
people around him – and this is all the information that we tell the character but it doesn’t come out in the plot, it comes out in a
moment at a party where he finally gets the opportunity to make out with Barry.
KATM: That one moment adds a lot of intrigue. Certainly it spoke to this gay writer – “Wow, there are a lot of possible scenarios
KF: As a gay director it was very funny because neither of those guys wanted to kiss and I had to do quite a bit of stroking to get
that to happen.
KATM: Well…good for you and us that you did. Now was part of the attraction of the material that sort of private world between the
two and the fact that you work so closely with your partner, Louis Pepe?
KF: Yeah, that’s a huge part of it but Lou and I in a strange way when we started this project we didn’t realize exactly how personal it
was and actually, I’m glad that we didn’t at the outset because I think that would have made us less forthcoming; less honest in
what we put of ourselves into the film. But it’s a hugely personal film, we have a lot of crises the two of us in trying to carve out our
identities, trying to keep ourselves separate from one another. We always talk in sentences that begin with “we,” you know.
KATM: How long have you guys been together?
KF: We’ve been together almost 15 years.
KATM: You’re my second gay co-directing team I’ve talked to recently.
KF: Did you talk to Richard and Wash (Glatzer and Westmoreland – co-directors of the forthcoming Quinceañera)?
KF: They’re friends of ours.
KATM: I was wondering – is there a Hollywood gay director club where you get together and compare notes?
KF: I think we four are the vanguard as far as I know.
KATM: But what a vanguard! Thank you, Keith.
KF: You’re welcome.
After a moment, Fulton’s partner Louis Pepe and I are chatting away.
Louis Pepe (LP): I know you spoke to Keith and I think we’re both ragged after this premiere we had last night. We threw ourselves
into it in full rock-n-roll fashion.
KATM: Well, tell me about it. It was in New York?
LP: Yeah. Keith and I live in LA, the film was made in England and because IFC is releasing it they had a big premiere here last
night at the IFC Center in New York and our actors came and it was great. I guess you know when you make a rock-n-roll movie you
have to occasionally embrace the dark side and delve into it.
KATM: That was actually my first observation – your movie seemed like a cross between The Elephant Man and Gimme Shelter.
LP: (DELIGHTED) Oh my God, that’s great!
KATM: That’s exactly what I thought. Is that the feeling you guys were going for?
LP: Yes, yes! We used to joke. I said to Keith, “I want the people who look at the film and think if David Lynch and Mike Leigh
were conjoined twins and made a rock-n-roll documentary this is what they would have come up.” And Gimme Shelter – well you know
then, and knowing the film, that the film has quite a few nods to it.
KATM: Yes, I recognized the Altamont moment.
LP: But I’m glad that the David Lynch stuff registers because I’m a huge fan of his and I think there’s something that happens in
his films and I also see it in Werner Herzog’s films where guys like them are these directors who somehow tap into an aspect of
cinema that is kind of like subconscious dream imagery and it affects an audience in the same way that music affects you. It hits
you on a kind of abstract level that isn’t so easily explained in linear, literal terms. It was just something that I feel is this – I love
watching movies like that and I feel that there are fewer and fewer of them and it was just fun to have someone say, “Well, if you
want to do that, sure, go ahead” so we kind of embraced that stuff.
LP: I think the film plays around with this whole fiction versus reality and truth versus fiction and I think there’s this thing that
happens where people look at documentary and they look at fiction films and think they’re two different things. Documentary is the
truth and so often documentary filmmakers get off the hook in terms of no one questioning their motives.
KATM: Well you know as documentarians how easy it is to shape your material one way or the other.
LP: Yeah and I think more people have become aware of it within the last few years with the resurgence of interest in documentary
and people watching Michael Moore films and they go, “Wow, isn’t that kind of manipulative?”
KATM: Kind of?
LP: Right – they’re learning that documentary is just as easily manipulated as fiction. But it was something that we had running
through our minds in terms of the documentary filmmaker character in the film – who isn’t in the book by the way. It’s like, “Oh,
here’s this guy Eddie Pascal and he’s really nice when you talk to him on camera” but you look at his footage and you go, “Hmm, his
agenda seems almost as shady as the manager’s agenda or the music journalist or the impressario’s agenda.” All these different
types of exploitation are going on and one form is the appropriation of someone else’s image and what you’re doing with it and why.
KATM: Also, adding Ken Russell and his unfinished film to the movie is inspired – knowing those off the wall Russell films. Can you
talk about how he became part of the project?
LP: I think Simon Channing-Williams our producer and Tony Grisoni knew him and he’s just so much of the mode. I mean you look
at a film like Lisztomania or Mahler—
KATM: – with the giant cock (LAUGHS)
LP: (LAUGHS) Right. And The Music Lovers. All these things where he plays with the idea of the musician as superstar and as
freak. Tommy is another one. It’s all very parallel to what the Tom and Barry Howe story is and so we kind of plied him and plied
him and plied him and said, “Oh, will you please come and talk about this thing because your films are so much the same spirit”
and he was great. He was very open about it, which was wonderful.
KATM: Did the Treadaway twins learn instruments for the film? Did they go through the same process as their on screen characters?
LP: They had played in bands but they weren’t coming to this project as musicians. They were coming to it as actors with musical
skills. I remember talking to Clive the composer when we were finalizing casting them and he did this little audition with them and
then we had a talk with him and he said, “Right now they’re actors who are playing at being musicians but if you give me the
summer with them they will be musicians” and it wasn’t so much about the musical skill that it was about removing a step of the
thought process so that—
KATM: It becomes second nature.
LP: Yeah. So that they weren’t saying, “Oh, what is this character thinking as he’s singing.” It was like, “No, you’ve just got to do
it.” It was about getting them into the mindset of being musicians and I think you see it in the film. They totally reached a stage
where they did that. I think because they had gone through this 16 week period of being groomed into the band then we started
shooting the film and at every scene along the way we were able to say to them, “Remember when you first did this for real?” they
had all that stuff to draw on for the characters in the film.
KATM: Do you have a preference now between documentary and fiction films?
LP: I hope that we can continue to keep making both of them. Part of our goal on this was to build this world so thoroughly that by
the time it came to shoot it we were walking into more like a documentary crew and we’re open to capturing all the little beautiful,
unexplained, unexpected moments. We were able to capture them rather than contrive them.
KATM: Can you talk about working with your partner of 15 years. That had to be some of the attraction of the material that you
worked so closely with somebody, right? I just interviewed Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland last week, which I mentioned to
Keith, isn’t that ironic?
LP: We have just met them recently and I really like those guys.
KATM: I think you guys should do a movie together and call it Keith and Lou and Richard and Wash – a sort of gay Bob and Carol and
Ted and Alice.
LP: Actually, that could be interesting! I think we were drawn to the material because it’s the story of two people are inextricably
bound together who have a creative process and it was a very superficial thing initially but in the course of making the film – and I
think this kind of emerges in the feelings you get out of the film – it made us look into the whole nature of not only our relationship
but any intense, close relationship that has to do with this question of, “Where do I end and you begin” and “What is my identity in
the absence of you” and “Do I have an identity anymore in the absence of ‘Us’” and “How come we always use the term “We” rather
than “I” even if there’s only one of us in the room.” So the film became more and more about this question of what happens to a
person’s identity in a close relationship and that kinda crept up on us, we weren’t expecting it to delve into such personal territory in
KATM: Well it’s very interesting to see that in the film and to know that this has been made by two gay filmmakers who are
partners. For me it added another cool level to everything. It was very interesting.
LP: Well I’m glad that the film is suffused with that. I personally as a gay team making this, I find that I’m excited by the effect
that it ends up having on straight guys. So many straight guys come out of this film going, “Oh my God, those twins are so hot!”
Okay, I must be doing something right.
KATM: You’re doing a lot more than something!
LP: Well, thank you.