My big weakness is celebrities. I want to film them because they´re famous for a reason. The star-chetect Frank Gehry and I had a history together (although Frank didn´t have a clue). Before I moved to Finland I lived in Venice Beach right down the boardwalk from his Life Guard Station house. It was such a witty take on a mundane everyday object that I fell in love. When we built a house on an island near Helsinki, I called it Frank Gehry Far North.
|Frank & Alvar (2005)|
So when I heard he was coming to Helsinki I thought we just have to get him on film. After multiple phone calls to his PR person in LA the answer was a big NO. Frank did not want to be interviewed. But one day I was talking to Juhani Pallasmaa, a Finnish architect. He said he was having lunch with Frank at Alvar Aalto´s house. I said, “That has to be filmed.” I used Juhani´s name (with his permission) and the deal was made. I´ve told this story before, but it´s worth repeating: when I ran into tell the team that we were going to get to film him they both said, “Who the f*** is Frank Gehry:”
Esa-Pekka Salonen was my next target. At the time he was conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. When we interviewed him for “Frank & Alvar” I pounced. I told him that we wanted to concentrate on his work as a composer. He vaguely accepted. Then the hard work began. Countless phone calls and emails trying to arrange meetings for shoots and interviews. A whole list of demands from his people followed. At one point I was ready to give the development financing back to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). Our commissioning editor wanted to know why we had got involved in the project in the first place. I said, because I was hopelessly star struck but that this doc had cured me.
That was until we got to Oakland, California to shoot “marihuanaland”. There I chased down everybody who had anything to do with the cannabis business. Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University said, emphatically, that he did not want to be interviewed. I told him we didn´t want him to talk about the school, but about what the school had done for Oakland. We got him. Steve DeAngelo was another tough nut to crack, but we got him too. His PR person made the appointment and added that we had better bone up because Steve didn´t appreciate stupid questions. He turned out to be very nice and gave a good interview. The Discovery Channel found him too. They´re currently running a reality series filmed at Harborside Medical Dispensary: Weed Wars. Check it out.
Lesson 27: To get an interview know your subject and find a fresh perspective.
Next week: 23 Out to Lunch