Somehow the hugely amiable Mat Whitecross has found himself the go-to director for films based on or around British music. Impressing with Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll and vibrant Stone Roses flavoured coming of age drama ,Spike Island the 39 year old continues his musical odyssey of the UK with superior Oasis documentary Supersonic, out now on Blu-ray and DVD.
DIY spoke to Whitecross on a crackly phone line about documenting the band’s conquering of the world and asked him the question on everyone’s lips; can he see a reunion on the cards?
How did you first get involved with the project?
I had known Simon Halfon who’s one of the producers. He used to design record sleeves for Oasis and we’d been talking about making a Clash film two years ago and at the time it didn’t work out. Then he emailed me out of the blue just over a year ago and said: “Are you interested in Oasis?” and the way I read it I thought: “They’re getting back together and maybe we’re going on tour with them.” I was thinking it’s either the greatest or worst idea ever. It’s either like a suicide note or it’s gonna be fantastic. But actually he said: “Do you wanna meet Noel? He wants to do something about the past but we don’t know what that is yet so let’s meet and have a chat.” So I met Noel and I met up with the managers, Simon, James [Gay-Rees] and the other producers and we just had a chat and Noel was talking about Knebworth coming up the fact it was 20 years, we started talking about what we could make. He said: “You can come on board and decide what kind of film you wanna make, I’m not gonna tie your hands.” Everything they achieved… they kind of went from nothing, from that first single to signing off the dole to becoming arguably the biggest band in the world in just over two years which is incredible. That’s kind of Beatles’ territory. He was like: “No it wasn’t two years, it was longer than that,” and I was like: “No honestly look at the dates it’s two years.” And he was rolling his eyes and going: “No I’ve been to parties that have lasted longer than that.”
The next question was: “Oasis is more than one person and was anyone else on board?” and Noel was like: “Yeah, yeah, yeah” and actually no one had contacted them at the point [laughs]. So then we had to meet Liam and his manager and they were lovely and kind of understood the process and trusted us.
How did you go about collating the archive footage in the film and then editing it into the finished film?
Yeah it wasn’t easy. I’ve got to say it was more challenging than most projects I’ve worked on I think. First of all it was the pre-mobile phone era, it’s the pre-anything era in terms of people filming it. The way Liam saw it was: “No one really believed in us to bother to film it.” Plus there was lots of naughty stuff going on backstage so every time someone did turn up with a camera they’d kick them out. So that was the initial problem, when I met Liam that first time and he said: “I’d love you to make this film I just don’t know how you can do it because there’s no footage of any of the important events in our lives in those first two or three years.” I was just lying through my teeth and said: “Oh no we’ve got hours of footage it’s going to be amazing!” just to get him on board [laughs]. We started with the collaborators, with the label and the management, all those companies and some stuff came out initially. When we started the interviews which was the first in the process they kept talking about these monumental moments in their lives like Knebworth, the first time they arrived in America, the first time they arrived in Japan…and it became like a catchphrase: “This was the most important thing to ever happen to us at that point but unfortunately it can’t be in the film because there’s no footage.” There were so many moments that happened to be recorded for no reason other than someone was there with a camera and just thought it was interesting, so it wasn’t like planned or paid for by a record label or anything like that. There were things like one of our main producer’s Fiona [Neilson] had to track down the Japanese woman at King Tuts [the Glasgow venue where Creation boss Alan McGee first saw Oasis prompting him to sign them to the label] that night who by pure chance happened to be a fan of one the Creation Records band’s 18 Wheeler - she just turned up and happened to be there when Oasis went on stage and happened to film it just because she had a camera there. That footage shouldn’t really exist, it’s almost like we just got lucky a lot I guess.
At the time you tweeted asking if anyone had footage to share when you started production on the film. Did that yield anything useful?
Yeah there was loads of stuff but it was more photos and that was the only problem for us. I remember back in the day going to gigs and you’d get your camera confiscated before you went in. They were very particular in a way that they can’t be now. There wasn’t so much in the way of video footage but there were certain moments like a moment in the film that I thought was very important close to the end which is in Newcastle and there was this stage invasion where a guy punched Noel in the face and Noel wrapped his guitar around this guy’s neck and Liam punched him in the face with his microphone and it all kicked off and there’s no footage of it. But loads of people had taken photos and we had the audio because Jo Whiley happened to be in the audience. There were moments like that but it was mostly photographs and anecdotes and people posting in pictures of tattoos they’d had done of Liam’s face on their backsides and stuff like that, not that helpful! But some of it was great.
What was your relationship like with the guys when it came to interviewing them and getting those soundbites, did they say anything that surprised you?
The relationship was great, I remember Liam being a little bit comically cagey as he walked in the first time and he was like: “Right who’s going to be the villain then, it’s going to be me or him,” pacing around the room like a caged tiger. But actually once he sat down he was great, there was no area we weren’t allowed to discuss. As far as surprises goes I suppose the main thing wasn’t like a moment that people don’t know, it was more to do with the love that they still express for each other but certainly expressed back then. When we watched back the footage we all remembered all the fights and arguments and friction but actually what is really clear from the footage is the love. So I wanted to make sure that the fights and squabbling, which is really fun and revealing, was balanced. I think they were surprised by that themselves. I sat down separately with Liam and Noel and showed them some of this early footage and you could see they were both quite moved by it in a blokey, Northern, Manchester way.
We get conflicting reports daily about the likelihood of an Oasis reunion, did you get a sense that it may happen someday?
Yeah your guess is as good as mine. I think the interesting thing is Noel has never said they’d never get back together. He always jokes that it would take a filthy amount of money. I think Liam, in his mind, is not to blame for what happened, they were both to blame. It’s not like he wanted the band to split up and in his mind they should still be touring. And with Noel his solo career is going so well why give yourself the aggravation of getting back together? There has to be a good reason. But the one thing he kept talking about was the fans and what the music meant to them. So I think if they’re gonna do it it won’t be for the money, they don’t need the cash, I imagine it will be because they love it. And then the question is can they keep it together long enough to get on the stage without getting in a fist fight. I’d like to think so. For the next couple of years they’re both doing albums so I can’t see it happening overnight. Having met their mum, having met their brother, colleagues and friends it feels like it would be such a shame on a personal level for them never to meet again, never to speak again it’s crazy. I hope they’ll be able to put their differences aside.
You know how a lot of bands never got the chance to do it in the first place, whether it’s the Stone Roses or Sex Pistols, they never got the chance to do it quite on that scale. I think with Oasis they did, so if they do it it’ll be for the right reasons.
What are you working on next?
We’re doing a film about Brian Epstein the Beatles manager. It’s so difficult with a subject as big as the Beatles, something that monolithic to get a handle on it but having seen it through Brian’s eyes really made sense to me. He was an amazing person and like a pioneer. The system was set against him he was gay when it was illegal, he was a drug taker, he was Jewish, he was all these things that meant he couldn’t be part of the establishment and he was desperate for it. He had this friendship with John who was desperate to be an outsider whilst being kind of pushed into the establishment so think it’s a fascinating relationship, that’s hopefully gonna be next. We’ll see, I’ve got a bunch of things lined up.
Supersonic is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from EntertainmentOne.