"Amy," the documentary about the life and death about Amy Winehouse, is not an easy film to watch. It's not an easy film to watch for the average fan -- but, for her ex-manager Nick Shymansky, that sentiment is an understatement. It must be damn near impossible. Regardless, Shymansky has seen the documentary several times -- and he played an integral role in its production.
Her ex-manager met Winehouse when they were both extremely young -- when she was 16 and he was still a teen himself. So he saw her grow up. He saw her grow up and get famous with the 2006 album Back To Black and, in the end -- right before his own wedding -- he saw her life end at age 27. He saw all the factors that led to that self-destructive spiral: from her family pressures to her management to the media to her addiction to drugs, alcohol and bulimia. And seeing all that, he wasn't too keen to live through it again when he was initially approached by director Asif Kapadia not long after Winehouse's death about the possibility of a documentary.
But when he saw that the aim wasn't to sensationalize her death, but rather give a truthful account of who she was and how she ended up the way she did, Shymansky bowed in -- and with him he brought Amy's close friends, personal knowledge of the talented woman, and hours and hours of his own footage from her happier days, before she famously refused to go to rehab and went back to black.
MTV News spoke with Shymansky before the film's July 3 premiere (July 10 worldwide). Read on to see what he says to say about Amy, "Rehab" and whether the documentary gets it right.
MTV: Have you seen the movie yet?
Nick Shymansky: Yeah, I’ve seen it a few times already. I had to see it a couple of times to approve the cut, because I wanted to make sure if they were using my footage they put it in the right context -- and then I saw it at Cannes Film Festival. I ended seeing it again last night. Still doesn’t get any easier.
MTV: I can imagine. So what was it like the first time that you saw it? That must have been a difficult experience.
Shymansky: Yeah, I mean -- every time I’ve seen it -- it’s been quite difficult. The first time, there was an element of relief. You know, I didn’t ever want to be involved in the documentary or anything publicly about my relationship with Amy and these guys came to me and I was very cynical about it. I thought, 'Why is everyone doing this?'
I’m still in a lot of pain and confused about everything that had happened. This all [the documentary talks] started a year after her death. And so I was kind of anti- anyone sniffing around Amy.
I was really cynical about it and I met with Asif to tell him that I wasn’t interested and we spent quite a bit of time talking about why I wasn’t interested and that led to our talking about music, business and film. And then we got coffee, and I said I’d help him do a list of the right people to go to, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get involved -- but I knew his work as a filmmaker and I always thought he was a really quality filmmaker.
And so, to cut a long story short -- the reason it was a relief to see the film was slowly over time I got to a place where I was like, 'I get what you’re trying to do -- I don’t know if you’re going to be able to do this the right way, but I’ll help you.' I guess in the back of my mind I was cynical thinking they’ll never deliver a raw, honest account about what happened, and then when I saw the first cut and I thought: they delivered, they delivered what they said they’d do.
MTV: When you were initially talking to him, what did he say he wanted the documentary to accomplish?
Shymansky: That was what was so good about it, there was no agenda. The funny thing is, Amy’s life and career was so exposed and so well-known, but no one put any time or investigation into her life, and so I think it occurred to them quite early on that aside from a bunch of pictures and the obvious stuff that’s on the Internet, no one knows what had gone on.
They said to me from the off, 'Who should we speak to?' and I said ‘Everyone.’ Anyone who claims to have any relation, you should speak to and you should figure out what you think the right story is. So that was kind of one of the things that was important -- they really, these guys didn’t know much, they just knew that something that was going really well went really dark and ended in someone dying and I think that they were very open. They literally have spoken to everyone Amy ever knew. I think that’s what’s good about it; they gave everyone a chance to speak and put their thoughts down on record.
MTV: It was interesting how much screentime her friends from home got. It felt really more personal.
Shymansky: And also these friends have never spoken about Amy. And these, Juliet and Lauren -- when I speak to them for the first seconds on the phone, they could be Amy. These are three girls that grew up like sisters. They spent so much time together from childhood into adulthood and they lost their best friend and so I think they were a really important part of giving the filmmakers a real perspective on who Amy really was.
And these are people who never cashed in, who never spoke to anyone, never betrayed Amy. I think that gave the film a really genuine powerful kind of inside [feeling].
MTV: Did you learn anything about Amy from watching the doc?
Shymansky: Yeah -- lots. I mean, the thing is, all you can do when you talk to anyone about anything is give your perspective and your honest account, so, obviously, I told them how things went from my point of view, but it was very interesting hearing some of the information that they were learning along the way. I think the biggest thing I didn’t know was that she was on anti-depressants before I met her. I had no idea. Then when I met her when I was 19 and she was 16... I don't think I knew what bulimia was until I was 25, so I never saw any of that or picked up on any of that. I learned a lot about her past.
MTV: What parts of the film hit you the hardest?
Schmansky: Yeah, I can’t disconnect. The bits that get me the most in the film are where she’s happy and beautiful and calm, because, you know, that’s what her natural personality was like. The bits that really makes me feel the most were when I saw her at her best -- because I know that’s how it should have been. It should have carried on that way for a long time.
Obviously, there’s that awful shot where she’s completely at her worst in her bedroom. And obviously there’s the awful shot of the body bag, which is like -- if you can really connect to what you’re seeing there -- that’s pretty f--king heavy stuff.
MTV: Was there anything you think didn't belong in the film?
Shymansky: I think I see the point. I don’t think they’ve done anything to sensationalize it, so I think I see their point. I think they’re showing you can’t go into Amy’s story without the darkness, because then it wouldn’t be genuine, and I don’t feel like any of those shots are doing anything other than showing you a very raw, sad truth.
I don’t think it’s there for shock factor or entertainment. I think it’s there for a very raw, very powerful, very sad message, which is what they’ve done as filmmakers.
MTV: I was struck watching it by the fact that we didn’t realize how dark 'Rehab' was when it came out -- I think I was a teenager. Do you think that would happen today? That this dark song would come out and no one would really notice?
Shymansky: I think some of the greatest pop songs ever, if you really know the context -- they’re not as happy-go-lucky as you think they are. I think that’s part of what pop music is for. It’s about people expressing themselves or connecting to music with a more melodic -- more popular aspect.
I think we’ve always done that with pop music, but even after her death, there hasn’t been that much talk about what that song was really saying.
MTV: What did you think when you first heard it? Obviously, you had a connection to the content as well?
Shymansky: I felt really mocked -- I took it really personally. I thought, you know, 'Why are you mocking me caring about you and thinking you need to sort something out; why is that funny?' The tone of the song is: how ridiculous that this lot over there thinks I should be in rehab.
It’s very cheeky and it’s playful -- I could appreciate it was an amazing song -- [but I had] mixed feelings. It was a song I’d always hoped she’d write in terms of its commercial potential, so for me it was great -- you’ve finally written this amazing hit song. [But] it’s come at the worst possible time and I feel like you’re mocking something I’m taking really seriously and you’re not. I felt strange about it.
MTV: I know some of the people involved with the film, specifically her dad, were not as happy about how it came out --- what do you think about that reaction?
Shymansky: I think for a start if you make a documentary or film about something that’s controversial and everyone’s happy at the end of it, you’ve probably not done a very good job -- that’s how I feel about that. What I will say is that everyone, including myself, everyone who was close to Amy or worked with Amy has their own reality, and when everyone’s got their own reality, it’s their reality. And so I’m sure there’s a few people that maybe don’t come out of it as well as they think they should. And that’s part of the problem with the whole story -- is that there’s no question that people made some massive mistakes [that] resulted in a very sad tragedy at the end of it.