Interview with Niall McCann – Director of Lost In France – Part 2 by Killian Laher
Part 2 of Killian’s interview with Niall McCann, Director of the new film Lost In France. In which they talk about Naill’s current projects.
Lost in France is released on March 3rd.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m making a film with Adrian Crowley.
Is there much you can share with us about that?
I was lucky enough to get funding to make a film about Adrian. It’s not a biopic about Adrian, it’s the last part of a trilogy about the arts under a liberal democracy. He’s got a new album coming out, he’s got a family, it’s hard to make a living. It’s about what it means to be creative, I want to demythologise the idea of the artist, I think it’s important that not only do some people want to be creative but some people have to be. If they don’t have this outlet, if it’s taken away from them because they have to do a 9 to 5, it destroys them as human beings. I’m not saying people who are creative are better than people who aren’t. I think everyone is intrinsically creative. That’s part of the ‘thing’, we’ve taught people that they’re not. And we’ve taught people that certain forms of art are more valuable than others. Certain forms of writing are more valuable, and it’s all judged by the same status quo that place these rules on us.
That’s before you consider the Internet.
Exactly. That was what fucked everything because the Internet is about access not ownership. I think this is linked to what we were talking about: the rise of the individual and if I’m behind a computer and I download loads of music for free it’s not stealing. I know people on Facebook or on Twitter, and I think ‘this lad has big balls to slag people off’. They wouldn’t say boo to someone in the street. I remember some woman who abused Madeline McCann’s mother. She tried to commit suicide after that because she wrote awful things online. She couldn’t explain why she did it. But I think the film is about all those things as well. A good music film is not just about music. I’d like to think that people wouldn’t necessarily need to know the musicians in the film to get some enjoyment out of it. I’ve got some reviews that say it’s a very private film, which bothers me.
I don’t know what that means?
Have you seen Mattress Men? In the same way, that’s about the recession, it’s not really about him. It’s not like when you make a film about Nick Cave, then it’s about Nick Cave. The second film (One More Time With Feeling) is about his grief I guess. The other one (20,000 Days On Earth) is well worth seeing. It’s worth watching just for Blixa Bargeld really. I saw this documentary on YouTube about him. He’s got no sense of humour whatsoever. He takes himself unbelievably seriously. At some point, the PA does something and he goes “you IDIOT!!”
Can you briefly tell us the story about the Luke Haines film? What happened?
I was a civil servant working on the Census years ago, 2006, and when I was growing up in Dundalk, making films wasn’t something that people did. I didn’t know any artists. I knew people who loved art and who loved music, fellas older than me. That’s how I got into music I’m into, or was into at the time. So one day I decided, fuck it, the Celtic tiger was going on, people seemed to be going back to college. I’m bipolar. If I get an idea in my head and it upsets me, it can really take its toll. I was sick when I was younger for a long time, when I was 16. That’s when I decided that I’d love to make films. I promised myself I’d try to do something with my life. I’m not saying film making is important – it’s not. I wanted to do something that was more ‘me’. I had studied multimedia as an undergraduate, because there a film module. So anyway, I decided I’d go back and do a masters. I didn’t know how you make films. If I did a masters than maybe then I’d get a job in a company or if I wrote something maybe the Film Board would listen. I didn’t know, no one tells you. They don’t even tell you in film school! I’d already, when I was a civil servant, met Luke Haines after a gig he played in Whelans. It was the Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop album. I introduced myself and said “I’d love to make a film about you”. For the next few minutes when he thought I was a proper filmmaker, which I wasn’t, he was really into it but when he found out that I was still a civil servant he told me to, and I quote, “fuck off”.
So when I finished my masters I contacted his manager. I said I met Luke before, I told him I was going to back and do my masters and I’d be in touch, and I wanted to talk about making a film. The great thing about a lot of people in the arts is they’re open to those ideas, they’re used to cameras, they’re not as nervous as people in the street. So a music film about someone I loved and admired, and whose music meant a lot to me seemed like the logical thing to do. Luke’s a brilliant character. Terrifying at times.
I just contacted the manager and I met Alan Maher of the film board. He said he’d give me ninety grand to make a film, which is a lot of money to me. A music film is very difficult to make for that because music rights are so expensive. I’m very proud of the film, the problem is I don’t own the film, the production company that do is nothing to do with me. If I did own it people would be able to see it. It’s been one of the most upsetting experiences of my life. That film was my baby and you have no control over what is done with it.
It was an important lesson for me, now I work with the right people. You need trust – it’s integral. I also made a BAI thing about lads who moved to New York for Gaelic (An Exiles Home In The Bronx). A similar idea in that people have to leave Ireland to get work. It’s a TV thing.
Were you into the Glasgow music scene in the late nineties back then?
Yeah I was, from (Mogwai album) Young Team. The lads I hung around with were older, they would have been 17/18 when I was 12. When I was 14 I got to hear Arab Strap and it sounded like nothing else. I didn’t know about Smog then so I didn’t know they were really influenced by Smog to the point that the cover (of The Week Never Starts Around Here) is practically the same as The Doctor Came At Dawn. You didn’t know any of this stuff at the time. And I realised making this film that Shellac, one of my favourite bands, is practically all these guys’ favourite bands. American hardcore was the big influence. Very different to what was going on down south, apart from Pulp… and the Auteurs too. Suede were great too – the first two albums. I saw your review of Mark Eitzel. He’s just magical, he’s one of the greats, and it was an incredible gig. I think Luke knows him.
Anyway Young Team blew my mind. The only post-rock thing I knew at the time was Slint. I didn’t know Tortoise. I think if I’d heard Tortoise at the time I wouldn’t have got it. I really like the first album but it would have been too subtle for me back then. The later stuff is just like, jazz or something. Godspeed You Black Emperor! were around at the time, but they were different too. Mogwai in their own way are quite unique. Really Glaswegian, probably one of the most important bands for me growing up. Young lads of 17 making that sort of music, not giving a fuck and knowing they were right. It’s worked out for them brilliantly but it could have gone arseways. They were proper punk rock. That was the difference. Up there seemed punk rock and DIY in a way, and Britpop just seemed to be about getting on Top of the Pops, Noel Gallagher and having to pretend that Oasis were good. Or that Blur were good, before Blur: Blur, and even Think Tank, which I love. If you listen to Think Tank and you listen to Luke Haines’ Baader Meinhof, it’s avant garde funk, and it sounds like Think Tank. It was a concept album about a terrorist organisation. A lot of people refused to review it but I think it’s remarkable, his best album.
I didn’t go to Glasgow until I started making this film. It’s sort of a mythical place. I don’t know why it’s not spoken of in the same terms as Detroit and all these other places. And there are still more good bands coming out of there. Even back as far as Simple Minds, Alex Harvey and even going back as the music halls. It comes from a vibrant working class who haven’t been destroyed. That there were jobs for and who had meaning and purpose. Which is something that I think is important when we talk about a welfare state in a liberal democracy. It is about the rise of the gig economy, and people not having any feeling of worth in what they do. It’s about having a purpose. It’s not about being better than other people. For most people that’s been taken away. Even today, with Tesco, they’re to take pride and dignity away from people. A company that makes billions of profit and can’t pay people a decent wage. We’ve a government who won’t do anything about it, or even try to. It’s race to the bottom sort of stuff, it’s depressing. It’ll destroy the arts. We’re going to end up in a situation where it’s all Mumford and Sons. I’m not having a go at individuals here. But who wants to hear art from people who’ve got loads of money? I’m not saying there’s no place for it but we need a balance.
Aren’t rich people allowed make music?
Of course. But we’re returning to a situation that’s like the classical period. A lot of people made art for rich people, the arts were for the rich. But now it’s like, we have the ‘popular arts’ now. Pop art, or whatever you want to call it. The means of production, while apparently being socialised by digitisation, that in itself is a lie. It’s given lots of people the means to make aesthetically poor art. It’s given us more shite! I know people producing work for free, and there’s no value on it.
Continues in three of the trilogy!