LIVE FOREVER - Movie Q&A with John Dower and John Battsek

13 March 2003

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LIVE FOREVER Q&A with John Dower and John Battsek

Q: I gather that if you hadn't got "the big three" as it were, you wouldn't even have gone ahead with the documentary - for you that was integral to doing it. If so tell us about getting them all to appear in the film.

JD: When we'd only got one of them I was very much willing to press on and do the film but that was when I was working back in car boot sales and John Battsek said no we've got to get all three. We got them basically by stalking them really, it took a long time. We made a pact at the beginning that we had to get what we identified as the big three; Pulp, Oasis and Blur. We got Noel first and were still waiting on the other two and because it had taken us a while, I had gone back to working in car boot sales. John (Battsek) was a restraining influence, he said we needed all three so we did.

JB: It did feel to me in order to be able to make a film on this scale that we did need the key three. I also new that the process of trying to get all of these people to cooperate and be in the film was going to take a long time, so it was just a question of being as patient as we could bear to be. However, as John Dower says, when you're making a film like this it's hard to be patient because, of course it's how we make a living and the sooner you get making it the sooner you can draw some sort of salary which, means you don't have to do car boot sales.

The process of getting people like this for a documentary is a skill I'm not remotely proud of. You have to be able to crawl unbelievably, grovel spectacularly and generally throw yourself at people's feet begging, because guys like these have no real incentive to be in a film like this - when people like Damon, Noel and Liam put themselves in front of a camera they set themselves up most of the time because the majority of people are there to take a pop. So I had to convince their managers that was not what we were about, and then convince them, which takes a hell of a long time.

LIVE FOREVER Q&A with John Dower and John Battsek @
LIVE FOREVER Q&A with John Dower and John Battsek @
LIVE FOREVER Q&A with John Dower and John Battsek @
LIVE FOREVER Q&A with John Dower and John Battsek @

Did one lot want to know whether another were in?
JD: Actually, strangely enough Oasis said they didn't want to do it if it was just a film about Oasis, which we were quite relieved about because you have all these preconceptions, you think, "fucking musicians.. huge egos, they'll only want to do it if it's all about them" but quite refreshingly and to our relief they said at the beginning we will do it but not if it's just us in it. So I think they were quite pleased. Jarvis didn't particularly care who was in it. Once he'd eventually decided to do it he just turned up, did it and buggered off again.

Why did you not include any Black music in the film?
JD: One of the reasons we made this film, was we thought we hadn't seen that many contemporary music films with ambition. We'd had "The Filth and the Fury", but that was 20 odd years ago and I for one was fed up with the way music and popular British culture was packaged into clip shows like "I love the..…", celebrity chefs talking about albums. So we thought we'd do something quite revolutionary and actually talk to the musicians. So we decided to take on that strange sort of thing called Britpop. Basically black music wasn't really part of that. We did film other bands and at points we constructed this whole sort of subterranean narrative that was the mirror image of Britpop and we had The Streets and So Solid to show how they came out of that underground scene. But it just didn't work as a film, there were too many endings, too much for the viewer. It's not supposed to be a definitive music film of an age. It strangely ended up being a very English film, possibly even a comedy.

I think that whatever, we're going to get a kicking from various quarters on this film. On one level people are going to say "where are Radiohead or where are the Prodigy?" and that's going to happen. We put our hands up, we did say we wanted to be selective, we wanted a steady focus in the film. If we chucked everyone in, it would certainly have needed a voiceover to explain everything that was going on.

Was there any suggestion of doing the Gallagher brothers together and have they seen the film?
JD: We definitely wanted to do the Gallagher brothers separately because you always see them together and they often just start squabbling, and also when we had Noel we had absolutely no inkling that we'd get Liam. In fact we didn't get Liam until we were halfway through cutting the film and he just suddenly decided he'd do it thanks to his brother asking on our behalf several times. Noel quite enjoyed doing it so he asked Liam, but he originally said no. Noel has seen the film. He cringed at the number 10 stuff, he didn't enjoy that bit of the film at all but he said that if he did it, he'd do it warts and all.

Q: Did you have any expectations of the bands before you interviewed them and did they live up to them?
JD: I didn't really have that many expectations from any of them apart from Liam I suppose - whether it was going to kick off or not during the interview, which it didn't. He gave me a big hug at the end, which was kind of beautiful. I was quite pleased with Noel because I think people still have a certain image of him. I think he's a very sharp funny guy, which I think comes across in the film.

JB: Having had more experience in having to deal with famous people and superstars etc I actually think I expected them to be much harder to deal with. Once we'd met and heard what we had to say, they all trusted us and I thought they cooperated extremely well. Noel in particular was amazing in his collaboration with us and his willingness.

I just wrote an article about this and I continue to be amazed by the fact that he suggested we film him in Glasgow. He and his manager flew themselves up to Glasgow, spent the day there, did the interview and flew themselves back down, without ever asking the production company to pay the bill. That may sound trivial, but actually for a superstar contributing to a film like this to do anything without asking the production company to lay on lavish arrangements for them is, in my experience, kind of amazing. The key players were basically incredibly cooperative considering, as I said, that when they set themselves up in front of cameras and the media, they more often than not get a savaging.

How much of an agenda did you have going into the film or was it as far as you were concerned totally freewheeling just to see what developed out of the conversations?
JD: Freewheeling I think. Obviously I had certain questions I wanted to ask and you don't get a lot of time either, you literally get an hour or so, apart from Noel who we got a bit longer with. I do think they are quite good interviews, quite honest and open, quite forthright. Most musicians only turn up to talk on camera when they're plugging an album, so in that respect we were quite pleased.

Q: Did you approach any other politicians to be in the film and how did you get Peter Mandelson to agree?
JD:We approached Alistair Campbell who wasn't really up for it. He actually wrote a brilliant piece of music journalism for that issue of New Labour New Britain with Noel Gallagher on the front, it's very in-depth and spot on so we thought he'd be a good person to chat to, but he was busy.

JB: I have a couple of friends who know Peter Mandelson well and I bugged them, sent him emails via my friends over a long period of time and the answer was constantly no, but I wouldn't give up and I eventually went to meet him and he agreed, saying I don't know what you want me to do or why you want me to do it, but I'll do it. Before he had a chance to change his mind in a matter of days we went over and shot it.

Q: Is Live Forever going to be released in America and how do you think it will be received there?
JB: I've got a sales company representing the film globally and hopefully an American distributor will want to pick it up for a cinema release. I know there are already a couple of interested parties, because one of our financiers has been talking to people out at Sundance. But do I think the film will play in America? It's got a chance. If I'm honest I don't think it has a huge chance theatrically, but it's probably got a chance to get a limited release in the States and then play on TV.

Q: As the film was progressing, who made the decisions on what finally would be in the film and how close was that in terms of selection of the final material?
JB: I think one of the great things about producing feature documentaries is that it's extremely collaborative and that's one of the reasons I enjoy doing it as much as I do. Obviously John Dower was the director of the film and I deferred to his opinions and his tastes at various points. For the most part it felt like the kind of collaboration where we rattled things out, to the point at which one of us eventually agreed with the other. I don't remember us having any huge battles.

Q: Did the interviewees have any say over the settings of the interviews & did they balk at any of the selections of where they were interviewed?
JD: Not at all. Perhaps we should have made it clear in the film, as a lot of people actually think that's Noel in his house, but I don't believe he has seventeenth century oil paintings. He suggested Knebworth, but I thought it was quite fitting him sitting on his throne, I quite liked it.

Nobody balked at all, they were quite happy to do as they were told. It wasn't massively important but I didn't want the usual "it's a musician let's plonk them next to a mixing desk in front of a drum set". We tried as much as we could to make them a little evocative and I think Damon's setting, especially with the dartboard, is particularly "Parklife" and Jarvis in that sleazy motel is kind of how he felt after This is Hardcore - he felt a little bit dirty really.

Q: We've seen quite a few feature documentaries over the past couple of years. In as much as it's difficult to get any film made, is it getting easier and how much did having an Oscar help?
JB: I think in the last couple of years the appetite of the audience for feature documentaries had definitely increased. Columbine has done a huge service to us all in that respect. In terms of the Oscar it helps enormously, certainly "One Day in September" was one of the significant contributing factors in everyone agreeing to do this film, because those that we showed the film loved it and believe me we showed it to a lot of people, and an Oscar is an Oscar.

JD: It was quite nice when we finally, finally managed to lure Noel Gallagher into our offices to pitch him the film. Basically he came in and saw the Oscar sitting on the mantelpiece and picked it up and said, "the reason I'm talking to you is because you've got an Oscar, I'm that fucking shallow".

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