You think concert films are boring? Think again. In fact, don’t.
Filmed with 20 cameras halfway up a mountain in Japan with 50,000 delirious fans, The Chemical Brothers’ mindblowing psychedelic live show has been captured on screen for the first time in Don’t Think. Toy robots, psychotic clowns, galloping horses, insects in the mud under your feet… Director Adam Smith tells i-D how you turn a live concert into a cinema experience that makes your senses surge.
Were you worried that a great concert could make a bad film? That’s what I thought. How am I going to this? And make it original? And also hold an audience for 90 minutes? Brilliant as Ed and Tom are, in their own words, they’re not traditional frontmen. We knew the light show was amazing, but the visuals won’t necessarily hold attention for 90 minutes.
Was it a problem not having a storyline to hang on to? That’s where the idea of using the audiences as characters came from. There isn’t a narrative, you’re right, but in a way there is. The set list is a kind of emotional journey. Tom and Ed know how to put together a set that will take you on a ride of emotions – through total joy to dark moments to fear to playfulness and humour. So we were following that.
So how do you make a concert film that’s different? That was exactly the aim of it. I really wanted it to be as different as possible. It’s an unconventional show. It’s not a singer, a bass player and a guitarist. No to just show what it is but to have people be affected by it and experience it. What it feels like, what it smells like… I did a video for The Streets, Blinded By The Light, it was at a wedding, and the best compliment anyone said to me was: ‘I can taste it.’
Was the aim to hit the audience on that sensory level? I wanted the audience to be immersed in the visuals, so we layered visuals over audience shots. We put visuals into the clouds about the audience, so you just really felt like you were surrounded by the music. A lot of visuals are influenced by the surrealist films. What was wonderful was how people reacted to it, like the woman who’s really scared of the clown.
Did you watch other concert films to prepare? I watched the Underworld one. One of the editors worked on that. I said, “What was missing?” he said, “Audience shots.” And that’s what gave me the idea of how we emotionally connect with it.
What did the Japanese audience think of you filming them? They were wonderful. Just on a visual level, they were all so stylish. But they were also just so open and that festival has a wonderment to it compared to England – we’re so cynical about everything. We were running around projecting insects on the mud and they’re playing with them rather than telling us to f*ck off. My favourite bits, in a way, were me and my cameraman Iain Finlay running around filming Mario and robots and projections.
How did you capture those shots? We had notices on the cameras saying, ‘Please don’t look at the lens’ in Japanese. The shots that Iain and three other cameraman got of the audience were just so good. They’re not people showing off to the camera, gurning and saying hello to their mothers. They let us into their private, intimate little moments.
And make someone in a cinema feel like they’re actually there? You see through someone’s eyes, you see their POV shot, and then you see a reaction shot – so you’re with someone and you care about them. We played around, during ‘Believe’, almost having Tom as this mad preacher blessing people and them freaking out. It’s sending people off into their memories and into their subconscious and taking them on a trip, hopefully.
Obviously there are no second takes. How stressful was it? It was kind of terrifying, but there’s something liberating about that. You’ve just got to do it. Don’t think. Which was partly why we called it Don’t Think. You just have to make creative decisions and adapt. It was exciting but exhausting. You get on a plane for 12 hours, you get on a coach for 12 hours and then you’re up a mountain trying to make your first film.
Do you think it will be a film that people remember? I’ve got hopes that it’ll become one of those late night films that in 20 years’ time people who weren’t even born when this gig happened say, ‘I’ve got this thing of my granddad’s on DVD!’ ‘What’s DVD?’ ‘It’s just like a disc thing, but let’s watch it!’ Just in the same way as we used to watch great festival films.
What reactions to the film have you had so far? Jaime Winstone came to one of our early screenings. She just turned round and was like, “What are we doing now, Ad? Where we going? Where we going?” I said, “I dunno, there’s some drinks at the bar Jaime…” She was like, “No, I’ve got to go out after that!”
Don’t Think is playing for one night only all over the country this Friday 3rd Feb. For tickets and info, head to dontthinkmovie.com
Text: Jonathan Crocker