Directed by Luke Meyer
The film BREAKING A MONSTER begins as the band UNLOCKING THE TRUTH is gaining momentum. The band members, Alec Atkins, Malcolm Brickhouse and Jarad Dawkins, are all in 7th grade and live in neighborhoods in central Brooklyn, New York. Guided by Malcolm’s parents, Noreen Jackson and Tracey Brickhouse, the band plays a blend of heavy metal and speed punk in Times Square, often drawing substantial crowds. Many people find the band extraordinary not only because of the combination of their music, skill and age, but also because they break through the stereotype that African-Americans (which all three band-members are) don’t play hard rock.
An audience member records them performing and uploads the video to YouTube. It becomes wildly popular and leads to print and video coverage in the media (including the eponymous short film UNLOCKING THE TRUTH, by the same filmmakers as this feature). When their internet fame explodes, they take on a manager: Alan Sacks, a 70-year-old industry veteran who previously worked with the Jonas Brothers. With his guidance they are soon on their way to sign a 1.8 million dollar record deal with Sony Music Entertainment.
From here on the band’s journey accelerates – and BREAKING A MONSTER chronicles the narrative of their rapid transformation. The boys are coming of age, not only as they make the leap to being professional musicians, but also as they transcend childhood and take their first steps into adulthood. They are confronted with complex contracts, branding decisions and artistic guidance from the team that is suddenly running their career. As 12 and 13 year-olds, they are asked to make critical decisions that will affect their lives in a profound way.
The film tells the story of Malcolm’s journey to find his own voice, both literally and figuratively, Alec’s various methods of projecting what it will be like to be grown up, and Jarad’s coming to terms with the difference between his pre-fame childhood and success-filled future ahead. For the adults too, this process requires a great deal of effort and sacrifice. Alan, who functions as a career father-figure, recognizes that if this band is going to be successful he has to put the boys before everything else in his life. Noreen and Tracey must learn to trust Alan and the professional management team if the band is truly going to be successful. This delicate balance between the demands of stardom and adolescence must be navigated by all the boys’ parents as they try to maintain normalcy in their children’s lives. All the while the band, their parents and their management find themselves less certain and yet more involved with the music industry.
As the film progresses, the band’s ever-busy performance schedule and media demands begin to wear away at not only the boys, but on Alan and their families. Long delays in recording an album lead to frustration, and the boys are forced to learn patience in the face of the music industry and its procedures.
Malcolm struggles to improve his vocals, Alec realizes he needs to take his career more seriously and Jarad starts to crack under the stress of performing before one of their largest shows. All the while they are enthusiastically thrust into high-budget commercials and prestigious media appearances. The faster the band finds success, the more compounded these issues become.
The rapid breakout of any band, let alone one of pre-teens, happens in an extremely narrow and specific period in time. Anything feels possible, and in some moments the boys in the band can almost feel the eyes of the world gazing upon them. Whether it’s gusts of excitement or, alternately shadows of frustration, it is a storm of change that rolls in and leaves the landscape forever altered when the sky clears. BREAKING A MONSTER is a film that bears witness to that storm.