Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio Are Big Fans of the Avett Brothers, and They’ve Made a Film to Prove It
By Ashley Morton
HBO: What inspired you to make a documentary about this band?
Judd Apatow: I used one of their songs, “Live and Die” in This Is 40 and became a big fan of the band. One day [record producer] Rick Rubin called me and said the Avett Brothers were about to start recording a new album, and maybe there was something to do in terms of documenting it.
So without any real plan Michael started doing interviews and shooting them back home in North Carolina. That went on for a couple of years, and slowly the documentary evolved into what it is. No one was asking us to do it and no one was paying for it, we just loved them and thought, “If we keep shooting something great will come of it.” And I think it has.
HBO: Was there any moment that came out on camera that really surprised you?
Michael Bonfiglio: It continually surprised us to see how genuine, nice and decent these guys all were to one another. We knew their band history; we’d done our research and knew what they were about, but I was always amazed that what you see is who they really are.
Judd and I were waiting for the “big conflict” that would give us the drama these movies usually have, and it didn’t happen. And for a while that seemed like a bad thing, but then we realized, actually, that’s kind of a great thing; a beautiful thing. And it becomes some of what the movie is about.
HBO: What was it like watching the band actually write new songs?
Judd Apatow: I am always a fan of trying to document when creative moments happen — I would save every scrap of paper when I thought of a joke — and I think Mike was able to create such a strong level of trust with them that he became a fly on the wall. You would think watching people write would be like watching paint dry, but they’re very fun, inspirational moments where you see them come up with lyrics, it’s actually oddly entertaining and I think that’s because they trusted Mike.
HBO: Was there any concern about whether the filming would affect their process?
Michael Bonfiglio: I’m sure they had conversations before we showed up like, “Are we okay with this?” And we definitely watched them become more comfortable with us being there, but really from the first day they were always very welcoming. They never asked us to leave the room, ever. I think having previous experience with Judd [for This Is 40] probably helped that.
HBO: Was it challenging to integrate the musical performance moments with the interviews in final edits?
Michael Bonfiglio: The music is part and parcel of the story, and because these guys write so personally, the songs reflected their lives. So it all felt very integrated the whole time. We approached the edits looking at all of these things simultaneously, not, “Let’s do the music first and then the story.” It was always connecting story with music.
HBO: Given that the band typically expresses itself through music, was it at all difficult to get them to speak openly to the camera?
Judd Apatow: Scott talked about always wanting to be in the movies, so he was excited to be a part of it. Seth was probably a little more shy about it, but they both were so comfortable. What struck me when we showed it to audiences in theaters was that they get such giant laughs; I don’t think we thought about how funny they were, and then when we showed it to an audience, they were hilarious.
HBO: After spending so much time with them, what do you feel makes this band special?
Judd Apatow: I’m always impressed with people who take their time and have the patience and belief in themselves that slowly, day by day, a creative work will come. It’s always scary to look at a blank piece of paper and hope you have something new to express, and it was fun to watch them confidently dive into their next piece of work. And what was really gratifying was a lot of the film was about the fact that they never really had a “break out” album, and then this album came out and did really well. So it’s an inspiring story.
Michael Bonfiglio: Just seeing how they’ve been able to sustain their creative partnership in such a functional and positive way. I find it very inspiring they’re able to make this music together, and tour together, and spend so much time and really collaborate artistically, and still have it all based on love for one another.
HBO: Is there anything you wish you could have included in the final cut?
Michael Bonfiglio: We shot, hundreds of hours over the two-plus years, so there was a lot left on the cutting room floor. We had early cuts of those songwriting sessions that were much longer; there were many magical moments where things came together quickly, but some of those songs were hours and hours in the studio. They’d spend all day working on one song and we kind of truncated it to a couple of minutes.
Judd Apatow: I’m such a fan, every time I get to watch them perform, I feel like I’m in the room with the Beatles. I couldn’t enjoy them more. So it would have been nice if we had had more time to show, like, 11 more songs played in their entirety.
HBO: What’s your favorite Avett Brothers song?
Judd: I love the song “No Hard Feelings,” which is featured in the film. It’s a really powerful song about someone looking at their life and contemplating all their decisions, and it’s an interesting moment in the documentary when they discuss what it takes to dig that out of yourself, and the conflicted feelings artists have about then having to go sell it.
Michael Bonfiglio: I would probably second that. And I also love “Laundry Room,” which is in the opening credits of the movie.
HBO: With so many song titles to choose from, how did you settle on “May It Last” for the name of the documentary?
Michael Bonfiglio: It just felt appropriate somehow. They’ve had this beautiful thing going on for a long time and I think, Judd and I, as fans of the band, the music and the people, hope it keeps going so we can all enjoy it.