When Doug Hamilton premiered his film "Broadway Idiot" this year in Austin, Texas, he had a particularly tough crowd to please. Hundreds of hardcore Green Day fans lined up outside the theater on Main Street, waiting to see the 80-minute documentary.
The venue, with its 1,200-person capacity, added to the pressure because Hamilton's background in television had equipped him for screenings on small monitors with a couple of viewers.
And to top it all off, members of Grammy-winning punk rock band Green Day were about to see his new effort.
When lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong (a part-time Newport Beach resident), bassist and backing vocalist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool appeared after Hamilton's introduction, though, a huge cheer rang through the enthusiastic crowd.
"As the film started, I was really nervous, but bit by bit, I relaxed when [the audience] started to laugh in all the right places, and even in some places [we] never thought we'd get a laugh," he recalled. "The thing that was most gratifying was that they were also really quiet in the right parts, and you could just feel that people were engaged and really into the story."
In "Broadway Idiot," the photographer and filmmaker provides an inside look into two diametric music worlds — punk rock and Broadway — with Armstrong front and center. The fast-paced film will have its West Coast debut Thursday as it kicks off the Newport Beach Film Festival.
While Green Day, known for hits including "Longview," "Basket Case" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," is no stranger to performing, Hamilton sought to dig deeper. His vision included members of the group being comfortable enough to let their guard down, almost as if they'd forgotten cameras were rolling.
"For someone so famous to open up to our cameras, I think, is really rare," said Hamilton, 52, of New York City. "I think [Billie Joe's] connection with the company and the process was so important to him — both personally and creatively — that he wanted to share this experience."
Green Day emerged from San Francisco's punk scene in the late 1980s, garnering fans from high school students to those who attended Woodstock in 1994.
The band's seventh album, "American Idiot" — a blend of rock opera and political commentary — debuted in September 2004. The songs, dealing with Armstrong's self-exploration and coming of age in post-9/11 United States, depict a character trapped in the crosshairs of self-destruction and moral beliefs.
Armstrong, who recently sold his Newport Beach cottage for $1.625 million, weaved together a story about an "anti-hero" called Jesus of Suburbia. The protagonist leaves his hometown and, on his way to the city, encounters Whatsername, a beautiful and kind love interest, and St. Jimmy, the lead character's popular and more dangerous alter ego.
Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer brought a staged rendition of "American Idiot" to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009. The musical, with Armstrong playing the character of St. Jimmy in some performances, moved to Broadway's St. James Theatre for about a year until April 2011.
Hamilton met Mayer when the latter was directing the rock musical "Spring Awakening." After Hamilton photographed the show's rehearsals, he was brought on board again to take pictures of "American Idiot."
"You have one of the biggest rock stars in the world who is willing to try something totally new — an artist willing to try something out of his comfort zone," said Hamilton of the story he discovered while on assignment. "I thought that was really interesting and had a universal story."
As a result, Hamilton created "Broadway Idiot" as a look into Armstrong's newfound love of Broadway and its behind-the-scenes camaraderie.
"There is something unique — almost addictive — about working in theater," he said. "Everyone comes together, kinda falls in love with each other and the process, in this effort to create a piece of art. And in this experience, here you are doing that with a very talented young group of actors and world-famous musicians — that's a powerful combination."
Armstrong's generosity and insight contributed tremendously to shaping the final product, Hamilton said. He described initially using a clip of the singer performing holiday tunes at 14, which was eventually swapped with one of him at 11, crooning Broadway numbers with his family. Armstrong thought those songs would better fit the theme of the documentary.
"I had to stop the presses, re-edit that scene and remix the whole film, but it was worth it," he said about the additional footage.
The documentary regales audiences with the tale of a production that won two Tony Awards — for Best Scenic Design of a Musical and Best Lighting Design of a Musical — and a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album.
Starting out, however, Hamilton had no idea that his latest project would consume four years of his life. Accustomed to the quick turnaround of TV, he was in for a surprise with "Broadway Idiot."