Exclusive: Director Mike Leonard Talks About Filming Dream Theater’s ‘The Spirit Carries On’ Documentary

Posted by on April 28, 2011

Chances are that by now you’ve been caught up with everything going on with Dream Theater. This past week, the band debuted The Spirit Carries On, which chronicles the audition process behind the band’s search for drummer Mike Portnoy’s replacement. While we certainly felt teased and annoyed by the trailer debut last week, we’d be lying if we said we haven’t been following the web series. Hell, like most of you, we want to find out who the new drummer is, and it’s been pretty cool to get an inside look into the audition process.

So as we wait patiently for tomorrow’s third and final episode of The Spirit Carries On, we decided to catch up with the people behind the making of the documentary. Director Mike Leonard and Over The Edge Productions were brought in by Roadrunner Record’s director of video production Rick Ernst to document Dream Theater’s search for a new drummer. Leonard and crew went in not knowing what the outcome was going to be, but in the end came out with what we now have been glued to for the past week.

Leonard took the time to talk with us about how the project came to be, initial worries about the fans’ response, and what could be the future outcome of The Spirit Carries On.

We all know what’s been happening with Dream Theater regarding their search for a new drummer, but how did you and Over the Edge Productions first get involved? Who approached who first about documenting the audition process?

I think I was in LA doing a music video when Rick Ernst, director of video production at Roadrunner Records, called me up and gave me the scoop on what was happening with the band.  My company, Over the Edge Productions, has been doing work for Roadrunner for a while.  Rick and I worked at MTV together and when he went to Roadrunner, he recruited OTE for a bunch of label work.

When we first watched the trailer and the episodes following it, we couldn’t help but feel that the documentary had a bit of a reality TV vibe. Did the band and management approach you about filming it like that, or did you pitch them on it?

It was very much thrown together last minute, we went into our first day of filming knowing it would be a documentary of some kind but didn’t really know how it would all pan out.  The reality TV style wasn’t our intention, but given the nature of what we were filming (7 drummers competing for 1 dream job) well, let’s face it, it automatically feels like a reality show.  However, I think after most fans watched the first two episodes, they realized, it’s not that at all. Maybe docu-reality, but it’s not like we were trying to make “Dream Theater Idol” here.

Fans have been waiting for a while now to find out who Dream Theater’s new drummer. Were you afraid of there being any backlash from fans upset with how the trailer and episodes extend the suspense?

Yes, this has been a huge issue that the label and the band wrestled with.  The band really wanted to let people know right away, but soon after the filming was complete there was a lot of interest by television networks to air this documentary.  So due to a potential broadcast deal it was delayed and so was the announcement.  Regardless of that, after seeing the first few cuts of the movie, I think the band realized that this would be the best way to announce everything to the fans.  They were so genuine about how much they wanted to introduce their fans to the new drummer and I know they felt terrible that they kept it from them for so long.

Out of the seven drummers that auditioned, was there one that particularly stood out to you?

We filmed with Mike Mangini the night before his audition and both as a person and as a drummer, he impressed me the most.  Mike is such an incredibly genuine and nice guy, just like all the members of Dream Theater.  He’s also incredibly meticulous about making sure he does his part and gets all the details right.  All of the drummers that we filmed with were incredibly nice and professional, but Mike really made a great impression on me.  Then watching him play in real life blew me away – he’s a monster. He plays the most complicated things like they’re nothing,  just incredible. I’ll never forget it.

Are there any plans to release a physical copy of this documentary, maybe along with extra footage?

Yes, I believe there is going to be a DVD release this summer with the new album.  We have talked about many different options and I have no idea what is actually going to happen, but I’m sure it will be released at some point and there’s tons of potential for bonus footage.

It all comes to an end (or at least we presume it will) tomorrow as the third and final episode of The Spirit Carries On will hit Roadrunner Records’ YouTube channel tomorrow (April 29) at 11am. In case you’ve been behind, you can still catch up and watch episode 1 and episode 2 online. You can check out other projects Over The Edge Productions are working on their website or Facebook.


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Categorised in: Interviews

  • Daniel

    Been a Dream Theater fan for 20 years now. That said, I was concerned to say the least about Portnoy no longer being in the band (and lawyers apparently telling him not to contact the band). But I was still willing to check out the new cd. The band said an announcement would be made in December. 4 months later the band is still dragging things out. Enough’s enough. This will be the first DT album I don’t buy sight unseen. And not because of the new drummer. Because the band seems more into copying Metallica (“Some Kind of Monster” anyone?) and dragging this whole process out as much as possible. So much for putting the fans first. Guess that was just a Portnoy thing. Sad days to be a Dream Theater fan…..

  • Clintfu

    Daniel, did you actually watch the webisodes? As I fan, I was chompin’ at the bit to discover who the new drummer would be as well, but I figured they were probably waiting to unleash the new drummer along w/ perhaps a new song (which would coincide with the recording of their new album — and obviously that doesn’t happen overnight).

    To be honest, these webisodes make me feel like a little kid on Christmas morning, but Christmas is being spread out into multiple chunks throughout the week . . . It’s slightly excruciating to not be able to open all of the gifts at once, but cool that there are so many cool treats to witness and explore.

    I feel privileged to have a “fly on the wall” perspective of this process, and I’m super grateful to the DT camp (along with Roadrunner and OTE for the opportunity).

    I’m thinkin’ it’s going to be Mike or Marco (and I’d be perfectly happy with either) but I’m puttin’ my money on Mike!

  • Albert

    Daniel, it says right there in the article that the band wanted to announce the drummer right away, but the record company wanted them to keep it secret until the broadcasting.

    I really want it to be Marco, but I think they chose Mike.

  • Glenn

    My money’s also on Mike. Both because of his playing and because he’s close to the same age as the other members (this was also a concern for Metallica), with kids, etc.

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  • SHG

    Looks like Daniel didn’t even read the interview on this page…

  • Me

    I was going to say the same thing about Daniel as the rest. It doesn’t appear that he even read the interview because it clearly states that the band wanted to tell the fans right away but they were possibly getting a TV spot and had to wait for that to go through the motions.

    Personally, I can’t wait to see the full documentary w/ behind the scenes looks and full audition videos of the entire songs. Plus I will be purchasing this CD sight unseen as I have with all DT albums. I love their documentaries and I really hope they do a whole studio footage again like they did on Systematic Chaos

  • I watched the Spirit Carries on documentary for the 2nd time last night – with my wife this time who couldn’t stop viewing until it was over. It is a very well-told, well-crafted, and touching document of the journey. Your personality and style are extremely engaging in this film and I think I’m more enthusiastic about DT now than ever before. Very well doc – and it was free!

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