Interview: Director Chris Rule talks The Who in Hyde Park

Ahead of its release in cinemas tomorrow, Chris Rule offers up his thoughts on shooting the iconic band for the big screen.

On 26th June 2015 The Who played an enormous sold out gig at Hyde Park in front of 65,000 devoted fans. Captured on film by director Chris Rule, the 50th Anniversary show is released for one day only in cinemas worldwide on Wednesday 7th October.

With a setlist spanning the band’s 50 year career including the likes of ‘Baba O’Riley’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and many more there are interviews with band members Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey as well as Johnny Marr, Paul Weller and Iggy Pop interwoven with the concert footage.

DIY spoke with Chris Rule about the challenge of filming outdoors, collaborating with the band on the visuals for the show and just why The Who are the perfect band to see perform on the big screen.

Are you nervous of the film being shown in cinemas? Does that add pressure to make it cinematic?
It was shot for that purpose really. It’s quite exciting to be honest with you, it’s the best way to see it.

Is it difficult to keep people interested in concert films?
I think it’s very difficult. In fact I don’t normally watch them and there’s a reason for that, it’s because they don’t translate well. I don’t think the energy of a live performance translates that well onto a film. It’s all about how you feel about the music and being within the crowd who are all equally enjoying it. That’s 90% of the live experience. It was very important to me that we tried to capture that.

When it comes down to a band like The Who - who are so brilliant live anyway - they’re an authentic band, they’re not masquerading as a parody of their former selves. They’ve a genuine, heartfelt belief in what they’re doing and it warranted it. I didn’t want to do it unless I could do something which gave a bit more depth, a bit more cultural context in who they’ve influenced and how their music is important. For a band like The Who you can watch the gig from start to finish but it was more about, for me, creating a document for who they are now with this, potentially, being their last major world tour. Perhaps.

You interviewed Johnny Marr and Paul Weller who both played on the day at Hyde Park but also Iggy Pop speaks about the band and their influence. How did he become involved?
Iggy’s a big Who fan and he was the one, for me, who was the most important because at the end of the film we’ve got Iggy doing ‘My Generation and he’d done that as a tribute to the band prior to the film and I’d been lucky enough to see it as it had been shown at a Teenage Cancer Trust gig. I saw that and thought it was just amazing because it was Iggy being himself, brilliantly himself and putting a spin on the song which I thought was great. I thought: “Let’s see if he’ll let us use it.” And then you kind of push it a bit and say: “Can you do us a bit to camera?”

Iggy was great, he had it filmed himself, we sent a few questions and asked if he minded answering them for us. The more candid it was the better which is why we didn’t have a film crew go out there, I wanted it to be very much under his control because I wanted it to be honest and didn’t want it to be contrived in any way. It came out brilliantly, he’s the star of it from an interview point of view.

You’ve directed the band before with their 2013 Quadrophenia show at Wembley Arena. That has a very particular narrative as you’re following a story but this is, essentially a more straightforward gig. How does your approach to filming differ?
Quadrophenia was constructed in a much more cinematic way in a sense that I was planning and choreographing cameras for that as much as I possibly could. I knew the set, I knew which songs were to clip and which weren’t and I knew exactly the visuals because I worked on them. And that was within an enclosed, dark environment so Tom Kenny, the lighting designer, can control the lights and make it theatrical and it was a theatrical show. This one is a big live gig which was going from a shit, flat day - which was a bit of a disappointment but hey ho - through to the night and it was going to have that natural arc to it, you can’t control so many things so it was a bit more shooting from the hip. I still tried to control it in sense of being really particular with the camera plot, making sure that I was going to get the most dynamic kind of camera angles. I still wanted it to feel like you were there, on stage and within the crowd. I didn’t want it just to be: “Oh it will come together in the edit”, that’s not ever my approach. I spoke with Roger in advance, we sat together and partly did the set list, not that I had influence over that at all [laughs]. But he spoke to me about what his preferred set list would be, that gave me an anchor to design how the cameras were gonna be. But then you pretty much have to let that go because then you speak to AEG and they say: “You can’t have the camera there, you can’t have a camera there, what do you mean you want to do that?” and ultimately what they gave me is what we ended up with.

The British Summer Time set restricts you and because of health and safety in the pit you can’t have the cameras floating around so we were kind of hemmed in behind one of the trees and, of course, budget restrictions and all these types of things on these live shows are a bit of a nightmare. But we managed it. Brett Turnbull was the DOP and he did the Stones at Hyde Park and has done multiple big shows and he’s fabulous, his wealth of experience and my more photographic eye came together quite neatly. Naturally it’s a bag of compromise but so long as you get the shots that you need…

How closely do you have to work with the live director?
On this shoot we did share a couple of cameras. You have to be quite careful because obviously on stage you’ve got limited space and Roger and Pete don’t like their eye-line interfered with. You’re sharing positions and also nobody wants cameras in the back of shot all the time, you can’t get around it but it is a compromise. I know the tour quite well because we did all the visuals for the tour so we kind of contributed to the visual aspect of the show.

So you must have a good working relationship with the band by now?
I would say so. They’re very different as people obviously. That creative tension between them is very obvious and that’s where a lot of the great stuff comes from. But I think even now it’s still there but they’ve got a lot more understanding now. As people Roger’s the easier person to have a chat with. I’ve only met Pete a few times, he has a very busy schedule because he’s doing so much stuff all the time - he did the live Quadrophenia concert at the Albert Hall - he never stops. Roger’s very busy as well with all of his other things but because I’ve known him for ages and the Teenage Cancer Trust stuff I’ve been involved with on and off, not particularly heavily, but I’ve done some work with them. He’s an easy guy to know. But they do care enormously about how things look and sound.

Clearly this isn’t a simple case of pointing and shooting, Roger and Pete are involved and have to sign off on it…
They do have to sign off on it. This one was easier than Quadrophenia because that was very much Roger’s visual re-interpretation and so he was all over that, I had sit through him with edits…

Is that helpful to a director?
Yeah. Roger’s an incredibly visual person, he doesn’t get the credit for that. I think that’s why they did all of The Who film stuff is because he was driving that. He understands the medium really well. He understands editing and editing is rhythmical so he knows what he wants.

Speaking of editing you must’ve had an enormous amount of footage to go through. How many cameras did you use?
We had I think 13 main cameras. Then we had a couple in the crowd, we had a couple roaming around doing interviews backstage, then there’s a few discrete things like a GoPro on Pete’s effects pedal rack etc. So it was a whole bag of different formats. It’s such a big venue and that’s a real difficulty because you have to use broadcast cameras from back there because you can’t get the long lenses to be stable enough on film cameras. So we had nice cameras up front, broadcast cameras right at the back and then whatever else we could afford really.

Editing was a process of those guys that edit live stuff, they do it day-in, day-out and it was a really interesting process because they get all of the footage and they cut it as if it were a live show and you go back in and refine it. I had to go back and refine and refine and refine because they had a different aesthetic. They’re brilliant the guys that did it but their aesthetic is much punchier but this band in particular are performing and we want to see them perform: “I don’t want an edit there, we don’t need to go to a crowd shot here, stay on Roger.”

I really dislike excessive crowd shots and was thrilled that you focused on the performance rather than some sweaty guy or the obligatory girl on her boyfriend’s shoulders in the audience…
It’s interesting you say that because I felt like I put too much crowd in! I always think the band is the most interesting thing. In this case realistically the crowd had been there all day and they were pissed up; most of them anyway. They weren’t the best looking bunch and I don’t mean that aesthetically, I mean they were tired!

It’s a concert film and so you need the sound to be top notch. Is it The Who’s guys that you use for the sound?
Gareth Johnson, who does the mix works with Bobby Pridden who is The Who’s sound guy of old, they work in tandem now. Gareth gets all the stems and away he goes. There’s no over-dubbing going on, there’s none of that, it’s all from the live event. Gareth I think did his first work with The Who at the Olympics, that was a great performance and it really sounded fantastic. He’s been coming in and helping out every time they do something of this nature and Bobby, obviously gets final sign off. Bobby’s their man and always has been. I think it sounds amazing, it came out really well, they haven’t mixed the crowd up too high but I think you get a good sense of what it was like to be there. Although I wish I had been there, I was backstage!

You were fortunate with some stunning pink skies, you can’t plan for these things, is it a gift when things like that happen?
I was grateful for that. It could’ve been pissing it down.

Would you have recorded regardless?
It was always gonna happen. There’s no way you can get out of it by the time you get there with that amount of crew and the planning was months long. It’s a one off gig, they weren’t doing two nights like the Stones. That was the difference, the Stones did two nights and they shot both those nights and they were lucky they had consecutive weekends which was the same weather. They must’ve had a shit load of footage! I was quite grateful for the fact it wasn’t exactly the same weather that the Stones had because I think everybody wanted it not to be The Who: Sweet Summer Sun you know? We wanted it to have it’s own identity and Roger said to me that he hopes it rains. He didn’t mean that to dampen the spirits it was just so it had a bit more atmosphere.

Who’s idea was it to mix the interviews in with the concert footage rather than just shove them on at the start or the end of the film?
That was me because from the very beginning it felt like Roger and Pete were the focus, the most important people there. We’d gone to great lengths with Quadrophenia to reunite the original four band members but in this one it was about them and their 50th anniversary and their now relationship. So I just wanted them to be ever present, even though you see them on stage I wanted their new kind of relationship to be felt throughout the film. I didn’t want to interrupt the flow, that’s why it’s slightly loaded towards the front as the gigs getting going and everyone’s building up. So you’ve got a decent amount of time, sort of two thirds through where you get ‘Quadrophenia’ into ‘Tommy’ and all of that stuff and then you get a little bit more before essentially the encore. I wanted it to feel more like a film than just a live DVD.

What can we expect from the home release?
They certainly gave extended interviews, there’s a whole load of the visuals which are cut to the music. There’s not a huge amount of backstage footage because it was very limited on the day, not only for limited cameras but also Roger and Pete were turning up at different times and it was very much on lock down. It’s a big number to go out in front of that amount of people, they needed their space and I didn’t want to be bothering them.

Johnny Marr and Paul Weller both performed on the day, were they interviewed pre or post their performances?
I believe Weller was pre-his performance and Johnny Marr was post-. Johnny Marr was just brilliant. He’s so nice. My God, he’s so articulate and it was soundbite after soundbite; he was perfect. And I think it’s because he’s a genuine fan as well and he’s so brilliant. Paul Weller, it was very kind of him to give us any time at all to be fair.

There’s a moment in the film where Pete mentions on stage how important Paul Weller was to The Who’s career, did you speak to him about that?
He’s spoken about it quite a lot in the past as well. Pete really gives Weller a lot of credit for bringing the musical interest back into live bands, particularly mod-focused live bands. I think with The Who, after Moon died and everything, it went into no-man’s land and then they found themselves again and that’s when The Jam were really kicking off. And I think they’re good mates and ultimately Weller’s kind of like them isn’t he? He’s really gritty, they’re the same sort of people. I think they just get on really well but then you get characters like Johnny Marr who just seems to be permanently happy with life. I think the reason we got the people that we did to speak about the band was that was ultimately that they’ve got such a wide reaching fanbase and that made life so much easier for everybody.

So the fact that Johnny and Paul were supporting on the day must’ve felt like a present to you…
Absolutely. I would have naturally wanted to speak to them anyway and they were there. We were able to get their permission in advance so there was no surprise about it so they were very good about it.

Is there anyone else you would’ve liked to have talked to?
To be honest when I was originally thinking about it I would’ve loved to have got Ozzy, just for a chat. The requests go out but you don’t know if they actually get in front of the people. Debbie Harry, I wanted as well and that was just because I wanted that perspective because of the punk stuff and how The Who did kind of influence that to a degree. We got Robert Plant - who’s included in the extras - and he was brilliant, really, really kind. He just really nice.

Roger and Pete are both nice people. They both have their gripes and their angers and everything but their differences are totally a creative difference, it’s not like a type difference. Pete has his intellectual, fine art ideas, the big ideas. Roger’s got a much clearer, defined idea of what he wants and I think that’s where the battles happen which is why the big ideas that Pete came up with - Quadrophenia and Tommy and all those things - they got brought back down to the common man by Roger. I think Roger grounds them. That’s what comes across on stage and why it’s such a joy to film them because they’re happy on stage, so long as they can hear what’s going on and they’re not having sound issues or whatever, their camaraderie is second to none. It’s brilliant, they’re funny on stage. At the end of the film there’s a section where they’re almost contradicting one another, Roger says: “Maybe we’ll set up in a small theatre somewhere,” and then Pete goes: “Some people said we’ll set up in a small theatre, I can’t think of anything worse.” And you think: “Yeah they’re still the same,” which is a nice thing to have.

The Who: Live in Hyde Park is released in cinemas on 7th October for one day only www.TheWhoFilm.com.

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