Film and TV

20,000 Days on Earth Documentary Directors Talk About Nick Cave and the Creative Process

Even with hundreds of rock documentaries covering everything from concerts to artists on tour, few have managed to crystalize the creative process as well as 20,000 Days on Earth. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's fantastical depiction of Nick Cave's 20,000 days explodes the rules of traditional documentary filmmaking. They have created a visually opulent and sonically rigorous portrait of a musician who brings an ecstatic, sensual and violent energy to his performances and writing. Westword recently connected with Pollard and Forsyth to learn more about the production of the film, which opens tonight at the SIE FilmCenter.

See also:Nick Cave is the Master of American Mythology

Westword: What was your relationship with Nick Cave at the start of the film and how has that evolved?

Iain Forsyth: Sure, yeah, well, we met Nick, I guess, probably, eight years ago, something like that. Our background is as visual artists. We work together, Jane and I, working largely with video and film and sometimes with sound installation, on projects for the last twenty years, or so. Nick asked us to make a music promo for The Bad Seeds. That was the first time that we'd been asked to do something like that. It was an exciting opportunity, so we just did it.

The process was really enjoyable. We found we had quite similar tastes and similar ways of working and just got on very well. Since that point, we've found various excuses to work together over the years on different projects. It's just evolved over that time. By the time we made this film, we were pretty well-acquainted and over that time, we've built up a strong trust with each other, and I think that trust was the building block that allowed us to make the film that we've made.

It's a film that's about the creative process. You're very much present in the film. Talk about the creative process and your relationship to it.

Jane Pollard: I guess when we came around to the idea of realizing what we wanted to do was make a full-length film, the footage that we started to record with Nick was, in a way, too good to end up in a ten-minute making-of-the-album on Youtube and then forever be forgotten. We needed to construct something bigger, something ambitious. I think that what we realized was in order for it to be interesting to us and to Nick, I think, as a project, it had to be about something more, something bigger, something more universal than that kind of attempt to observe or to pinpoint one person's process or one person's approach and to maybe be more open in that and be about that thing that we all share, that fire that lights us all up and makes us want to do things and try and make our time on earth meaningful.

Talk about the construction of the film itself. How did you set up all of those shots? How was it scripted?

Iain Forsyth: We had a script, just like you might have for a traditional feature film. But the way it differed was that there was no dialogue scripted in it. We had a script in which each scene we knew where we'd be, what action would be taking place, who would be in the scene. What we just didn't know is what they were going to say.

Jane Pollard: It was very much like working on a fiction film, but then with the unpredictability of a doc. We have this idea that inside a completely artificial circumstance, you're most likely to get to a truth. It might not be a factual, biographical truth, but it will definitely be an emotional one. All the dialogue you hear in the film was improvised. Everything was done in one take. We never asked Nick to repeat anything. Nothing was ever too scripted or planned rigidly in advance.

Read on for more from Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth.

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris

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