Hollywood Reporter - I'm Your Man film

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Hollywood Reporter - I'm Your Man film

Postby Anne » Fri Jun 16, 2006 6:18 am

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/co ... 1002689507

June 16, 2006

Gibson's passion for Cohen led to docu

By Martin A. Grove

Lunson's "Leonard": Although millions of moviegoers know Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," what most people don't know is that Gibson also has another passion -- for the music of Leonard Cohen.

It's a passion Gibson happily shares with Australian filmmaker Lian Lunson, who previously collaborated with him on the CD "Songs Inspired by the Passion of the Christ." As a result, when Lunson set out to make a documentary about songwriter, poet and counter-culture icon Cohen she enlisted Gibson's help. That led to a deal with Lionsgate to do "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man," which opens June 21 in New York, is being screened June 24 at the Los Angeles Film Festival and opens June 30 in L.A. "Leonard" was an official selection at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, 2006 Sundance Film Festival and 2006 Berlin Film Festival.

Produced by Lunson, Gibson and Bruce Davey, it was executive produced by Kevin Beggs, Erik Nelson, Tom Ortenberg and Sandra Stern. Music producer Hal Willner organized and produced the historic "Came So Far For Beauty" tribute to Cohen concert at the Sydney Opera House in January 2005 that Lunson filmed to use in "Leonard."

The film from Lionsgate, Icon Productions and Sundance Channel features behind the scenes interviews and live performances from the event in Sydney by Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Martha Wainwright, Beth Orton, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla as well as a special performance by Cohen and U2 of "Tower of Song." There also are extensive interviews that Lunson conducted with Cohen.

After enjoying an early look at "Leonard," I was happy to have an opportunity to talk to Lunson, who's been making films, music videos, commercials and short documentaries since the '90s.

"I've always been a huge Leonard Cohen fan," she pointed out. "My friend Hal Willner does these great tribute concerts and I've been to several of them. He told me that he was doing one in Brighton in England for Leonard Cohen with all these great people (like) Nick Cave and all the people I love. There wasn't time enough for me to try to get it together and to think about doing a film, but he said, 'You know, there's a chance the Sydney Festival might procure the show for the closing night of their festival at the Opera House.' I said, 'Wow, if it's going to happen there, maybe I could get it together.'

"When I found out it was happening there I just set about trying to see if I could make a viable film (and) to see if this would work. So I initially went to Mel Gibson. He's a friend of mine and he's a very, very, very big Leonard Cohen fan and Nick Cave fan and I just said, 'Is there anything you can do?' He set up the meeting with me and Lionsgate and really helped get me started. And he was a great asset for me in the beginning because he's a very big Leonard Cohen fan so he was the right person to go to."

Did Lunson know how Gibson felt about Cohen's music? "Yes. I knew he was a Leonard Cohen fan," he told me. "He knows more about Leonard Cohen than, I think, anyone else I know. And, also, he's a big Nick Cave fan. And it was at the Sydney Opera House so he was the first person who came into my mind that I could talk to about it. He was very instrumental in helping me get the film made. He really just made the introduction to Lionsgate and they were great. They really loved the idea of this project. And, of course, it's a documentary and you have to find your feet as you go. So they were very brave in saying yes to me because I had to piece this together as I went. They really were amazing. They're amazing for filmmakers in a creative sense because they really put a lot of trust in you and I really value that about them, too."

Lionsgate, of course, did tremendously well with Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" and since then the documentary genre has become much hotter than it ever was before. "I feel personally there's been a real lack of great stories out there in the film world and, I think, people are looking to think about things or be inspired a bit," she observed. "And I think the documentary genre has really opened up to that audience who really want to go and think about something and, you know, read a bit of non-fiction.

"I think the way the digital realm has opened up has really helped documentary filmmakers to go out there and make films. Certainly, I think, in the political climate the Michael Moore (type) films sort of take off in a world of their own. But, generally, I think it's opened up the aspect of making it a lot easier for documentary films to be made. And I think that has helped enormously in actually getting them to the screen financially, as well."

The fact that filmmakers can shoot documentaries digitally these days has, she added, "made a big difference to the documentary realm. A lot of these films that would be too expensive to make if you were shooting them on film have (found it) a lot easier (to get made). So we're seeing more of them on the big screen because it's a lot cheaper to get them there. In days past, the idea of making a documentary and (shooting it on) film and doing all that (was difficult because) it just gets expensive.

"I feel personally that people are just sort of yearning to go and see some things that make them think and inspire them a little as well as (seeing) fictional films. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction so I sort of look at films in that way. Sometimes I want to go and see a film that is something that's going to really teach me something or open my eyes to something I wasn't aware of before."

Asked how she prepared to shoot "Leonard," Lunson replied, "It's hard with a documentary because you really have to try to put the film together visually in your mind before you set out to even pitch the film. You really have to have a beginning and a middle and an end and try to think how am I going to make this work. And so even when you're interviewing people you're always thinking about what you need them to say in order to piece the story together. So you're just trying to build these blocks of pattern of something. Without a script it becomes a little harder because even though you have to free form this you really have to have some idea of how this is going to come together. For me, the challenge was that I had shot this concert film with all these great performances and I also had brought Leonard Cohen into the picture (through interviews)."

Focusing on her interviews throughout the film with Cohen, Lunson explained, "I couldn't make this film without including him because I really wanted these songs to sort of be chapters in his life and blend him into the film in that way. It was the challenge of trying to make that work with a concert with all of these performers and to bring him into the picture, as well, and include this sort of collage, so to speak, of his life through his poetry and his artwork.

"It was really, for me, sitting down and mapping out visually how I thought I could do that in my mind. And that's really how I put it together -- just mapping the film out with all of the people that I knew I could talk to who would say inspiring things about Leonard. I knew that what Leonard would say would be so great anyway so it really was just like piecing it together in your mind. You've just got to be thinking all the time trying to edit the film as you go."

In terms of how she proceeded, Lunson pointed out, "The first thing I did -- and this is just a very personal thing -- was find a font for my title. That was just an ascetic thing (so) that I knew the sort of feel of the film I wanted to make. Once I had that and I knew what the feel of the film was going to be, I started to build the film around that. I very much wanted the film to be a rich collage of Leonard's work through his songs and his performances and through his artwork and his poetry and him reading his poetry, so it really felt like I was opening up a book and putting in various cut-out pictures and making a beautiful collage. I was nearly finishing the film and U2 wanted to be involved in the film, but I wasn't sure what that would be.

"And when I talked to Leonard and brought up the idea of him performing in the film (with U2) that sort of came together. It was really a way of blending that performance with everything else I had. I knew I had to put this collage together and that physically I had to try to make it as visually pleasing as possible. Leonard is such a vast complex person. I felt I had to up my ante and build a world that I could nest him in. That was in my mind as I was making the film and was something I was very, very conscious of. I wasn't just going to make a flat documentary of, you know, this is a talking head and this is a song. I had to really build this world around (him)."

With most films a director can shoot a scene over and over, but with a documentary built around a live concert that's just not an option. "This was particularly difficult because this was the Sydney Festival's show. This was very important to their audience. It's a very proper crowd at this concert hall in Sydney. I could not have my cameras be seen at all. I couldn't light it. I couldn't do anything. I basically had to go in there, be hidden and film that concert on one night. I got my cameras in there about an hour before the show began. So it was just a lot of good faith (in order to get through it)."

Lunson had four cameras inside the concert hall. "I wouldn't really want more than that," she explained. "I'm not a big fan of the sort of big sweeping crane dolly (shots). I really don't fancy that sort of shooting. I prefer to see a concert as you would see it very simple, like you were sitting there. So (having only four cameras) actually worked for me. It didn't bother me at all. I wouldn't have had more cameras by any means. I may have had them slightly differently positioned.

"I probably would have had one down (at) the front of the stage. I had one hidden to the stage right on the floor that was quite close (to the performers). That was my main camera there. And then I was with a camera that had a very good lens on it that was sort of where front and center would be. Because of the lens I was able to get in fairly close, but I probably would have had one on the floor. I'm a big fan of the way they sort of shot concerts in the '70s. They were very close and it was very real. It wasn't sort of stagy and 'lighty' and all of that. I'd like it to feel like you're actually in the audience and you're watching this yourself. I really don't like watching things that are 'cutty.' In some of these performances in the film there's no cuts at all. It's just one shot. There's no reason you would (cut away and) go anywhere else when someone's giving their all. So I prefer to shoot that way and I prefer to watch music that way, myself. I found that (having four cameras) was very adequate. The spots they had in the concert hall where I could be hidden were these little TV booths. I had one camera next to the mixing desk, one with me in this booth, one more up on the side -- which absolutely didn't work and I couldn't use those shots -- and then one on the floor. So it's really three cameras I got to use."

What happened with the camera that didn't work? "We didn't have that much time to set up," Lunson told me. "I put it up there and I didn't really like the angle too much though it didn't matter. It's just that I didn't use it (much). I used it a few times. It's really hard because I couldn't be with every cameraman at the same time. I had to stick with the cameras I knew I could get good shots from because I wasn't connected to everybody. I told them exactly what I wanted and knew that if I was with this one camera and my main DP was with the other main camera I would get it covered.

"I was standing next to the camera operator and I was basically telling him what to do. I'd be like, 'Stay close here. Don't move. Come back. Do this.' I did that throughout the whole show so I knew I could get the shots that I wanted. And I knew that Geoff Hall, who was my main DP down on the floor, was getting what I wanted, as well. So I knew if worse came to worse I would have it basically covered. But the other guys inside did a great job, as well."

The actual concert ran nearly three hours and included some 34 songs: "There were a lot of songs, but I only had so much time and I really wanted to showcase every performer that was in the show. So it was a blend of finding the right songs that helped to tell Leonard's story and then to show that I kept all of the performers in the movie. I didn't want to leave anybody out. It was a balance. I had a lot of things to juggle to make sure I kept everyone happy, that I made the film I wanted to make and put as much in there as I could. But I tried to build it around keeping every performer in the show, keeping the songs that I felt were relevant to Leonard's story and what he was saying, as well."

Post-production was particularly important on a film like this: "It was basically shooting the concert, making sure I had that and doing the basic interviews I did in Sydney (with the performers). Then doing my interviews with Leonard. And then it was finding the collages and putting all that together. Then the U2 portion -- the last piece of the film -- came and making that all work (had to be done). So it was really like sitting down with a big scrapbook and putting all these pieces together so that it would flow. But, definitely, when you make a documentary you get as many elements (as you can). I mean, I shot so much Super 8 footage. I shot weird things at night. I had all of these things to help me build this atmosphere and to help put this collage together. So certainly you go out and you shoot all of this stuff and then you go in and you sit down and start to put it together, which is really the fun part. It's terrifying, as well, but certainly putting it all together and making all the pieces fit is a good part of the job, too."

What phase of production does she most enjoy? "I enjoy the whole aspect," she said. "I enjoy getting the ideas and starting to build it in my mind, laying awake at night and piecing this together and then setting about to go and try to do it. It's great when you're talking to somebody and you question them to lead them down a certain road to help fill that spot that you know you've mapped out in your mind. And when you're really in synch with someone and you're talking to them about that subject you get these great gems that (make you think), 'Yes, that's going to work there. That's going to lead me to my next spot.' That's the fun of documentaries -- that as you're shooting you know that this is going to get you to the next portion. Then you get into the editing room and you see that it works or see there's something better I didn't catch and that's going to get me to my next transition. So there's an excitement about shooting documentaries."

Lunson's in-depth interviews with Cohen unfold throughout the film, mostly with him seen in large close-ups that make moviegoers feel as if they're sitting there right in front of him. "We had met and I had talked to him and I had told him I was going to Sydney to shoot this concert," Lunson told me when I asked her about her interviews with Cohen. "We just met really to say hello. I came back from Sydney and I saw him again. We really just started to see each other and get together and talk and get to know each other. And he really got to know me. And then the process was, 'You know, perhaps tomorrow, Leonard, when I come over for lunch I might bring my camera.' So it was a very relaxed environment. It wasn't a set-up interview. It was just me and my small camera. I shot that on a DVX 100 camera. It's a Panasonic 24 frame camera, a small (digital) camera."

Her interviews with Cohen took place at his home in Los Angeles: "I would just go over there and we would have meals, basically. We'd set the camera up and chat. I really got to know him as a friend first so it really wasn't like an interview. It was like a conversation. I would talk to Leonard at other times without my camera at great length. So it very much felt like that, which is the best way, I think. And, certainly, I think he felt very comfortable with me by that time and trusted me. It wasn't like a sit-down interview. It felt very much like a chat that we would always have on other occasions. It was just very relaxed in that way.

"At the beginning of the film I didn't know (how generous Cohen would be in terms of making himself available for interviews). I really just set out to capture the essence of this person as a human being -- not like a behind the scenes story of 'this happened to him at this time in his life.' It was really just trying to capture the vastness of this human being so that you just get an essence of who he is. I really kept that in mind when I was shooting him and editing, as well. It wasn't about getting information, it was trying to capture the essence of who he was."

When she was shaping the final film, Lunson explained, "I didn't test it at all. I just kept watching it myself. I basically kept playing the songs in various orders that would be on my iPod all night. I'd be visualizing where Leonard would fit in between these songs. It was just a process like that. I'd leave the editing room. I'd listen to it on my iPod. I pretty much burned a DVD at the end of the day of everything I'd worked on, put it in my television and kept watching it over and over just to see if it fit, if it worked and if it seemed right. And that was really my process. I didn't really show it to anybody."

At that point, Lunson was pushing herself to get the picture ready in time to be shown as an official selection at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. "I rushed after I shot the U2 footage, which was the last thing I shot (for the movie), and I think I shot more of Leonard's interview after that, too, but I was really rushing to get it to the Toronto Film Festival. So I was literally really working night and day. I hadn't really shown it to anybody. I sent it to Lionsgate and they were really pleased with what they saw. And at the same time, that same day, I sent it straight out to Toronto to the film festival. So it really wasn't until I got to the festival and I'm sitting in this dark room with all these strange people I didn't know (that I was) watching the film for the first time with people. That was a great experience. It was very daunting. When I was looking at the footage I felt like I was still in my editing room, but I was looking around and there were all these people sitting there."

Although the Toronto festival takes place in September, the film had to be ready months earlier: "I had to have it ready by like June or something to get it in early. There are processes (involved with being in the festival). So really it was pretty rushed. I had to work that way. I had to continually keep watching it and say, 'This is not right. That doesn't work. This is not working.' And that's really the process of trying to put it together."

How was the film received at Toronto? "You know, it played at Toronto so extraordinarily," Lunson noted. "I was really quite shocked. Obviously, it's Leonard's home country (which helped). And Bono came and gave this amazing speech about Leonard before the film started. It was a very emotional crowd. They applauded after every song. They wept. It was very, very emotional. It was a very beautiful (way) for me to screen it for the first time. I don't know if I'll ever get that reaction again. It really was very joyous to see it the first time with people like that. It's (been a good) ride. I went to Sundance and I went to Berlin. But I'm very anxious to see it out there and see how people like it. I hope they like it."
Last edited by Anne on Sat Jun 17, 2006 2:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby evelyn » Sat Jun 17, 2006 1:41 am

There is a special screening of I'm Your Man Monday, 6/19, at 8 PM
at the Film Forum, 209 Houston Street, NYC.

I won a pass from NPR radio!

Can't wait!
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Postby jarkko » Sat Jun 17, 2006 9:50 am

I posted the same item a bit later than Anne (didn't check the existing threads!). I removed my message and am copying two replies here.

From Lizzytysh:
Well, if I didn't have a lot of work to do, I'd trudge through the rest of this. I thought I was going to make it, but at least 2/3 through, I just have to stop.

This sounds like it was [could have been] a good, certainly comfortable, conversation [had there been more interaction between these two], but as an interview, it desperately needs editing.

Some interesting info there, nonetheless. It was good to see exactly how U2 got into the mix.

Thanks for posting it. I'll finish it later .

~ Lizzy

From Baldwyn:

Thanks, Lizzy! I was feeling bad about getting bored. I mean, I'll read it eventually, but it's one of those "gotta see if she's any good" to put much weight on words, just yet.
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Postby Tim » Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:16 am

Thanks Anne for finding this! (and Jarkko too - but then, 'thanks Jarkko' should be the sub-text of every post on this forum). I for one appreciated an in-depth, comprehensive interview, but maybe that reflects my ignorance of the film-making process - and of a film that I won't get to see for many months - that I found it so informative. But then, I'm a quick reader, and I was reading it in my own time...
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Postby lizzytysh » Sat Jun 17, 2006 1:21 pm

There's a lot of information, with a lot of very good information, and I was finding the filmmaking-tactic info very interesting, too. The problem is that a lot of the commentary is very unnecessarily repetitive, and I'm not a fast reader.

I've seen clips of it, Baldwyn, and it presents in a very unusual and 'steeped' way, so I will for sure finish it ~ at some point :wink: .

~ Lizzy[/i]
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Postby Anne » Sat Jun 17, 2006 2:25 pm

evelyn, that is really cool that you won that pass. I am looking forward to seeing it again. I am not sure when it will open here. I guess next week. I was part of the special Toronto audience that Lian references in this article, so that is really cool! what amazing memories.
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Postby lizzytysh » Sat Jun 17, 2006 2:29 pm

Yes ~ Congratulations from me, too, Evelyn 8) . Are you considering going to the Montreal Jazzfest and trying to win a pass to Anjani's performance there, as well? If you go, be SURE you include Etta James, too 8) .

~ Lizzy
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Postby evelyn » Sat Jun 17, 2006 6:04 pm


I gotta save some $ for Berlin!

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Postby evelyn » Sat Jun 17, 2006 6:33 pm

Thanks for posting that Anne and Jarkko,

It's interesting to learn how difficult and complicated the art form of documentary can be.

When a piece is well done it's easy to take for granted the hours of detailed work that went into it if you don't know anything about the process.

I'm looking forward to seeing this!
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Postby st theresa » Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:27 pm

I can hardly wait to see this film, although I will surely cry. What amazes me most, since I came to this room and found all the Cohen fans I never realized were here, is the depth of passion with which people love Leonard. I knew I did, but I am a fairly passionate person and not many feel as much as I seem to about so many things. However, that is not the case when it comes to LC. I have to admit that there are people here who are more overtly passionate about Leonard and his work than I would know how to be. So thank you, all who love leonard, for making me feel a little less 'out there' Thank you for creating this space too Jarrko for us to bring our passion to.
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Re: Hollywood Reporter - I'm Your Man film

Postby sturgess66 » Sat May 01, 2010 12:07 pm

This video may have been posted here - maybe in another thread - but I couldn't find it. And this thread seemed like a good place for it -

From "neithernonzio" on YouTube -
June 26, 2006 — This is a video shot from a digital camera at the LA Film Festival's showing of "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man." Sorry it's not the best quality but you can hear Leonard's introduction to the movie which was very amusing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLCDfbZ_ ... r_embedded

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