How Nickelback Doc Hate to Love Went from EPK to Auteur Rockumentary

An interview with director Leigh Brooks and producer Ben Jones

25 mins read

Despite being a big music fan, I’ve managed to avoid hearing a single Nickelback song while knowing it was a track by the band. Sure, I must have heard “Rock Star” blasting at some restaurant, or encountered some Muzak version of “How You Remind Me” while on hold. There must have been some day that “Someday” entered my consciousness.

However, for me, Nickelback was just a punchline used by other people, and not a very clever one. I lumped all of radio-friendly rock in the late-’90s (the exact era I moved away from radio) in the same pile, so, to this day, I could honestly say that I do not delineate between the alt-metal of Tool, the heavier sounds of Slipknot, or the supposed sell-out melodic metal of Nickelback. The latter band out of Hanna, Alberta remains the one that everyone seems to love to hate while millions of people buy their records and throngs attend their concerts around the world.

I therefore went into Leigh Brooks’ documentary Hate to Love with a sense of bemused detachment, hoping to see what the fuss was about, but not necessarily coming in with any preconceptions other than knowing that the music, tactfully, is not to my taste. The resulting film, produced by Ben Jones and made in financial and artistic collaboration with Nickelback, tries valiantly to go beyond its press-kit origins, presenting a depth for the often superficially-presented rock stars that they themselves mock in one of their biggest, most sing-able singles.

Fans of the band will be treated to a more circumspect side than they’re used to, while other viewers may be swayed to go beyond the preconceptions and dive deeper into Nickelback’s extensive catalogue. Ignore the petty, often petulant memes and embrace these songs for what they are.

It took a pair of Brits to bring this film to the big screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Hate to Love debuted as part of the Gala selection complete with red carpet and even a free concert from Nickelback the following day on Festival Street to help celebrate the event.

We spoke to Brooks and Jones via Zoom following the film’s TIFF premiere about the six-year journey to complete their Sisyphean task, about moments where it seemed best to walk away, times where magic was captured in camera and elevated their mission, and how their own lives were upended during the shooting period.

POV: Jason Gorber
LB: Leigh Brooks
BJ: Ben Jones
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.


POV: Let’s talk about how you guys came to know the music of Nickelback, and in turn, how you got involved with this particular project.

BJ: What is probably weird for your Canadian readers is that a film about a great Canadian rock band has been made by two chancers from the UK. I have a radio show in the UK that I have hosted for longer than most people would probably want me to. I played Nickelback on the radio for the very first time back in 2001, and I stayed in touch with them over a few decades. The band contacted me in 2016 or 2017, and asked whether I would do some simple video content for the release of their upcoming album at the time, Feed the Machine. I was then introduced to Leigh, and we went out and shot some stuff. Leigh’s a very talented filmmaker, and everyone realized quite quickly that what we were making was more than just promo-EPK stuff, so we kept filming, and filming. We really only finished about three months ago.

LB: It was a crazy process, and a mad six years. Going back to your question about Nickelback, I remember being in a bar seeing the video for “How You Remind Me” and thought, “Oh, that’s a cool track!” Every time we used to go out on a Friday night and get hammered, when that used to come on, boy, did I used to sing that song. It was an arm-in-arm song. I tend listen to a lot of heavier stuff. I was into bands like Life of Agony, Pantera, Fire Hazards, Alice in Chains, all of that kind of stuff, so I didn’t really know about Nickelback until Ben contacted me. I knew that one tune, but I didn’t know it was by Nickelback.

POV: Many people merely use Nickelback as a punchline. It’s actually intimated in title of your film, but the whole notion that it was far cooler to shit on Nickelback than to embrace them as a fan. Obviously, the band’s reaching out to you, and doing so within the context of working for them is one thing, but just as music fans, were you familiar with that ethos coming in?

BJ: I’d obviously seen them early and during their meteoric rise in 2001 with Silver Side Up. That was just a great rock album with some great tracks. There were quite a few bands during that era of “post-grunge” – I hate the term, but that’s what it was labelled at the time. I was on the radio in 2005, 2006 when all of a sudden out comes All the Right Reasons. Even then, we were still playing songs from the last couple albums. The song “Rock Star” was used in a sofa commercial here in the UK, so their songs were everywhere.

At the same time, we started to use these devices in our hands that allow us to write anonymously on the Internet. At that time, the band was getting all of the positivity from the ubiquity and the radio play and being in the zeitgeist, and there’s a section of people that loudly slagged them off. Brian Posehn does something on a comedy show, and it starts to snowball, the blue match paper is lit, and out comes the negativity.

LB: If the band had come out a couple of years earlier, the best you could hope for with actually getting an opinion out there on your band would be to write a letter to a magazine. The editor would read it, and then out of all of the letters, he would choose 14 comments that would go into one page and that would be it. You could slag a band to your mates or whatever, but it never really went outside those circles.


POV: Could step back from a certain level of distance, and talk about perhaps your 19-year-old self thinking, “Why am I dealing with the equivalent of a pop metal band” when your tastes might be a little bit more idiosyncratic or a little bit more niche.

LB: Ben was a fan, and I wasn’t. In the beginning, I had no opinion of them. I saw that there was a lot of hate on them, and you know I was like, “Whatever.” When I started delving into the back catalogue, I was like, “Fucking hell: this tune slaps, that tune slaps.” I actually discovered that I really like Nickelback. Bear in mind, I love my music, and I was able to select all of the tunes. That’s why there’s not a lot of ballads in the film. When any tune get really sappy, unless it’s from the 1970s or early ’80s, I’m out.

POV: My rule about rock docs is that if you remove the band, the film still has to work. You started out making an EPK, then shifted into trying to make a more universal film. Can you talk about the challenge or the excitement about being able to take a journey on this, but constantly aware that you’re not simply here to do a hagiography of this band?

BJ: We were commissioned to make an EPK, and that was the original objective. What was great was that Leigh came with none of that baggage, none of the awareness of who they are, and what their music was, and I had the trust of the band. While shooting over the years, we started to see the world around Nickelback changing a little bit. We started to see them owning their narrative. They were doing Funny or Die skits, or owning TikTok and doing sea chanties. They started to be a little more self-aware.

Now, I don’t think that was a pre-conceived idea. It happened in an organic way—we just happened to be there to film it. We had to push and peel back that story. Collectively between Leigh and me, we put them into some situations where they weren’t naturally comfortable.


POV: Leigh, can you be specific about those moments when you shifted from it being a band project to an auteur project?

LB: I’d say three or four years into it, there was a crisis of confidence for me. I’d taken it as far as the band had wanted to take it, and I didn’t feel like I’d delivered the film that would answer everyone’s questions, which you’re never going to do: make the band happy, make Chad happy, make everyone happy. I wanted to stick to what I wanted and push it as far as I could. With our sound mix you can hear the chants of “fuck Nickelback!” There’s some really grim, awful memes in there. We pushed it as far as a band-produced doc could be pushed.


POV: You made a Freudian slip, my friend. You said “the band and Chad.” Let’s break that apart. We have a band, and we have a Chad. Chad Kroeger is part of the band, but more than just the lead singer. His voice looms large in all of the narratives.

LB: Of course, Chad’s the front, he’s one that’s going to wear it more than everyone else. They can step away from it, can’t they? Chad can’t. And I get that.

POV: It’s easy for people online to shit on a band because it’s popular. It’s also easy for you to come in and blow everything up. It sounds like you came in recognizing that you had a very clear way of doing it within the structure of a band-authorized film. As filmmakers, can you talk about how it’s advantageous to have all of the access while maintaining a level of distance?

BJ: Leigh flew out to Vancouver last minute and captured the pool table scenes, and that is some of the very best, most revealing footage in the film. The camera stopped rolling, and Chad looked at Leigh and said, “Well, you ain’t using any of that!” My job as a producer working with my director is to make sure that gets used in the film because that’s the best stuff. This is when the lead singer and the bass player and the brothers are being their most revealing, their most honest. I’m not in the business of making a puff piece. The band is involved in the financing and the making of this film, of course. But is this film exactly what the band wanted? No, it’s not. Because we pushed them.


POV: Is this film exactly what the producer and the director wanted?

BJ: Yeah.

LB: Yeah. I’ve opened the lid on Nickelback a lot further than people would have expected. Is it enough for everyone? No, but I don’t care. For me, as a filmmaker, I’m as proud of this as I am anything I’ve ever done, by far. It’s not just their journey, it’s our journey as well. We’ve been on our own hero’s journey. The guys have been on these solo journeys, under the umbrella of Nickelback and where the front is just covering the band. It’s interesting to see the genesis of these guys over that period as well. It does get a bit meta at the end of the film, it does bring it all around with [questions about] what it is to be a middle-aged man and going through various tribulations.


POV: The pool table scene is very interesting. I’m a film critic, so I’m going to look at patterns. Obviously, one of the most famous music docs ever about a very complicated band is The Last Waltz. And what does Scorsese do but frame them playing pool at the beginning. Did any of that stuff actively get referenced? Or is it simply organic that you happened to go to their house, they happen to have a pool table, and this is what people who came up playing in bars do?

LB: Objectively, I love music docs, but I can tell you I don’t really make a habit of watching many. The Who’s The Kids Are Alright is one of my favourites of all time. Searching for Sugarman, Beware of Mr. Baker, there are a few that I love. We had to have a point where Mike and Chad meet, and had to figure out the common ground. In Chad’s house, there’s a pool table, but we still had to get Chad up and out and we had to get them in there. We didn’t know if he would. I had about eight questions I wanted to ask them together. I was there with my camera, I had two other guys on the B and the C camera, and I was just throwing questions out. I’d ask the question and then Mike would ask Chad, and it was just amazing. There was a certain amount of leading because I needed certain things addressed in the film that we hadn’t had an answer to, and you never saw the brothers together. That was some electric shit in there.

No one’s seen that side of Chad, even their manager. We shared that scene and they were like, “What did you do?” It’s a vulnerable thing for a lead singer of a band that been annihilated over everything that he’s done, every hairstyle. I’ve had some questionable hairstyles in my life. But to go, “Do you remember when he had tram lines when he was 15? My god, I’ll never live this down.” He’s exposing himself again to more abuse. Another level, because that’s his vulnerability.

At the premiere, he gave me a little wink backstage before he went into the Q&A and he went, “Congratulations, you’re a filmmaker,” because I wasn’t at the beginning.

BJ: What the film ends up showing is that maybe there were four individuals who came together to start a band. That band had huge success and, as is often the case, the individuals went their separate ways because of success and families and whatever. Life gets in the way. COVID got them back out on stage, back out into the studio, and actually, they’re feeling more like a band again.

POV: Did you have final cut?

BJ: There are scenes in this film, in the cut that you saw at TIFF, that I know the band didn’t want, and actively doesn’t want in the film. So it’s funny, no one had final cut. It’s a sort of democratic dictatorship, but I don’t know who’s the boss. Even after the screening, and I won’t talk about specific scenes, we were like, “Maybe we’ll do this, or maybe we’ll take that out,” and I’m like, “No, that’s staying in.: I’ll fight, I’ll literally fight you for it because by showing X, it reveals Y.


POV: As far as you guys are concerned, the TIFF cut is the final cut.

BJ: We’d never shown it to anybody outside of the circle, the very small circle of the band, management. No one had seen it on a screen bigger than this here in my office or maybe in Leigh’s editing suite. So to see it on the big screen, to see it with the 5.1 mix, the grade, the sound, the bells, the whistles, was mind-blowing. We’re not shooting anything else. We might do some nips and tucks.

LB: I’ve had a lot of confidence issues over the years with filmmaking because it wasn’t my forte. I didn’t set out to be a filmmaker, I just picked up a camera and started shooting because I wanted to see if I could make anything. My old boss said to me, “It’s not in my interest to get you directing, you can’t direct traffic.” TIFF was the most amazing few days of my life.


POV: To that point, the journey of this band echoes your own journey. A lot of people probably thought this film wasn’t going to end up a film, it was just going to be a commercial. How you think this experience is going to reshape what it is that you do next?

LB: For me, personally, having it off my plate is going to be amazing. It’s been six years, that’s a lot of Nickeltime to work on something and try and be a dad and run another part of the business, keep everything ticking over. I stopped drinking during this process. When I started this film, I was drinking really heavily. I’ve been ten months sober. 12 years ago, I started filming. So six years of that has been filming this. It’s crazy.


POV: Ben, you’ve seen incredible changes in the music industry in the last six years. How is this affecting you personally and how do you see this moving forward for you?

BJ: I’m proud of the heart that I think this film has. It is very easy to point your finger and wag your finger and join in with the joke. We touch on that in the film, but the bit that I like about this film are the human stories. I’m a similar age as them. While we’ve been making this film, I’ve got divorced and moved out, I’ve got a new family, I’ve come on a journey here.

If you are a fervent anti-Nickelback anti-fan, is it going to make you go and buy their back catalogue and buy tickets to their shows? No. But I hope it’s got something in there that even the most anti-Nickelback person would go, “Actually, they’ve made a good film. There’s a good story in there.”


Hate to Love: Nickelback premiered at TIFF 2023.

Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at ThatShelf.com and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, RogerEbert.com and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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