This week Android In La La Land, the documentary on seminal electronic musician Gary Numan, hits cinemas in the UK. I met up with the director Steve Read to get the skinny on the making of the movie.
So Steve, how did the film come about?
"Quite by chance. I was at the Hop Farm Festival 2012, saw he was playing and wanted to check him out. I wasn't a big Gary Numan fan, although I am now after hearing more of his music, but I was completely blown away by him. I recognised his famous songs, Cars and Are Friends Electric, but they were being played with a much more industrial sound. I grew up listening to bands like Nine Inch Nails and I loved how his new sound. It was an amazing experience and I thought "Wow he's brilliant".
The scene in the film from Bestival is pretty much what I saw playing Are Friends Electric live with an audience of younger people all going nuts. I spent all night going on about how good he was. We got back stage, my mate saw Gary and said "go and talk to him". He was so nice and so funny, and Gemma (Gary's wife) was there too and together they were dynamite. I
'd just finished a project, and there I was looking for another subject for a film. It struck me I might have found it so I blurted out "Gary I want to make a film about you" without knowing what it would be about or anything. I got his number and the next day did some research, found out important and influential he was to the history of music and that he was planning to move to LA, and thought that could be a really good film.
I chatted with Rob Alexander, the film's producer, and we started filming a week later. The test shots worked so well they ended up in the film. All the stuff from the pink house in East Sussex was meant to be a test shoot but we got such great stuff it had to go in. He talked his troubles when he was hugely famous, his Aspergers and alienation. Really funny stuff too, like when he blew up the dingy in his front room, which stayed there for two years. Rob and I agreed that we had something really special.
We then filmed the packing up scene, went to LA with them and the story developed from there. There was loads of stuff we didn't know, like the depression, the fall our with his parents, and we had idea how good Splinter was going to be. Hearing some of the early tracks was a real buzz for us, thinking this album going to be really great. We spent a lot of time out in La from then on as we knew we had something special."
You really caught him at a pivotal time. Was that just luck?
"I'd like to say it was something else. Genius or divine intervention? It was meant to happen is how I'd like to look at it. Gary wanted the film to happen. He had a story to tell. When we met he said "why would you want to make a film about me?" but now it's obvious."
How did you manage to capture so much intimate footage?
"As soon as we started filming, from the test shots onwards, we hit it off. The more trust you build in a documentary, it leads to more access. I connected with him, I've also got three daughters, I've lived in LA for a while, I like the same kind of music. Basically Gary trusted us. He had a story he wanted to tell. It was a big time in his life, with the move to the US and a cross roads in his career with the recording of his first album in seven years.
Take his depression. We'd say let's talk about the depression, and he was still getting his head around it. He was writing about it and recording songs about it for the album, but we captured the first time he'd talked about it. I think he used our interviews, which were essentially me and him in a garden with Rob on a camera miles away, as a kind of therapy. The film is definitely part rock doc, part road trip, part love story, part therapy session.
I'm really proud that we talked about this stuff, and someone of Gary's stature is highlighting these issues that men go through and find it difficult to talk about. Quite often the concept of a mid life crisis is seen as a joke, but actually they can ruin men's lives and ruin families so I'm really proud that we've explored this stuff. Here's a guy who's really famous who been through a lot of stuff, he talks about it and how he's got through it. There's a lot of light stuff too, a lot of fun but audiences have liked both shades of the film."
Say Gary Numan to people, they imagine a cold robot like person but your film disproves that. Where you shocked by just how warm and funny he was?
"He is really, really funny. I never had him down as a funny bloke but he made me laugh so many times, and Gemma as well. They're both very funny but together they are incredible. I didn't know much about him, but as I've been a photographer on tour shooting big celebrities so I'm not phased by fame which means I can be quiet direct to get the best out of people, and he liked that directness. That intimacy let the real him out. It's funny as everyone who knows him who's seen the film say they are shocked by it. Gary is so open in it, so honest and so funny."
This stunning rock music documentary that is so much more than that will be on a screen near you soon.
Images ©Steve Read 2013