Co-Director Didn’t Want Ronnie James Dio Documentary to Feel Like a Wikipedia Entry
Wendy Dio and Don Argott, co-directors of the Ronnie James Dio documentary Dreamers Never Die, were the latest guests on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program to discuss the film that covers the life and legacy of the late heavy metal legend.
The documentary not only tackles the singer's widely successful musical career in Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio, but his earliest musical ambitions from being pushed by his father to practice the trumpet to his start as a doo-wop crooner and, eventually, breaking into rock 'n' roll with the band Elf.
Jumping from band to band to band isn't an easy task as a documentarian as Argott notes he didn't want the film to just feel like a Wikipedia entry and strove to tell a more compelling story overall. It even boasts some lesser known career anecdotes that Wendy feels even some of the big Dio fans may have been in the dark about.
Read the full interview below.
Ronnie is revered by the metal community, but he was also a human being. How does the film maintain legend without sacrificing humanity?
Don Argott: For the people who had the pleasure to have met Ronnie... [it is heard so consistently] that everyone just genuinely loved him.
He had such a way of making you feel special and important and like you were the only person that mattered in the moment that he was talking to you. That's all the way from band members to friends and family to the fans. It's really the story that you hear so much is that he really genuinely loved his fans. He really respected his fans. The music that he made was for them and he was as genuine as it gets. He walked the walk. The old adage of "never met meet your heroes"... he is the antithesis of that because he's exactly everything you'd want him to be and more when/if you did get the opportunity to meet him.
Artists over the years all have just such wonderful and positive memories about him and the experiences that will live on forever with all of us.
Wendy Dio: He was a very special person. The music that he created and onstage, he just did it for his fans. He loved being there. He loved being making them feel special.
Dio: Dreamers Never Die Documentary Trailer
Ronnie's success with three bands is unprecedented. What roadblocks did the film face in terms of access to the archives and people for many of his bands?
Don Argott: There weren't too [many roadblocks]. The hardest thing with doing a film about somebody like Ronnie who had three successful careers and, really, like two other careers when he got started all the way back in the '50s doing the doo-wop singer-songwriter stuff. [He was in] Elf before he was in Rainbow.
For us, it making sure that it didn't feel like the same story over and over — then he does this band and then he does this band and this band... What was pleasantly surprising about all that is that they're all part of building blocks that get you to who Ronnie ultimately became how he became Dio and took that moniker and became the person that everybody knows and loves.
All the moments of his musical history go all the way back to him as a child, his father making him practice the trumpet and being very influenced by classically trained singers. They're the building blocks and every step that he took got him closer and closer to becoming Dio. We really wanted to track that because they really were these pivotal moments.
A lot of people might not know this, but he was in a very terrible car crash that almost ended his life and certainly somebody that he was in the band with had passed away [The Electric Elves' Nick Pantas] and that was a kind of a crossroads moment for Ronnie — should he just give this up and go get a square job or whatever? He decided to soldier on and power through that moment and from that comes Elf then he gets into Rainbow and then from Rainbow he gets into Black Sabbath and then into Dio, so they're all such important moments in Ronnie's musical journey. We really wanted to underscore those things so that it wasn't just like a Wikipedia type entry. These are more character driven things that got him to 1986 onstage with animatronic dragon.
Dio, "Sacred Heart" (Live in 1986)
Ronnie was unflinching in his musical vision and Wendy is just as focused when it comes to sustaining his legacy. Don, what makes her tenacity such an appealing collaborative trait?
Don Argott: It's an extension of how Ronnie lived his life and how Wendy and Ronnie were a team together and singularly focused on Ronnie's career. Doing a documentary with someone like Wendy, who is obviously very close and protective, co-director Demian Fenton and I were lifelong Dio fans, so we came into this with understanding the weight, the reverence and frankly, the responsibility of being able to tell this story properly, not just for Ronnie, but to make sure that Wendy felt like we were accurately portraying Ronnie's life and legacy and their relationship.
We didn't pull any punches and I give Wendy a ton of credit for giving us the respect and space that we needed to have our own take and vision on this. But we also knew that it wasn't going to fly if Wendy didn't like it. It was a big moment for us when we first screened the film for her because we intentionally held back and didn't show her anything until there was something put together and we felt like it was a story that we wanted to tell. It was mission accomplished and she really felt that we portrayed Ronnie's life and legacy in the way that she wanted.
Wendy Dio: They did such a great job. In the beginning I wasn't that cooperative. I held back a lot of stuff, but the more we worked together for almost three years because of the pandemic everything, the more I got to know them and the more I released stuff to them.
This story is for the fans and there's a lot of things in the film that maybe the even big fans don't know about Ronnie —the doo-wop [era] and the car crash and all those things, not just sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll because that wasn't Ronnie. This is a real story about a person going through their life with the ups and downs.
In addition to heavy metal, Don's films have portrayed NFL players, comic book creators and post-impressionist art. Why was he the obvious or maybe not so obvious person to profile Ronnie James Dio?
Wendy Dio: In the beginning there was lots of people that wanted to produce/direct a film about Ronnie and none of them were right. I'm very protective of Ronnie's stuff and then when I met Don and Demian [Fenton], they were Dio fans already. They knew so much and they were so passionate about everything and I thought that these are the right guys. I was really right because the more and more I got to know them, the more and more I liked them and we became a family for working together for so long. I'm really proud of what they did. They did an excellent job and I think Ronnie would have been proud of this.
Ronnie was an only child which can account for imagination and creativity, but not necessarily camaraderie. Where did his love of interacting with people, especially fans, come from?
Wendy Dio: I don't know. I was almost an only child — I had a cousin that became my brother because he was dumped on us but I think only children are left alone all the time, so they do like to have people around them. They like to have friends and to have the family they never really had.
Thanks to Wendy Dio and Don Argott for the interview. Get more information about the 'Dreamers Never Die' documentary here and follow the Ronnie James Dio accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.