Three years in the making, AMERICAN: The Bill Hicks Story brings the tale of one of modern culture’s most iconic heroes to the big screen.
Much more than a comedian, Bill Hicks was and still is an inspiration to millions. His timeless comedy tackled the contradictions of America and modern life head on. But his unique gift was to tease apart the essence of religion, the dangers of unbridled government power and the double standards inherent in much of modern society, using nothing but his hilarious ideas and the uncompromising observational style that continues to resonate with successive generations.
Like many who have a strong sense of their place in history, Hicks left a large unseen legacy; his collection of video recordings and hundreds of photographs and these became the starting point for this feature-length animated documentary.
But why animation? Bill’s complex story had never been adequately told and this demanded pushing documentary storytelling in a new direction to boldly recreate the key unseen scenes of Bill’s life and, for the first time fully reveal the worlds that shaped his character and his comedy. Real locations, such as the bedroom window he snuck out of to perform with comedy partner Dwight Slade, the dark alleys of Houston where he nearly met his end, and the spellbinding theatre auditoriums where he played his most famous concerts; are all meticulously recreated in stunning three dimensional photorealism to provide a fresh new sense of the challenges the lone comedian faces and a real sense of what his journey was like.
Bill’s story is told by the 10 people who knew him best; his family and closest friends who recount the twists & turns of his life with a freshness that hasn’t faded in 15 years. From Kevin Booth, Bill’s talented lifelong friend to the Outlaw Comics who introduced Bill into their heady world of drugs & alcohol, to photographer David Johndrow who perceptively captures some of the most revelatory moments of Bill’s life, each speaker is a compelling narrator who still carries a piece of Bill with them and, woven together, they bring a palpable sense of Bill’s presence to the screen.
Their story provides the platform for Bill’s own voice and for the first time, his 17 years of material are combined in a powerful chronology with his offstage journey. With each of his routines now bedded in the context of his life, a fascinating insight into the growth and development of an artist is revealed, as Bill’s early character work found first a comedic aim and then a truly powerful voice when he beat addiction to enthrall and challenge audiences, often touring 300 nights a year.
Recreating Bill’s story has been a journey all of it’s own; traveling all across America to record extensive new interviews, watching hundreds of performances and developing the animation technique over thousands of hours to fully realize the cinematic vision required. With a little help and a few orbits of the sun, these raw materials – video clips, photographs & personal recollections – have now been put together to recreate a full sense of Bill’s life, ambitions and achievements and a lasting testament as to why he will remain one of the enduring cultural cornerstones of our age.
Paul Thomas & Matt Harlock