Interview with Niall McCann – Director of Lost In France – Part 1 by Killian Laher
There are a series of gigs around Ireland will accompany the film’s release including Emma Pollock & RM Hubbert LIVE:
Friday March 3rd – The Workman’s Club, Dublin
Saturday March 4th – Connolly’s of Leap, Cork
Sunday March 5th – Roisin Dubh, Galway
Lost in France is released on March 3rd.
No More Workhorse sat down with ‘Lost In France’ director Niall McCann to chat about his great new film, a lot about music and wider societal issues:
The film Lost in France is a lovely piece of work. How did it come about?
Thanks very much. My Luke Haines film (Art Will Save The World) didn’t come out due to complex production company issues. Young filmmakers should always find people to work with who they can trust. This time around I have my producers Nicky Gogan and Paul Welsh, without whom there would be no film. So by mid-2012 I was at a gig in the Grand Social, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat – love that album – and afterwards Aidan was selling merch, so I just decided to go up and introduce myself. I knew he knew who Luke was, they follow each other on twitter, and I hoped he might have seen the film and luckily, he had. He gave me his card, I said “I’d love to talk to you about maybe making a film together”. I just said it with a few beers on me, I wasn’t serious, I was chancing my arm. I couldn’t see a way of getting back to making a film again. Being a director is weird, especially if you’re a writer/director who doesn’t make any money from what you do. It isn’t the big cash cow so you don’t have all these people around you. So I just thought I’d do what I did the first time: meet a subject, try and find a story and then develop it from there. I stayed in contact with Aidan, we spoke on the phone and stayed in email contact for the rest of the year. Just before the Cork film festival that year which my film was screening at, I went over to Glasgow and spent the day with Aidan. I just wanted to hear what memories he had from the mid-nineties period that he was part of, the Glasgow music scene and he mentioned this trip that they all went on to Mauron.
I didn’t know anything about that?
To be honest, I didn’t until… it was such a small thing, they were all starting out… did Mogwai even have the first album out? And I think Arab Strap had just released their first album maybe? It was 1996. He went home and said I think I have a fanzine of it, I’ll send you a scan. And he found and sent it to me that night. I remember reading it in the airport on my way back and I just thought this is it, this is my way in! One of my favourite music documentaries is Joy Division by Grant Gee, I love that film. It’s brilliantly well told, talking heads and archives. I really don’t like the whole snobby idea you get where ‘talking heads aren’t cinematic’, you hear fucking idiots saying this. If you’re worried about THAT… there are a lot of great films with talking heads, you know. I’ve often heard that ‘it’s not cinematic’, people who say that don’t know what cinematic means. I don’t know what THEY mean. You like what you like. I knew that trip offered a narrative hook. I knew from meeting the guys that I had to bring them out of Glasgow in order to get them talking about it. They’re like Irish people, if not even more self-deprecating, they don’t blow their own trumpets.
So I was developing the film, we had pre-production meetings with Aidan (Moffat), he was going to be the main guy, the narrator. He was the magnetic one, the natural one that I was drawn to. But then he and a friend of his, a film maker Paul Fagan got money off the Commonwealth Games to make their film. So Aidan ended up having to pull out of our film. I wanted Aidan, I didn’t see why Aidan still couldn’t come but he wanted to focus. Aidan’s a bit like me, he’s slow at making stuff. When I first spoke to Aidan about this project he said “oh maybe we can start looking at it in seven years time!’ I like to think long term but not that long term. I think he likes to focus his full attention on something, he didn’t want to spread his attention. And logistically I don’t think he wanted two films out because it might damage one of them. Personally I don’t see film making as a competition but I think music people DO see music making as a competition in a way. More so than in film. Maybe I’m alone in that! I think they feel a bit competitive, like the way Belle and Sebastian called their album The Boy With The Arab Strap. It’s arbitrary anyway, you can’t judge it. If your work doesn’t do well it doesn’t mean that it’s less ‘good’. I think that what we could say is that logistically it wasn’t possible for him to do it. That caused me to re-focus. I remember getting an email from Aidan one night, and we were pretty close to going shooting the promo, a lot of the time when you get funding you have to make a promo. It’s a weird process because you make a promo that very often is not indicative of the film you make a year or two later. You shoot a lot of stuff that you can’t use because aesthetically it’s different in style. So I got an email from him really late one night, saying “I can’t be in the film, can we not put it back to two years.” I’d already lined up all the money and all this stuff, and you can’t just go ‘stop’. If you go ‘stop’ on a production like that and go back in two years time they’ll tell you to fuck off. You have your funding so you’ve only got a short window.
I arranged a meeting through Stewart Henderson (head of Chemikal Underground) with Stuart Braithwaite, RM Hubbert, Stewart himself and Emma Pollock and during the week Stewart said something like “Chemikal haven’t really done anything important. There were bands in it that did something but we didn’t.” I remember Hubby (RM Hubbert) going “Oh yeah, that’s right Stewart, you didn’t give the world Arab Strap or Mogwai.”
Because of the stress that people who run record labels are under. If you’re not a major you’re under serious pressure these days. Because it’s fucked, the whole thing is fucked. Music sales are 10% of what they were 10 years ago, and 10 years ago was probably 10% of 20 years ago. They were really worried about the future of the label. I don’t think he (Henderson) wanted to go round thinking about how great the label had been or making a celebratory film, blowing their own trumpet. That’s one thing I find weird, I love the interviews, but when people congratulate you on Facebook, you know the way Irish people are. You think ‘no, I don’t want this.’ When I go home to Dundalk I wouldn’t even mention it to people, but they’ve seen it in the local paper. On the one hand I like that aspect of being Irish, you’re not allowed get carried away. But there is a sneering sort of thing. I just hope people don’t think I think I’m brilliant. I don’t.
The whole film became this gamble on, that if I brought them all back, Stewart (Henderson) in particular would maybe change his opinion on what they’ve done. He doesn’t go into full celebratory mode but by the end of the film, one of my favourite bits, when he says “I was in Mogwai, I was in Arab Strap, I was in Bis, I was in Magoo.” At that moment, well it WAS important. The trip itself is not important. By bringing them back, the space it gave them and time to reflect was. Sometimes things are important for me as a filmmaker on a broader scale. When you’re making a film, it’s about these guys’ personal stories, but it’s also about a broader picture. I’d even bring it outside of filmmaking. It’s about a group of friends growing up. Like my first film, it’s about what liberal democracy and that economic model has done to the arts. And what it’s done to society in a wider sense. It’s coupled with the rise of the individual, you know, everyone’s unique, if you don’t do well it’s because you’re not working hard enough. Not because the system’s stacked against you.
We talk in the film about the importance of the welfare state and having a vibrant support for people who want to do something else and don’t want to go into a job straight away, where they just take whatever job they can do, and want to try and develop something. There used to be space and supports for them to do so. Now those supports aren’t there any more. We live in a society where people don’t see the bigger picture. They think they’re getting gyped, and they think the person who gyped them is the person beside them, when it’s actually the person above them. I think all these things were brought around by that economic model that came along and saved the world. The fall of the Soviet Union and what that brought. The world that we grew up in is very different from the world our parents did. Everyone was on the dole in the eighties in Ireland. Those same people give out about someone with a big TV. It’s not that simple. I do know people who’ve been caught in a trap. Most people want to work. But maybe they can’t get work in the thing they did their masters in. Why should it be their fault if the economy is such bullshit that there are no proper jobs anymore?
Continues in Part 2