Recently I had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with Nicola Roberts, director of the new film about Brian Eno. What I enjoyed about the film is that it’s a film about ideas and the creative process, not so much a chronology of his incredible body of work. I found it incredibly inspiring. You will too.
What was it that initially attracted you to Eno? Do you remember first hearing or seeing his work?
I liked Roxy Music, but it was Eno’s early solo albums I really loved best, particularly Here Come The Warm Jets and the second side of Before and After Science.
What was his involvement in the film?
Brian ‘steered’ the film by inviting us to his studio to film him in conversation with various people. Other than that, we were free to make the film as we wished.
Was there anything about him that you learnt that surprised you?
It wasn’t until I was doing my research that I realised what a sex icon Brian had been when he was in Roxy Music. I was too young to have seen them live in the early 70s when Brian was in the band and didn’t know about the presence of the ‘Eno screamers’ at their gigs, nor the volume of Brian’s liaisons.
How long did it take to make this film? And what were some of the challenges?
The film took about a year to make, on and off. The biggest challenge was trying to get the eclectic mix of interviews to cohere and to reflect the facets of Brian’s intellect.
The focus seems to be more about him as a person what makes him tick artistically and less about his imposing body of work. What were your initial thoughts when planning this film?
‘Another Green World’ aired on the BBC with a companion piece – ‘Hits, Tracks and Classics’ an hour long, off-beat music compilation we made with journalist Paul Morley to showcase Brian’s ‘imposing body of work’. It featured his collaborations with David Bowie – Heroes. Warsawa, Boys Keep Swinging – Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime, Jezebel Spirit – and with lesser known bands like Devo and Ultravox (John Foxx’s Ultravox, not Midge Ure’s).
My initial idea was to make a film about ‘loops’ as they seemed to feature so much in Brian’s music – and thinking.
There’s lots of external landscape footage throughout the film. Can you discuss why you used this? How do you believe the landscape links in with Eno and his music?
In the ambient album ‘On Land’ there’s a track caleed ‘Dunwich Beach’ – and this is the Suffolk beach you see in the film. All the landscapes are authentic places Brian would have roamed in as a child. One of his artistic ambitions is to create ‘other worlds’ in his music: we wanted to show the pastoral ‘other world’ of his childhood, a source of inspiration to him.
Despite saying he hates remembering he seemed to grant you quite a lot of access, or at the very least appeared quite open with you. Was it difficult to establish his trust?
It wasn’t difficult to establish trust: Brian had a lot of confidence in Arena, the BBC arts series for which this documentary was made and which has been running for 30 years. Brian and I met a few times before we started filming: I’d written a short treatment about how I’d like to approach the film – all about ‘loops’! – which Brian liked. These loops still have a presence in the documentary – the postman’s ‘round’, the people coming and going and sitting around his circular table.
He seems to be a man fascinated by ideas. Very interested in the intellectual rigour of his work. You interview him yourself, however so do numerous other people. Why did you use this approach?
I had no idea the film would include conversations with a cybernetician or an environmental lawyer, but this is genuinely what Brian does with his days, when he’s not producing, or working on his own stuff. He believes ‘conversations can change the world’.
The most difficult part of making the programme was the editing: it wasn’t easy to assemble the very varied conversations to reflect the coherence behind Brian’s way of thinking.
How did he react to the finished film?
Brian told me he wasn’t going to watch it, but he got a lot of positive feedback from others, who encouraged him to see it. He did watch it in the end and liked it very much.
His studio seems filled with all manner of toys, books etc. It seems like the extension of a toybox for a grown up kid. Did you get this sense?
Yep, his studio is very like the album cover for Here Come the Warm Jets. He has a collection of cigarette packets from around the world (he used to smoke) and a lot of dice all turned to show the number six. There’s a lot of 21st century technology in the room, but no television (he doesn’t own one) and an analogue record player. His vinyl albums are stashed in alphabetical order.
I found the film incredibly inspiring. A really interesting window into the artistic process. How have other people reacted to it?
It seems to have gone down well. Brian’s close friends and family have said it definitely shows the man they know, male viewers seem to have particularly enjoyed it: I think they envy him all those gadgets.