JULIEN TEMPLE in conversation
[Cath Le Couteur] Shooters, we are really, really thrilled to have Julien Temple's film The Future is Unwritten: Joe Strummer on tonight. Thank you all very much for coming. As you know we will be starting the Q/A first since Julien has to run off and do the Jools Holland show and then we will screen the film at 7.30. We also have 12 copies of the soundtrack to give away to Shooters, thanks to Vertigo. Ok, Julien’s here – it’s a wonderful film - please welcome him!
[Jess Search] Because people haven’t seen the film yet, we can talk a bit more generally about the film making and your journey to get here which seems kind of appropriate. You have made a biographical film and so it seems fair to do a bit of your biography as well as an introduction to it. And I want to start right back at the beginning. You were at the NFTS in the 70s I believe.
[Julien Temple] Yeah it was a different planet then, but it was in the same place
Because I am sure there are people here who also attended the film school and I wandered what sort of vibe it was then.
Oh it was totally unstructured and there were people who stayed there for 10 years
People were there for 10 years?
People just didn't leave! It was run by this wonderful guy called Colin Young at the time, and he was very documentary orientated actually. There was no sense of structure to the course, which was great and you really could do whatever you wanted. I didn't really go into the building that much but I had a key cut to the camera room and we were actually making some of the Clash film that you will see tonight. The black and white footage from '76 was filmed with the film school equipment. As long the equipment was back by breakfast time, it was fine. You know there is that thing that you can only really learn by doing something and so you can sit in a lot of classes but actually if you are out there doing it it’s better.
I remember David Puttnam actually came once and said, write the title of the film you would like to see made and put it in this hat and I will pull it out and tell you how you get it made.
He was a magician I didn’t realise!
Yeah he is really. And so the first one he pulled out was the story of the Sex Pistols that someone had written. We were actually illicitly making it at the very same time. He did this big speech about how this film will never be made and that this group are revolting and disgusting etc. And we were actually making this film while he was talking about it! Then a couple of years later when we finally finished it we had a screening in one of those little theatres in Wardour Street and there was this guy clapping along and singing along, I looked around and it was David Puttnam - It just goes to show!
You first film, your first big successful film must have come quite quickly after film school or at film school because you were only 27 yrs old when The Great Rock And Roll Swindle came out
Yeah I made it while I was at school - it was my graduation film
It was your graduation film?!
And so that must have gone to your head surely because there you are at film school…
Well I couldn't get another job afterwards and so it didn't go that much to my head! You have to remember those were the days when if you wanted to make a film you were expected to wait until you were 60 or something to get to do it. So the idea of doing another film straight after wasn't as simple as it might seem.
What made you make a documentary as the first film that you did? Obviously your career has covered film and music video but also a lot of fiction based work as well, and it sounds like you didn't set out to be a documentary filmmaker. You just happened to make a documentary film first and then made other films later, or was there a plan?
Well I just knew I wanted to film the Sex Pistols but I didn't really think about whether it was a documentary. It did have a fictional element and it wasn't really a documentary in the normal sense of the word. I was just really drawn to that moment in time and just stopped doing whatever else I was doing to try and film that.
It seems that with that film and with most of your films it starts with the music
Not all the films but you know I certainly can't deny that I like music and I think the combination of music and film is a fantastic thing. But I like using music to observe other things through the music. I don't like looking at music on its own particularly. Shots of fingers on guitars - I don't do that much!
Music is always very much representative of its time isn’t it?
The best music does sing about the culture it comes from and talks about the lives of the people in that culture, and that is the kind of music that has always interested me.
So to interlace the film that you’ve made, with the time back then - you actually met Joe Strummer around that time, is that right?
Yeah, I was filming the Sex Pistols and I saw The Clash and I felt equally strongly about how they were each powerful as a voice. We snuck them into the Beaconsfield studio on the Sunday night when we knew the gatekeeper would be down at the pub and we snuck the van in. The first time The Clash recorded anything (which is at the beginning of this film) was in the old bizarre art deco Beaconsfield movie sound studio with ancient 1930s machinery and stuff. So I did work quite intensely with them for a while at that point. But then if you were involved with The Pistols you had to kind of make a choice between the two because you were in one camp or another.
So there was then a long interval where you did many other things and then ended up returning to The Clash. Did you look at material you had amassed back then and think, this is a project I started out and never completed?
No I never thought about it again really. I didn't know Joe for 25 years, I just knew him quite intensely for 3 or 4 months in that early punk moment. It was actually Amanda (Temple) who produced the film with Alan Moloney, (who is here tonight,) who said to me one day, my best friend from school is coming down to stay in Somerset, (this is where my dad is from), with her new boyfriend. So through the roses and honeysuckle over the garden gate comes Joe Strummer, the last person I thought would be this boyfriend! I was trying to make a hot air balloon with my kids and really not doing a very good job and Joe said come on lets get stuck in, we can get this thing flying. He was a very hands on kind of guy but it took us all night, he and I stayed up all night making this thing. We finally got it ready to go and so we woke up the kids at dawn and we got it flying and it gloriously caught on fire and actually became a fireball! Joe was saying I want to live here, I want to live here and he bought a farm down there.
What year was that?
About '96 I think. And so I then became friendly with him. He had very intense friendships in lots of different places but there weren’t that many kindred spirits down in the cream tea land part of his life and so I did spend quite a lot of time with him when he was there in Somerset.
Did you discuss making your film with him then?
No way! No, the idea of filming him at that point would have been absurd. I thought he would go on forever anyway, it was very shocking when he died because he just didn't seem the kind of person who would die then. So I had no idea I would make a film about him and no ambition to make a film about The Clash really until I spent 7 or 8 years very close to him and sharing this kind of shock and disorientation that I think a lot of people that knew Joe very well felt. It went on for quite a long time and it was quite hard to get over and we did a kind of spinal tap thing. We built a stone circle in his garden because he loved stone circles and the whole Bronze Age. He was very into that and the stars, and the whole campfire thing. So we did this in the old Druid style by rolling the stones on logs and trying to lever them up. This was in February in the mud and the rain and the snow and after about 6 weeks, lots of different friends came from all over the world to do this thing and we realised we had only got about three stones in place after about 6 weeks and it was supposed to be 12! So we said fuck it, lets get the diggers in that's what Joe would have done and we got the diggers in and in an afternoon we got the other 9 stones in place. It was the kind of combination I think Joe would have liked. But that was all we did and we couldn't in a sense, get on with our lives somehow and there was no closure to it. So the film came out of that idea - of getting the people together who knew him to just pass on a bit of what he was about, not just as the front man of The Clash but the whole life of this extraordinary man.
The audience haven’t seen it yet but for me it’s an incredibly personal film which feels like it’s really a film about friendship more than it is a film about The Clash or even in a way about Joe. It feels like the message in the film is about how one person can affect other people's lives.
Yes it is very much about that, and to make a film about a friend is something that I haven't done before and I don't think I will do again actually.
Do you think that it feels like a very different film to other things you have made, because it certainly felt that way to me…
Well I hope they are all different because I hate the idea of doing the same thing twice!
Sure but nonetheless it feels like it’s almost a film about yourself as well
Well in some ways there couldn’t not be the ghostly presence because I was born in the same year as Joe and so I made some of the same moves just because we were growing up at the same time in the mid 60s. If you were not into The Stones and The Kinks I don't know what you were doing really. But then again later in the 60s the festival thing, the squatting thing in the early 70s and then the big punk thing, we did share those things from very different perspectives I'm sure. But I did understand the time in my own way as well as trying to show how Joe was impacted by everything and went onto to impact our times as well.
You said you wouldn't necessarily seek to make a film as intimate as that again about somebody close to you. Can you talk a bit more about how that felt and what those challenges were. Did that make it a difficult film to do interviews for, a difficult film to cut?
I did feel a certain allegiance to the people who knew him and the people who were talking about him. I wanted the feeling that we were doing it together but then in the end you have to go off and edit it and so they are not involved in every step of the way. I did think about what might they think about the way I was portraying them. In particular I did think in my own head about what Joe would have thought, which wasn’t much use because there was never going to be an answer to that. I don’t think you can avoid doing that if you know someone very well and you are putting something together that is probably going to be seen by a lot of people in the future and you are creating a kind of legacy of him. So you have a responsibility to your friendship and your love of someone that is very important. But on the other hand I didn't want to make a kind of fan film that just made him perfect because I know he would have hated that. It was the flaws that Joe Strummer not only admitted to, but used as a kind of creative tool which made him that special. Most people in his position try to hide them and the contradiction is tucked away and got rid of and Joe really didn't do that - he really confronted them and made these contradictions the source of his creative engine.
It does feel a very loving film
Good because love is a strong thing
People will understand the significance of the campfire and the stone circle that you talked about when they see the film because it is a very strong element in the film. I am curious about how you approached piecing all the elements together…you have got the story of the man's life, you have got the interviews with his friends, you have got an enormous amount of archive footage and then at what stage did you find the form of the film? Was it in your mind from the beginning or was it in the edit that it took its shape?
Well I had two ideas - firstly the idea of the campfire, which was such a big idea of Joe’s at the end of his life. I totally hate the idea of wrinkly rock stars in armchairs yapping away and had to do anything to get rid of that talking head curse. The idea that I had spent many nights watching people talk around the campfire with Joe and sometimes it’s just the play of light on their face, the way they lose themselves in the flames and the way the fire is a great equaliser in that you can have a car thief sitting next to a duchess and they would be having a great old time in a way that they never would have been able to in any other situation. Those things made me think that around a campfire is a good place to do these interviews, and to try and get some mystery and cinematic edge to them. Joe was a great storyteller and it is a story telling film with people telling those stories about Joe. You have to have the right context for that and so I had the idea that I wanted to DJ his life as much as narrate it. He did this wonderful radio show for The World Service in the years that I knew him and he loved doing it and playing this amazing array of music and so those are the two things. But beyond that, I think the less you know what you are going to do the better really.
At what stage did you decide to do the animations and how were they done? Were they based on his drawings, were they animated from drawings?
Well my friend and the guy who works with me sometimes in my garden, is a gardener and is also an animator, so when it rained he did the animation and when it was sunny he dug! He is called Tim Standard and he is a very good animator. It’s funny that when we went into Joe’s barn we found endless plastic carrier bags jammed full of everything he had ever scribbled, every doodle he did from all these periods of his life in there. We found these things that gave another dimension to looking at Joe. It is strange for someone like him who was such a nomadic person and someone who shut off compartments of his life and moved on to reinvent himself completely as something else, and left the people he knew behind in quite a brutal way I think – to find all this material from his entire life had actually been stored. He was a very visual person who studied art and he could have been a cartoonist. So that was the reason for the animation and it was just another way of looking at this creativity really.
I am also curious about the editing process. It seems to me that obviously with fiction projects there is usually (but not always) a script which exists at the beginning of an edit. But it seems to me with documentary work there is much more work to be done in the edit because really the film has got to be found. So I wondered how many weeks you were editing the film? I noticed that you used three editors, and I wondered if you carved the film up into different parts for them or how you managed that process?
I think that editing is the heart of any film really and it is the editing process that makes a film what it can be. There is a sense that with a fiction film you are denied the real full power of an edit because you are working to a script with marked up shots where such and such is supposed to go here and there, and you are just putting together a jigsaw, and joining up the dots really, as it is all laid out. Obviously you can play around with that but you have got a structure imposed on you. Certainly with a film like this the edit becomes the work really, and the filming of it is kind of irrelevant.
Did you edit it down in Somerset where you live?
Yeah in a barn with three editors going mad surrounded by loads of cows. They were used to The Sex Pistols and all sorts of things these cows and so for them it was ok. But the editors were another thing! It was very intense because you are trying to work it out every day and you don't know what you are doing and you have got to find it. It’s intense. I find that it’s quite depressing to begin with because you really are in a jungle of a film … You see something in the distance and you can get really thrown and depressed which I certainly did on this and the Glastonbury film, you know seriously depressed like mentally ill.
During the edit?
Yeah I don't know whether that's a midlife thing or whether that's good or bad but it’s not good when you are actually in it because you don't think you are going to get out of it. Then when you start to find things which are working and ways of saying things, a kind of grammar or a syntax of something that really suits the subject, and really works with the subject, when you start finding that then it becomes incredibly exciting and it’s like a rush of improvised work. So once it worked, that was fantastic.
So does that mean you were in that cowshed for months and months and were all three editors working simultaneously?
Well at times we got them to do shifts but yeah a lot of the time there were three or four guys going pretty mad in this little barn. It’s got a nice view but you are not really interested in the view after a certain amount of time! They were all really good editors and I had a really good crew. You can't make a film like this without really good people working with you. The researcher Sam Dwyer was a very key part of it, she was great.
Was that archive?
From the archive yeah and my wife was a big part of it…
That must have been a full time job on a film like this just to make sure that you knew what was out there…
Yeah she was fantastic. My wife produced it with Alan (Moloney) and she kind of kept us on track and was a very good creative influence as well. So we did it very much together.
Has David Puttnam seen this film?
Not yet, not that I know of.
Do people have questions? We only have a limited amount of time with Julien because he is off to film with Jools Holland…
[Member of the audience] Yes I've also seen the film I loved the campfire scenes that you created around the interviews. It made me really want to know more about what it was like on set, as it were, around the campfires, how long you were there for and how you directed those.
Well we kept doing them, they were great fun and they are quite bacchanalian events so you can't help it. We had a dry run and we thought we would do the first one in February in the middle of a blizzard actually! We had all the Mancunian guys that Joe knew down for that one. Somehow I think they put mushrooms in the tea and so we were in this blizzard and the cameraman was lying down pretending he was having the flu or something and he was actually out of it on mushrooms and so we learnt a lot from that one! But you know it was always about getting to the club dawn moment. Joe used to say, “you and me at club dawn” and you would have to go through this ordeal by the fire. There is a kind of quest to those fires and there is a kind of wisdom to be found at the end of the campfire, and I approached these interviews in the same way. It was a lot of fun and we had a great time but I was talking for maybe 12 hours to people each time we did it and so it was quite exhausting in a way, but it was great. I recommend it as an interview situation.
The title The Future is Unwritten is that from some recently unearthed lyrics?
No, that was from one of Joe’s doodles that he did actually use on one of the album’s artwork, I think it was Combat Rock. But we found the original of it in one of the plastic bags. I just liked the title because I think Joe is someone who can hand something on that is still useful not just to be copied, but to be used by people in their own way - so it’s their future. But some of the lessons his life can show us I think are very vital, more vital than even when he first stood up and proposed them. I think he was a great defender of the freedom of speech. He really believed that you should stand up and say what you feel, and you should make a difference. Not necessarily in a conventional political party type of way, but in terms of the way you live your life and the way you interact with other people. That is often seen as a very small thing but Joe shows you in fact that it can be a very big thing. So the idea was that this is a challenge to people - to take up some of Joe’s ideas and use them in their own way.
How did you approach this film differently to the way you approached The Filth and the Fury your last Sex Pistols film?
Well, I saw this film as being very much about 50 years of a person’s life, rather than the Sex Pistols film which was about 18 months of a period of time in history. Also the Sex Pistols film was about four, five or six people, a number of characters bouncing off each other in a very intense moment in history. Then the fallout of that on all their lives and all our lives as well, actually. The film with Joe is about a man living through 50 years and trying to explain hopefully, a little bit of the different worlds that had something to do with creating the way he felt about things. Then also looking at the way he managed to have an effect on the world he inhabited. So it was a much more emotionally engaging process really. I mean I loved the Sex Pistols and I loved The Filth and the Fury but the difference I think, is you have a journey that has more of a fictional type of structure and it’s very forthright as a man's life. I didn't want to chop it up and mess around time wise with it as I didn’t really see the point of that. Hopefully it is a social history as well. I think The Filth and the Fury is too, but it is about one intense moment really. In that film I was trying just to be in that moment, whereas in this one I would like the audience to travel through a much longer period of time.
Other questions? Can you tell us what you are going to be doing next? It seems like most of your projects are very self-generated is that right or do people come to you with projects?
Yes, my projects have been mainly self-generated, no one has asked me to do anything. Some people have asked me to do an opera in Sydney so I am going to do that in the summer. But yeah I've got other movies I would like to make. As I was saying to you earlier I don't really think of these as documentaries particularly, and what is really important to me is that they are conceived as cinema.
What do you think the difference is between cinema and television?
Good television is shooting bullets out of the screen at some guy lying on a sofa or a girl lying on a sofa and trying to wake them up blasting the things. Whereas I think a movie is flying you out of your seat into the screen and a more noble thing to do. That's what my videos were about, I do lots of videos as well.
One more question before we release him!
It’s about your Glastonbury film. What is your opinion about the path the Glastonbury Festival has gone throughout the years, you have made a film about it, and now it seems a more and more corporate thing?
Well I saw it as a mirror for the outside world, without having to have men landing on the moon and things like that. I think within the Festival you can see the way the world is changing in a larger context reflected in that event, that did at least try and stay true to its origins in some ways. In other ways it was forced to adopt the methodology of the outside world culminating in this fence. You know its like Iraq going on outside of that fence and there is peace and love inside of the fence. I think they have tried to sort that out as well but you know the security you hire is probably directly back from Iraq and so they are all freaked out and want to kill people, you know what can you do?!
I think we have to let you go to the next appointment. Julien thank you for coming and we wish you every success with the film.
Thank you. [WHISTLES/CHEERS]