There has always been a long documented struggle between the artist and the record label. While the band seeks for creative enlightenment, the record label aims to squeeze every dollar out of their music before they’re put on the shelf. Today, there are new claims of controlling managers, but this is a tale as old as time, and this uneasy relationship has existed since the birth of music itself. This parasitic relationship between the record label and band often worms its way onto studio albums, from Pink Floyd’s Have A Cigar with its lyrics, “Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?”, to Kate Bush’s sarcastic Wow.
But Portrait of a Rocker: B Side portrays a slightly different record label executive. Eddie Chapman (John Baker Butler) has a nose for business, but he also has a deep, unstoppable passion for music. After stumbling into a bar hosting an open mic, Chapman spies a promising boy band playing covers. He sees something in them they don’t see themselves. Eddie Chapman is a music exec who seems to be a shade similar to the record label executives encountered both by Kate Bush and Pink Floyd. Like a dog sniffing for truffles, it appears that Chapman is good at finding exactly what he wants - money. He wants to sell all of it, the band, the record, their style. But, on the other hand, he is also the same exec who waxes lyrical about a James Brown concert and how that experience instrumentally changed him as a person. John Baker Butler works hard here to portray a nuanced exec who juggles his financial ambitions with the thrill of finding real talent. It’s here where Joe Anderson and Paul Campa’s writing really shines.
The decision to put the music exec at the centre stage of this story is a wise one, but it’s also incredibly innovative. The musician’s rise to fame now has gone a bit stale, and the turn from unknown to superstar is so predictable. However, the choices music executives make are, by contrast, rather unexplored. Luckily, directors Joe Anderson and Nadine Vincent knew where to put their emphasis. Chapman is a dynamic character, whereas the two bandmates, Beck Flowers (Tate Dewey) and Lloyd Lester (John Rousseau), are too green and too directionless to be an audience favourite. This short film feels like a scene from a much longer movie. It leaves you eager for more and wondering if there’s more to this story than just a mere ten minutes.
Portrait of a Rocker: B Side thrusts the music executive into the limelight, and it succeeds in creating a vivid and dynamic character for the audience to invest in. It also moves away from the two-dimensional, aggressive music executives often encountered in music and movies. Instead, Eddie Chapman is fiercely passionate about music, and this is a passionately filmed short film which leaves you wondering what the A-Side is like.