We spoke to Joe Pearlman, director of Bros: After the Screaming Stops
Bros are officially famous again.
Joe Pearlman (and David Soutar)’s documentary about estranged twins Matt and Luke Goss has plucked them from the hazier corners of US showbiz and reunited them with the UK limelight. As anyone vaguely familiar with the film will know, the pair’s David Brent-esque self-mythologising is gold dust, and the doc is littered with newly iconic quotes about London, Rome, bubble baths and darts that instantly catapulted it to viral fame (there’s even a petition to legalise playing conkers without goggles in England). But the film also blindsided us with unexpected poignance.
We caught up with Joe to find out how he and the team made something special.
You’ve worked on sports documentaries before. Where did the idea for the Bros reunion documentary come from?
I was working on a different project. Another director at the company called David Soutar got a text from the tour manager at the time (who wasn’t the tour manager in the end), about potentially following the boys ‘cos they were coming back. We flew out to Los Angeles to meet the boys and as soon as we met them we knew that not only were they amazing characters but also that they were ready to talk.
Were you a fan yourself back in the day?
I wasn’t, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t born! I had no idea who they were. Of course I knew the song When Will I Be Famous from Live and Kicking or Big Breakfast or whichever one it was, but other than that I had no idea who Matt and Luke were. David Soutar did. He insists he used to get dressed up in Bros gear to go to gigs.
When did you decide you wanted to focus exclusively on the relationship between the twins?
I think it was about a week in. We were in America with the boys and it became clear that there was a much better story to be told than this nostalgic 80s trawl to get them to the stage and for everyone to have a big reunion gig. We weren’t interested in that as it went on; we realised that the real story was between these two brothers who hadn’t spoken in so long. There was so much animosity but at the same time so much love for each other. They got absolutely battered in the UK in the 80s and they really were driven out of the country. When I met them they had these new careers, Luke had Hellboy and all those kind of films and Matt had this great career in Vegas. I had no idea who they were or what they were or what Bros was, but as we carried on it all unfolded in front of us.
Would you say that music documentaries inspired you though?
Absolutely. I’m a huge documentary fan in general. Some Kind of Monster and those kinds of documentaries, or any music doc: the level of honesty is what makes those films. With music, there’s the level of pain and struggle that comes with the fame. It’s similar to sport: only these kind of things can give those kinds of narratives with big cathartic reunion moments at the end.
James Corden is a friend of the band and listed in the end credits…
He’s not a friend of the band. No, no, he’s one of the partners in the company who made the film.
So he didn’t have any involvement in the film.
Not at all. He’s an exec, he’s an exec. Not at all! It’s funny that people picked up on that and it matters. It’s weird that one. But yeah, no influence. Nothing.
Did you intervene at any point to quell conflict or have an influence yourself or were you very much a fly on the wall?
We were very much fly on the wall. But at the same time the relationship that we built with Matt and Luke was very profound and they wanted to talk to us about everything, so you fall very quickly into that therapist’s role. And the trust that was there from the beginning meant that we were talking about everything all the time. So we knew that they were going to fight and we knew that they were going to argue but we also knew that they were brothers and that they loved each other. As long as we kept the cameras rolling then at the end when we got to the gig – as long as we got to the gig – we knew that there would be this kind of love-in at the end and they would realise that they love each other and it was all for the right cause. There was very little intervening, we didn’t prod and poke or anything like that, but you know when things are coming.
Were they instantly as open with their emotions with you as they are in the film?
Very much so. All of that is very genuine and honest the whole way through. From the first time we met them they were honest and open.
Did you find, during those more stressful moments in the rehearsal process, that you found yourself becoming angry and argumentative?
It was incredibly stressful. It was funny. It was one of those shoots where you don’t know where your life begins and their life ends. It was really, really intense and there were numerous dramatic moments throughout with every member of crew and staff and everyone, but you knew it was going to be like that. You’re bringing two people back together who haven’t spoken in so many years and with everything that they went through and all the animosity towards each other, we knew that there was going to be some painful moments throughout.
Is there a go-to moment from the process that you’ll find yourself telling people about in years to come?
So the producer on the film is called Gina Powell and she helped me throughout the entire process so much that we actually live together now. We kind of leant on each other so much that by the end of the year it was like, hey, maybe this is a relationship we should keep going with, and yeah, we live together now. I guess that’s the story I’ll be telling the children about this film.
How did you go about maintaining harmony between the sad bits and the funny bits?
It was incredibly difficult. We literally lived in the edit suite – me, the producer Gina Powell and brilliant editor Will Gilbey. No exaggeration, we didn’t leave the room for 12 weeks. We used to leave at 3am and come back in at 9. We knew that ultimately that was the hardest task, getting the balance of comedy and the pathos in the film. It took so many different versions until the one that everyone saw last week. It took a lot of getting there but that was something we were extremely conscious of – that this was very, very funny but at the same time heartbreaking and emotional, and about family and brothers. That balance was one of the hardest things to strike but I think we struck it pretty well.
Some of the media have focused a lot on the reaction on Twitter and the David Brent-esque moments. Is that frustrating for you, or do you think it’s just quite fun?
Anyone watching anything that any of us do is a beautiful thing. You can’t hope for some people to take it one way, or take it the other way. People are consuming it and that’s what matters. At the same time, people are comparing this film to the greatest comedies ever, so it might be backhanded to the boys but it’s very much a compliment to us. You know, as filmmakers that’s the kind of thing you strive to achieve: to have the heart and soul of the film as well as the comedy and all those other things, I mean, it was a win-win for us.
Will possible reactions on social media be in the back of your mind when you’re making films in future?
Not at all. These aren’t things that I’m ever conscious of. We make the thing that we feel like is enjoyable and we hope that the audience is out there for it and for this one it definitely was. But no, other people’s opinions do not matter.
How would you say the reaction to the film has been, from your perspective?
It’s been incredible. It’s been a bit of a weird release with this one ‘cos we kind of trickled it, with London Film Festival and Fantastic Fest, so we got a feeling for how people would react to it both in the US and in the UK. But the reception to the BBC screening has been absolutely incredible. It’s being called the TV highlight of Christmas. As a boy from the UK that’s an incredible thing to have attached to you, you know.
What does the reaction to the documentary say about today’s world in contrast to the 80s?
I think we’re clearly more inclusive and more caring now, but at the same time, they didn’t have – and they’re the first to say this and they say it often – they didn’t have social media back then. That was always the big thing, as Matt says in the film, every day was a different story and they just prayed that it would be more factual than the day before. We don’t live in that world anymore. There is a right of redress because of social media and I think that’s been an amazing thing for the boys. It feels like the world has changed, more people are willing to go along with these journeys and be happier for others. I mean there’s always going to be people who are calling them dickheads and that kind of stuff, but—
Social media can be quite harsh.
Yeah but they’re talking about you! This is what I said when I spoke to Matt the other day. He was asking me questions about the reaction. It’s like, whatever anyone is saying, firstly most of it’s positive and secondly if anyone’s being negative they’re still talking about you and that’s an incredible thing, so stop worrying and embrace it.
How have Matt and Luke responded to the material and to the reaction?
Amazingly well, they both absolutely love the film and they’re incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to produce. The first time we watched it there were tears and laughter and crying. I spoke to Matt and Luke the other day when all the Twitter stuff started to settle down, just to give them a chance to kind of embrace it, and yeah they’re really proud, they’re really excited. I have to remind them what it meant to be the number one thing on the TV at Christmas because living in the US for so long you can kind of forget what that means.
It’s kind of mad that a documentary about Bros, which a number of us on the production didn’t want to do when we first were offered it, [has gone down so well]. ‘Cos you know, you don’t know what you’re in for or what it’s going to be, and the idea of a nostalgic 80s reunion movie, being young filmmakers, didn’t necessarily seem like the best thing for our careers going forward. But as soon as we met with them and realised what we had on our hands, people were jumping for that.
For example, we work with Dave Rowntree, the drummer from Blur very closely. He did the music on this film, with Ian Arbur, as well as my last two films. But originally, when I pitched this to him, he turned it down. I asked him if he could just come into the edit suite and just look at a few scenes, so he could see it wasn’t a kind of this kind of nostalgic Bros documentary… and as soon as he watched a couple of scenes he immediately got on Luke’s side, and it brought back a lot of the feelings from what he experienced with Blur as well.
What did he then come back to you with?
He said yes in the room. We had some really interesting references for him and Ian Arbur as well as all the stuff that Matt and Luke listened to when they were younger, like all the Stevie Wonder and stuff. We were hugely inspired by films and TV shows from last year: the music from Stranger Things was a huge influence on the film, Baby Driver was a huge influence, and also Disaster Artist. Those were the big three scores that we kind of pulled from constantly, and those were big references for the boys.
That nostalgic 80s aesthetic is very popular.
I think so. We bring in the nostalgia with all the graphics in the film. We had fans send in books, and we used those as the basis for all the graphics in the film. All the hole-punchiness and all that stuff — that’s all inspired by scrap books sent by Bros fans.
So what do you think is next for Bros?
They are talking about doing more music this year. I don’t know if there are any dates or anything yet but that’s something that I’m sure will happen this year. I’m sure they’re being approached by numerous TV shows and all these kind of things to do something, I think that’s their path for the next year, as well as of course Matt continuing in Vegas and Luke doing his thing in movies.
And how about you?
I’m not sure at the moment. I’ve got a film coming out next year which is about the inner workings of Bitcoin, and other than that I’m just mid-doing deals to do some more documentaries at the moment. Hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be able to tell everyone exactly what those are.