I met Ronnie I think eighteen years ago at a dinner, it was a lot of musicians and fashion people, and so we said hello and I thought he was an interesting guy. Although not being necessarily a huge rock n roll aficionado myself (my background is more jazz and classical music) it would be impossible not to know of the Rolling Stones and equally impossible not to know Ronnie Wood, he has always been an interesting person for me.
Out of the blue I was approached for a potential project about Ronnie and the idea for a documentary. I have always been actively interested in the genre of documentary and it’s various forms and what was interesting for me was that they (Eagle Rock) would endorse an open approach to the project and that they didn’t want to make a generic rock documentary.
The very next day we had a meeting with Ronnie at one of his offices on the Thames. We had a very lively conversation and what struck me straight away was this is a person who is very interested, incredibly alert, focussed and articulate. He seemed to be a guy who approached life with a smile, however dark his path may have become. Based on that meeting I liked him and most importantly, he liked me. We seemed to get on.
I deliberately didn’t do huge amounts of research into his background, I didn’t want to have a prepared list of questions, I wanted to have an open dialogue between him and me. A couple of points of interest to me were that we were almost the same age and we grew up musically in a very common environment. It was clear to me from my early conversations with him, and because I had also made a documentary some years ago which dealt with the British Blues movement that the Rolling Stones had featured in, that we would have a lot in common. I knew that there would be a rich source of material for us to discuss together and that would hopefully take us into different areas.
With a very open mind we arranged to meet in my studio for the first in our series of filmed conversations and it went really, really well. I threw a curve ball at Ronnie; I had just written a book called ‘The 36 Dramatic Situations For Cinema’, which is basically a rewrite of a textbook that deals with the structure of drama, and as part of that project I had created a pack of cards. I gave the cards to Ronnie and he chose 3 very interesting cards, which now feature in the documentary, which got us into an interesting segue into a much darker aspect of his life; namely his addiction and what one could say was his rather cavalier attitude to life.
Over almost the next two years we kept in close contact and whenever there was an opportunity; Damien Hirst was in town; Ronnie was in town and yes I was in town, we would do another session. Clearly one of the things we needed was The Rolling Stones, so we jumped in on their European tour. Mick was incredibly eloquent, as was Keith and then, some months later; Charlie came in and gave his perspective, which was elegant, humorous and sardonic. A really good balance to the other two voices.
When you are making a very personal documentary and you also admire the person you are making the documentary with and about, I think it is important that you find a balance early on. You want to be close, open and trusting of each other but it’s also not your place to just become mates and have a bit of a laugh. This kind of balance, of distance and intimacy, is very important for the film to have the right tone.
My approach to this documentary from the very beginning, which was tricky for the editors, was; let’s just keep shooting! Let’s just keep shooting! Then, lets take a more radical approach to the editing so that it is not just talking heads and sequential. Mainly, I wanted to avoid a sequential biographic approach.
What I loved about his art is he’s a really good line drawer. It was very interesting to observe him working and see a whole different side of his character from being a musician; the way he observes and his concentration. I kept thinking; I want these to be the pillars to the documentary. These would be the scene breaks that will give us segues into musical things, anecdotal things or live footage.
From a pretty early stage, having gathered great material of him as a painter, I wanted to balance that with him as a musician. We do use some footage of the Stones, which is fantastic, but I wanted to see him as a musician, as a collaborator and a catalyst, because these were very important elements of his life.
It occurred to me that the best soundtrack for this documentary would be a Ronnie Wood soundtrack, something original that we had come up with together. It was an interesting situation; I was directing a documentary and then I was producing the soundtrack. Normally I would write the soundtrack to my own films but in this case I produced the music track with Ronnie and collaborated with him on it. Then I went away and edited his improvisations and created a new soundtrack, which I then played to him and he recorded on top of. It was a very nice layering that went on in parallel and I think that became a very integral and important creative part of making the documentary.
As our dialogues progressed, he would say something, and then I would gently offer the possibility for going further into that thought. Other questions, where I tried to steer away from the cliché and therefore open up the possibility of a more productive response to, he took and he ran with. At a certain point I was thinking whilst he was talking; this is amazingly strong, quite dark material and I did wonder if he would later say he would rather we didn’t use some of it. There was a period when we started to share the cut, when I think he was surprised himself and he paused for thought. But then ultimately was supportive of the film.
I would say [that support] was a result of the relationship that we had built up; of a mutual trust. It is very easy to abuse that ‘trust’ in Post Production, because if you have done your job half way well you’ve got a lot of material and you have gotten people to be very open, as if you are having a private conversation, because that’s how it feels. Part of the filmmaker’s duty and responsibility is to understand that. Within that there are gems but there are also things that you have to be very respectful of. Particularly with a character like Ronnie, who is incredibly high profile, knows so many people and who still functions in that world, those issues are very important to acknowledge otherwise you betray the trust and then you don’t get gold. If you want gold you have got to be very delicate about how you go about it.