Having travelled with bands like ACDC, Duran Duran and David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, Gavin Elder could be considered as something of a rockstar filmmaker. After accidentally stumbling into filmmaking while working as a DJ, he taught himself how to shoot, direct and edit and naturally ended up making music documentaries. While living in Japan Gavin started working with Duran Duran and Marc Newson, which led to introductions to ACDC, Robbie Williams, David Gilmour and Pink Floyd and one job just kept leading to the next. In between jetting across the world Gavin also finds the time to shoot locally and he has recently worked with artists Brett Murray, Liza Grobler, Friday Jibu.
Judging from his résumé you can tell that he probably has some interesting stories to tell, so we chatted to Gavin about some of his experiences.
What is your background and when and how did you first become interested in filmmaking?
I used to DJ and manage bands and needed some promotional material, so I began taking photos and making videos with the musicians. This led to some TV exposure which led to more filming. I then started going on tour with bands and shot and directed documentary films.
What was the first film you worked on and what did you take away from this experience?
I shot a Springbok Nude Girls video around 1995 in a garage up the West Coast. I tried to capture the raw energy they had, they are the most fantastic talented group of guys and I remember thinking they had all the ingredients for global success. Capturing their obvious talent was a thrilling experience and then working through the footage for weeks in post production was equally rewarding. I knew then that this was something I would love to do as a career.
You work quite closely with a number of musicians, documenting their performances and tours across the globe. Tell us about some of these experiences.
Cities for me are often linked with work experiences. In South Africa I documented tours with Cypress Hill, Violent Femmes and Bush. I then lived in Japan for 2 years and worked with Duran Duran and the designer Marc Newson, which led to introductions to ACDC, Robbie Williams, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd). One job just kept leading to the next.
I remember visiting Venice for the first time with David Gilmour and in the afternoon just before the band’s sound check part of the stage collapsed, the fire brigade was called (arriving by boat, of course) and the show was cancelled. The upside was that we got the chance to go back to Venice a few weeks later. In Buenos Aires I met Francis Ford Coppola while on tour with Duran Duran. He was so excited to meet the band that he ended up coming to the gig that night in the band’s tour bus. He sat on the side of the stage and watched the entire show. There was also one insane 24 hour day when we woke up in Reyjavik in Iceland, had a lunchtime show in Rome for LIVE8, flew to Denmark in the evening for the Roskilde Festival and then caught a 2am flight back to London.
I filmed an amazing tour with Antony&The Johnsons called TURNING, which was released as a film at the Copenhagen documentary festival CPH:DOX. I met Mark Ronson through Duran Duran and he asked me to make a short film about his album “Record Collection”. Filming David Bowie with David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall was another incredible moment.
What else do you enjoy working on?
Recently I’ve been making films with artists Brett Murray, Jeff Koons, Friday Jibu, Giles Walker, Liza Grobler and Shepard Fairey which I enjoy too.
How does working internationally compare to working locally?
For me the lines have blurred between working locally and globally, creative people are the same everywhere.
Do you have a specific style or aesthetic, or do you adjust it depending on the project?
I like to keep a sense of realness or roughness in the footage, no matter what I film.
You do everything from directing to filming to editing. How did you learn all these things and why do you think a varied skill set is important in your industry?
I started filming with a video camera and used to do basic editing using 2 VHS machines, pressing stop/start to make an edit (seems like the dark ages now!). I then got a job filming events and the company had an AVID editing system which I Iearned how to use. I picked up lighting and directing skills by just doing it, lots of trial and error of course. The skill set came out of necessity – when I am on the road and I want to view and create short edits it’s not realistic having an additional person, so I learnt to edit. If you love what you do, you find a way to gather the necessary skills to enable you to keep working.
Who and what inspires you?
Traveling really inspires me and fortunately I get to move around a lot.
How has being a filmmaker changed the way you look at things?
I don’t take a camera on holiday, otherwise I’d be waking up way too early to capture the perfect light.
Which other forms of creativity are you drawn to and how do these complement your filmmaking?
I love visiting art shows and museums. Art inspires me and it makes me want to experiment more in my film making, it pushes me to think about things in a different way and from a different perspective. Museum visits feed into a creative pond that hopefully I can dip into at a later point in time. For me a great show has a sense of the spiritual.
What have been some of the highlights in your career so far?
Directing LIVE IN GDANSK with David Gilmour was a definite highlight and working with David Lynch and Duran Duran was incredibly stimulating. Working with Antony Hegarty was one of my most mind shifting experiences.
What are you working on at the moment?
In the last 2 weeks I’ve filmed Shepard Fairey and ACDC and I’ve recently worked with Ludo in Paris, his show is currently on at the Lazarides Gallery in London. Right now I’m working with Pink Floyd and I have just cut a series of interviews with David Gilmour and Nick Mason.
Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Just start filming.