Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, David Fincher, Mark Romanek and Garth Jennings are feature film directors who’ve all spent time on the sets of music videos. Their films are creative and visual, much like their music videos have to be, and they’ve been responsible for features as diverse as Fight Club, Being John Malkovich and Son of Rambow. Baillie Walsh, best known for putting pictures to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy and Kylie Minogue’s Slow, hopes to join their ranks this week with his first feature, Flashbacks of a Fool, about an aging A-lister who remembers his sexual awakening in glam-era Britain when he learns that his best friend of the time has passed away.
The film stars Daniel Craig, Walsh’s long-time friend, who lent the gravitas necessary to get the film off the ground, and spoke to RT earlier in the week. With the cast rounded out by Harry Eden, Eve, Olivia Williams, Helen McCrory and Claire Forlani, and a soundtrack featuring David Bowie and Roxy Music, it’s an ambitious first film. Walsh sat down with us to tell us more.
Roxy Music’s self-titled album and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust are very important in the movie – did you have similar albums that defined your childhood?
Baillie Walsh: It’s those two albums for me. The Roxy Music track, If There Is Something, was the song I listened to constantly as a teenager. That song was a key to the writing of the script because the lyrics are so pertinent to the script. “Throw your precious gifts into the air and watch them fall down.” All of that stuff seemed absolutely spot on. I always loved that song, and it was a little known song too.
Jean-Marc Vallee, who directed C.R.A.Z.Y. said that he had trouble getting the rights to the songs he wanted to use in the film and was angry because he felt that he owned them because they were part of who he was growing up – did you have the same trouble?
BW: I was really lucky that all the tracks I wanted, I got. We had to pay a bit more than I think people wanted to, but I think people understood how important they were. It worked out, I was really lucky, and I completely understand what he means.
Was the soundtrack the most important element for you, then?
BW: It was the key, I wrote the script with the music there. If I hadn’t been given the rights to Jean Genie, what else could I have done? I don’t know what T-Rex means. They were all key to me.
Does it help to have that musical backdrop when you come from directing music videos?
BW: I’m sure that it probably does. I love music and the reason I made music videos is because putting images to music is a great thing to do. I couldn’t really ask for more, though making a feature film is really the best thing.
Music video directors who’ve made the transition to feature filmmaking have done very well in many cases – Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry – it must be exciting to be able to join that set.
BW: Steady on! I’m not sure I’m quite there yet! Those guys are absolutely fantastic and I’ve been wanting to make a feature film for some time and I’ve finally been able to make it. How people respond to it, let’s see if it does well. I know that I had the best year of my life and I was given a lot of money to make the story I wrote and it really doesn’t get much better than that. How it’s perceived and where I’m put in that line-up, I can’t even think about right now. I’m just very lucky to have had the opportunity.
How much has Daniel Craig’s input helped the project?
BW: Honestly, without Daniel I would never have made it. I wrote it a long time ago, before Dan’s success, and luckily his success made it possible, so the end result of that is always wish your friends big success!
How long have you been waiting to make a feature? Did you have others on the back-burner?
BW: No, this is the fourth script but the closest I ever got before was I was in New York to start and it never happened. It’s always been very close. Yeah, I’ve been waiting a long time, but it takes a lot of money and for people to put up that money, a lot of things have to come together. Daniel’s support on this one made it happen.
The film opens and closes in LA, and even the Britain you present isn’t quite Britain, but the film is very British…
BW: Yeah, it’s the idea of Britain, but I always wanted to make a British film. I didn’t want it to be grimy realism. It’s about memory, so it’s the idea that memory plays with our summers, and our experiences – all is bright, and blue and sunny. I liked the idea it was a heightened reality. I did want to make a British film set by the sea, but I knew that Clacton-on-Sea, where I’m from, wasn’t quite the right backdrop. So I played with it in that way.
But so long as there’s a great story I’d make a film anywhere. So long as I can find something I can believe in, it doesn’t matter where it’s set.
It seems like you feel location is important to really setting the environment of a film for you, though.
BW: Yeah, I think so – I want a film to be interesting visually. I love photography and I’m very interested in the way things look. It’s part of the story you’re telling and part of the whole feeling of the thing. But I don’t want it to take over and I don’t want that to be the only thing, but it’s very looking.
Harry’s fantastic, what were you looking for during his casting?
BW: A young Daniel Craig. Harry walked through the door and knew I’d found him. I completely believe that this boy could be a young Daniel. He was the first boy I saw and I didn’t even ask him to read, I just knew he could do it. He had naturalness to him, he didn’t seem like a stage kid, he felt really raw and teenaged and just great.
Harry mentioned that he and the young cast went down to South Africa for the filming early…
BW: Yeah, because I wanted all the boys to be mates. I wanted them out there early so they’d hang out. I didn’t want them pretending to be friends, I wanted that to come naturally to them. And it did. It was amusing seeing them, because they really lived it up and I think they had a great time. We were in a great hotel and it was just a really good vibe.
Does it make a difference to have a happy set?
BW: It does. This was the best moment of my life and I wanted to make it as joyous on everyone else as possible. It was hard, it was really hard, but it was a very good time and I wanted my happiness to be part of the film. When you can say, “I’d like to build three houses here,” and have someone say, “OK,” it’s fantastic!
Do you think that’s a better way to approach a first film – to go in with a bit of money rather than try to make something low-budget with whatever you can scrape together?
BW: Oh yeah. I tried many ways to make this film and one of them was with no money. Even with money it’s hard, but with no money I would never have achieved the atmosphere I wanted. I’d have had to do it in Clacton-on-Sea in a whole different set of circumstances.