MEAL TICKETS is a documentary that charts the journey of Western Australian rock band The Screwtop Detonators. Shot over ten years by director Mat de Koning, this film begins by telling a familiar story of young men who want to play music and who have an ambition to succeed. The Screwtops are former high school friends who are prepared to gig hard and make sacrifices to sell their music and play in front of arena-sized audiences. Their dream is the one you think it is. They’re going to be stars. They get a manager and do a multi-date getting-to-know-you tour of the United States.
The trip is gruelling and their roadie/guitar tech/dogsbody is too half-arsed at his job and leaves. The Screwtops end the tour with a hunger to continue but no major money coming their way. So they reconsider and regroup. The movie is a third of the way through and you have been entertained by the fly-on-the-wall coverage of the hilarity, promises, bullshit and antics; it’s four West Aussie boys seeing the world, not taking things too seriously and enjoying their life.
You may feel you know where all this is headed, but you’re likely to be surprised. Director Mat de Koning had an unprecedented level of access to the band because he and they met years before when they attended Kalamunda High School. Thus the camera goes absolutely everywhere; friends, family members and other Perth musicians are glimpsed by the ever-present lens. In a sense, de Koning ends up telling the story of a friendship group in a local music scene, but you don’t have to know Perth to appreciate it. Many young filmmakers through history have turned the camera on their friends with the hope that their inherent coolness will make them a good subject for documenting. 99.9% of these films never get finished. What makes MEAL TICKETS different is that de Koning uncovered a multitude of story strands from the 700 hours of video that was taken and he and his editors fashioned them into a compelling narrative.
Time and again, band-members make an assertion or a declaration that feels true at that moment, only for it to be reversed years down the track. What one won’t do today, because it lacks integrity, becomes tomorrow’s standard operational procedure. The film’s ten-year time span is the irresistible force. How many of us maintain a consistent outlook over a decade? The young hopefuls at the beginning of the story, slowly mature, become wiser, and in some cases, more jaded. One of the major narrative lines follows the path of the half-arsed guitar tech who surprises everyone by emerging as an artist in his own right.
MEAL TICKETS is about having a dream and becoming desperate when it begins to disintegrate. It is specially about a shifting scene of Perth musicians, but the story will be familiar to musicians everywhere. A wider tribe of creatives will recognise the elements of living that “not ordinary” life; the struggle to get an audience, getting by on next-to-no-money and the joy of hanging with a gang of like-minded collaborators. To some extent, it’s also a film about being in your twenties and being in love with your friends.
Mat de Koning and his collaborators have made a fascinating documentary that is energetic, irreverent, narratively dazzling and at times, quite moving. And the music is absolutely terrific. 93 minutes. (9/10)