heima director interview
dean deblois, director of "heima", was nice enough to answer some questions we had about the film and his experience making it. many thanks to dean for taking the time.
what is your background in film?i come from an animation background, having worked on feature films since 1990. i worked for don bluth studios in ireland and disney in the states. the bulk of my animation career has been spent in working with story, first as a storyboard artist, then as a writer/director. after lilo & stitch, i decided to pursue live-action filmmaking, and set up several feature film projects at disney and universal to write, direct, and produce. i've also done a little music video work, but mostly to learn the tools.
how did you get involved in the heima project?i had been in touch with the band over the years by way of the their management. they knew that i worked in feature film and that i wanted to do something in collaboration with them. in february of this year, the managers/producers of heima (at the time entitled 'lost in the lava') asked if i would take a look at their troubled project and offer some feedback. i did... and they forwarded our correspondence to the band, who felt that i was articulating what they had wanted from the start. so i was asked to take over as director and fly out to shoot the necessary material. 'heima' in name, concept, and approach grew out of those first exchanges.
how easy was it to switch from animation to actual film?all forms of filmmaking are the same, really. it's all storytelling and structure, no matter how vague the narrative or how specialized the medium. animation takes a long time and requires a lot of planning, but as such, you're conditioned to go in with a meticulously thought-out strategy. live action moves faster, and feels more spontaneous, but it's easy to make the mistake of shooting heaps of footage... only to discover in the editing suite that there isn't a cohesive film to be found. it's all in the planning. and a good editor (cue nick fenton!)
what was it like coming in 'halfway through' and making a film from someone else's footage? how did you tackle this challenge?a salvage operation is never ideal; there are strained budgets, ruffled feathers, and the stylistic restrictions of what has already been shot. but that said, i was up for the challenge and thrilled to be asked. the production team at truenorth were welcoming and great to work with. we had the band's full support too. at the end of the day, everyone just wanted the film to work.
my plan from the start was to keep as much of the usable tour material as possible, but then supplement it with footage that would give us intimacy, context, and a consistent point of view. in the end, we shot nearly eighty additional hours of footage over two trips (performances, interviews, nature, thematic imagery) and the resulting overall scope feels balanced to me.
were the band different in person than you imagined?based purely on the music, i had imagined broody, introspective, withdrawn characters, but i couldn't have been more wrong. they're all warm, friendly, and surprisingly humble. they don't take themselves seriously at all. they obviously switch into a different gear whenever they're playing, but the rest of the time, they're fun, playful, and always up for a drink. we've become friends -- and that's been the best part of this whole experience.
the interviews in heima are more personal than previous interviews with the band. how did you manage to get them to open up to you?i don't know that i'm the one to answer this. i certainly didn't employ any kind of tactic. i was warned from the beginning that they wouldn't likely do the interviews, but when i met them in person, i explained that the missing story had to be imparted retrospectively. i also promised them that they would have final say, so nothing would go in that they were uncomfortable with. they knew that i held them in high esteem, so maybe they just decided to trust me.
how was it decided which songs would appear in the film?the songs were determined based on whether the band liked that particular performance (there were no overdubs in the film) and whether the camera coverage was adequate to support the song. everyone had their list of favorites, but in the end, several songs had to be cut out or shortened to keep the film around 90 minutes.
what is your favourite moment in heima?i have several favorite shots in the film, but my favorite overall moment is staralfur, mostly because it's my favorite sigur rós song. we shot plenty of coverage, so it's full-length and uninterrupted. i also really love gitardjamm, which has some the original crew's best photography. it's also a great testament to nick fenton's editing. i like von too. it's some of alan calzatti's best camera work, and it completely delivers on the intimacy i was after.
is there any scene that didn't make the final cut that you wish people could have seen?there are many interview clips that i would have loved to include, but they either didn't fit the sentiment of the moment or they weighed down the film. it was important to the band that the film be allowed to breathe and not get too 'documentary.' there was a great clip for example, in which jonsi talks about feeling 'at home' in iceland. he said if it wasn't for all of the small town years of questioning his orientation and the norms, he wouldn't have channelled so much into his music. sigur rós as we know it might not have come to be!
i also loved a new song that we shot on a whim, which the band later named 'heima.' it will be included on the second disc of the dvd release, so i'm not that distraught. it's a beautiful recording and some of the most intimate footage we shot.