Tom Berninger Mistaken For Strangers

Tom Berninger Mistaken For Strangers

Tom Berninger Mistaken For Strangers

Director: Tom Berninger
Genre: Documentary, Music, Comedy
Running Time: 75 minutes

Synopsis: In 2010, the rock band The National released their fifth album, High Violet. After ten years as critical darlings, the band was finally enjoying wider recognition. As they were about to embark on the biggest tour of their career, lead singer Matt Berninger invited his younger brother, Tom, to be a part of their tour crew. A budding filmmaker and horror movie enthusiast, Tom brought along his camera to film the experience.

Mistaken For Strangers
Release Date: February 7th, 2014

Filmmaker's Statement


My brother's a rock star and I'm not. A few years ago, I was living in Cincinnati, making my own short films. I was making horror and action shorts, and also working on a short romantic film inspired by the story of Johnny Appleseed. My brother was living in New York. He's the lead singer in a band called The National, and their fifth album was just out, and they were about to leave on tour. Things were starting to happen for them; the new record (High Violet) hit the Billboard charts, and all the shows were selling out. He invited me to come help out on tour (as an assistant to their tour manager), and I decided to bring my camera.

My brother and I are nine years apart in age. When I was seven and he was sixteen, we still shared a room. One night, he came home late and told me all about the movie he'd just seen; he thought it might be the greatest movie ever made. The movie was 'Predator," and when I saw it, I believed he was right. He also took me to see 'Robocop," 'Pet Semetary," and 'The Abyss." (I may have been too young; I think now that these movies were like hallucinations for me.) A love for these movies was something that Matt and I shared"until he went away to college and discovered 'The Graduate." When I showed him one of the shorts I'd made"a horror-inspired film about a barbarian with an identity crisis"he was less than excited. Our tastes had changed. He was in an indie rock band; I listened to metal. His music was becoming extremely popular and, to be honest, I didn't always see why.

The National are made up of two sets of brothers: Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf. In interview after interview, Matt Berninger was asked, 'What's it like to be the only guy in the band without a brother?" I was almost never mentioned. I brought a camera on tour as a way to understand Matt Berninger a little better, and maybe also as a way to put myself into the picture.

In between selling merchandise and stocking towels and food and checking guest lists before every show, I filmed everything I could. I interviewed band members and I interviewed my brother. I interviewed our parents about what made us so different. I followed band members around in the various cities we hit"Paris, London, Warsaw"and I made comical video 'portraits" of each member. I was putting my own spin on a band that had a reputation for being gloomy. I filmed the shows. I fought with Matt Berninger and filmed that too. I kept a tour diary and filmed myself. I did all of this on a tiny hand-held camera. And then I got fired from the tour.

When the tour ended and Matt Berninger returned home, he invited me to move in with him in Brooklyn, where he lived with his wife, Carin, and their two-year-old daughter. I tried to work with all the footage I'd shot. At that point, I had about 200 hours of footage, and no real idea what I wanted to make. It was a struggle to find a story that worked. The band hadn't broken up, or gotten dropped by their label. No one had a drug addiction or gambling problem. The band's shows were sometimes stressful, but they were hugely successful. I holed up for a few months and emerged with what looked like either a long music video without any music, or a series of goofy backstage antics"fun to watch, but not really a full-length narrative.

Matt Berninger was very encouraging and thought I needed to work toward a deadline. He suggested I screen a rough cut of the movie before one of the band's shows. The band were all there to see what I'd done, and fans turned up early to see it too"but I had a ton of technical problems, and the screen went blank after a few minutes.

Meanwhile, Matt and Carin Berninger wanted me to make myself, and my struggles in finishing the film, more a part of the movie. So they kept shooting while I was trying to complete the film. And the movie turned into something else: it's not a straight documentary"I think of it as a sort of hybrid, a blend of a documentary about the band and a shaggy self-portrait. (And Werner Herzog"no small part of my inspiration in blending genres"has a tiny cameo.) Ultimately, it's about brothers with different fates, and about brothers in a rockband. It's about how strange it is to get reacquainted with your brother as an  adult, and through the lens of a camera; how hard it is to collaborate on anything creative"an album, a film. And how hard it is to make something good.

Making this movie, and watching the success of the National after such a slow build, taught me that it takes faith and passion, but also perseverance, to make something worthwhile. You have to have patience with your projects, and patience with yourself. That's what I most hope people take away from this.


Reactions To The Film: Matt Berninger, Lead Singer of The National


I invited my brother Tom Berninger on tour because our shows were getting bigger and we needed help. I was also looking forward to spending time with him. I left for college when he was nine years old, and we hadn't spent much more than holidays and family gatherings together since then. Now he was 30, and he was back living with our parents. I thought he was in a little bit of a rut.

I got him hired as our assistant tour manager and was happy that he brought a camera along. I knew that what he really wanted to do was make movies. I loved having him around and so did the rest of the band. He had a way of relieving the anxiety that surrounded some of the big shows, and he made us all laugh. We enjoyed indulging some of his twisted cinematic ideas. But he struggled to do the job he was being paid to do, and that caused a fair amount of tension"for me, and especially for our tour manager, Brandon Reid. In the end, Tom Berninger's crew job did not work out, and we had to send him home. When the tour was over, I invited Tom Berninger to New York to live with my wife and daughter and I and to make something of all the stuff he'd shot and finish the film. Ultimately, this living arrangement became part of the movie as well. My wife, Carin, started to help him edit and what they pulled together was a surprise. Tom Berninger's movie is utterly hilarious, beautiful, roughedged, emotional, and honest"it's everything I've always loved about my little brother.


Mistaken For Strangers
Release Date: February 7th, 2014


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