SXSW Bound with Director Danny O’Connor and Director Jeff Myers

2 03 2011

Continuing our SXSW Bound series, I gathered two wonderful email interviews with Director Danny O’Connor, for his film UPSIDE DOWN: THE CREATION RECORDS STORY, and BECOMING SANTA’S Director Jeff Myers.

Over 25 years after Creation’s first records, Upside Down follows the story form the days of the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub to the Boo Radleys, Super Furry Animals and – of course – Oasis among many, many more.
The label’s enigmatic founder Alan McGee talks candidly of the trail which led from humble beginnings in Glasgow, via drink and drug dependency to being wined and dined at No. 10 Downing Street by Tony Blair.

Creation Record Co-Founder Alan McGee, Director Danny O’Connor, and Artist and Producer Mark Gardener.

Danny was kind enough to answer my questions about his career and his latest endeavor the gripping documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story.  I opened the discussion by letting Danny know that I was a huge fan of the band The Stereophonics, whom he has covered more extensively then any other journalist!  After I got that “fan” moment out of the way I asked how Danny was able to click so well with the lads.

My family is from Donegal in the North West of Ireland so there was definitely a Celtic connection with the Phonics. We were introduced by a mutual friend in 1996 just after they signed to V2 Records and I did the first radio interview with them. We got all well and fairplay to them they’re very loyal so whenever they needed something ‘documenting’ I got the call. In the end we wound up with two radio docs, a book , a film and countless press articles. It was great for me getting to travel all over the world with them. Great times!

Once you’d been allowed into their inner sanctum, what was it like traveling with the band on their tours across Europe?  Do you have any favorite stories (that you’re obviously open to sharing)?  Do you have a favorite song or an album that stands out?

I love the first record, ‘Word Gets Around’. There really isn’t a bad track on it and if I had to choose right now I’d go for ‘Billy Davey’s Daughter’. In terms of high jinks on the road there was always a lot of laughter and booze. One of the highlights has to be when they shot the video for ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ with Tom Jones in L.A. Unbeknown to the rest of us Stuart ( R.I.P) had invited one of air hostesses on the flight over. So filming is underway in this amazing house in Silverlakea and suddenly out of nowhere a coach turns with over 20 air hostesses on it. Happy days!

When did you start writing the book “Just Enough Evidence to Print” and how open were the guys to this project of yours?

It took about a year and the guys were great. Took me everywhere for a few years at the end of the 90’s. Then we started on their film, ‘Rewind’ and wound up on the road with them for another few years.

I then opened the discussion up, as Danny talked about UPSIDE DOWN: THE CREATION RECORDS STORY.

How did you first get involved in a project of this nature? Did you know Alan or folks from the bands prior to the film?  Your history at Radio 1 obviously must have opened you up to these artists, bands and the label as it exploded, I’m curious if your perception of them changed after starting your research into the record label?

I knew Alan from my time at Radio 1 in the mid-late nineties and we seemed to  bump into each other a lot because my office was in Primrose Hill close to where he lived. My office incidentally was in the old Creation building! Anyway I suggested to him that maybe enough time had passed to give everyone a bit of perspective so here we are four years later! Everyone , especially Alan, was very supportive and frank, honest and entertaining. I got to know Alan really well and he’s a real generous supportive guy…

What were the biggest surprises during the filming process?

Biggest surprise was just how candid everyone was. The Creation gang don’t seem to hide which is pretty impressive. Certainly made my life easier…

Obviously the hectic nature of the record label is an intriguing element, I’m curious how changed the artists are today compared to the images they cultivated back in their “wild” days?

Same guys – less fuel!

What are your hopes and expectations for your time coming up in Austin?  Since its such a musical town in our eyes, I’m curious if you see any parallels between Austin and home? 

Really looking forward to it. I’ve been before twice and had a blast. Food’s great, the vibe’s amazing and the weather’s a bit nicer than the North of Ireland…

Obviously your in the thick of this film, but are you working on any other projects?

I want to make a film about the poet, W.B. Yeats. I think it’s hard to find a rock n roll story to rival Creation so something completely different

And now here is the trailer for this wonderful documentary that is going to have its North American Premiere at SXSW in a matter of days!

BECOMING SANTA is the story of one man entering the culture and character of Santa Claus for a single season. We follow Jack as he bleaches his hair, goes to Santa School and tries to do everything that Santa is asked to do. He works as a sidewalk Santa, does home visits, a Polar Express Train and a parade. Along the way, Jack collects children’s wishes, learns about the benefits of belief, the history and origin of Santa and the ordinary people keeping the Santa spirit alive.

Director Jeff Myers.  He even eats his meals with his camera – that’s DEDICATION TO YOUR CRAFT!!

Jeff you’re jumping back into the Director’s Chair for the first time in over a decade.  I’m curious what all have you learned between films?  Is there a specific Cinematography moment(s) that have pushed you back into the Director’s role?

Wow, has is been that long? I think I was 24 when I directed my first film, The Ride.  The Ride was different because it was a narrative film.  You get to rehearse, set up shots and create moments that you control. I love that type of filmmaking.  After The Ride I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and got involved in the music scene.  I directed a lot of music videos, live concerts and epk’s for bands.  The epk’s i found interesting because they could be like little, mini documentaries.  Becoming Santa was an opportunity to combine reality with cinema

The Ride garnered you a lot of great Festival awards and nominations.  How different/similar was the shoot on BECOMING SANTA compared to THE RIDE?  Do you also have a favorite festival moment from your Ride run?

The Ride was shot in less than a month. We had a small crew of around 20 people and filmed in the Chicago area.  Becoming Santa was shot over the course of a year. We had a core crew of about 4 people.  We filmed in multiple cities, across the U.S. and Canada. Becoming Santa felt like a road trip movie on airplanes.  I’ll never forget Jack and I driving down the back roads of Illinois, at night, in the freezing rain, on Christmas eve so that we could do sneak and peeks.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it wasn’t until the sneak and peeks that I realized what we were really participating in.  I’ll just quote Santa Jack here and say “Those children are never gonna forget that experience.”

How did you first meet Jack and where did the idea come from to make this movie?

Jack and I first met in Chicago about 18 years ago when he cast me in a play he directed.  Jack came up with the original idea for our film. He observed that anytime Santa was being cast in a commercial, Santas would show up for the audition with white hair, white beards, wearing their own Santa suit and they always had their wife/Mrs. Claus with them.

Even though there was no part for a Mrs. Claus. Jack pointed out that there was an interesting sub culture of Santas going on that we were unaware of.  Everyone we talked to said “That’s a great idea!” But no one would really help us get it off the ground.  It wasn’t until Jack did his first bleaching that I was sure we had a movie.  We had been kicking the idea around for a couple of years trying to find an actor that we could follow through the process.  But we couldn’t find anyone that was willing to do it. Eventually I suggested to Jack that he should do it.

Jack’s father had died at Christmas that year and in the summer, Jack was already beginning to dread December. One day in June, Jack announced that he was going to get his hair bleached and maybe I should film it.  He was going to throw himself into Santa to get through the season.  I didn’t realize then, but that was the first day of filming.  The first bleaching was brutal. Jack sat in the chair with his head and face covered in burning bleach for over 2 hours.  The fumes were so bad he had to stuff cotton balls in his nose and sit outside just so he could breath.  The worst part was it didn’t work the first time. Jack’s hair and beard turned an orange-yellow color that looked ridiculous.  He had to go through the whole process again.  I felt a lot of empathy for Jack and inspiration in his level of commitment.

In Jack we found a character that was likable and relatable.  I realized that the through line of the movie was Jack and his journey.  The history of Santa is interesting and the Santas were fun, but as an audience it’s Jacks story that navigates the water.

Jack Sanderson “Santa Jack” and Director Jeff Myers.

You did shoot this film as well, what cameras do you prefer to shoot on?  How would you define your visual style?

I love the RED camera, but it would have never worked for this project.  We knew we needed a small crew and small cameras. We would be traveling all the time.  Most of the time we would be hand held and chasing after Jack.  I wanted to cover everything with at least two cameras.  The colors of Christmas to me are very lush and saturated.  I wanted the movie to look rich, with saturated colors, crunchy blacks and some contrast.  I chose the Sony EX cameras and we shot in High Definition.  We were very fortunate to have such a talented camera crew.  I’m very happy with the way the movie looks.

Becoming Santa Camera Operator Kevin Krupitzer handling the RED Camera.

In researching the history of Santa were you amazed by any of the basis?  How much did Jack’s passion carry over to you?

The more Santas we met, the more we realized this was a lifestyle for them.  They kept their white beards year round. They dressed every day in what they called “Santa Casual.”  They drove red vehicles. A lot of them had license plates that said they were Santa.  This was a 24/7, 365 identity for them.  The thing I found most fascinating during our filming was that most of these Santas suffer from post Christmas depression.  The entire year is one giant buildup to Christmas, but the day after Christmas is a huge let down.  On December 26th, all of the sudden no one cares about Santa anymore and they are no longer the center of attention.

What are your expectations and your goals while out at SXSW?

We’re just happy to be able to share the movie with an audience at SXSW.  Hopefully we can give some of that Christmas spirit back to the adults.

Here is the trailer for BECOMING SANTA.

I hope you’ve enjoy this look at Directors Jeff Myers and Danny O’Connor.


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2 responses

3 03 2011
Janet Myers

Jeff Myers rocks! He is so passionate about his work and I am so happy for him. I can hardly wait until Becoming Santa is shown to the public. I’ve seen the trailer and I’m excited to see the whole movie!

9 12 2011
Pam Ezzell

Incredible film – stumbled upon it almost half way thru and was completely hooked! Great asides, historical info and glimpses into the Santa culture, but Jack is the real story. What a concept – a real, flesh & blood guy with charm, charisma and the smarts to express how he really “gets it” – he’s such a wonderful surprise. Hooray for Becoming Santa and all the time, talent and commitment it took to make such a great piece. Love you Jack! You make Santa rock.

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