A 26-year-old filmmaker who made a documentary about the White Stripes is accusing the band of sticking it to the little guy.
The White Stripes, meanwhile, say George Roca is taking liberties with footage they own and messing up their plans to release their own concert movie later this year.
The Westport, Connecticut, director has been hit with a cease-and-desist order demanding that he not screen his movie "Nobody Knows How to Talk to Children" at any of the eight film festivals in which it was scheduled to appear. Roca said he spent more than $50,000 over the past two years producing and editing the movie, which depicts the band in concert and backstage during four shows in April 2002 at New York's Bowery Ballroom.
Roca said he had the full cooperation of the band when he began to map out the project in September 2001, and he said that he and singer/guitarist Jack White never discussed any contractual restrictions during their multiple friendly conversations. The only requirements were that the project be shot in black and white, the cameramen had to wear uniforms, and the film crew wasn't allowed to conduct interviews.
Then, he claims, in the middle of filming in the dark club, one of the White Stripes' representatives handed him a contract and said that if it wasn't signed, the filming couldn't continue. So, Roca said, he signed without reading the agreement — and unwittingly signed away all of his rights to the film.
"I was 22 years old [when we first discussed making the movie], straight out of film school and pretty naive," Roca said. "I was a huge fan and didn't anticipate that anything like this could happen."
Roca finished editing eight months after the movie was filmed. The footage had been shot in color on a digital camera, but Roca converted everything that wasn't red into black and white, giving the film an artsy, stylized feel. He arranged to show the movie to the band when the Stripes came to New York in February. A rough edit was played for Jack and Meg White at their hotel, and while it wasn't the final sound mix, Roca said the feedback he received was positive. "They sent us an e-mail praising it and talking about how they could see it receiving small art-house theater distribution."
Roca's delight was short-lived. Soon after he showed the band his movie, their music video for "Black Math" was released. The performance clip was edited in much the same style as "Nobody Knows How to Talk to Children."
"It literally looked like it was cut out of our film," Roca said. "We were shocked at the similarities, and it was such a disappointment. I can't even begin to explain."
Then, he said, the White Stripes cut off communication with him. So, without their knowledge, he marketed his film, which was accepted at festivals in Seattle; Los Angeles; London; Athens, Greece; and Oulu, Finland. But a week before the Seattle International Film Festival, Roca said, the band e-mailed to tell him he couldn't screen the movie at festivals.
Roca said he told the Seattle fest that the White Stripes didn't want the movie shown but that festival organizers were willing to show the film anyway, so Roca gave them permission. (A spokesperson for the film fest could not be reached for comment.) This apparently enraged the White Stripes, who posted a message on their Web site after the screening.
"It was not as good as we hoped — the sound was poor, the editing didn't feel right," the band wrote. "For many reasons, we said no. ... The quality of it was poor and the timing was wrong (we have another DVD of live concert footage shot at two shows in Blackpool, England, that's going to be released at the end of the year). So despite being told no, George Roca decided to take it upon himself to simply release it to festivals with no approval or permission from the White Stripes ... not in keeping with the contract that he signed."
A White Stripes spokesperson declined to give further comment.
"The final sound mix wasn't done when they saw it, and they knew that," countered Roca. "And if they didn't like it, why did they tell us they loved it at first, and why did they make a video that looked just like it?"
Since the screening in Seattle, Roca has withdrawn "Nobody Knows How to Talk to Children" from the festival circuit and has ended his search for a distributor.
"I feel so betrayed by this band and so screwed over," he said. "They turned famous and just forgot about us. It's remarkable that they have no sympathy for our situation whatsoever."