interview with Gavin Elder, director of ‘David Gilmour: Live at Pompeii’ (in theaters this week)
For New Yorkers, this is a very good week to be a fan of Pink Floyd. Not only does Roger Waters wrap up his two-night stint at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center this evening (9/12), but the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, is unleashing his hotly anticipated new concert film David Gilmour : Live at Pompeii to some 2000 theaters for one night only on Wednesday, September 13 (including six showings in NYC). For those unable to attend the screening fear not; tangible versions of the film will be available to fans via Columbia Records on September 29 in a variety of formats including DVD, BluRay, CD, and vinyl. Watch the trailer below.
David Gilmour : Live at Pompeii was shot over the course of two shows in July 2016 and is the ultimate collision of cutting edge AV technology and truly ancient history. Shot within the confines of a Roman amphitheater that was built in 70 BC and buried by volcanic debris in 79 AD, the amphitheater was originally built to accommodate 20,000 attendees. In 1971 Pink Floyd recorded Pink Floyd : Live at Pompeii in the amphitheater over the course of 4 days to an audience consisting only of a handful of essential crew. David Gilmour’s turn in the amphitheater in 2016 marked the first public performance in the venue since about 79 AD.
The whole experience was captured by concert documentarian Gavin Elder. As a rabid Pink Floyd lunatic and AV nerd obsessed with its changing technologies, Gavin Elder is living a life I can only dream of. He was kind enough to talk with me about about his roots as a concert documentarian, the challenges of retrofitting an ancient arena to accommodate a modern live concert experience, and more. The interview follows below…
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BrooklynVegan: Your evolution as a large-scale, music-based documentarian and filmmaker seems to have happened pretty organically. As I understand it, your journey into filmmaking began while you were a DJ and a band manager in the mid/early ’90s.
Gavin Elder: Yes I started DJing when I was 15 and played in clubs and at raves. I then managed bands from my hometown of Cape Town and toured South Africa with The Streak and the Zap Dragons. It was an amazing time for music in South Africa as the apartheid structure was being dismantled. I realized that I wanted a career in music, to be around the creativity and energy… and it didn’t feel like work!
BV: It seems as though what started as a DIY necessity became a full time occupation rather quickly. How soon into your work as a filmmaker did DJing and band management fall by the wayside?
As well as managing the bands I was also taking live photographs and then I started making music videos. It was a passion of mine from the beginning, but initially it was born out of financial necessity.
BV: During a two-year stint in Japan, you got hooked up with Duran Duran. Initially, you were booked for what was essentially a 4-day “behind the scenes” shoot. The day before they were to head back to the States, you showed them a rough cut which resulted in an immediate invitation to travel with them and continue your work with them. Were you prepared mentally and technically for such a huge leap and commitment?
I had no idea what it would bring or where it would take me, but throughout my career I have always been open to making spontaneous decisions. I had played Duran records as a DJ & the band had an amazing manager, Wendy Laister, so I knew it was an opportunity I could not refuse. Actually, this weekend I fly to Tokyo to shoot a live show for DD at the legendary Budokan sumo wrestling venue. Interestingly David Gilmour played on the Duran side project, Arcadia, in the mid ’80s.
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BV: Do you prefer to undertake the spectacle of recording a live concert experience or the intimacy of the fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes documentarian?
I like the variety of different projects, undertaking different roles, sometimes as camera operator and being a reportage style journalist and at other times being the director. Directing a concert film like Live at Pompeii, is a career highlight for me; it really is a very special film with one of the greatest artists of our time.
BV: There’s something so ‘in the moment’ about concert films and behind the scenes documentaries, whereas music videos are choreographed; you sort of create your own visual narrative based on the music. Do you prefer live/behind the scenes filmmaking over music videos?
I prefer shooting live & behind the scenes content. I like the reality, the stress. I like surprises.
I prefer not to over-plan a shoot; happy accidents are where the magic sometimes hides.
Experience helps to position you in the right place at the right time, but there’s a lot of luck involved.
BV: You were responsible for David Gilmour: Live at Gdansk concert movie (recorded in 2006, released in 2008). The concert was performed at the Gdansk Shipyard in Poland to an audience of 50,000 people. I assume the shipyards was an unorthodox venue to perform a concert, much less film a concert documentary. Did you face any particular logistical challenges putting that project together?
David always chooses amazing venues. He likes to create memories for his fans that go beyond the music. Gdansk was the birthplace of the Polish Solidarity movement and this helped to make the shipyards a deeply emotional place. That emotion was then enhanced by the music on the night and I remember David playing ‘Echoes’ with Richard Wright. It was the most amazing song in an incredible setting and the energy flowing between David & Richard was phenomenal.
BV: Although technically an “amphitheater”, the venue for David Gilmour’s Live at Pompeii movie feels a bit more unorthodox to me than the shipyards in Gdansk; it was built in 70 BC, and hadn’t hosted a public performance since 79 AD. What were some of the technical challenges in retrofitting the place to suit a live concert movie?
Staging a concert in the amphitheater was a massive undertaking. Months and months of planning went into this one show and we visited the arena several times prior to the performance. David has an incredible production team who make everything happen. Just to get the gear into the arena was a challenge. They built a temporary road, and pushed all the gear along this track. A phenomenal amount of effort went to making these shows possible.
BV: Prior to Pompeii had you traveled much with Gilmour on the Rattle That Lock tour in order to get ideas for the challenge ahead?
Yes, I was on every gig of the tour and attended most of the rehearsal sessions before the tour started. We began in Europe, then traveled through North and South America and then back again to Europe. Each of these tours has its own ‘Behind the Scenes’ film, so you can get an insight into what happened on tour. The deluxe box set contains all this extra material, as well as concert footage from the South American shows. Tracks from the Wroclaw show in Poland are included where David is accompanied by an orchestra.
BV: Were you given a lot of autonomy when establishing camera locations and how you captured the concert? I am curious about how much input the Gilmour camp required before you could commit to anything.
David encourages the people he works with to get on with what they do. The one thing he insisted upon was making sure we had great aerial shots from a drone. InitialIy the Italian authorities said that using a drone would not be possible, but “no” is not a word that is used much on tour. We persisted & they agreed that a drone would be allowed. Some of the drone shots are truly spectacular. David was right.
BV: Were you involved in the production of any of the videos shown on the famous circular screen throughout the “Rattle That Lock tour?
No, these were overseen by Aubrey Powell, who has a long working relationship with David.
BV: How much input did David have in the final edit of the piece?
David & Polly visited HANGMAN, the post production studio, several times and we would watch the show together and they would give us feedback. David came to Abbey Rd where the ATMOS sound was mixed. He is heavily invested in every stage of the project.
BV: The movie itself will have pristine audio I am sure, but how did the concert itself sound to those in attendance? Were the acoustics any good?
David’s sound guys are some of the best in the business. In Pompeii the live front-of-house sound was mixed by Colin Norfield. Not only is he a really lovely guy, but he is also an extremely talented sound engineer. It sounded amazing on the night, and that has been captured in the film.
BV: In the ten years that had elapsed between Gdansk and Pompeii, digital video technology has changed immensely. Obviously the image quality is improving, but how has filming a concert changed for you, for better or for worse?
Filming David in Pompeii was a career highlight for me. I remember watching Adrian Maben’s 1971 Pink Floyd at Pompeii film several years ago and admiring its style, pace and camera work. I just love the concept of the film. We shot on 4K with all the latest technology, but it’s actually the incredible sense of history that makes the film so unique. The magic is created by a combination of the spectacular amphitheater and David’s phenomenal performance.
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DAVID GILMOUR – LIVE AT POMPEII FORMATS
2 x CD
Standard package – 21 tracks.
CD1 – 74 mins
CD 2 – 74 mins
1 x Blu-ray
Pompeii concert 96/24 PCM Stereo & 96/24 DTS MAA
Pompeii Then & Now Documentary
2 x DVD
Pompeii concert Stereo PCM, 5.1 Dolby Digital, 5.1 DTS
Pompeii Then & Now Documentary
Blu-ray + CD Deluxe Edition Boxset
2 x CDs,
2 x Blu-rays (special packaging)
South America 2015 / Wroclaw 2016 / concert footage / tour documentaries, feature length BBC documentary, photo booklet, Pompeii Guide, 4 x postcards & poster.
Pompeii concert on 4 x LPs
2 x gatefold sleeves / poly liner inner sleeves / booklet / download card / slipcase.
HD downloads via portal tbc