Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver interview: Lemmy

Interview Michael Leader 6 Dec 2010 - 10:55

As the feature-length documentary Lemmy arrives in cinemas, we caught up with directors Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver to chat about making the film...

Of all the films at the London Film Festival, we particularly warmed to Lemmy, the rock documentary from directors Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver. And, luckily for us, they were on hand for a chat. So, we grabbed a few minutes of their time, just before they scarpered off for a drink with two members of New Wave of British Heavy Metal group, Girlschool.

Two charming and energetic dudes, they regaled us with a few priceless production anecdotes, including how they got on Lemmy’s good side, what the man himself thought of the film, and how, when they wanted to storm a stage at a Metallica gig, they ignored the band’s managers and asked James Hetfield directly.

You’ve both been involved in the music scene for a long time, as directors and writers. So, how did the Lemmy project come about?

Wes Orshoski: Greg and I were working on another film, and we found ourselves in Dublin, Ireland, and we were working so well together, and we decided "Okay, let’s go to this pub across the street and come up with ideas."

And the first idea that popped into my head was Lemmy, because I’d just interviewed him for Billboard magazine in the US, and that interview was about the group Head Cat, his side project. And I just kept thinking about it. I kept listening to the record over and over.

Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash covers. Man! Lemmy’s such an interesting guy, and he’s a badass. He’s the ultimate rock and roll badass. There’s so many other sides to him.

So, I said, "Greg, I know who we should do a movie on." That was the only idea we came up with and we just drank for the rest of the night.

Greg Olliver : And when you have a few drinks, you get more courage, and you think things could happen, and we were really lucky that it actually happened. We could have a hundred more ideas, and a hundred of them won’t happen. So, we were really lucky that it fell together instead of apart.

How did you go about organising it, and getting Lemmy on board?

GO: There was a lot of phonecalls and emails, and showing my work and our work to management, to get them to see that we were decent filmmakers. And basically we auditioned for Lemmy as human beings. So, we went and met him at the Rainbow, in Hollywood, and it was supposed to be like a business meeting. And it was like two minutes of us telling him what we wanted to do and a couple of hours of getting drunk with Lemmy at the Rainbow.

And his manager was like, "He really liked you guys. That was the longest he’s ever sat down at a business meeting!" And so, we’re like, well, if this is business with Lemmy, then we’re excited.

WO: This is the business we want to be in!

So, how did it develop from there? How long were you filming him and following him around?

GO: We didn’t plan it, man. We didn’t have an agenda. We just told him we wanted to make an honest portrait of him. So, we didn’t know what we were going to film. We just knew we had to spend time with him. And we started thinking in our heads it might take a year, but it took three and a half years to get everything, so all three of us were happy with what we got, and we knew we were done with the film.

WO: It was funny, because it was just a couple of months before we finished the cut of the film for SXSW, where we world premiered it, Greg and I didn’t feel we had enough. We didn’t really feel like we had everything. And then we started to edit everything together, and we were like, "Fuck, man! We have a lot of stuff. Dude, we have a movie!" We just needed to get the ending.

So, did the film’s structure become more apparent during the editing process?

GO: Yeah. We knew we had to get some of his history in there, and learn about his other bands. But you don’t know what you’re going to get otherwise. You don’t know what journey you’re going to go on with him.

It was stressful trying to imagine it as we were shooting it. We shot all kinds of stuff with him, but it fell together at the end. You don’t know what you’ve got until you start digging in and editing it.

And what did the man himself think of it?

GO: Oh, Lemmy loved it. Lemmy loved Lemmy, let me tell you!

WO: Well, he had final cut.

GO: He could tell us what to take out. So, Wes and I got to make it entirely on our own and then show it to him.

WO: During the process, though, Lemmy wanted to see more, and it was kind of like... he would kind of get bored with the project. And then we’d show him stuff, we’d cut a scene, and he’d watch that and get totally excited, and everything would get easier for the next few months, as he’d see it was coming together.

We actually took the rough cut of the film to his apartment.  Super stressful. Greg was cool. I was not. I’m sitting in the apartment on the floor, because there’s no place to sit, and I’m just like, "Oh God. He’s going to make us take this out, and take this out." And there was just silence! He was sitting there. He was laughing. He was smiling.

I have this video that I snuck of him watching the film and he’s like laughing at himself. And we get to the end, where we have this solo song, and it’s one of Greg’s and my favourite moments of the film. I love that song so much. There’s a big sax solo at the end, and we get to it, and we cut that off.

We were done with the song, with that moment. And he’s like, "Argh! You cut off the sax solo!" That was the biggest thing that he protested about: "Put the sax solo back in!" And we were like, "That’s it? Cool!"

Some of the gig sequences have some amazing camerawork, like in the Metallica concert, where you’re right on stage in the middle of the action.

GO: That’s one thing that bothers me. There’s a lot of films out there that get really good reviews, about cool people and cool bands, but they look like shit. And I pride myself in trying to make the film look better than most. As good as I could. So, we spent a lot of time. Like there’s that one slow motion shot of Lemmy coming toward the camera at the beginning of the film, and we shot five shows trying to get that shot.

The Metallica thing was really important for me, to be on stage with Lemmy, because you see so many concerts where it’s shot from the pit or the cranes, and everybody’s so used to seeing that.

But this is not a concert movie, it’s a documentary. It took Wes two years to set up the Metallica concert, and it was so sensitive with the management, there was no way in hell that we were going to ask the management if we could go on stage with the camera. So, we’re just like, we’re so lucky to be doing this at all, I’m going to ask James Hetfield right before the show if I could do it.

WO: There’s so many people involved in the Metallica organisation, and we didn’t ask any of them!

GO: I was so nervous, man. And Hetfield’s like, tall, a big dude. And we’re back stage, and they rehearsed the song, and Lemmy leaves and everyone’s leaving the room. And Hetfield’s standing there, and I’m like, "Excuse me, James. Uh..." And he looks at me. "Would it be all right if I follow Lemmy up on stage with the camera?" And I go into this whole rambling spiel about "it would look so much better...’"And he leans down at me, and he goes. "What?!" And he pulls this earpiece out of his ear.

WO: An in-ear monitor!

GO: And I was totally fucking nervous man. And I go, "Can I go on stage with Lemmy?" And he says, "Hell yeah, man! If you’re going to do this, do it right!"

And so they let me follow Lemmy on stage with the camera, and I feel like it’s so much more fun to watch. I’m standing right next to James Hetfield on stage, and at the end where they’re all hugging each other, you can actually hear what they’re saying.

I feel like we’ve spent a lot of time trying to make it look good, and be like an adventure where you’re in that world.

WO: That’s one of the really special things. There’s so many films out there, and I’m a major music nerd. I have hundreds of music DVDs, but there is a lack of intimacy. There’s the crane shots, or the tripods in the back of the arena. I mean, dude, there’s actually a moment there at the end, where Hetfield has to pull away, because Greg’s so close to him.

You should see, we have this really great footage on the DVD. We have 35 minutes of that whole Metallica experience, in surround sound. Let me tell you, dude, when you hear that surround sound turned up, it’s fucking thrilling.

The funny thing is, we were all stressed out trying to get our angles for the first song, which was Damage Case. They did a second song, and by that time we all calmed down, and it’s way better. It looks way more beautiful.

GO: We shot 30 or 40 Motorhead shows over the course of three years, and in the beginning the crew wouldn’t let me on stage. And finally, when they got to know us, and by the end of the tour I was literally doing laps around Lemmy on the stage, because it’s so much more fun to watch, if you can go under his face. I feel it’s way more fun for the viewer, so it was worth the stress.

WO: It’s so funny, when he first walks in that room, backstage, and he’s like, "What’s up, motherfuckers," and he’s talking to them for a second. If you look close, you see this moment where Hetfield is clearly nervous, because this is his childhood hero.

GO: It’s cool, man. As intimidating as Metallica is, Lemmy is that way to them. They are like little kids. They were so excited to have him on stage. James is like, "Yeaaaahhh. I’m standing next to Lemmy!’

Wes: And you don’t see that when you see Metallica.

GO: No, they’re like, mighty, with firewalls and shit. And they’re so tough. We love that he just destroys all that.

WO: One of the coolest things that Hetfield told us was that Lars Ulrich is a huge Motorhead groupie. But at one point, when they were in Southern California, Lars and James followed Motorhead, found them, the original lineup, at some Holiday Inn or something, and they were all swimming in a pool. And they went up to meet them. And Hetfield tells the story like, "Wow, it’s Motorhead - and they’re swimming!"

It’s important that you have such a diverse group of interviewees, not only from the metal scene, but also from other areas of music such as Jarvis Cocker or Mick Jones. And they’re all geeking out over Lemmy. It seems to show that his influence isn’t just restricted to that one genre.

WO: It was important to have Jarvis and Peter Hook and Mick Jones, because Lemmy transcends heavy metal, and he transcends Motorhead. He’s bigger. People know Lemmy and they don’t know any Motorhead songs. Maybe they know Ace Of Spades, but maybe they don’t even know that.

You packed so much into the film. Not only the footage with Lemmy, the concert sequences and the interviews, but also little set pieces and segments about his hometown in Wales, or a shout-out to the road crew. There must be loads left on the cutting room floor.

GO: Well, there’s four hours of bonus material that’s going to be on the Blu-ray/DVD! And there’d be more if we could fit more on there.

Our distributors were like, "What, you have that much material?!" But it was so fun. There are mini-documentaries on Mikkey Dee, the drummer, on Phil Campbell. There’s one on the super fans.

There’s so much fun stuff, and you spent three and a half years with these guys. These characters. And you would not expect to interview Triple H. We expected him to be [grunts] "Lemmy!" But he an was articulate, wonderful person. He gave us an hour of amazing interview. So, that whole thing is on the DVD now. And even with the four hours of bonus stuff, there should be another eight hours.

Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver , thank you for your time!

Lemmy will receive a limited release from December 7th. The DVD/Blu-Ray set comes out on January 24th.

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