All three surviving members of Led Zeppelin were supposed to promote the upcoming feature-length documentary film “Becoming Led Zeppelin” at the Venice film festival in 2021, LedZepNews can reveal, but in the end only Jimmy Page attended the event.
The filmmakers behind “Becoming Led Zeppelin” believed that a reunion of the surviving members of the band in front of the movie press in Venice was one of “the most important parts” of their planned promotional campaign, according to a never-before-seen document obtained by LedZepNews.
Without the attendance of all three surviving band members, “the film might be lost” according to a company that continues to work with the filmmakers. The film remains unreleased more than a year after its premiere in Venice in September 2021. It was announced in September that the film is being re-edited to add further footage.
The details of the planned promotional campaign for “Becoming Led Zeppelin” emerged in an 11-page grant application LedZepNews exclusively obtained through a Freedom of Information request made to the British Film Institute (BFI).
The application document which is dated July 5, 2021 was written by Altitude, a company working with the filmmakers to promote the documentary and secure a distribution deal to bring it to cinemas and eventually streaming services.
Altitude applied for a grant from the BFI to help it promote “Becoming Led Zeppelin” and cover the costs of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin travelling to Venice to promote the film.
It’s unclear whether the grant application was successful but only Page ended up going to Venice. The film is not listed in the Lottery awards section of the BFI website which publicly lists films that receive lottery-funded grants from the organisation. The film is, however, listed as a recipient of a UK Global Screen Fund International Distribution award on the UK government website.
The BFI, Altitude and “Becoming Led Zeppelin” producer Allison McGourty did not respond to requests for comment.
‘Having the band in Venice will create enormous buzz’
In the document, Altitude explained why it was so important that the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were involved in promoting the film, particularly at the Venice Film Festival in 2021. Altitude referred to the film throughout the document using its working title “Apollo”, the existence of which LedZepNews revealed in 2020.
“Successful World premiere in Venice with the attendance of the band and a strong publicity team would be crucial for the launch of the film,” the application reads. “This is an opportunity to make APOLLO shine and be THE FILM press and distributors talking about. Key elements for this to happen are the talent attendance and strong publicity campaign. Without this the film might be lost so we need to cease this moment and create maximum buzz possible.”
“The most important parts for us is to bring the band members to Venice which will be extremely expensive and would not be able to afford it without this grant,” the application continues. “The band are hardly ever in the public and press eyes and have not been seen publicly together for many years. Having the band in Venice will create enormous buzz for the film like no other element and will deliver incredible press coverage amongs [sic] film, music and general culture and news coverage around the world.”
Altitude is correct that the surviving members of Led Zeppelin haven’t been seen together publicly for years. The last public appearance made by Page, Plant and Jones was at the Kennedy Center Honors show on December 2, 2012.
Since then, the only other time the surviving band members are known to have been in the same place was in May 2018 when they were photographed with a working draft of the book “Led Zeppelin By Led Zeppelin”.
Only Jimmy Page made it to Venice
Despite the grant application’s plan for all three surviving members of Led Zeppelin to travel to Venice to promote “Becoming Led Zeppelin”, only Page made the trip to Italy – raising questions about the funding the film’s promotional campaign received and how committed Plant and Jones are to promoting it.
LedZepNews reported in September 2021 that Page travelled to Venice to promote the film, attending screenings and giving interviews about it as well as participating in a press conference with the filmmakers.
Page has been an enthusiastic promoter of the film, praising the reception it received in Venice in a Facebook post.
But Plant and Jones have taken a back seat in the film’s promotional campaign. They both provided statements in support of the announcement of the film in 2019 but since then have failed to generate buzz about it.
Plant even distanced himself from the film in interviews published in November 2021. He told Vanity Fair that he was only “minorly” involved in its production. “I’m fully aware of all this, but it’s really hard to get romantic about it—despite the fact that it changed my life and allowed me to mature and to move through the sphere. I’m not very good at reminiscing,” he continued.
In a separate interview with Variety published around that time, Plant also said that it’s “very odd … to see a group of people try to bring some perspective to it now,” adding “I’m not sure it’s not just too vast to be solarized and polarized like that.”
Inside the promotional campaign for ‘Becoming Led Zeppelin’
The application form reveals the roadmap the filmmakers and Altitude planned to follow in order to make “Becoming Led Zeppelin” a hit film.
They planned to promote the film to a range of audiences including existing Led Zeppelin fans, wider music fans and “younger audiences”.
“It is still early to tell but most probably our biggest strategic focus as part of the release campaign beyond the immediate primary audiences, will be to reach the younger audience,” the application reads. “While the band’s immediate appeal will be to older music fans we know that with the right creative execution and PR campaign we can reach the younger audience and bring them to the cinemas to experience the film on a big screen.”
The filmmakers mentioned in the application that they planned to work with Led Zeppelin’s social media team to promote their film to Led Zeppelin’s fans.
“We are planning to create a set of posters as well as a teaser and a trailer for the release of the film,” the application reads. “Alongside this, we are going to work with a digital agency to create a long lead extensive digital campaign for both core fans of the band and wider music fan audience.”
A small number of posters were created to promote the film, as shown in this Instagram post:
How the filmmakers describe the story of Led Zeppelin
The application form also gives a rare insight into how the filmmakers described the documentary and the main storylines it covers.
“The main storyline and theme of the film is how the members of the group were heavily influenced by African American music – soul, blues, rhythm & blues, and rock and roll,” the application reads.
“The film’s secondary storyline shows how much more difficult it was for young people growing up in the Midlands to breakthrough in the entertainment business than people who were born in London and the South East. It reveals the struggles for recognition and financial stability that the two characters from the Midlands faced, contrasted with the richly rewarded early careers that their two southern counterparts enjoyed,” it continues.
Inside the making of ‘Becoming Led Zeppelin’
The newly released grant application reported here is the second time LedZepNews has been able to take readers inside the production of “Becoming Led Zeppelin” using documents and correspondence created during the making of the film.
In May, we reported on a collection of 69 pages of email correspondence and files relating to the search for a rare 1972 radio interview with John Bonham which is repeatedly featured in the film.
The film’s director Bernard MacMahon emailed Australian archivists in 2019 in the search for the original tapes of the interview and went on to strike a deal to use 6 minutes and 36 seconds of the recording in his film.
In 2021, the deal to use the radio interview was on the brink of collapse after the filmmakers failed to send full payment to the Australian archives. The deal was then terminated in 2022, which would have forced the removal of the audio, but one of the producers of the film told LedZepNews in a rare statement that a subsequent arrangement for its use has since been made.
The ‘Becoming Led Zeppelin’ timeline
Here’s an updated timeline of all dates related to the production of “Becoming Led Zeppelin” and when we learned about its progress:
August 10, 2018: Work on “Becoming Led Zeppelin” began on this date, according to the film’s US copyright record.
February 15, 2019: Director Bernard MacMahon emails archivists in Australia in search of the original tapes of a 1972 John Bonham Australian radio interview, according to our reporting.
April 7, 2019: Archivists in Australia find the original tapes for the 1972 John Bonham Australian radio interview, LedZepNews revealed in a subsequent story.
May 9, 2019: It was announced that the surviving members of Led Zeppelin had participated in a film about the origins of the band. At the time, the film was in “post-production” meaning filming had already been completed. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones wrote statements for a press release promoting the then-untitled film.
December 15, 2019: The web domains becomingledzeppelin.com and becomingledzeppelin.net were purchased, presumably by the filmmakers in preparation for promoting the film.
February 2020: The Twitter account @becomingledzep was registered, presumably by the filmmakers.
April 4, 2020: LedZepNews reported that the film had the working title of “Apollo” and revealed that it then had a runtime of 147 minutes.
December 14, 2020: LedZepNews reported that the film likely uses footage of Jimmy Page performing with The Yardbirds at the Village Theater in New York on August 25, 1967.
March 3, 2021: LedZepNews reported that the film was also set to use footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Laurel Pop Festival in Maryland on July 11, 1969.
July 5, 2021: Altitude completed its grant application to the British Film Institute for funding for “Becoming Led Zeppelin” on this date.
August 6, 2021: The official title “Becoming Led Zeppelin” was announced by Led Zeppelin along with a brief teaser of the film and the news that it would have its premiere at the Venice film festival the following month. LedZepNews reported that the film had a final runtime of 137 minutes.
September 4, 2021: The film was premiered with an initial screening and a press conference in Venice and the sole official trailer for the film was released.
October 13, 2021: The filmmakers registered the copyright for “Becoming Led Zeppelin” with the US government, stating that they expected it to be released in February.
November 1, 2021: Hollywood Elsewhere published an article speculating that “Becoming Led Zeppelin” may have failed to find a buyer or could have been “withdrawn for further editing”.
November 8, 2021: Robert Plant told Vanity Fair he was only “minorly” involved in the film.
November 11, 2021: Robert Plant told Variety that it’s “very odd … to see a group of people try to bring some perspective to it now” when asked about the film.
December 2021: Work on the film was expected to be completed this month, according to its US government copyright record.
February 2022: The film was originally predicted to be released this month, according to its US government copyright record.
May 26, 2022: The film was listed as up for sale in a document produced for the Cannes film festival.
June 7, 2022: Jason Bonham said in a podcast interview that he and his mother had seen the film and both felt John Bonham’s voice sounded strange in it.
July 15, 2022: The deal to licence the 1972 John Bonham Australian radio interview for the film was terminated by the archivists due to a failure by the filmmakers to pay the full bill for its use.
August 31, 2022: LedZepNews reported on the film’s US government copyright record, which revealed that the film was originally due to be released in February 2022.
September 3, 2022: Led Zeppelin’s official forum administrator Sam Rapallo posted an update about the film, revealing that it’s being re-edited and that more footage has been added since its premiere.
September 29, 2022: Peter Whitehead’s footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Bath Festival on June 28, 1970 was posted online and made available for commercial use, sparking speculation that it could be used in “Becoming Led Zeppelin”.
February 2023: “Becoming Led Zeppelin” was briefly renamed “Led Zeppelin” on the website of Altitude. It was changed back within days.
April 6, 2023: A new cut of “Becoming Led Zeppelin” was screened in Los Angeles, LedZepNews reported.
May 14, 2023: LedZepNews reveals a cache of emails relating to the filmmakers behind “Becoming Led Zeppelin” securing a deal to licence a 1972 John Bonham Australian radio interview in their film.