It’s been more than 20 years since Stewart Copeland ended his tenure as drummer for The Police after a string of platinum albums and era-defining singles. The band members went their separate ways: Sting, to a solo career and mainstream celebrity; guitarist Andy Summers, to the relative obscurity of jazz; and Copeland, to a prolific career as a composer for film.

After his breakthrough soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” in 1983, Copeland has scored any number of great movies for directors like Oliver Stone, Ken Loach and John Waters.

After years of working on other people’s films, Copeland has finally made one of his own. “Everyone Stares/The Police Inside Out” is a documentary shot (mostly) by Copeland on a Super-8 camera during his days with the band. Edited down from over 50 hours of raw footage, the film gives the musician’s view of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the rush of rock superstardom.

Everyone Stares/The Police Inside Out
Director Stewart Copeland
Run Time 74 minutes
Language English
Opens Now showing (April 6, 2007)

The documentary, with some narration by Copeland himself, traces the band’s sudden rise from punk-scene obscurity to global superstardom, their years of constant recording and touring, and the tensions that caused them to split up in 1984.

Copeland spoke with The Japan Times backstage at Makuhari Messe [in Chiba Prefecture], where he appeared briefly at the Punkspring [music] festival, djing a set of Police remixes and showing clips from the film. Over the roar of power chords echoing from the stadium, Copeland discussed his film and the unexpected reunion of The Police.

When did you get the idea to finally do something with all that footage?

Well, I never actually had an idea. I had a new toy — the application known as Final Cut Pro. It was just a home movie that turned into a monster. When Sundance [Film Festival] called, that just changed everything. Then it went from being a hobby, something I was doing to amuse myself, to Police product, out in the world. At first, I’d sneak out at night, after putting the kids to bed, to cut a few scenes, and the next thing I knew it was 4 o’clock in the morning.

Did working in film make you more inspired to get into the process of cutting and editing?

Well, yeah, as a film composer, I live in a postproduction world. And this is all “found footage.” Even though I shot it myself, it was 20, 30 years previously, but I was a different guy then. I was a 25-year-old rock star when I shot it, just shooting everything that moved. Now I’m a wizened, flinty-eyed postproduction expert. So at this point, I actually do know what I’m doing, as far as piecing together a movie. I know the process of making a film out of what you’ve got in the can.

Did Sting and Andy want to see it before OK-ing it?

No, but I showed it to Andy anyway, and he loved it. Sting — he didn’t see it, he’s phobic about looking at himself. He shoots videos and doesn’t watch them!

What kind of emotions did you have when you were looking back on that period?

One emotion I didn’t have was nostalgia, because the nostalgia had all dried up. Twenty years is a long time. I really had forgotten about it. It wasn’t my life anymore. But what I did feel was excited, by the quality, and the unique, first-person singular perspective of the images. Friends of mine say, “Wow, it must be so much fun to be a rock star, what’s it like?,” and they hope that I can reach into my brain and give them a taste of what it’s like. Well, this footage really seems to do that. You’re not learning anything about this group in particular, you’re experiencing the sensation of being that group.

Was it just a coincidence, the band getting back together just as the film comes out?

Aaah . . . it is coincidence, but I think one led to the other. It wasn’t part of a big scheme, but it woke up Universal, who’ve been sitting on our catalog all these years but they haven’t really been exploiting it, because they have a new brand name called Sting, and the artist doesn’t want to hear the “P-word” all that much. And it’s perfectly understandable why, he’s focused on building a new career, and that other one is competition for him. You know, Eric Clapton had that with Cream, McCartney has that with The Beatles. But 20 years later, the record company has noticed the positive reaction to the film, and that, I think, is partly what got Sting’s mind going.

The funny part is just like how my little project escaped and became this monster, the same thing’s happened to Sting and Andy. They thought they could open the door a crack, and we’d just go play some shows, it’d be fun, make some people happy — next thing we know, there goes another year of our lives (with the world tour).

Isn’t it a little daunting to spend a year of your life on the road at your age?

Sure, a little bit, because now I have a life. I have friends outside the band, I have family, a career. But I’m really buzzed right now because the rehearsals have been going so well. At first, it was like, Sting-world, and it felt like Andy and I were the poor relations being hired back on. But that didn’t last too long. Once we played the Grammys, and saw the response, we could see it wasn’t anyone doing Andy and I a favor.

What’s your approach to the music now? To try and sound like you did before, or to let it grow?

Well, a combination. And the tension we have in the band is, “What should we keep, and what should we change?” Sting is the big change-agent, because he’s been playing these songs for 20 years, and he wants to do something different with them. I’m ready to do something different, but I don’t want to calculate it, I just want to feel it. He wants to rehearse for three months and hone every bar. I don’t — I wanna rehearse for two days and just go out and play.

I remember seeing The Police live and hearing a 10-minute version of “Message In A Bottle” . . .

Yeah, we used to improvise a lot. Shoot from the hip. All our albums, we’d hear a song for the first time in the morning and it was recorded by the evening. The backing track, anyway. Then Andy and Sting would spend ages on guitar and vocal overdubs. But this time ’round it started out as a real arrangement thing, so one of the things we’ve been struggling over is, I don’t want to know if it’s 16 bars or 24 bars — I’ll hit the change when it feels like it’s right, and it’ll be different every night. Because I’ve been playing with this jam band, Oysterhead, and I’ve been explaining this ethos to Sting, and he’s beginning to get it. Sort of we go back and forth.

That’s funny. Because I remember fanzines calling The Police the “punk Grateful Dead,” ‘cos when you started you only had nine or 10 songs, and would stretch them out to a 90-minute set.

That’s good, I never heard that, actually! But Sting has been working with professionals, and they don’t do that. They look to the boss for specific direction. It’s his responsibility to tell them what to play, every bar. And when we first got back together, he was in that role, of telling us what to play, every bar. And I was going, “Shut the f**k up and play your bass! We’ll figure it out. I never think about what I’m playing. I don’t listen to myself, I listen to you, and whatever you play, I’ll follow.” This is something we’re working out. We have our screaming matches, but with a twinkle in the eye.

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