By Adam Ray Palmer
Following on from its premiere at the London Film Festival, On The Road continues its travels across the globe with another screening at the Berlinale.
Michael Winterbottom is in town and I had the delight of sitting down with him and getting the truths of being on tour, his connection to the band and what’s coming up on The Trip.
Michael’s rock n roll persona is up there with this rockumentary…
ABOUT ON THE ROAD:
On The Road, directed by Michael Winterbottom, follows young, British rock band Wolf Alice on their UK tour. The camera gets to see all that happens on an up and coming band’s 4-week trip performing across the UK. Along the way, we are see Estelle (Leah Harvey) and Joe (James McArdle), two crew members, get to know each other in the process.
ARP: How is Berlin treating you? Enjoying the festival?
WINTERBOTTOM: Yeah, I got here last night so it’s a flying visit, how long are you here for? Caught any good films?
ARP: I arrived Wednesday and leave on Sunday. Yes, I have watched a few; including yours of course!
ARP: With On The Road, why did you choose to do a narrative film alongside a documentary film?
WINTERBOTTOM: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a narrative film, it’s more that I wanted to show the world the experience of being on tour, and I just felt like the personal and intimate side would be great from both angles on the tour. So, having James’ and Leah’s characters was not supposed to be a narrative but to give a perspective.
ARP: How important was it to you to choose relatively unknown actors in the two character roles?
WINTERBOTTOM: It wasn’t the starting point; we wanted young people that could fit in. So, when looking at the characters, like Estelle, we needed someone youthful and to be starting out. And when we met the crew of Wolf Alice, James looked like a perfect member. Then we asked if they (James & Leah) would be interested in spending four weeks on a tour bus and that’s that. You’re right, if you recognise someone from that world (of film) it would have changed it. To be honest, we did meet people so it was an option, but it just felt right with James and Leah.
ARP: Was living on the tour bus for four weeks a wild experience?
WINTERBOTTOM: Yeah I think so, it certainly was for me. When we did 24 Hour Party People, everyone loved pretending to be in a band. But this was real, the physical element is a lot harder in real life. When you’re travelling around making a film, it is similar, but the physical grind of being on tour with a band is a lot harder.
ARP: Do you prefer making documentaries?
WINTERBOTTOM: No, I prefer making films. Well, I like making films that feel as real as possible. And to improvise with non-actors, so like it’s the bottom wall between fiction and documentary. But a straight documentary, you’re at the mercy of what happens and you’re not in as much control.
ARP: Is it different working with a musical artist compared to actors?
WINTERBOTTOM: I wasn’t asking Wolf Alice to do anything in this movie, we would just keep rolling and film when something happens and keep out their way as much as possible. To some extent, that’s what I try and do with actors, I try not to tell them what to do too much. Simply, this is the idea and this is what I want out of it. In regards to Wolf Alice and the crew, we just said “let us know if we get in your way”.
ARP: Was there a start point and an end-point to filming?
WINTERBOTTOM: The start point was getting on the bus and the end-point was getting off the bus four weeks later – a mammoth UK tour. We wouldn’t have chosen that tour if we knew what was coming – it was a genuine picture of the tour and really demanding.
ARP: I read that you were originally picturing the band Ash before Wolf Alice, would that have been a totally different rockumentary?
WINTERBOTTOM: I think every band is specific, if you change a simple thing like location, it all changes. Yes, it would have been different, but when they talked about their world of touring, it was very similar to Wolf Alice’s. It’s just an interesting world where the next day is just different.
ARP: Was there something about Wolf Alice that confirmed you wanted them in the film?
WINTERBOTTOM: There’s lots of weird coincidences. For example, the bassist used to live next door to me, my daughter was in his class and their manager is the same manager who used to manage for Ash. There also very good live and on tour all the time, they’re young; plus, they were the first band we talked to. We needed a band that had a tour bus for accommodation rather than luxurious hotels or separate vans.
ARP: Is this experience something you rush back to do?
WINTERBOTTOM: Having just completed this last year, I have no desire to do it again soon (laughs). It’s relentless but never say never.
ARP: On a different note; could you reveal anything about The Trip?
WINTERBOTTOM: It’s in Spain, we are just finishing it off now. It’s kind of like The Trip to Italy to be honest, Steve and Rob at it again.
ARP: Are there more impressions?
WINTERBOTTOM: Yeah, there’s new ones. We are trying to avoid some of the old ones. It’s a slightly different environment now. It’s post-Steve’s Oscar nomination (Philomena) and Rob has a new baby. So, it’s Rob being a family man versus Oscar-nominated writer Steve.
ARP: Do you another project coming up after The Trip?
WINTERBOTTOM: I have a film with Sacha Baron Cohen coming up, it’s early days.
ARP: Is it a drama or comedy?
WINTERBOTTOM: A comedy, stay tuned.
ARP: Finally, do you have a favourite film, Michael?
WINTERBOTTOM: Third Man – great film.
Cheers Michael for your time, enjoy the festival… or your flight home!