Following his recent Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his work on FX’s critically acclaimed series “Fargo,” Colin Hanks is in Austin at the 2015 Film Festival wearing a different hat. The documentary “All Things Must Pass” marks the actor’s feature filmmaking debut. Hanks has made a series of short promo documentaries for Los Angeles radio station KCRW, as well as shorts in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, but “All Things Must Pass” is the project that proves Hanks holds true promise as a storyteller.
The film provides an insightful and entertaining look into the rise and fall of Tower Records, Russ Solomon’s retail music powerhouse that at one point had 200 operating stores in 30 countries on five continents. In 1999, Tower Records made $1 billion. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Indiewire caught up with Hanks the night before the film’s world premiere.
Let’s talk about the nerves coming into a festival. This marks your feature directorial debut; the film premieres tomorrow. What’s going through your head?
I haven’t really been thinking about it from a nerves perspective. I’m not really, “Oh no, we’re screening this movie in front of hundreds of people.” I’m excited. We’ve been making this movie for seven years. It was always our goal to premiere at SXSW, because of the music connection because of the Tower Records here in Austin. So I’m just more excited that we’re finally seeing this thing actually happen. It was always the hope, and a couple of times we weren’t sure if it was going to happen, we weren’t sure if we were going to have a movie, so I’m more excited than anything else. By this time tomorrow I’ll probably be a ball of energy. I think the team has done a good job of keeping us preoccupied with getting ready for his party, I don’t think we’ve allowed ourselves time to really think about this coming to a head tomorrow and hitting the big screen and seeing people’s reactions for the first time.
I’m sorry to bring your mind there.
[Laughs] No, it was a good moment of brevity there.
The fact that it took seven years to get this off the ground is surprising, just like the fact that Tower Records’ story had yet to be documented until your film came along. You also have enough clout to get this film backed. Why the hold up?
It’s always good when someone has the same mindset as we do because we were shocked no one had ever tried making this either. When we started the documentary and were going around trying to find financing it was in 2008. I remember the economy was in a lot of trouble. I don’t know if anyone would have been interested in a music store that went bankrupt two years ago. I think as time went on and once a little distance had passed, people started to warm up to it more.
To be honest, Kickstarter was really a huge thing for us. We were sort of on the early side of early adopters if you will and that showed us as filmmakers that there were other people out there who thought this would be a good documentary and one that they wanted to see. There are so many factors in making an independent movie and documentaries are no different.
The Kickstarter campaign really brought attention to your project and with it, no doubt, some criticism. Celebrities like Zach Braff who have used the crowdfunding platform have been criticized by many for using their fans hard-earned cash to help fund their projects, when they could no doubt just do it themselves. Where do you weigh in on celebrities using Kickstater?
Steven Spielberg doesn’t fund his own movies. The simple fact is if I could have convinced people at the time to make the movie, we would have been fine. It was the last place for us. If we hadn’t made our goal, we wouldn’t have made the movie. I don’t know if these people really understood the reality of it and more importantly I didn’t really think about the people that were saying things like, “I shouldn’t be doing this.” I was paying much more attention to the people who said, “Yes, please, how can I help, how can I make you do this?”
This doesn’t mark your first time at the rodeo. You’ve directed a number of short docs before, but never anything of this scale. Did you have any apprehensiveness before embarking on this project as a first-time feature filmmaker that you had the goods to do Tower Records justice?
I surrounded myself with people who quite frankly did a really good job. I didn’t micro manage this thing, I let everyone put their two cents in, but ultimately I knew what I wanted, I knew what I wanted to do.
The only apprehension was the fact that I was completely unfamiliar with interviewing people. I’m used to being interviewed, but not interviewing people. When it came to aspects like editing the story together and three act structure — stuff like that obviously I’m pretty familiar with just from reading scripts and being in films and TV. I like to take a lot of photos and I like to conceptualize a lot of the things. So I just sort of jumped off the ledge. I didn’t really think much about it because no one was doing it so why shouldn’t I?
And getting to know Russ and listening to him and getting to know how he ran that business, we definitely learned a lot. As young filmmakers just learning from him as a leader was really fun and really interesting because I never in my life met a more modest person who puts the accolades on the people surrounding him for doing the job they do best and bringing their two cents to the table.
Acting is all about reacting; therefore good actors are good listeners. You’re a good actor. Did that help you with the interview process?
Maybe to a degree yes. But ultimately I think the greatest driving force for me on this was that I watch a lot of documentaries and I know what I like as a viewer. I like documentaries that are entertaining, but also insightful. I like to learn from them, but I also like to be delighted. And so for me it was much more about finding the aspects about Tower’s history, finding the people that worked at Tower, the characters if you will, and highlighting what I was attracted to. I just went with the sort of documentary I would want to see about Tower Records.
The film really is a love letter to Tower Records. You don’t really carve out a lot of time to address the current state of the music industry. I don’t know of anyone who still buys CDs. What are your thoughts on where the industry is at today?
I think ultimately people are going to find good music. It is now easier to discover music than it was before. Before you had to go into a store and be like, “Hey have you heard this song, it kind of goes like this,” and maybe you hum it correctly and maybe that person knows that melody you’re humming — and maybe they don’t have that record that day in the store. It used to be pretty difficult to find and discover music. Tower helped make that an easier thing. But nowadays you know the track as soon as you hear it. Oh, that’s the song, here’s the band, and you want to buy it right now? Great. You want to stream it right now? Great. Good music still finds a way out.
What is missing — and it’s unfortunate — is that now people aren’t physically going to stores as much. The personal connections I think are missing. When I say personal connection, I mean you may meet someone at a record store, and that person may end up becoming your friend, and that friend might be someone you meet up with for the rest of your life. The clerk might be able to tell you something you and become friends with that clerk. You’re on a date and you need some time to chill and you want to get to know the person so you take them to a record store. Those kinds of interactions are not happening nearly as much.
There are still great record stores out there. But that personal connection that used to be the norm is now limited. The kids with good taste will still find the good songs and same with the kids with bad taste… they’ll find it somehow.
But it’s hard when we’re trying to tell a story of the music industry or being critical of it. We always joked that we needed someone to fund a documentary mini-series because that’s a big thing to bite off and try to handle. We really just let the music industry live as the device among what we were doing and how it affected Tower and what Tower was doing, and how it affected their core business. But ultimately for us, we watched in the last seven years the music industry change drastically. Wal-Mart was the leading distributor of the physical product, and then that became Apple. Even that’s starting to fall off now with the streaming services so we were very careful in not losing focus of telling the story of Russ and his company and letting the music industry play it’s part in that four to five decade story.