The Stones Meet the Press
New York, New York
The press conference with the Rolling Stones and Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, held to promote the upcoming theatrical release of the documentary feature film, Shine A Light, took place on March 30 in New York City, on the fourth floor of the Palace Hotel. The room was filled to capacity, accommodating approximately two hundred members of the press that included myself.
The event followed a press lunch that was also held at the hotel. Members of the media were anxiously queued up, awaiting to hear what the Scorsese, who had directed films including Italianamerican, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The Color Of Money, The Last Temptation Of Christ, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Casino, Kundun, Age Of Innocence and The Departed, and who had worked as an assistant director in the seminal film Woodstock, would have to say about working with the Stones. Needless to say, the members of the media, who were present, were looking forward to hearing the imminent statements that would soon be made by both the band and by the revered filmmaker.
The five icons, filmmaker Scorsese, Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, and drummer Charlie Watts entered the room. The conference began with the introduction, "Ladies and gentlemen, Martin Scorsese and the Rolling Stones," to which they were greeted with extended, enthusiastic applause.
The highly anticipated media event lasted approximately twenty-four minutes, as the press conference was cut shorter than expected. Therefore, a limited amount of questions were allowed, due to the time constraint.
What transpired at the press conference moved quickly, as the red carpet premiere would be held soon after, just a few blocks away, at Clearview’s Ziegfeld Theater on West 54th St.
Here are some of the highlights from the press conference.
Jagger: Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon, New York.
Moderator: First question, right here.
Question: To all five of you here, would you explain why was it important for you to make this film in a small venue in your native Manhattan? Was this audience special, and if so, why?
Scorsese: The importance of making the film in a smaller venue for me, I contemplated it. We discussed doing it in a bigger arena, and I looked into that, and actually while I was doing it, I was trying to prepare for that. I began to realize I think I’m better suited to try to capture the group on stage on a smaller stage, more for the intimacy of the group and the way they play together, the way you see the band work together, and work each song. I found that to be interesting, more than interesting. It is a compulsion of mine. I love to be able to see that, and to be able to cut from one image to another, movement and that sort of thing. And really, about the intimacy of the group, and how they work together.
Jagger: Why, I can’t remember what you said now.
Jagger: But the audience was a good audience, because I think they really got into the spirit of making the movie, as well as enjoying being an audience for the band. They were a great audience for the band, but I think also, a great audience for the movie.
Wood: They were all cameramen.
(Audience breaks into laughter.)
Scorsese: They enjoyed it. The cameramen liked it. Yeah.
Question: Keith, anything special about that night?
Richards: The Beacon Theater is special for some reason. It wraps its arms around you, especially if you can play there for more than one night. And you start to get, the room sort of wraps its arms around you. And every night gets warmer. It’s a great feeling room. And also, hey, this band, you know, didn’t start off in stadiums, you know. (Richards laugh.s)
Question: Charlie, Do you want to try that? A special night?
(Audience breaks into laughter.)
Richards: I knew he’d say that.
Question: I understand it will be available on regular screens and also on Imax. How will that experience be different for the fans?
Jagger: It will be very larger.
(Audience breaks into laughter.)
Jagger: But slight imperfections might be revealed.
(Audience breaks into laughter.)
Jagger: The funny thing is though, really is that Marty, after looking at all the options, decided he wanted to make this small intimate movie, and I said, "Well the laugh is though, Marty, in the end, it’s going to be blown up to this huge Imax thing, so the intimate moment is shot on Imax." But it looks good on Imax. So we got both formats. So we’re happy with that.
Question: I’d like to know ask all the band members, perhaps starting with you, Mick, this movie reminds us of the boundless energy you have in what it takes to be on tour. Starting with Mr. Jagger, I’d all like to know what vitamins are you on, and what your workout regimen is, because all of us would like to be able to do this.
Jagger: I’ll tell you what to do, forget about that!
Richards: If we do, you’ll all be on it!
Jagger: Chuck it out. So uh, No gym, no vitamins, I think that day. Just do it, just get out there, and yeah. You get very pressurized in these situations. So the thing I always find is with these movie shoots is that you really have to come up to the plate, and fortunately, we had two nights of this. Where Keith was saying, it’s good to play there more than one night, and I agree with him, because the first night we played was more like a rehearsal for us in a way, and by the time the second night came round, we got more adjusted to playing in a small theater. Because though we played lots of small theaters in the past, we hadn’t done it on this tour, so this was like quite different suddenly to go into this small theater. So by the second night, we knew we had to sort of do it, that this was going to be the night with all these people there and everything, so I felt really good about that particular night, so you just have to somehow just come and do it.
Richards: It was a turn on.
Question: Gentlemen, I’d like to know why you chose Marty as the director.
Jagger: He’s the best one around.
Question: What does he bring to this film that other directors wouldn’t?
Jagger: Oh, I can’t answer that. I mean, you know, but you know, I think that it’s embarrassing now. He’s not part of the furniture. I mean he’s actually sitting here.
Jagger: So he’s a fantastic director and he assembled a wonderful crew, I think he would agree with that. He got fantastic DPs, camera, lighting, all everyone working on it, and then very painstaking on the editing to produce the movie that you see. It’s not all in the shooting. It’s obviously in the editing, too.
Richards: And it’s also in the equation. We didn’t’ choose Marty. Marty choose us.
Question: To Marty, with the underworld and the mafia being featured in so many of your films, what kind of comparisons can you now make between a tight mob crew and the Stones?
Scorsese: Well, no, that’s an interesting question. I don’t think I’d make any direct associations to it. I mean, but the music is something that deals with, at times, it reminds me, I will tell you, it reminds me of when I went to see Threepenny Opera back in 1959, 1960, at the Theatre de Lys, and how the music affected me, and what that was saying, what that play said, and the lyrics. The lyrics were so important to me in that particular play. I grew up in an area that was kind of in a sense like the Threepenny Opera, and I think at times the Rolling Stones’ music had a similar effect on me. It dealt with aspects of the life that I was growing up around, that I was associated with, or saw, or was experiencing, and trying to make sense of. So it was tougher, it had an edge. Beautiful and honest and brutal at times, and powerful. And it’s always stayed with me and has become a well of inspiration to this day. As Mick said in Berlin, he said (turns to Mick), can I take the line from you?
Scorsese: He said, "I want you to know that this is the only film, Shine a Light is the only film that "Gimme Shelter" is not played in," that I’ve made.
Scorsese: And when I use "Gimme Shelter" in a film, which I think is more appropriate, and just as apropos of the world we’re living in today, "Gimme Shelter," when I use it in a film, I don’t remember that I used it before. I say, "Let’s use that," and they say, "Marty you did it before," and I say, "That’s alright. Let’s put it in." I keep forgetting, you know. But it’s something that the music has been very important to me over these years. Thank you.
Question: In your latest film The Departed, "Gimme Shelter" has of course been in other films, but you picked "Let It Loose" from Exile On Main Street. What made you pick that song? And in the future, in your movies, will you pick more obscure Stones songs?
Scorsese: That is from Exile On Main Street. It’s an album I like a lot, and again, it’s sort of like in my DNA, so to speak, the music, so it’s just came the way Jacks Nicholson sat down next to Leonardo Dicaprio, and said, "Do you know who I am?" The tone and that mood, I heard that sound from that song. And I played it again. So I tried a couple of other things afterwards, because invariably, you say, "Well that’s the first one, it works, but it can’t be, working on the first try. It can’t be that way." So we tried some other songs, but we went back to "Let It Loose," and placed it just at the right moments, in between the dialogue, for the highlights of the song. But it has the tone and the mood, and again the edge that I thought that the characters were like, really.
Question: In terms of what you wanted to capture?
Scorsese: For me, it was literally the moments you can see the band actually working together. Each song is like its own narrative, a dramatic story, and the whole the sound of the band is like a character, one character in each song. With the grace of these wonderful cinematographers, headed by (Director Of Photography) Bob Richardson, people like (Camera Operator) Bob Elswit and (Camera Operator) Ellen Kuras and (Music Editor) Tass Filipos and (Camera Operator) John Toll, and Leslie, who directed "Lord of the Rings," (Camera Operator) Andrew Rowlands, they were able to, like poets at times, be able to know exactly when to move their camera, and pick up another member of the band. And see when a camera went down. And remember that we shot this in thirty-five millimeter and not video, so that we had ten minute loads. We were going down all the time with cameras. Cameras were running out of film, so another camera would pick up where someone left off, and that’s why there were so many, to be able to pick up the slack. But the key was to find the moments between the members of the band, as they played together, and they worked together, and how they worked it like a machine, like it’s own entity, in the way it’s done.
Richards: Almost Swiss motion.
Scorsese: Yeah. Yeah.
Question: Hello, I’m from Finland. I didn’t see it yet. Still, I have to stand up and dance. Who chose those (archival) clips from the documentaries that you showed, and Mick, you said in one of those, when the journalist asked if do (will) still perform when you were sixty, and you say, "Yes," well, do you still perform when you’re seventy?
Jagger: I don’t know, I …
Richards: That’s only five years away!
Scorsese: That’s not that far. That’s pretty close, not that far. Whew! Who chose the clips? David Tedeschi was the editor of the film, and we worked together almost nine or ten months together, right, for editing this thing? The music came together rather quickly, I think, in the cutting, and that was very enjoyable. The hardest part was putting together the clips. I think there was over 400 hours of footage that David culled of the documentary sections of archival footage, and then he chose about forty hours for me to see. And then we worked from that forty hours, and it was a matter of balancing, saying something, but not saying too much, and then saying nothing with it. That was the key. And balancing it, so it wouldn’t unbalance the music in the piece, because to do a film with all archival footage, I think, would be a four or five hour documentary. It would be another movie.
Jagger: Well, you know, there were some moments when the archival footage, I felt, was going too long, and I felt it would lose it. It would have gone off into another movie, and that we’re forgetting that we’re in concert, because it was very kind of riveting, sometimes, the old movie (archival footage). But if goes on too long, you want to come back to the concert stage. So sometimes David left them a little bit on the long side. So in the end, we ended up with what we have, which is good.
Question: I’m one of the Vh1 winners. I have a question. Do you have any plans to do an acoustic album like Beggars Banquet in the future?
Jagger: It wasn’t really an acoustic album. It did have acoustic guitars on it, I’m sure. But we don’t have actually any plans for an acoustic album.
Wood: How about Unplugged?
Scorsese: We have some acoustic in the featurette.
Jagger: We do have some acoustic songs in the featurette on the DVD.
Richards: When you can’t afford the electricity, baby, you go acoustic.
Question: I loved (your cover of) the Motown (Temptations song) "Just My Imagination." Great high point for the movie. I wondered if you guys were ever planning to do a tribute album to anyone?
Jagger: I often do tributes to Martha and the Vandellas in front of my mirror.
Richards: Much of that we’ve done over twenty years, and at some time we’ve covered them all.
Question: I was wondering, how did you pick the numbers with special guests, and especially Buddy Guy, your relationship goes back a long way.
Jagger: We’ve done quite a few shows with Buddy Guy in the past. I think we’ve known him on and off for quite a long time. He’s like one of those continuingly wonderful blues performers that you’ve admired.
Richards: I met him through Muddy Waters, you know, and it goes back a long way.
Jagger: I think that the thing that Marty captured, the duet thing that we did with him, was really one of the high points of the movie for me.
Richards: I didn’t give him that guitar for nothing, man.
Jagger: That wasn’t just for show.
Richards—Hat’s off, a bloody high point to me on that one.
Jagger: Yeah, and I think the other guests, all really, all in their slightly different ways, all add to the movie, you know, and not all duets I think really will work. Because they don’t always do work, those duets. I’m trying to think.
Wood: Christina (Aguilera) is very soulful.
Jagger: But I think everyone likes all the direction, and they all really come off. So thanks.
Question: I noticed Al Maysles in one of the shots. How influenced were you by earlier Stones films like Gimme Shelter and others?
Scorsese: Al’s sort of the reference to mind for continuity of the number of wonderful films made with the Rolling Stones, going back of course to Gimme Shelter, but also Hal Ashby’s Let’s Spend The Night Together, and Godard.
Wood: Cocksucker Blues.
Scorsese: Cocksucker Blues. And also the (Jean-Luc) Godard film (1968′s Sympathy For The Devil), in which you actually see the song "Sympathy For The Devil" come together in the recording studio, which is fascinating, so this is a direct reference to the past films.
Question: Marty, when you set-up the sequence in the beginning where you were on the long distance call with Mick, and you were waiting for the set of songs to be given to you, how real is that tension between you guys?
Jagger: Totally real, I think.
Scorsese: I trimmed it a bit because the actual phone call was forty-five minutes, so I cheated a bit. Over forty-five minutes. But the idea is to capture the spontaneity of the group, and the word "capture" means you have to control it in some way. But you can’t control the spontaneity. Therefore, the cameras have got to be in the right position. Then I wanted to go a little further, and that is have them all moving cameras, but that means they could collide with the performers, so you have to be very careful, and all this sort of thing, and also, the band is on tour. So basically, we’re actually kind of talking to each other, like little talking boxes. So let’s just get that shot. I shot that, I think, at eleven o’clock at night on video. I sent my assistant over to the hotel next door. They had white phones. "Get me a white phone," because I had to have a white phone. So I shot that. They put it right in the machine, David and I. I said just get the voice, a little box there, a speaker, like the voice of Zeus coming out of the air, you know. But the humor of that was that we could never really be in the same city together for any really given long period of time. We just couldn’t do it, and so we had to work that way. And I did trim down the phone call down, that’s true. I trimmed it down. Although me talking about a camera moving, I couldn’t stop talking. That’s real. That’s very real, And the set list, itself, I mean, had to be something that they all worked out almost, I think, ’til the last minute. And afterwards, he said you have to know the room, you have to feel the temperature of the audience, you have to feel what’s happening. As he said, it could be a sore throat, it could be anything. And so I was just concerned that we got as much as we could on film, because the film is running out of the magazines at ten clips a minute. So I wanted to get the first three songs completely with all twelve or fifteen cameras, whatever it was. But inevitably, some of them are going to go out, which happened, I think, in "She Was Hot." But luckily we had the back-up cameras on "She Was Hot," you see. I actually found out the set list a little earlier than that. Someone did purloin it. I don’t want to say the word "stolen," or who it was, but we did find it.
Richards: I didn’t realize it was such hard work, Marty.
Moderator: I believe this is the last question.
Question: This question is for you. Mr. Scorsese, this question is mostly for you. Over the last few years, you’ve reinforced your work with a kind of development of a public persona in a lot of ways. You did the Amex commercial. You’ve lent your name to certain causes, and executive produced certain films. You start and end this film. And I’m interested, I mean, we haven’t seen a director like this since Hitchcock, in a lot of ways, kind of the public persona. And I’m interested in how you’ve cultivated that over the years. And also, to The Stones, I guess, how you felt about Mr. Scorsese beginning and ending the film.
Scorsese: Do you want to speak to that first, or should I?
Jagger: Yeah, well, we had a lot of trouble working out the ending of the film; Marty had to go to a lot of different acting coaches to do it.
Scorsese: Really, really, it was sad, yeah. I do it on my own pictures. I’m sort of the Edward Kennedy, the slow burn. You know, the guy always used to go always go like this (holds his face in his hands in mock frustration). And that’s happens when you make films. And so one of the things to do is to get into that, and literally send up the hapless director, so to speak, which, and very often, you do feel like a hapless person sitting there. And the actors doing one thing, the camera. It starts snowing the other night when we were shooting, it wasn’t supposed to snow, you know, things like that. Do we keep continue shooting? I mean, but that’s the nature of what it is. And to have fun with it. I think there are so many documentaries now, or there are so many sections of concert films where you see the actual setting of the concert interview with people. Well, let’s have fun with it. Let’s get to the actual tension and the humor of that tension. Really it’s the good humor of that tension.
Moderator: I believe we have one more, this lady right here. .
Question: I wonder whether you had planned for this arc in pre-production, how you set that up, or whether this happened during the course of the film, where you found what you were getting, or whether it happened in the editing room?
Scorsese: That’s a good question. We hoped for that arc. That’s where the tension is. We need them to perform the way they are. I can’t put cameras in their way. Yet, I wanted to get that arc. I knew that getting certain cameramen working together, they also could find the angles and find the looks, and know when to pan to Ronnie on guitar, know when to pan to Keith, know when to stay on Mick and Charlie, and that sort of thing. And so I was hoping that the cameras in those positions would get those moments, and then it was constructed in the editing.
Moderator: I think this will be the final question.
Jagger: Thank you very much indeed. Ladies and gentlemen.
PHYLLIS POLLACK lives in Los Angeles where she is a publicist and music journalist. She can be reached through her blog.