Interview : Hamish Hamilton, Director - U2 Feedback

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Old 12-21-2003, 11:29 PM   #1
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Interview : Hamish Hamilton, Director

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By Devlin Smith
2003.12

On the BBC show "Faking It" an emergency dispatcher is learning the ropes of being a television director. She takes the reins directing a musical performance, her mentor dancing in the background, telling her to smile, relax, enjoy herself just like he so clearly does.

Anyone who's seen Hamish Hamilton, the novice director's guide, in action knows that he does enjoy what he does--capturing live music performances for television and video. That passion, and talent, has gotten him the attention of many of the world's top acts, an amazing client roster that includes Madonna, Robbie Williams, Jennifer Lopez and U2.

Hamilton first worked with U2 as director of the Brit Awards in 2001 when the band was recognized for Outstanding Contribution to Music. That led to Hamilton directing both the "Elevation: Live from Boston" and "U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle" DVDs.

Interference.com recently interviewed Hamilton about his career, his work with U2 and found out why his job is maybe the best job in the world.



You've built a reputation directing live music events. Was it a love of music that got you interested in directing or a passion for directing that brought you to music?
I love live gigs, don't go to enough anymore. Music and directing are both passions so I guess it was always going to happen.

How did your directing career begin?
I began directing at the BBC in Scotland. The corporation gave me a little training and a lot of chances--I will always be grateful. I am a trained accountant and did a basic multi-camera course in directing at the BBC. I have done my share of quizzes, daytime television and news in my past! Oh, and I have done loads of cooking shows--I'm sure it's all useful for live music.

What is so appealing to you about capturing live events?
Capturing the buzz and the energy. I live for adrenaline moments or hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments. The first time I filmed U2 was at the Brit Awards in the UK, they were getting the lifetime achievement award. I was so overcome with doing the Brits and U2 that I actually cried; I genuinely could not believe it. I'll never lose that perspective, I am blessed, I know I am good but I also know I am very lucky.

What do you feel your responsibilities to yourself, the fans and the client are when you're at the helm for these events?
Jeez, the pressure is enormous. The band and the fans are in the front of my mind. I want them to love it, especially U2, they are gods, I love the band's music. Imagine the best band in the world entrust their live show to you, I actually shake with fear, but it's that fear which drives you--I love it. I want to be as good as U2, and that is a very tall order.

The band and the fans deserve the best director in the world and if they choose me then I have to perform out of my skin, but you know it makes me buzz and surf on fear and adrenaline. I am at best a documentary maker and when you get brilliance to work with then you step up to the plate. I think I did. The tracking shot on "Streets" makes me rush, not as a director but as a fan. "Elevation Boston" is possibly the finest live music DVD ever made and I am unbelievably proud of it.

You've directed for-broadcast performances (like The Corrs and Madonna) and awards shows, how does that experience differ from creating something specifically for video/DVD?
Live-to-air is always a compromise, you have to be so careful, one bad shot and you can seriously blow it. Performance is not an exact science so if an artist hits his/her mark and the light catches [them] badly and/or your camera is too low, for instance, you can make someone look terrible. If that goes to line you can ruin any atmosphere the live show is wanting to create. With taping and editing you can be very brave. On "Elevation" we lit from one side and shot from the dark side, we also shot a lot below the eye line, not great for a live-to-air look, though "Streets" went live on US [television].

You were recruited by U2 to film their Boston Elevation shows in June 2001 and then also recorded the Sept. 1 Slane show. When did you first talk to U2 about directing Slane?
In February of that year they were at the Brit Awards collecting an award. They performed and I directed the show. One minute after the show finished I got a call, I thought it was my mum saying "Well done," it was Bono. He heaped praise on my and I started to stutter, it was definitely a moment.

Was the Slane experience any easier since you'd already worked with the band a few months previous?
It was harder. They had seen Boston and expected!

How did your approach to capturing Slane differ from the Boston shows since it was outdoors, to a much larger crowd, in U2's hometown and so on?
I really wanted to capture the significance of the occasion, the passion and scale of the crowd.

Do you have a preference of capturing indoor or outdoor shows?
It's all about the music, some bands work better indoors and vice versa. I actually don't care what the venue is so long as the music kicks and the crowd responds. Capturing live music is all about the chemistry and energy, if you can do that in an artful form then you have a great programme.

Your shows have been nominated for and won awards in the US and UK. What does it mean to you to be recognized like that?
I guess I could lie and say they mean nothing but I was recently nominated for a Grammy [for "Robbie Williams: Live at The Albert" in 2003]--it rocked. It feeds my fragile ego. I work very, very hard at what I do and it's nice to be recognized by my peers. I do get a bigger buzz watching DVDs that I have made at full volume on a big screen. It's very difficult to explain but I feel proud and happy.

In the "Making of Elevation Live" documentary, there was mention about you having a lucky shirt. Do you still have that lucky shirt? Have you worn it during the making of any recent films?
Actually that was a significant moment. I still have the original Brazil Away but it hasn't been used recently. I have a number of new ones. For Slane I wore the second shirt.

Why do you feel fans and performers are so interested in having concert films?
That's tricky. To be honest some bands shouldn't do a live DVD, they don't have the charisma. Let's be honest, not everyone is U2. I actually think the DVD market will change over the years, not all bands will choose a concert film, they may choose to do something else, which is very exciting.

What do you think makes a great concert film?
Great live band performing music, great crowd, energy, passion and a director and a vision. Bono said to me, "I want to recreate 'Raging Bull' as a concert move." He needed to say no more.

What are some of your favorite concert films?
"Stop Making Sense" [Talking Heads]
Elevation Boston
The new Zeppelin DVD
Robbie Williams at Knebworth [directed by Hamilton]
Peter Gabriel ["Growing Up Live" directed by Hamilton]
REM Road Movie
Muse's last DVD

You've worked with an amazing list of artists, who are some artists you'd absolutely love to work with that you haven't yet?
I want to work with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Both offer amazing live shows but have been poorly served by their DVDs or TV shows covering their shows. She's an icon and hugely underrated. He is the complete star. I think they are both perfectionists and I hope that's true, cuz I am.

What is your connection to Done and Dusted (www.doneanddusted.com)? How did you become involved with it?
Done and Dusted is me and a few others. We have a very different production ethic which is why our shows look so different. I really work with the best people in each field, they drive me forward, it sounds so cheesy but it's true. I am the ringmaster who has a circus of great talent around him.

Done and Dusted's site mentions productions on nearly every continent, with Antarctica coming soon. What type of production do you envision for Antarctica?
Itís so confidential I would have to kill you if I told you. I am looking forward to it, though. The arctic was a lot of fun but no penguins, just polars.

You have a job that lots of people would be very envious of, what do you like best about what you do? Why is directing an ideal job for you?
It is the best job in the world except one, I would love to be a rock 'n' roll star. Just imagine walking onto a stage and having an arena to perform for. I don't want the fame or the schedule or demands of press etc., etc., just the buzz of performing live to a sea of fans who know your tunes and want to be entertained. The thrill would be too much.

I love the art form, I love being the boss and having the freedom to direct how I wish, I love the challenge, I love being scared. I love 15 minutes before live, I can't explain the rush. It's definitely very gratifying when someone in the street stops you and says that they loved the U2 film, it makes me feel 10 foot tall.

Many many thanks to Hamish Hamilton !
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Old 12-22-2003, 01:36 AM   #2
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Old 12-22-2003, 05:38 AM   #3
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Yes he did do an awesome job!

Everytime I watch "Streets" on the Elevation DVD, it just makes me cry. He captured that moment so well!

Thanks Hamish!
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Old 12-22-2003, 09:03 AM   #4
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The Hamish dance *must* be posted in this thread
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Old 12-22-2003, 07:07 PM   #5
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Everytime they play that Matchbox 20 video and it says Directed by Hamish Hamilton I beam with pride thinking "aww that's nice that U2 lent them Hamish."

Hamish is kinda cute in a rivers cuomo sort of way
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Old 12-23-2003, 03:20 AM   #6
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hes soo funny on the boston dvd , dancing around
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Old 12-24-2003, 11:31 PM   #7
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I love Hamish. I wanted to see that episode of Faking It on BBC America but i missed it. this is very cool to see he granted an interview. nice job.
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Old 02-13-2004, 02:45 PM   #8
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Wondeful job. Thanks Hammish,
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