Up on the Silver Screen: Supersonic’s Final Cut

Part 3 of Tom Stroud’s in-depth interview with Supersonic’s director Mat Whitecross

“I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet as passionate as Oasis fans, and it seems to be getting stronger with each year. I think the band is missed, because they went out in a blaze of glory, or dishonour or whatever you want to call it – I think that the feeling’s been getting stronger all the time.”

 

Tom: Liam and Noel are both executive producers on this film. How collaborative was the editing process and did you have to take much out? Would they watch rushes and give you input?
Mat: No. They weren’t remotely interested in the editing process! They were genuinely not arsed at all. The Exec title thing was something that was sorted by lawyers. Executive Producer is one of those classic movie terms that kind of means everything and nothing in the sense that – you know on a drama that might mean that you’re sleeping with one of the producers, or it might mean that you put money in, or it might mean nothing; it can mean lots of things.

On Supersonic it just meant that Noel and Liam had been incredibly generous to allow us to make this film about them, and that they had opened their address books and their phone numbers to us. And allowed us to contact everyone in their lives and given us 20 hours plus of their lives just to talk about the old days. So when it came to the final bit, contractually, we didn’t have any obligation to change the film. But we said we’d show them the film a couple of times each. The first time was obviously massively nerve-wracking. Even though we weren’t necessarily going to change something on their say-so, it was more to do with things like: what if they hate it? What if we got it completely wrong? I just didn’t want them to be disappointed. Not that I thought we were pulling our punches and trying to make something safe, but what if they just went, “It wasn’t like that”, or “I can’t believe we spent 20 hours talking to you and this is what you made.”

So Noel came in first and he’d just come off tour. Simon [Halfon] rang and said “Noel’s really sick he’s just come off tour, he’s knackered, probably hung over.” And I said “Cancel it, just fucking cancel it, don’t get him to come in to watch the film for the first time when he’s…” and Simon said, “No, he’s alright, he’s in the cab now”, so I was like: “Right, brilliant, he’s going to have a clear mind and he’s not always the most receptive audience.”

Simon had said to me, “Look, with Noel don’t sit there expecting man-hugs or a round of applause at the end.” He’s someone who if he loves it will give you a curt nod, and that will be it. If he hates it, then you’ll be hearing from his lawyers. That’s the vibe – don’t worry about it too much and don’t take it personally. He said with Liam, if he loves it you’ll know instantly; and if he hates it you’re just going to hear the door slamming shut as he leaves and gets in the car. And that will be it. That was how I’d been briefed, and obviously I was nervous anyway.

We sat in the background and Noel sat in the front row watching it on his own. He laughed all the way through which was great, and at the end there was a pause, and he was like – “Yeah, great.” And he gave us notes – which were not what I expected, which was great. I thought he would be picking it apart and saying, “Well hang on…” There was a danger, I suppose, that he could’ve said “Liam is getting more time than me”, or “He got a dig in there”, or whatever it might be. We tried to make it balanced and obviously they are pretty rude about each other, as they always have been, and very funny about each other. And, depending on their frame of mind when they were watching it, they might not mind or they might hate it.

Anyway, he didn’t mention any of that. It was a 2 ½ hour cut and the things he picked up on were the that film was too long. Which it was anyway: even if we’d wanted to make it 2 ½ hours long, we wouldn’t have been allowed. He said no band’s documentary should be longer than their Greatest Hits which I thought was funny, even though their Greatest Hits was two albums. But anyway, I was like, “Okay, fine.” Then he said, “You didn’t make enough of Maine Road”, and we’d done that quite deliberately because we’d made so much of Maine Road in the eight-hour cut that Knebworth seemed like a bit of an afterthought; so I’d thought “Cut that down, cut that down…” So we put in a few more lines about Maine Road, and we saw a little bit more of it.

The last session we’d spent mostly talking about the legacy of Oasis, and those times, and what it might mean to a new generation… and why it’s arguably unrepeatable because the music industry is so fucked and beige. He said: “You’ve cut all that out”, which was true because I’d kind of cut it out the night before, because I thought I’ve got to cut something. It was a whole ten-minute sequence and we cut it out because it made it a little bit shorter. He said, “I always saw this film as a call to arms to kids now. And just saying – shake things up, things don’t have to be the way they are. If we can do it, you can do it, anyone can do it: just pick up the guitar.” And I said, “Fair enough, that makes sense.”

The only comment Noel had that I disagreed with (and Liam had exactly the same thought) was: “I think there’s too much about our childhood, and about our dad.” I said “Fair enough, but I honestly think it’s important.” And both of them went, “Okay, alright. It’s your film.” Which was great.

Liam sat down and watched it… and within seconds he was laughing, and heckling, and throwing popcorn at the screen every time his brother turned up. So we knew we were on safe ground. Then we went away for a week and started tinkering, cutting it down; we had to get it to 2 hours anyway. And then they came back and again, I remember Simon giving me that same speech as we went in: “Look, if Noel says anything – he might not say anything – he might just give you a nod. And don’t feel cut up if he doesn’t give you what you want, or embrace you at the end.” Anyway he sat through the whole thing in complete silence (Laughs) and I thought “Oh god, he hates it.” And at the end the lights came on and he went: “Fucking brilliant. I love it. It’s great, great job.”

It was so sweet. And then I turned to Simon, whose jaw was on the floor. “Fucking 20 years I’ve worked with that band and he’s never said anything like that!” I thought, “Well that’s a good sign.” And then we showed it to Liam the next day. Liam said, “Is it alright if I bring Bonehead?”, and we said, “Yeah, yeah of course it is.” I said “Do you want us to go get some drinks?”, so we ordered a massive stack of beers that was sitting in ice.

It was 10 in the morning and they got absolutely wasted, steaming drunk; they watched the whole thing and they were singing and laughing and dancing, and all the rest of it. Absolutely off their heads! But it was great. I don’t know if they just loved being with each other or it was the film, but they seemed to have a good time and that was it. We never talked about taking something out. There wasn’t anything contentious in the sense that people might think – I guess it’s the closest they would get to an authorised film – but that was never on the cards, which was amazing. And I wouldn’t really be able to work that way anyway, but it wasn’t anything they ever suggested or tried to impose.

Tom: All the time that you were making this film, you’re conscious that this has to be cinematic. There’s that brilliant scene where Liam’s on stage and you get inside his head for a brief moment.[1] And Knebworth is presented in an epic way; this isn’t just a documentary, you’re doing something that makes a huge impact on the big screen.
Mat: Oh well definitely. You know, I think you always have to have a good argument for why anyone should take their hard-earned money and walk through the doors of a cinema. Always. Because people’s home entertainment is getting better, you’re competing with the Amazons and the Netflixes of the world, and why should someone spend ten quid of their hard-earned cash to go and watch your film? Well it needs to feel – not necessarily big – but it needs to be cinematic and it needs to sound great, and all these kind of things. And I think the surround sound on that Knebworth footage as you’re coming in and sitting down at the beginning of the film is great. It kinda feels like something out of Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979),[2] and that’s something that the sound team worked so hard on. That’s one of the things for me.

Aside from anything else the communal experience of a film – even if it’s a very sober, dry film – is still amazing, because you feel the silences in a way that you wouldn’t if you were sat at home with one eye on Twitter. Whereas, with a film like Supersonic, where hopefully it’s quite emotional, and exhilarating, and tragic, and all those things – you feel it twice as much or ten times as much when you’re in a crowd of like-minded people.

And it definitely seems to be getting to people. A friend of mine who’s in a band came along to the Manchester premiere and he just came up to me at the end and I was like, “Well, what happened?” because he’d disappeared for a few minutes. He was like, “I dunno what happened but ten minutes before the end of the film I suddenly realised it was the end of the film and that was the end of the band.” And he said “I just started crying.” He couldn’t stop. And the reason he’d got into music – and music’s his life – was because of Oasis. And the reason he picked up a guitar was because of Noel.

Tom: Wow.
Mat: And the reason he writes is because of them. So it’s like, “Oh god – it’s all over, and it’s twenty years old.” All those things came rushing out, and I don’t think you’d have the same effect if you were watching it on your iPhone on the Tube or something.

Tom: No, and you do engage with that younger version of yourself that was buying those records. And it’s also very funny as well. It’s emotional on all sorts of levels, isn’t it?
Mat: Right, right, no for sure! I mean… they are hilarious. And I think we were talking before about the tabloid caricature that portrayed them as oafs, as hooligans, as idiots, as boorish and all these kind of things. But anyone who knows anything about the band knows that’s not true. And yet that’s the image that a lot of people retain in their minds. Everyone says to never meet your heroes but it was so nice to sit down with the two of them in that first session and go, “Oh yeah of course, you guys are amazing. You’re hilarious, you’re passionate about music, and you’re very smart.” I don’t know why, but it’s so insidious the way that things you’ve read in papers somehow bleed into your consciousness and you assume there must be some kind of reality to it. I mean, I’m sure that – like any rock band on the planet – they behaved terribly at times, but actually their essential character… I think they’re really decent people.

Tom: Is there a reason that Noel hasn’t done any promo for Supersonic? Do they want to let Liam do it? It’s weird not hearing his voice in connection with it.
Mat: Well he’s done so much anyway. It was his film that he brought to us. It’s only weird in the sense that he was so enthusiastic about it but then he went off on-tour, and he’s come back and I guess maybe (and I haven’t spoken to him about it so I don’t know)… but I saw him at Glastonbury recently and he was really enthusiastic. He was there with his family and we had a good chat, and it was all great. I imagine that if I was in his position and you think “Look there’s going to be a ton of press about this, and there’s going to be another Twitter spat, and if I turn up at the premiere at the same time as my brother I’m likely to get a beer can lobbed at my head… maybe it’s better to lie low.” I don’t know. I mean I’m sure he’ll mention it in the future, but I can completely understand if he just felt like “I’ll let this film speak for itself.” He couldn’t really have done more for us, and I have to say he’s been amazing.

Tom: This is their story isn’t it? It’s the story of the band, but it’s also the story of the brothers and the breakdown of their relationship. There’s a real warmth and affection in the early footage, but by the end that had all changed. That montage of Wonderwall is a killer moment and you can see where all of that came from as the film plays out. That’s the subtext to the whole film isn’t it?
Mat: Yeah, well exactly. One of the obvious things that people have been saying is: “Why wasn’t that in? And how come you didn’t go into the third album? Why wasn’t the seventh album in there…?”, [that] kind of thing. And – for all the reasons that we were talking about before – it didn’t seem possible to try and squeeze everything in. But I felt that we’d done as much groundwork as we possibly could, in the sense that you see the seeds being sown of all those future disagreements, and you see where it comes from. Ultimately the issues are between the two brothers, but also the nature of becoming a big band: it becomes ‘9 to 5’ in a sense. All those early songs were about freedom, hope, and the possibilities of what’s on the horizon, and wanting to escape from the grind of working-class life. And then you escape from the grind of working-class life and you end up in another, much more luxurious prison, but ultimately it can become a bind. People get bored by it – it’s not what you expected. So I felt we talked about all of that, but we don’t make it to the gist of the whole film.

That’s my answer to all of those things, and the reason we stop when we do. It’s the same about the two brothers and people asking how we didn’t deal with the final break up in Paris and things like that. But I say: “Do you honestly think that would have added anything to all the things we talked about along the way?” Particularly the relationship between the two brothers. It’s a mystery that’s part of the attraction of the band, isn’t it? Even if they were just two friends, like the Libertines or something, there’s still another level when it becomes brothers and you shared your lives together and you’ve lived in the same room. And all that kind of thing – you shared your childhood together.

What I liked about the way that we did it was that we offer various different alternatives. We started off with Noel arguing that “It’s just sibling rivalry, isn’t it? That’s what brothers are like.” And then Liam weighs in with, “No, it’s because I pissed on his stereo”, and then Christine Biller says, “Actually no, it’s because Noel has a lot of buttons and Liam’s got a lot of fingers.” That’s a great line. People offer their own versions, and it’s actually musical differences. It’s the problems Liam had with his voice, and the fact that they have to be together but they can’t be together. They resent the fact that they thought they’d escaped each other after childhood and suddenly they’re locked together in something that is stronger than a marriage for the rest of their lives… and nobody wants to see them apart; they want them together. All these kind of things.

Adding another ten years of that doesn’t necessarily explain it any more. What I loved is when we found that piece of archive where Noel was saying “Look, ultimately only me and him will ever know what goes on between us.” I felt that’s great because we talked about all these sorts of possibilities but ultimately they are a mystery to us, and they always will be. And that’s kind of amazing. One thing can’t ever explain anyone. Not to compare us to Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941) but I guess it’s the same kind of gimmick in that, “Look, it could be all these things – but actually what it is at the end of the day is a sledge, and that doesn’t explain anything!” It’s more mysterious at the end than it was at the beginning.

Tom: There’s a box set in this isn’t there? This longer cut – you keep teasing us with it, haha.
Mat: Yeah, I’d be up for it! If it was up to me then we’d release that version. The problem is that it’s obviously four times more expensive than the version we’ve already made, because every tune they play and every piece of footage… we’d have to pay for it all somehow. And, as much as I’d like it, the thing is that we’d then have to animate over it and we’d have to somehow spend another four years putting that together. And polishing it into something that people could sit down and watch.

Tom: Has the reaction to the film made anyone think a bit more seriously about that? Because the footage is there isn’t it? The interviews are done.
Mat: Yeah, yeah. Well the interviews are done. There were two things I really wanted to do but which no-one really seemed to respond to: I thought doing a soundtrack album would be brilliant. Because I think that with the songs and the off-cuts [we could] maybe do it like a Tarantino album where you get a bit of dialogue, a bit of interview, then you cut back to the music. That, to me, felt like a really great idea but I think I was the only one who thought it was because everyone ignored me! [Laughs].

And the other thing I wanted to do was that, because we had so many beautiful photos, I thought: why don’t we publish all the transcripts and have all the photos in there? Do it as a coffee table book. But everyone just rolled their eyes at me. I’d still love that to happen though. And the other thing I thought was that you could do a box set of the interviews. Because the interviews on their own, obviously, there’s twenty hours of interviews with each brother alone. And something similar with Bonehead. Wouldn’t it be great to just release that out into the wild? But I think again that… I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s a tricky thing because everyone assumes that directors are powerful and are in control of everything, but actually no-one gives a fuck what we think! [Laughs].

So all these suggestions are out there in the ether. I guess if fans make enough noise and people feel that would be something they really want, then that might happen. But I was saying, at the very least, when we had the website [for Supersonic] that maybe we would allow some of these things out. We could maybe put twenty minutes of Mark Coyle, or Bonehead, or Owen Morris on there. But, again, no-one seemed that arsed. [Laughs]. So that kind of disappeared. But maybe they will.

Tom: You’re right though – as you say, all those interviews (alongside the memorabilia from the Chasing the Sun exhibition) would make for a lovely coffee-table book. But if they don’t wanna do that, well, that’s fine.
Mat: Well I guess if there was enough interest… someone was saying,“You should crowd-fund it or something.” Something like that was done with an Aussie horror film called The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014) that came out recently. It’s about a woman whose nightmares are triggered by a book she receives one day. It’s a children’s book that’s really dark and disturbing.

And the book is kind of amazing and it’s the focus of the whole film. And then they went out and some sick, twisted bastard said: “I love that book, and I’d love to have a copy of it.” So they crowd funded the book![3] So that nightmarish book… I assume it doesn’t actually destroy people’s lives, but it exists now; you can buy it. And I wondered if the same thing… maybe we could? If there was enough interest out there, we could maybe put something together. Because I’d love [to see it]. I mean, if it was up to me I’d just stick it all up on YouTube tonight but I suspect I wouldn’t work again after that. I’d probably spend the rest of my life in court! Hah. It’s not up to me, sadly.

Tom: The reaction from fans and critics has been amazing, which must be fantastic.
Mat: It’s been incredible because you never know – you make a film in a bit of a bubble, because it was just me and a few people working on this thing in a tiny edit suite. So you’ve no idea whether people are gonna love it, hate it, or be completely indifferent. I always, as a rule, try not to read any of the reviews because I only believe the bad ones and if anyone says anything nice about you you just think, “Well, you’re just being nice.” But the response has been really good and it’s been lovely because I think Oasis fans particularly, they know that world inside out – they probably know more about the band than I ever will.

So the idea that we’re making a film, the fact that they’ve received it in the way that it was intended rather than going, “Well why wasn’t this in?” or “Why wasn’t that in?”… because – at the end of the day – a two-hour film can only contain so much and you’re gonna have to select something over something else. But it’s been great. It’s been quite emotional actually, doing Q&As afterwards and just turning up at the end of the screening, seeing people jumping up and down and singing the songs. Not that I’ve got anything to do with it – it’s not like I wrote the songs! [Laughs] But it’s been amazing to just show that the love for that band still remains.

You don’t make a film in a vacuum. I guess you could be a writer and just write your book for yourself, but when you’re a filmmaker you’re making your film for an audience. Particularly this film, because we knew there was an audience out there anyway. I’m just keen to try and get it out there to as many people. The band have the power to project this out to many people but it’s a tiny little film, and tiny little films disappear every day without the right support. Luckily Liam and Noel and the band’s management, and the label have pushed it and put their support behind it. But these things can get lost so easily. We’re up against huge films every week and there’s no good reason for someone to go and watch this film unless it’s a good film and you want to try and get people to know about it. I certainly wouldn’t have made this film in the first place if I didn’t believe in the band and didn’t think there was a great story to be told there.

So yeah I’ve been going out just to meet people and talk about the film, and try and drum up a bit of interest. And the lovely thing is that Liam’s been doing loads of stuff for it as well… I think having him supporting it, and Noel supporting it just takes it to another level. Without them saying that it feels authentic and that it’s their story, it would be difficult to try and get it out there.

Tom: What are you most proud of with this film?
Mat: That’s a really good question…

Tom: It’s my last question as well…
Mat: Oh wow – I should have a better answer than the one I’ve got then! I suppose the fact that when I went into that first meeting with Noel I could sense already the responsibility of it. As soon as he said “This is it, this is the film we’re going to make” and Marcus said “We get one go at this, so don’t fuck it up”, effectively. I’m sure he said it in nicer words than that, but that was the gist of it.

So there was a big burden of responsibility that I felt just because I love that band, and I know what they mean to people all over the world. Particularly in this country. So I thought, “Oh yeah, I really don’t want to fuck it up.” I feel like, at the very least, whatever the deficiencies are in the film, that it’s them speaking and it is them telling their story – and we tried to stay out of the way as much as we could for two hours. So it’s kind of them speaking directly to fans and the audience. I guess what I’m proud about is that we allowed them the space to tell the story in a way that they never had a chance to do before. Hopefully it does provide them with some kind of legacy. They’re one of the best and the most important bands certainly of my generation, and I feel like they deserve a film that reminds people how important they are.

Tom: Thank you so much. I could talk all night.
Mat: A pleasure. Any time.

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Mat Whitecross was interviewed by Tom Stroud on 26th October 2016. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking on the links highlighted in blue. Online presentation and footnotes by David Huggins. Supersonic is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital download from iTunes

 

Notes

Standing on the Edge of the Noise
1. (Back to article) Over a clip of Oasis’s gig at Earls Court in 1995 Liam describes the transcendent stillness he felt at certain points as something like the eye of a hurricane: “When the sound is pumping and the crowd is roaring… everything seems still and it’s the best moment I could ever imagine. Pure control.” As Liam speaks director Mat Whitecross slows the footage down to hypnotic slow-motion, and briefly filters the music for a boomy, “party next door” sound – an immersive combination of cinematography and sound design that makes the audience feel as though they’ve experienced the moment just as Liam did.

Acclaimed sound designer Gary Rydstrom used a similar effect when mixing a battle scene in Saving Private Ryan (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1998). In 2001 he spoke to author David Sonnenschein about how he treated the soundtrack:

“When Tom Hanks is suffering a momentary hearing loss from shell shock, the visuals don’t change much, but we did a radical thing with the sound by shutting down the outside world. You get distorted bits and pieces of the outside, but mostly just this seashell roar as if you’re inside his head. There is a wonderful shock coming out of the hearing loss when one of the men is screaming at him and he can’t hear a thing, then we use another explosion for him to snap to, and now we can hear the guy. There’s also a rising tone, like a teakettle boiling up to that point, then it snaps back to reality. When you are in intense experiences, you have this sense of almost closing down, almost more aware of your own sounds than the sounds around you. The blood in your ears is going so fast, you’re more self-aware than outside-aware. Those moments are simple, but work remarkably well to help the audience identify with the character even more, because they feel like they’ve been in his head for a short while.” (Rydstrom quoted in Sound Design, by D. Sonnenschein, p. 178)

Supersonic Sound
2. (Back to article) In 1979 Apocalypse Now pioneered the use of multi-channel surround sound in the cinema. Most films of the day were still mixed in mono, but for Coppola’s epic war film the sound designer Walter Murch created an immersive mix using five main audio channels and a dedicated signal for low-frequency effects. The result was a sharply-focused, dynamic soundtrack that surrounded viewers with the rhythmic pulse of gunfire and helicopter blades slicing through the air. Murch describes his creative process in this fascinating article on the Designing Sound website.

Kickstarting the Babadook
3. (Back to article) The Babadook crowd-funding campaign is a great example of how a fan community was able to help bring a unique project to fruition. Insight Editions hit their target of 2,000 pre-orders within 60 days, enabling them to fund publication of the book featured in the film. More recently Anomie Publishing launched a successful Kickstarter appeal to reprint An Individual Note, a long out-of-print book by the electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram. The campaign exceeded its target of £15,000 with time to spare, and the new hardback edition is due for release in November 2016.

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