By far one of my favourite concert films of all time, Live 2012 is directed by Paul Dugdale, whose impressively long list of credits features some of the biggest names in the industry, including (but not limited to) Adele, The Killers, Rihanna, The Prodigy, David Guetta, Jessie J, Lostprophets, The Kooks, Labrinth, Calvin Harris, Skrillex, and most recently Emeli Sandé – a picture of awesomeness clearly starts to emerge.
Whilst busy in the editing room, having just filmed Emeli Sandé’s performance last week at the Royal Albert Hall in London, I had the opportunity to speak to Dugdale about his work with Coldplay on Live 2012, following its theatrical release across the globe last week.
The film is very much more than the average concert film, earning that theatrical release in spades, and with fantastic documentary-esque interludes mixed into the live set list, I can’t recommend it enough, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the band.
How did you get involved with the film?
I’ve been working with JA Digital, the production company that made the film, and we had done a David Guetta project over New Year on Copacabana Beach in Rio, which was amazing to be at. I don’t think they’ve quite worked out what they’re going to do with it yet. So I worked with them there, and Julie [Jakobek], who was the exec on this project, is kind of an old friend. We used to work together when I was a camera operator years back, and we knew each other through that.
From there, all the creativity, and some of the more experimental things were present, and things that we thought would work well for Coldplay, and then we pitched at various meetings and weird back-stage hook-ups. I think the first time I met them, they were in a dressing room, and Chris was eating his lunch and having his hair cut at the same time. It was quite a funny, weird, slightly awkward meeting, that went well. And the rest is history.
I’d spoken to them about it, and they’d seen bits and pieces I’d done. Phil Harvey had really liked the thing I did with The Prodigy, which was a DVD called World’s On Fire, which I did a year or two back. The idea from that film was to really translate what it’s like being in a crowd of a Prodigy concert, which is pretty hectic and pretty intense, and it’s that that they really wanted to achieve from this film, and so it was a real pleasure to attempt to do.
Coldplay are pretty well known for avoiding the media, and not doing that many interviews. Was the documentary side of Live 2012 always a part of the film?
Yes, it was. From the outset, I think when it came to us, it wasn’t necessarily a big part. Part of my pitch was really trying to make this into a proper film, like a mini music movie. It’s not so much a documentary, it’s kind of a concert film with documentary elements, rather than being a long piece, a real full-on documentary. This is a concert film with documentary elements; they’re interludes that punctuate. I was really keen to do that just to elevate the film, in itself. Because I think a lot of concert films, if it’s pure concert, it’s quite hard to connect with sometimes as a viewer, especially if you’re not a fan. So I wanted to make this really interesting to watch, whether you like the band or not.
And also, it was just an amazing opportunity to get into their psyche and find out what they’re up to, and how they’re feeling. It was important for us, part of the original pitch was to not do interviews on camera, and talking heads. We wanted to disarm them and make them feel as comfortable as possible so that we could just chat, and that’s how the interviews were. We just sat on a sofa and just chatted for a while, and talked about questions. Hopefully, after that initial, ‘I’m going to start the recorder now,’ they forget, to a certain extent, that that’s happening, and it becomes a much less formal thing. So hopefully you get more of an intimate interview as a result.
The show starts with Mylo Xyloto and you finish the end credits with Up with the Birds. Was that always the idea, to start and finish how the album starts and finishes?
We were led by the set list, as far as Mylo Xyloto goes, and Chris was really keen to have Mylo Xyloto as pretty much the first thing you see. So there’s no big opening credits sequence, so that was led by that and the set list. And Up with the Birds worked really well. Part of it, I just love the way that sounds, and it just feels right to have that there, as well. It’s like a hug at the end, a real nice song and a nice sentiment. It just made sense to me with the visuals; we wanted something warm at the end to give you a little pat goodbye.
How did the post-credits scene come about, where Chris talks about Chocolate Milk Buttons?
We did the interviews all over the world. A couple were in London, we did some more in Chicago, and some at the bakery at their HQ in London. We were just sat there, and he had some Buttons, and then we finished, and then he just had one. There was no method to that bit, that just happened.
I think a lot of people have a preconception of Coldplay, that they’re very, very serious, and take it all really overly earnestly. There’s definite preconceptions about that band, and I was really keen from the outset – I love those things where people hide bits and pieces, hidden stuff on DVDs, I think it’s a really nice bit, and I always wanted to have a moment at the end which makes you walk out the cinema with a smile on your face. And also for people to talk about. And it’s really light, and just a bit of fun.
You have The Scientist and Don’t Let It Break Your Heart as Special Features on the DVD and Blu-ray. Why were they kept for the Special Features, rather than the set, itself?
When I did the pitch, the idea was to always have those five sections of film, the documentary little sections spread out over the set. We want them to appear very evenly, and we tried a few different arrangements to find a really good flow, so that you’d be taken on a bit of a roller coaster, in the sense of the pacing of all the tracks are different, and we set up slow moments that are followed by slow songs, and fast moments that are followed by fast songs. What they talk about is relevant to what track’s coming next.
They were really keen to not make it a really long film. I think they wanted to keep it pretty punchy and tight, and keep it within ninety minutes. So I think that was the reason, really. It was just keeping the set on DVD to a real punchy length. And we wanted to include those songs, because they’re big moments, and they’re big tunes. Don’t Let It Break Your Heart, especially, is full of colour and life, and The Scientist is the same. It has a two-minute one-shot start, which we loved and pre-planned, and the camera would go in and round the piano a couple of times. So they were in the first cut, and we watched it through a couple of times, and sat with Phil, and then we just decided to take them out and see if it felt better, if it held your critical level of attention. And it did. So we still included them, but just on the DVD.
Don’t Let It Break Your Heart has got a lovely shot at the end. They have inflatables as part of their show, and we’d asked for them in the huge eight-foot inflatable shapes of teardrops and butterflies and flames, and one of them was the heart. So we’d asked for it to be in a specific place in the stadium, and then at the end, the camera goes away from the stage and right up to the heart, as the audio of their track is a beating heart and we see the heart. And I love that, and I really like that moment. And with The Scientist, it’s that intimacy of suddenly it’s just Chris and the viewer and the camera, and there’s no cutting and there’s no fancy tricks, or anything. I love that moment. Most of the songs have something, they’ve got that, ‘That’s the one where this happens,’ and that’s really exciting to me. Each one has a moment, and it’s an exciting thing, in itself.
You’ve worked with individual artists like Adele, and just last week you were filming with Emeli Sandé. How do you approach each one? Is it different working with a band, rather than a single artist?
You start each project with the music. You have a mutual goal, in that you just want to translate the show and the music, and you know a certain amount of your filmmaking is with fans in mind, and you know what they like and want to see, and the moments they enjoy. We have a couple of cameras looking at the audience during the shows, to capture that. Seeing all that emotion on people’s faces, just from being sat in an edit and watching it, you can see people lighting up at moments and getting excited and standing up and applauding. So you just work to each artist.
I did The Prodigy DVD and the next DVD I did was Adele, and you can’t really get much further away on the spectrum. But both had the same goal, which was just to show that show, and give as accurate a representation of what it’s like to be at that place as you can. Where The Prodigy people were getting battered around in the mosh pit, and cameras were getting broken and all sweaty and destroyed, that’s what we had to capture from that show. And equally, Adele was like seeing people feeling that music, and relating to her lyrics, and seeing it on their faces and people crying. And Adele, herself, got a bit teary, which were incredible moments to capture. It just all makes sense with a soundtrack that’s right for those images.
You’ve worked so much with live music. Do you have any desire to do anything scripted?
I’ve done quite a lot of music videos, which are obviously pretty heavily scripted and storyboarded. Live music’s a real weird one, because if you’re doing a proper TV show, you can script the music, and you know what’s going to happen on stage – maybe there’s a dance routine or a musical part which you have to punctuate with cuts. If you know that’s going to happen, then scripting is obviously the best way, because you often don’t get an edit with those sorts of things, and if you know what’s going to happen, then it’s perfect.
With live music, you can never predict what’s going to happen. People on stage are just going to do stuff, pretty much in the spur of the moment, unless it’s a real slick routine and it’s the same thing night after night. I often script short sequences, or moments we know we want to have – this short here, and this shot here, or sequences of shots that follow each other, that we know, for that moment in the song, that’s what we’re going to do, because that’s going to be amazing; we’re definitely going to capture that bit.
I did something with Justin Bieber, which probably could have been scripted, where he was doing dance routines. Given enough prep, you can draw it all out beforehand. I quite like the spontaneity of it. Because of how my edits are, and how we construct our music shows, quite a lot of stuff happens in the edit, and that works too. At the moment, it’s nice not being too rigid. But certainly in the future, I definitely will do that. I’m sure there’ll be an occasion to do that. I’ve worked with a lot of directors in the past, before I was a director, who did that and it’s fantastic, because you have so much control. But given the luxury of an edit, to a certain extent we can do that ourselves afterwards. But it’s getting those specific moments, the things you don’t want to miss. So it’s important to have those planned, and have an idea of how you’re going to do it before you do it.
You’re currently in post on Emeli Sandé from the Royal Albert Hall. What can we expect from that? Are there going to be any documentary pieces to that?
This film is going to be much more of a straight concert film. But what’s nice about this, and similarly with Adele, it’s really quite a straight show, visually. In Coldplay, we had a lot of effects – overlay graphics, getting them to draw out doodles and write the lyrics. This is a lot straighter, and very beautiful. This certainly looks different; we lit the Albert Hall in a slightly different way, and had LED lights in the room on each box, so it’s almost like the stage is extended out into the audience area. So it really makes the audience and the stage one, which again is something we tried to do with the Coldplay film. It’s early stages – we’ve only been cutting for about four days – but it’s looking nice.
I noticed on your site, you put up the book cover, Family of Geniuses, from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Are you a big Wes Anderson fan?
I love Wes Anderson movies, and the Tenenbaums is the one for me. A lot of Wes Anderson movies are like this, and he is the king of an amazing soundtrack. Not only a good soundtrack, but they feel like the perfect songs for what you’re seeing on screen. And that’s my job, to try and find pictures to the music, and his is probably to find good music to the pictures. So I’m a huge fan of that, and a huge fan of that film. Not only for that reason – I love the story, and the sentiment of it, and the characters.
The suicide attempt with Elliott Smith, and the moment where Gwyneth Paltrow steps out of the coach when she turns up, and that’s just amazing, with Nico. It just gives you chills, and that’s a real buzz for me.
In one of the segments, Chris talks about having a lot of ideas to move forward with the show, and make it an even better experience. Are you allowed to talk about that?
He was very open with us about that, and what his ideas were. And not only show-wise, but musically as well, what they wanted to. I don’t think it’s really my place to give away all the Coldplay secrets for the future! But they’re going to be exciting. It sounds like an exciting way to go.