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Stewart Copeland Cops Cinequest Maverick Spirit Award

Stewart Copeland makes his entrance with a bang. Whether bounding onto the California Theatre stage before a packed house of 1,100 people or striding into a small room for a press conference, the founder of the newly reunited The Police radiates high energy. He flings his arms in the air, and his voice booms all the way to the last row of the balcony and back. Never has anyone been so enthusiastic about receiving a Cinequest Maverick Spirit Award.

Just a 50-year-old suburban dad? So he says.

The five-time Grammy-award winner and film-and-television composer (RUMBLE FISH, TALK RADIO, PECKER, Showtime’s DEAD LIKE ME) introduced his 74-minute documentary, EVERYONE STARES: THE POLICE INSIDE OUT, which premiered at Sundance in 2006.

“There’s no useful information or examination of creative forces—just the visceral experience. It’s the ride. I hope you enjoy it!”

Fans of The Police laughed and applauded the rare footage of the lanky drummer, guitarist Andy Summers and singer-bass player Sting as their band earned rock status show by show. The documentary consists of digitized Super 8 footage—basically home movies shot by Copeland beginning in 1978—with his recently added voice-over narration and sound mix. From the first Los Angeles press conference in 1979 through the rock band’s rise to fame in the early 1980s, Copeland captured everything from road tours to concert gigs, from behind-the-scenes mugging for the camera to the “cheerful rhythms of fans flapping against the windows” of their limos. An infectious joy and youthful goofiness permeate this insider’s view.

When the lights came up, Robert G. Phelps conducted the interview with the meticulous preparation befitting a deputy public defender and aspiring screenwriter. Born in Virginia, Copeland grew up in Cairo and Lebanon within a house full of musical instruments discarded by his older siblings. He credits being surrounded by Middle Eastern music as a defining factor in creating The Police sound.

“Different cultural input and different cultural output,” Copeland said of his avant-garde approach to the drums. “Arabic and reggae music both emphasize the third beat of the bar.”

No stranger to the San Francisco Bay Area, Copeland attended UC Berkeley before he received a phone call requesting him to join the British rock group Curved Air. He landed in London, the epicenter of the punk revolution in 1976. A year later, he paired up with Sting, whom he described as a “bass player who could sing.” He believes Andy Summers’ harmonic sophistication “woke up Sting’s songwriting,” adding, “Our musicianship was way too developed to be real punks. We were actual musicians, and we had to hide that.”

Besides telling stories about The Police, the irrepressible Copeland tossed off some musician jokes, such as “How do you know it’s a singer knocking on the door? He doesn’t know when to come in.”

The 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee had sound advice for film scorers: “Your job as a film composer is to bring to realization the director’s unique voice. Film composing is craft. It’s all at the service of the director.”

When facing a wall of writer’s block, Copeland insisted that the only remedy is to “Put yourself in front of your gear and just do it.”

He maintained that film directors don’t really want anything quirky, different or outside the box. But a basic question plagues him at night: Where is the box?

Copeland talked about film scoring as being brainy, mechanical and technical, whereas drumming is pure instinct. He has also composed King Lear for the San Francisco Ballet, Holy Blood and Crescent Moon for the Cleveland Opera and Noah’s Ark Solcheeka for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

“The drummer guy and the composer guy don’t actually get along that well,” he joked about his dual talents.

After two decades apart, Copeland laughed about rehearsing with Sting and Summers once again, stating, “We started off sounding like a high school band. It got worse.”

But the Cinequest Maverick can bet that fans will be watching every breath he takes and every move he makes when The Police tour kicks off in May 2007.

Susan Tavernetti


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