Find millimeter on Facebook

Related Articles

 

Winging It

Aug 10, 2009 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman

Davis Guggenheim and team on the improvisational style for It Might Get Loud.


      Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines  

Davis Guggenheim

Davis Guggenheim

After directing Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth and Barack Obama’s official biography film, A Mother’s Promise, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim was plenty used to following famous people around and trying to get them to open up for his camera and microphones. When he came up with a rough concept to make a new film to pay homage to the electric guitar and to do it by spending intimate time with rock stars, however, he soon realized he was entering an entirely different world. For one thing, he had no idea how to structure his story or with whom to tell it, and for another, he desperately wanted to stay away from the traditional rock-documentary concept at all costs.

He did have what he says he thought was an interesting format in mind for the movie now known as It Might Get Loud. It was an idea that percolated out of his mind from a different, failed documentary he investigated a few years ago: an idea to compare and contrast artists’ methods, styles, personalities, and personal histories.

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page
Photo: Alba Tull. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“I’ve never really discussed this, but I tried to raise money about six years ago for a documentary that I pretentiously called Work of Art,” Guggenheim says. “The emphasis was on the work of artists; to put three different types of artists together—perhaps a painter, a novelist, and an actor—and have them talk about their process, and intercut them. I thought that by contrasting them, you might learn about the universality of the artists. I was totally into the idea, but from the beginning, it was a nonstarter. I failed to raise the money or get anyone interested. But when this subject came along, I thought, ‘Let’s see if we can do what I was trying to do then for this one: get three guitarists and put them together and compare them.’ The difference is, I thought there needed to be some kind of an event to build the movie around, to bring them together.”

Guggenheim picked three legendary guitar players from different generations and music styles and put them together: Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and The White Stripes’ Jack White. But even after reaching out to each man and securing their interest, he still had to formulate a methodology for making his film. What he says he most certainly didn’t want was “to map their biographies like a VH1 Behind the Music-type story, where you follow every album, tell vignettes from their rise to fame. The third act is always their crash, the drug overdose or car wreck or whatever. I didn’t want to do that at all.”

Jack White

Jack White
Photo: Alba Tull. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The process

Instead, Guggenheim decided to simply “trust the process,” meaning he would talk to each man in-depth and let those conversations lead him to find pieces of their individual stories relating to their love of the guitar and music that were compelling enough to go out and try to illustrate with newly shot and archival moving images. He later would build pieces of those stories around an unscripted summit meeting between all three of them (they had never formally met prior to the making of the documentary) on a gigantic sound stage on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif.

Guggenheim’s method for launching his process was to first meet with each man and create multitrack audio recordings of their 2-hour-to-4-hour conversations and use those as “the film’s backbone,” according to producer Lesley Chilcott. Those audio interviews gave Guggenheim “a way to find the things the three men had in common, and their differences,” Chilcott says.

The Edge

The Edge
Photo: Alba Tull. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Once the original interviews were done, they served as the foundation for a creative exploration process. Guggenheim and editor Greg Finton began cutting up the interviews as if they were making a radio show and intercutting them with low-resolution YouTube videos. A road map resulted that gave Guggenheim and his team enough guidance to start rolling both film and digital cameras as they set out to tell the three men’s stories (shot mainly with Super 16, with some Super 8 as well) and then bring them together for the summit (shot with Sony F23 cameras onto HDCAM SR tape).

“Davis called me in as soon as he completed the audio interviews, and I’d say that for the first month that I worked on the project as the editor, we had almost no footage of our own whatsoever,” Finton says. “It was the first time in my career where YouTube played a big part in slapping the film together. I would take audio pieces—many of which ended up in the final movie—and find images to put over them. It was a unique way of working, but it let me get the ball rolling and sort of bounce ideas around about how we envisioned the thing once we started getting footage.”

Guggenheim adds that the YouTube angle should not be overlooked. Over the course of time, if vintage footage of one of the three men made it into the early cut, his team would go hunting for the original source footage and rights to that footage, but it was the early, ultra¬low-res YouTube footage that got them moving forward with an actual story. The director says the experience, albeit unintentionally, illustrates a new way of doing documentary research.

“YouTube sort of was our research department; it really changed everything,” Guggenheim says. “We used it also on Inconvenient Truth. It used to be, if you wanted footage, you called a news organization and filed a request for footage with keywords, and four weeks later, you got some of the footage you asked for if you spent a lot of money. Greg and I were making this story come alive ourselves and didn’t want to wait for a researcher, so as we got ideas, we just went on YouTube and found things that were quite remarkable [in terms of archival footage]. There is one clip of Jack White playing an early concert with [bandmate Meg White] in Detroit that was perfect. We found the kid who filmed it several years ago with a tiny videocamera, and he didn’t even know how to license it to us. Many such clips were useful facsimiles as we set out talking to hundreds of sources about footage. Dozens of clips in the movie were originally located on YouTube.”

Share this article




Continue the discussion on Crosstalk the Millimeter Forum.


© 2014 NewBay Media, LLC.

Browse Back Issues
Back to Top