Join Date: Jul 22, 2001
Location: Cincinnati, OH USA
Concert for George-Oscar Worthy?
I round this article in the Hollywood Reporter website. Who knows, maybe this will get nominated. Really great comments about those involved.
Oct. 03, 2003
'Concert for George' is Oscar-worthy doc
By Martin A. Grove
"Concert" conversation: As a rule, documentaries don't play to packed theaters, but Warner Music Group's "Concert for George" just might break that rule.
A moving and memorable Oscar-worthy tribute to George Harrison, "Concert" opens today via independent distributor ArenaPlex in 36 top markets including New York and Los Angeles prior to its Nov. 18 DVD release through Warner Strategic Marketing. The concert, held last Nov. 29 at London's Royal Albert Hall, commemorated the anniversary of Harrison's passing.
After experiencing "Concert's" impact firsthand at its recent premiere on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank -- where Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were among those on hand -- I welcomed the opportunity to focus on its journey to the screen with director David Leland and Jon Kamen, its producer with Ray Cooper and Olivia Harrison, George's widow. "Concert," an @radical.media production, features performances by Harrison's longtime friend Eric Clapton, who is the film's musical director, and such other celebrated rock musicians and Harrison friends as Joe Brown, Jools Holland and Sam Brown, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston and Ringo Starr.
There's also a sequence in "Concert" starring the Monty Pythons (Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Neil Innes, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Carol Cleveland). They're backed up on one particularly amusing number, the "Lumberjack Song," by a chorus of singing Mounties that includes surprise guest Tom Hanks, who's recognizable in the group even wearing a big Mounty hat that covers his forehead and part of his face.
"It was initiated by an old friend of George and Olivia's, Brian Roylance, the publisher of many beautiful books in the U.K. and a very dear friend of the family's and, also, a very close friend of Eric Clapton's," Kamen told me when I asked how the concert came about. "He and Eric wanted to put together some form of memorial concert for George. Brian and Eric approached Olivia and said, 'We'd like to do a concert for George' and Olivia was flattered and wondering exactly what to do. I had been working with Olivia on a variety of other George-related projects. We listened to what their ideas were and it happened that the date they were able to get for the concert was on the anniversary of his passing, a year to the day, as is titled in the film, (at the) Royal Albert Hall (for) one evening. The rules of engagement became such that we decided with them that it would just be friends of George's rather than it becoming just a variety concert of artists. The one requirement (was) that there had to be and needed to be some relationship between George and the artists that were performing.
"As we started planning the concert, itself, it was clear we needed a director on board to not only plan the filming of this concert, which seemed like a logical venue for it, but even (to do) the staging of the concert, itself. In thinking about who might be appropriate, David came up as an ideal candidate because, in fact, David had a history of making 'Traveling Wilburys' videos with George most recently and was also part of the Handmade film troupe in that he had written and directed films for (George's production company) Handmade Films (in the past). Ray Cooper was a lifetime friend of George's and an extraordinary percussionist and also an extraordinary producer who really helped guide this project because of his unique understanding of the subject matter of George and all of the friends and all the people (participating in the concert). Olivia Harrison was quoted in the (London) Evening Standard as (saying), 'The love of George was the glue that held all of this together.' I have to say that part of the glue was also Ray Cooper."
Leland won the BAFTA for best original screenplay for "Wish You Were Here," which he also directed. He was one of several directors sharing an Emmy Award victory for HBO's mini-series "Band of Brothers." Leland also received best original screenplay Golden Globe and Writers Guild of America nominations (shared with Neil Jordan) for writing "Mona Lisa."
With so much material to choose from in terms of the music Harrison had written over the years, how did they go about deciding what to perform during the concert? "I think that happened in the rehearsals," Leland replied. "Eric Clapton was the musical director. Having talked about it and made plans very carefully, he then rehearsed initially with a core band for three weeks because they had to learn all the songs. In the process of learning all the songs (decisions were made) as to who was going to appear, who wanted to appear and who was available to appear. That was an evolution, as well, that was being worked out during the period of the rehearsal. Slowly the songs that were strongest began to emerge through the way in which they first of all learned the songs and then how they began to say, 'Well, it would be good if you sang that and if you sang that and he could do that and we'll do this song in this way.' That was quite a revelation to watch because we also filmed the rehearsals to see how this huge group of people (would work together). There were a lot of egos in there, I suppose, but the way in which the spirit of it guided it, slowly the shape and the form and running order emerged. That was quite an experience, just to watch that happen."
Among the many numbers included in "Concert" are "I Want to Tell You," "Taxman," "Here Comes the Sun," "All Things Must Pass," "My Sweet Lord" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (all composed by Harrison), "Photograph" (composed by Harrison and Richard Starkey) and "I'll See You in My Dreams" (the old standard composed by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn, which makes for a very touching moment performed by Joe Brown at the film's end.
Despite the concert's large cast of superstar rock musicians, they're all clearly having a great time playing together onstage during the film. "They all left their egos out the door a long time before that -- before entering the rehearsal hall," Kamen noted.
"I think a lot of the credit for that has to go to Eric Clapton because of the way in which he worked and engineered the rehearsals," Leland said, "which was very down to earth. He'd walk through the door, take his bag off his shoulder, take his coat off, pick up the instruments and say, 'Right. We'll do this number. And this is the next number. That's the next number.' And Ringo would come in and they'd have a few jokes and then they'd rehearse that number. Lunch. Finish lunch. 'Now we'll do this.' And then he'd look at his watch at 4 o'clock (or) 5 o'clock and say, 'End of rehearsal' and everybody went home. It was like that. But he was so incredibly concentrated. I think he has such an understanding and appreciation of what everybody else can do, what all those other musicians can do. It was an evolution. There were long discussions. But it just evolved."
"Throughout the whole process, Eric truly was a statesman," Kamen added.
Also on stage performing in "Concert" is Harrison's 24-year-old son Dhani, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the way his dad looked during his early Beatles years. " Dhani came to all the rehearsals with guitar in hand to be with, as he states in the film, his friends and family, his uncles and his aunts and all the rest of the people that he had grown up with in his life," Kamen said. "He was in every rehearsal (but) never with the expectation of being onstage. He was there having fun with Eric and the guys and just appreciating all of what they were going to be doing for this special evening. It was Eric's encouragement that he should be onstage with them and that he should be playing with them. Again, the spirit just kind of carried him there. It was unbelievable to all of us to watch Dhani in the initial rehearsals looking around. There's a great bit in some of the extras that will be on the DVD of his experience of being part of this process. He just magnificently participated in the most humble way of being part of it, not wanting to be the star of it, not wanting to do anything other than to be with these guys. As he also said in the film, he couldn't think of any better way to have had to spend that anniversary of his dad's passing. It was a tense moment for all of us. We were all together when George did pass away. Spiritually that's not how they think of it based on George's religion and religious belief. They still feel as if he's here and he's with us. And he is. And he was.
"Dhani played a beautiful role of constantly supporting his mom, constantly supporting his friends and his dad's friends and participating in such a nonassuming way. Just doing the legwork and helping in the tough moments of the production of both the concert or the film in the editing process. Just being there to support all of what Olivia was doing. They worked as such a beautiful family unit together. For me, as a friend of the family to have witnessed that over the last year and a half is such a wonderful thing. Any parent would be proud of that. We know that George is smiling on us for knowing that the two of them have been working together to accomplish this. I'm just so proud of both of them as a friend to have seen and witnessed that and to have had any part of that is quite a privilege in my own life."
Asked about shooting the film, Leland explained, "One of the things that I noticed as the director when watching in rehearsals and also photographing and filming him in rehearsals is that when I looked at other films of Eric Clapton (I saw) that nobody's really photographed this guy (and) nobody's really filmed this guy in the way in which I'm seeing him now. And that was one of the keys to how I decided to shoot the piece as a whole. I thought it was time we really saw on film precisely what this man and the musicians around him can do. That was a guiding principle in the way in which I decided to shoot the film."
Typically concert films show us musicians playing instruments and we see close-ups of fingers strumming guitars or whatever, but in "Concert" what Leland gives us are more meaningful looks between the musicians, a personal feeling we usually don't get to see. "One of the things I said to our camera people was that I've been watching three weeks in rehearsal. I've been watching people at work in the same way that you watch people at work in a car factory or in a workshop. I said, 'I want you to go in there and not photograph a pop concert. I want you to go in there and photograph people at work. I want to see in the end of it all how and what it is that these people (do) when they're working onstage together.' "
"We had a stellar cast of cinematographers capturing that," Kamen said.
"We had 12 cameras in the auditorium -- including three cameras on stage," Leland pointed out. "(Shooting) in the Royal Albert Hall gives you a lot of opportunities for that. We had two other roving backstage cameras, as well."
"The cameras were hidden very much to not disturb the evening, itself," Kamen said. "The audience was barely aware compared to most filmed events of any intrusion of the cameras. It brought a lot to the texture of the piece, as well."
When I observed that I thought it resembled the sort of live television coverage we see of sports events, Leland, who was on the phone from London, said, "I think if you watch American television, the only television that is truly visually interesting is sports, particularly baseball, because they watch the event. We set out to shoot the event. We didn't set out to go and be rock & roll. I told the cameramen, 'If you have a shot that you like, you stay with it because if I like it when I see it in the edit and it's two minutes long I will use it and I won't cut away to anything else.' That's a very different approach to what you would normally find in filming a big stage rock & roll event."
If this had been a concert shot in the U.S. there almost certainly would have been a huge trailer parked outside in front of the auditorium with the director sitting inside staring at banks of monitor screens and calling out directions for specific shots to various cameramen. "We were emphatically against that," Leland told me. "The way this film was cut was like any other film -- in the edit suite. We just had our raw footage and we then set out to cut it."
Asked where he was, himself, as shooting took place, Leland explained, "I didn't have my trailer. We did have a monitor room. I was (able to speak) to all the different cameramen. I was talking to them. If I saw that five of them all had a close-up of Paul McCartney, then I would say, 'Barry, get me this or get me that.' Each one was different. Each cameraman was different so I found I could talk to different ones in different ways. At a certain point, I left that room and went to the side of the stage and talked to the cameras that were onstage and also shot some stuff myself that's in the film. There's a shot of Tom Petty and people coming off. I went in there to do something and I carried a camera all the while. If I saw something, I shot it."
Looking back at that night, Leland said, "It was such an extraordinary special evening. I feel very pleased that in the way in which we shot it and the way in which it has all come out we preserved the essential spirit of that evening and it's there for people to see. I think that's great when you do that. I've been at concerts where I thought, 'That was pretty good' and then I've seen the video and the broadcasts and I'd think, 'They didn't get any of it. That wasn't what I experienced.' It's quite hard to do. I think we did it. I think we caught the evening."
"When Eric said (onstage) that, 'This was an opportunity for us to share our love for George,' it wasn't only including the musicians," Kamen observed. "(It also included) all of us who had everything and anything to do with the production of the concert and the film. In this past year in which we've been working on finishing it, the spirit of George and all of our love for him has been the thing that's just guided us."
"I knew George pretty well during a particular period of time and I could hear him jabbering away in my head (telling me) when I was getting it wrong and when I was getting it right," Leland said with a smile. "He was right there on my shoulder putting me straight because I could hear him."
In arranging the distribution of "Concert," Kamen pointed out, "We were consistent with the theme. We looked for friends of George's that would be there for us in terms of coordinating the distribution of the film. And that's where Warners and John Beug came along. John Beug was a friend of George's for 30 years and a good friend of Olivia and the family. While there were some other options, it just consistently seemed logical to stick with John and work with Warners in a fairly unorthodox fashion. John Beug is with Warners' Strategic Marketing Group, the filmed concert side of the Warner Music Group. He's a veteran of Warner Music and a sweet friend of all of ours. A very close family friend. We've all been close family friends and I think that's part of the labor of love that has gone into the crafting of this film."
While the event, itself, was a concert, Kamen said, "I always knew and thought that we had a film. There were (those who were) perhaps a little less sure, but I knew the components of this event and the efforts that were going into it were enough to give us the elements (for) making a strong film. Ray Cooper was always there supporting me, working out of our London office. Ray and I worked together at (the production company) Radical out of the London office. I'm based in New York. Ray is in London. Ray was the constant guiding hand, having had the history of producing and filmmaking with George and, beyond that, music making with George, as well. He's the wonderful bald-headed percussionist in (the film in) the left hand corner of the stage playing everything he can bang his hands on. Ray was, perhaps, one of George's dearest friends and a close friend of the family and, in fact, many, many years ago through my brother introduced me to George. Ray, having had both the musical background and the respect of the musicians, as well as his producing background, having all those years with George at Handmade Films, knew the tradition and the spirit in which George would have wanted to produce something like this and the taste level. Ray has impeccable taste and understands every nuance and aspect of George's life and his relationships with all of these other artists.
"Olivia seriously earned her producer's badge. That wasn't just a passing compliment in giving her that title. She worked feverishly ever since the inception of this concert in making sure it was perfect for George. Right up to the flower petals on the purple carpet (at the premiere). Olivia just amazes me (with) her attention to detail and her intricate understanding of George's music and the history of knowing what it was he would have loved. That was always the deciding factor. That was constantly the rule of thumb in moving forward with this. She supported the project whole heartedly. She gave us the ability to do it. If it hadn't been for her support, it wouldn't have gotten accomplished this way. It would have, perhaps, ended up as a television special someplace. But she believed in what we were doing and she cared for it and trusted both myself and Ray and David to deliver a product with the taste and the respect that we all wanted and wished for. She played a huge role in that."
Kamen also applauds the contributions to the film of Jeff Lynne, who performs such songs as "I Want To tell You, " Inner Light" and "Give Me Love" and produced the concert audio. "Jeff and Dhani (Harrison) had collaborated on the release of 'Brainwashed' and probably spent a good six months working on that together and preparing for that release and then went right to work on planning for the concert. In the post (production) recording of the concert, Jeff Lynne produced the tracks along with (concert recording supervisor) Ryan Ulyate. They haven't stopped for a day, themselves, since the night of the concert. We've been mixing this film and fulfilling all of its requirements for release literally from the day after (the concert) until (the premiere in late September). Let's not kid ourselves. The music, itself, and the sound and the production of that music plays a huge role in the success of the film. The mix and the way in which it was mixed and the love and care that was given to the mix belongs to Jeff, who equally played a huge role in being part of that glue to bonded all of us together. Jeff's engineer Ryan extended that love and enthusiasm and passion for the project to the extent that it is flawless from a sound point of view."
The film's editor Claire Ferguson, another key contributor to its success, Kamen said, "was involved in preproduction in understanding what it was we were attempting to capture in the essence of this piece. On the night of, she was right at David's side watching and taking her notes and collecting her own experience from the event. But she's also been in an edit room since December first of last year in assembling this in a fairly traditional film editorial fashion versus a live edit of a concert. There wasn't a live edit. There wasn't a pre-edit. It was assembled in a traditional format. Claire ensconced herself in the material. She became so familiar with every beautiful little moment. She worked closely with Ray Cooper and Olivia and David in capturing every moment of that. She was so involved in the shaping of the emotion of the piece with David and ourselves. She just made an enormous contribution and she never allowed for a single beat to miss.
"You know, it may seem like there were a lot of cameras but (that wasn't so) with only 12 and with those 12 being very limited because Eric's one request, and a fair one, was that he didn't want the cameras to in any way interfere with the evening, itself. Those cameras were very hidden and quite unobtrusive. They in some ways contributed to the sensibility and the perspective of being part of the audience and in another way it was very difficult for us at times in terms of coverage. But Claire just milked every frame. She just knew every piece of material and she knew exactly how she could utilize them and never for once let anything slip. There was such purity in the cuts. There was no cheating. We wouldn't allow ourselves to do that. She deserves so much credit for her compassion for the project and her understanding of Olivia's concerns and Olivia's desire of creating a very equal balance of material and making sure (everything worked well) for the film. The concert was 2 hours and 40-something minutes. One of our biggest tasks was editing it down to an hour and 48 minute release. The DVD will have both the theatrical release and the full concert. But for Claire and for all of us to have to make those very tough decisions (as to) how will we condense this evening, this magical moment in all of our lives, into an hour and 45 minutes. And Claire made a wonderful contribution to that end."
You can't tell looking at it, but "Concert" wasn't shot on film. "It was shot digitally," Kamen said. "It was shot in HD. That was an HD projection (at the premiere on the Warner Bros. lot). That was a digital projection. It will be released on film and digitally. For (the premiere) we chose to go with a digital projection because Warners has such an outstanding system you aren't even aware of it. We used it to facilitate the lack of cameras, being only 12, and the length of run time that we would get in each camera. Even though it was a very crude set up that we had in a 'closet' in the wings in Albert Hall, it did give us some monitoring of what we were capturing on the night of. So there was an advantage (using tape). I had had some experience with some other films we were involved in and knew confidently that we could give it a great look if we were to master it in HD. We did it lovingly and accomplished our goal."
As for the upcoming DVD edition of "Concert," he pointed out, "It will be a two-disc DVD. It will be (in addition to the theatrical film version of the event) the full concert from beginning to end, which is quite a different experience from the theatrical release. There will be a library of extras from an archive of wonderful additional interviews with many of the other artists that we couldn't fit into the film or it would have made it too many talking heads. It was a conscious decision on our part to limit that to the overall story arc. (There will be on the DVD) some other beautiful materials (such as) photography of George and some other captured moments of the rehearsals. They're just some great extras on the DVD. It's going to be a treasure trove."
Martin Grove is seen Mondays at 9 a.m., 5 and 8 p.m., PT on CNNfn's "The Biz" and is heard weekdays at 1:55 p.m. on KNX 1070 AM in Los Angeles.