Monday, October 13, 2008

The Long and Winding Road to LOVE

An interview with ALL TOGETHER NOW director, Adrian Wills

Ordinarily, when two fervent forces embark on a collaboration, the results tend to be frighteningly intense. It seems that it could be either a catastrophe of epic proportions or a symbiotic melding that inspires all who witness it first hand. Given the drastic difference in potential results, most tend to avoid even entertaining the notion. We all know what happens when no risks are ever taken though. Besides, if we never risk the potential disaster, then we may never fall in love.

LOVE is exactly what the Cirque de Soleil found when they joined forces with the Apple company to bring the music of the Beatles to spectacularly new heights. It couldn’t have been an easy process to have too notoriously controlling and immensely huge entities find a way to do business together but find one they did and Adrian Wills was there to watch it all go down. His new documentary, ALL TOGETHER NOW, chronicles the entire experience – from the beautiful finished moments of the popular Vegas show to the ugly moments behind the scenes where it all seemed it would fall apart.

ALL TOGETHER NOW may not be a substitute for seeing the show itself but it is a tender experience for any Beatles fan. As though he weren’t even trying, Wills manages to get some very candid and very intimate moments with people I’m sure he never even dreamed he’d be speaking with – from Paul McCartney to George Martin to Yoko Ono. The closeness Wills fosters makes for a compelling and entertaining backstage look at this phenomenal show and also allows for the most important thing about the show to shine through – the love.

I caught up with Wills on the phone while he was in Montreal, a city he still calls home, promoting the film at the Festival Nouveau Cinema before the film’s American DVD release on October 21.

Joseph Belanger: Congratulations, first of all. The audience ate up your film at yesterday’s screening. You’re no stranger to the Cirque de Soleil but how was the LOVE project different from your previous Cirque work?
Adrian Wills: Thanks a lot. I’m glad to hear that. [Note: Wills could not make the screening as he was ill.] Well, the LOVE project is different in the sense that it was never supposed to be a film to begin with. I was just supposed to come in and shoot some stuff. They thought maybe it would be NBC or BBC that would so something. It wasn’t like, “Hey, Adrian. Here’s this great project. Go to town. We’ll give you all of our support.” It was more like a marathon all the way through. Eventually NBC and the BBC fell out but I had been shooting the whole time. So we just went with it.

JB: And did you have full access to every aspect of the production?
AW: It looks like we had all the time and all the money in the world but it wasn’t the case at all. I think it worked out to maybe 30 shooting days, maybe less. We had to really pick when we would be there. Because I was interviewing all these people myself as well, some of the shooting days would be about getting as many interviews as possible. From the interviews, I knew there was this emotional arch that could run throughout the film so that’s what we tried to set up.

JB: Were you a fan of the Beatles before you started working on this project?
AW: Oh yeah. I’ve been a fan of music for a long time. I was the kind of kid who would listen to radio shows and then tape everything. I have loved music ever since I can remember and the Beatles, I remember reading about them when I was 10 and listening to them all through my life.

JB: The man who staged the LOVE show, Dominic Champagne, describes at one point in ALL TOGETHER NOW that all the location research in London – Abbey Road, Strawberry Fields – was like being on some sort of pilgrimage. What was that experience like for you?
AW: It was like there were two parts of me. There was Adrian, the filmmaker, and then there was this other Adrian that was so taken with how amazing it all was. Then there’s the filmmaker part who reminds you what your job is and what you really want to do while you’re there; you’ve got to make sure you’re getting all the shots necessary to tell the story later. I felt very respectful and privileged to be in that intimate position to be at these places with these people.

JB: You talk about it in the documentary itself I don’t mind asking that, given the reputation Cirque and Apple Corps have for being very controlling parties, did you find that control trickling over into the way your film was coming together.
AW: It’s for sure that if you’re making a film with two huge entities, I can’t sit here and tell you that nobody ever looked at our film during the shoot. What I can say is that for the amount of time we had to shoot this and the amount of material that we got, we had the freedom to make the film without Cirque or Apple looking over our shoulders while we were shooting it. They also weren’t giving me hundreds of days of shooting either so we really had to plan to be there at the right times. So they weren’t telling us what to shoot but they also weren’t letting us be there all the time.

JB: And yet you still got to establish the emotional arch you mentioned earlier.
AW: I wanted it to be as emotional as possible to really get you into the heart of the experiences. I wanted to talk about George [Harrison’s] passing; I wanted to talk about John [Lennon] having passed. I wanted to talk about how people were dealing with these issues as well as the creation of the show. I was looking at the Beatles as a family. They’ve gone through fights. They’ve gone through deaths. They’re linked together by history, by legacy. That was something I thought was really important, interesting. I had not seen them portrayed that way. I had always seen them portrayed as fun guys who had gone through all this crazy stuff. I was lucky enough to find all the human stories behind all this.

JB: You also managed to get some very candid moments with these iconic figures.
AW: It’s like when Paul McCartney told me that he wakes up surprised sometimes and thinks, “Wow, I was in the Beatles.” It was amazing when he told me that but also at a fundamental level, that is really interesting. And then you got the story between George [Martin] and Giles [Martin]; what a gorgeous story. Giles is 36 years old. His father was 36 years old when he signed the Beatles. Now his father is losing his sense of hearing. You’ve got old school and new school working together. In remastering for LOVE, he gets to go through everything that his father has done that made him this legend and now turn it into something new for now. That’s amazing. How many fathers and sons get to go through that kind of experience?

JB: Sounds like you were pretty taken with the emotional elements too?
AW: For sure. Olivia Harrison, this wasn’t a cash grab for her. It was really George Harrison wanting to do something with the music of the Beatles and Cirque de Soleil. They didn’t know what that was yet. There were meetings and lawyers and red tape. It wasn’t even clear that something would happen when George passed. But it was Olivia who came back because this was George’s last wish. It was something he really believed in. For me, the emotion was always where I wanted to go with it. From where I was standing, and I’m the one translates that for the viewers, that’s what I was feeling. For Olivia Harrison to listen to her husband’s song and for George Martin to be playing that song in the studio in what maybe one of the last times. She knows that he won’t be around for a lot longer and that her husband has just passed. These are the moments that we really wanted to show. This is why George Martin says that he knows what their legacy is and what it means, that he lives with it every day.

ALL TOGETHER NOW will be released on DVD in America exclusively through Best Buy on October 21.

Cirque Du Soleil's All Together Now - Long Trailer - The top video clips of the week are here

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