This week marks the limited release of Coachella, a concert film dedicated to the Southern California music festival of the same name. Released by Goldenvoice, the company that promotes the annual event, the film takes cues from classic rocumentarios Gimme Shelter, Wattstax and The Song Remains The Same. Culled from footage spanning five festivals over six years, included are mindblazer performances by the likes of the Pixes, Mars Volta and Fischerspooner. Belle & Sebastian also show up, and they are so effing cute you want kidney punch them. There’s also an embarrassing performance by Spearhead, but you know, Woodstock the movie wouldn’t be what it is if weren’t for Sha Na Na. You know what we're saying? If the film isn’t coming to your town, get it when comes out on DVD in March. While you’re watching it, slather yourself in sunscreen, have your roommate put on a goofy hat, and convert your living room into a sweatlodge and it will be just like being there!
After the jump, check our interview with Coachella director Drew Thomas about the backstory behind the film.
How’d this project come into being?
When this project started in ’99 I was earning a lot of my income as a director of photography or a cinematographer. I had shot some music videos for a friend who’s connected with Goldenvoice—she doesn’t work for Goldenvoice but her bestfriend does—and she’s just tight with those people. I guess [the head of Goldenvoice] Paul [Tollet] and his company were looking for someone to create a documentary, and she recommended me. And frankly I misunderstood. I thought that I was going to be going out there with one of my film camera and just shoot a little footage, maybe if they wanted to do a promo for next year or something. I assumed that this would be an operation where there was going to be 12 cameras running around with some sort of cheap video format and I would be the red headed stepchild shooter that nobody wants around and I’m getting in the way of other camera guys. So when I was called to the offices of Goldenvoice, I expected to walk into a full on production meeting and instead it was just me. I met with Paul and he started telling me about the festival, and of course I was intrigued with just the concept of it and the audacity of trying to create something that really had idealistic goals. I should say that this was four or five days before the first day of the festival, not a lot of ramp up time. It really just landed in my lap last minute. And I just decided to run with it. So I had to put together a team very very quickly, with very limited resources. It was sort of a run and gun operation from the outset.
Was it originally conceived as a film about the first one or did they know that this was going to be a yearly event?
I don’t know that they ever knew if there was going to be another. As a matter of fact I know there were times when we doubted there would be another. As you may know, it wasn’t a profitable enterprise at first, at all. Coachella was an experiment, and I don’t think anybody knew there was going to be more and certainly I didn’t know if we would ever shoot again. And there were times when we were only confirmed that we were shooting a day or a day and a half before the festival. It was always a matter of how can we get this line item in the budget, how can we squeeze just a little bit more and make it work. We would go through all of the pre-production that was necessary, and then the guys at Goldenvoice would be like, “OK, I think we can do this.”.
Why did you decided after five festivals that now is the right time to release the film?
Back in 2001, after we had shot the ’99 and the 2001 Coachellas, we felt like we had enough and good enough material to put something together. So we actually put together a ten minute presentation, with a few artists on it. I thought that we’d show this to some folks and they’ll love it—the footage looks great and certainly the artists are cool, and somebody will come along with some money and we’ll make the feature. And I was disappointed at the time that that didn’t happen, even though there was a fair amount of interest.
We actually had a finished edit before the 2004 show and decided, when we knew the lineup of 2004 [which featured the reunited Pixies, Radiohead, Kraftwerk and the Flaming Lips], that we’d shoot 2004 and hold off on finishing the movie. And I think some of the best stuff in the film is from 2004. Then we had a cut we were very happy with in early 2005, and we were still making tweaks, and again the 2005 lineup came out. It seemed silly not to say, “Let’s just close up shop for a month, see what we get at this year’s Coachella, and if there’s something we want to put in, we will.” And it turns out that Arcade Fire left it all on the stage, they did such a good show that we decided to stick them in. But yeah as far as why now, it’s more that it wasn’t done before.
What’s interesting about the film is that there isn’t a timeline given, it’s made to feel like this is two days, but it’s actually two days stretched out over six years.
When I thought about who would watch this movie, to me it is people who were going to enjoy the music and were going to enjoy seeing the artists shot in a way that wasn’t overly packaged and wasn’t too dressed up and was shot in a classic rock documentary style. Ideally that is what we were aiming for, whether we landed that is up to interpretation. We didn’t want to dress the documentary up too much. We didn’t want to have titles everywhere, we didn’t want to steer the audience too much. We tried to structure the movie as a weekend at Coachella. The one sort of conceit we had was we were going to go from day to night for two days within the structure of the film. To try and force the audience to think about what year people were in, what stage they were on, what tent they were in, I’d rather just let them experience it.
Are their performances you wished you had filmed but didn’t?
In 1999 we had such limited resources that we ran out of film on Saturday, so we were shooting leftovers, shortend pieces of film. It’s a bigger operation now, but we don’t have the budget and enough hi-def tapes to shoot every song by every band we want to film. I know that there are going to be times when someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, I really dug the movie, but why the hell isn’t Moving Units in there? Because I saw them in the Mojave Tent and they brought the place down.” And you know what, they’re right. With the very limited resources we have always had trying to capture such a huge event, some stuff naturally falls by the wayside.