Interview – Gavin Elder

When it comes to music, there is simply nothing better than a live performance. Vastly different than listening to a studio recording, a live concert experience allows one to connect with the artist and the music on a more intimate level. Well aware of the significance of the live performance, English Filmmaker Gavin Elder has made a career of capturing some amazing concerts through the years. Keen to the importance of the visual and the texture of the sound quality, Elder has worked with the likes of Duran Duran for several film projects as well as legendary Pink Floyd Guitarist/Vocalist David Gilmour.

Connecting with Gilmour, the two have worked together to bring audiences some astounding imagery. Documenting history together, in 2017 Elder’s directed and edited David Gilmour Live at Pompeii has received rave reviews, and why not, it is the first concert performed in front of an audience at ancient stone Roman amphitheatre since 79 CE! Excited about the production of the film, Edler took the time to sit down and chat about the work behind it all, working with David Gilmour, his love for documenting music, plus much more. – You have been working in film professionally for well over a decade now. Working with the likes of David Gilmour and Duran Duran, first tell us, what led you to pursue a career in concert filming and documentaries?

Gavin Elder – In the beginning, I used to work with and manage some young bands. At the time, there was never any budget for photographs and music videos or tour films. I did it for the love of it, for the love of music at the time. I moved to Japan, I lived there for two years, and I met Duran Duran. Through them I started doing it on a more professional level. Through Duran Duran I met various other artists including AC/DC and Robbie Williams, and then I was introduced to David. I have had the pleasure and fantastic fortune of working with him. – It sounds like a great experience to be able to work with and meet so many different artists. You clearly have a passion for music. 

Gavin Elder – Yeah, very much so! I used to DJ years ago on a radio station. I’ve always had an interest in music and being able to combine that love of music with one of my other passions, film, has been an amazing career. It has been an amazing journey through music and film. I get to know the various artists I’ve gotten to work with, because I try to make the film as intimate as possible to give viewers an inside into the person as well as the persona. It sometimes is a delicate balance, but it’s knowing when and when not to film is key. Hopefully filming all the time is what you want to do, but there are times when you give the artist their space as well. Often you get rewarded with something you didn’t necessarily expect to get. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s one that I really enjoy.

Eagle Rock – Now, the live concert is something that is vastly different than a studio recording. In many ways, it is an experience much more personal. Is it challenging to capture that on film, and how do you approach it?

Gavin Elder – I think to do the artist and, in this case, to do the venue justice, David’s concert at the Amphitheatre in Pompeii was a complete one-off. Well, two nights of one-offness, but David said at the beginning, it was very much about capturing the music the best possible. It was really getting a sense of where we were, the sense of place, because the venue is really linked to the enjoyment of the performances. David wanted people to have a memory of that night, of that event. It’s not about just seeing a band in an arena, it’s also about playing these incredible venues which adds to the memory. 

From our standpoint, there’s months of planning that goes into it. With live shows, it’s all about getting the cameras in the right positions before the concert begins. Once the concert begins, then you’re off, there’s very little time to reposition things. 

There’s a lot of planning and I worked with David for a long time, so I know what he wants to try get out of the film. He’s a very generous performer, and he’s very much the leader of a band if you like, so we’ve featured his co-musicians, and given them a platform as well while supporting David. It’s about the synergy on stage and the energy between the band members that makes the performance extra special. – Agreed. The David Gilmour – Live At Pompeii concert is really an extraordinary experience visually. What was it like taking on this project?  

Gavin Elder – I think the fact that David was at the Pompeii Amphitheatre in 1971 with Pink Floyd, and then, 45 years later to go back and to play with an audience. That was the first time there had been an audience for 2000 years in that arena since Vesuvius volcano erupted too. To just get your head around the concept of 2000 years passing, the previous shows would have been the Roman! It’s an amazing event that David has an audience now back in Pompeii Amphitheatre.

Columbia Records – That is certainly special. What were the working conditions like in Pompeii at the time of filming? 

Gavin Elder – You’re in Southern Italy in the middle of summer, and it’s incredibly hot. There was an energy in the air, because you know something unique’s going to happen. We were there several days before the show setting up cameras; the lighting crew and the sound crew were there days before. Also, the stage went up a week before. It was a unique one-off for David.

It was the one he wanted to film, because it had this extra significance for him. We met the director of the previous Pompeii Pink Floyd film, Adrian Maben. He had constructed an exhibition of Pink Floyd photographs beneath the arena, in the old passageways people would use to get into the Amphitheatre. There was all these layers of specialness and uniqueness.

There was a Cambridge professor who specializes in Roman and Pompeii history who David invited. She gave us a tour and she gave us wonderful insight into the types of performances they would have had in those days. In the DVD extra, there’s a short film which features her. She had this wonderful way of expressing the excitement of life as a Roman, which I urge to watch if you haven’t seen it already. 

In many ways, the show was designed to be unique and something extra special. We spent nearly a year in post-production finishing the television version, the DVD version, the cinema version. We had the launch of the cinema version at the theater in London where David came out and said how thrilled he was with it. Everybody who worked on the project was immensely satisfied with the results. – It really is quite fascinating for several reasons. Every situation brings a different challenge. Did the atomposhere of Pompeii Amphitheatre create any challenges for you? 

Gavin Elders – I think the fact that it’s this ancient monument makes it incredibly challenging for the production people, because it’s not geared for concerts. Everything had to be specially built and specially rolled in. They had to put down a road of platforms that was created for a mile where they had to wheel all the equipment in. There was no such thing as forklift trucks on the inside, everything was manually done… almost like it was in the Roman days. There were masses of local people helping and supporting David’s production crew.

We used technology where we could. We had some amazing crane shots and we had a drone flying around the perimeter. We used the latest 4K filming technology, but at the same time, it was set in this ancient ruin. We had this amazing antique setting, historical setting, but then using the very latest of technology. That helped to capture it in a really special way. 

David Gilmour Live at Pompeii still. – Well, anyone who has not seen this needs to see it! As you mentioned, you have worked with David Gilmour for a little over a decade. How did you become connected with David, and what has your experience been like working with him?

Gavin Elder – When I first started working with David, he asked me to go on the road with him and document the tour of 2006. That involved Rick Wright, when he was still alive, so that made that tour extra special. I think that everything David does is unique and he always tries to add an element of surprise. On that tour, David Bowie performed “Comfortably Numb.” David Crosby and Graham Nash were on that tour as well.

David creates an incredible atmosphere, he chooses people very carefully, he chooses his band very carefully. At times, you feel like you’re on this magic mystery tour… it’s more than a band, it’s more like a family-like atmosphere. That just helps everybody enjoy the tour more, and that enjoyment translates into the music. I think when an audience can see a band enjoying themselves, then they enjoy the show more as well.

It’s a very carefully sorted through approach. David, himself, is an amazing man to work with. He’s a legend in the music industry, and incredibly generous performer as well. But, in terms of music, in terms of filming, there’s never a moment when he’s not prepared to give an insight on something on camera. For me, he’s an absolute pleasure to work with because he realizes for the film to have an extra layer of specialness, it requires his involvement. He’s always very happy to be involved and to help in anyway to make it the best it can be. – That is great to hear he is so receptive to the filming process. Obviously, you have worked in these concerts and documentation type films. Have you considered directing feature films in the future? 

Gavin Elder – Not really. I’m working at the moment on an idea with a designer about his life. It will probably be more of a documentary feature. I quite like staying in the real world with regards to content and narrative. At this stage I haven’t felt the desire or need to work in a fictional way. 

Columbia Records
Columbia Records – Understandable. What can you tell us about some your future projects such as the one you just mentioned? 

Gavin Elders – It’s the story of a young guy who grows up in a rural town in the United Kingdom. Through music, he travels to London, gets involved in the scene, and has a major impact on the fashion industry. It’s a wonderful story and I’m hoping it can be converted into a film and shown on the big screen. I think that’s what we learned with David’s project, that having a cinema release and having a 4K surround sound audio mix, it really immersed the viewer in the show. I think anybody watching the DVD with surround sound on a big screen, will feel that.

We really wanted to immerse the viewer within the concert and David pays particular attention to the sound mixes and how everything is balanced. He is very involved in every stage of the post-production. It’s as close as you can get to actually having been there. – Technology certainly helps that. As a filmmaker, you have seen different technologies grow over the years. How does that benefit you as a filmmaker having these new technologies at your disposal?

Gavin Elder – You can get incredibly small cameras in interesting positions, so that the quality is phenomenal now. That was one thing we used on Live at Pompeii. Drones have been around for a long time, but we used one of them as well. That gave us this really incredible aerial perspective and context of where the Amphitheatre was in relation to Mt. Vesuvius, the dormant volcano. There are just better quality cameras. I do think the 35mm film has always had an amazing rich and detailed image, so I don’t know if we have surpassed that, but the cameras are much more versatile in how the media is collected and how it’s stored. Technology is great, but nothing matches the chance of a live performance… it’s so raw and it’s so real, that’s where the magic is. The technology is just there to capture it the best way possible. – Yes. Also, the ability of a director, such as yourself, to have the ability to find that balance and to be able to bring that to people at home. That is a testament to your talents. 

Gavin Elder – I find a lot of the magic is created in the edits, which is why I am very involved in the editing. In the film, we almost recreated the energy on stage to get that interaction between the band members, to get those looks, those glances, those smiles. For me, those are the elements that help take the performance to the next level. It is not just about David, it’s about the band, the cohesion that they have, and playing these amazing songs.

David Gilmour Live at Pompeii still. – No question! Seeing that you have built this good working relationship with David, have you been approached by other artists asking you to perhaps work with them?

Gavin Elder – Yes. I’ve done various projects. I’ve just come back from Japan where I did another film with Duran Duran. I filmed AC/DC in South America, and there are a few things on the horizon that haven’t been confirmed yet. I find all the projects I do feed into the next one in some way, sometime in a bizarre, strange way. People always reference things, doors are opened, and there’s a lot of opportunities out there. – You have worked with some really historic bands. Since you did DJ, what did you grow up loving and what are some of the music you enjoy listening to today?

Gavin Elder – I grew up in the early ’80s. I was into the British Alternative scene like The Smiths, The Cure, Japan, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Jesus and Mary Chain… that type of sound. A little bit of Duran Duran, not much Pink Floyd (laughs). That was sort of my music grounding as it were. Probably The Smiths were the band of the moment for me. 

A few years ago, I did the tour with Antony and the Johnsons, and for me, that was an incredible experience. He is very different as an artist, but so dedicated to his craft. More recently, I’ve been listening to an English performer called Benjamin Clementine, and he’s a very interesting talent. I listen to lots of old music. Currently, as a new artist, I’m listening to Benjamin Clementine. – Well, everyone will have to check out Benjamin Clementine. One last question, are you a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, and if so, what are some of your favorites? 

Gavin Elder – I don’t like being scared, so I don’t watch Horror films at all (laughs). Science Fiction, I love Blade Runner (1982). I’ve been watching more films with my kids lately, The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a favorite of theirs.  Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is a favorite of mine as well. 

Warner Bros.

For more on David Gilmourdavidgilmour.comFacebook | Twitter | Instagram 

Purchase The David Gilmour – Live At Pompeii

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