Shine a Light: Making of Rolling Stones Documentary

Producer Victoria Pearman credits Scorseses inclusive sensibility and demeanor for the ease with which the musicians and crew worked together to successfully execute the production. The wonderful thing about Marty is that he is so collaborative, and he has such reverence for the music, she says. It was wonderful to witness so much mutual respect between the parties involved. It was a joy to see that collaboration, to be part of it and to have produced it.

Any of Richards initial misgivings were similarly allayed. One of the beauties of the way Marty had set it up was that you could actually forget that there were any shots, says Richards. Were used to cameras being pointed at us for the video screens. But though there were 16 of them here you really couldnt tell. Marty disguised it very well. It didnt feel like we were working for cameras any more than we would at any other gig.

He was a joy, very easy to work with, says guitarist Ronnie Wood. I liked his street cred. Hes just like a grown-up school kid–his attitude was very loose, like, lets have a laugh, go for it and see what comes out. Hes a very warm guy to be around and I think that brings out the best in you, whatever that might be. He makes you feel comfortable, even with all those cameras. Anywhere you looked there was a huge tripod with a giant machine on it and someone signaling to somebody else. You just had to concentrate on the music, really, which was what Marty wanted.

The Stones songs often turn up in Scorseses movies, as Pearman notes. Hes used the Rolling Stones music in many of his films and has such a tremendous respect for their songs, she says. Their songs always come off extraordinarily well in movies–there is a drive and authority to their music and also an edge to it, Scorsese reflects.

Ive used Gimme Shelter twice now in my pictures. The idea realizing that we are on our own and that we need shelter somewhere that I might not get from you Im going to have to find my own its a desperation reflecting a point in the 1960s but it is also contemporary, which is why I put it in The Departed, a reflection of where we are today. That film depicts a moral ground zero you dont know where anybody stands, nobody seems to be telling the truth and what the hell is truth anyway Gimme Shelter was the only thing that seemed to work.

Long before Scorsese became a celebrated filmmaker, even before he ever attended a Rolling Stones concert, the Stones music spoke to him in a cinematic language. Their music was an inspiration. The Stones have a very powerful force to their music and the sound that they create it has to do with the nature of the way the band is orchestrated, the use of guitars and drums and the sound of Micks voice. I made my first short films in 1963 or 1964, and certain music would create visual impressions in my mind that stayed with me. The Stones were key in creating images in my imagination, feelings and impressions that found their way into a lot of my movies–it became the signature of Mean Streets, for example, the use of Jumpin Jack Flash.

All that came before I even saw them in person. The first time I saw them was at Madison Square Garden–or at least a semblance of them because I was up so high in the bad seats but at that point, the work had been done in my head. In other words, I was creating scenarios in my head as I listened to their music, he says.

More than 18 Docus

Richards and the Stones have been no strangers to the cinematic treatment by film masters. Of the more than 18 documentaries that have been made about them, Shine A Light is one of more than half a dozen helmed by an auteur.

There was 1968s Jean-Luc Godard activist-arriviste take on the band, Sympathy for the Devil: One Plus One; Robert Franks very-limited release (it was shown publicly perhaps three times) documentary about their debauched life on the road, Cocksucker Blues; Peter Whiteheads 1966 art-scene film Charlie is My Darling; The Maysles Brothers Gimme Shelter; and Hal Ashbys Lets Spend the Night Together.

Film scholar that he is, Richards says Dont forget Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll, Taylor Hackfords documentary about a legendary Chuck Berry concert, in which Richards appeared and also co-produced. To me, Shine A Light is on a par with that film. Its different because its a Stones show but its a very superior rock n roll film.

And why was that one so important to him as a performer and as an artist Actually, to me, says Richards, what was really intriguing was getting Martys take on it, and his vision. To me, the thing was that Martin Scorsese wanted to do something, and I thought, well, he must have something in mind that is beyond the usual sort of video scan. So I really wanted to find out what Marty wanted. video scan. So I really wanted to find out what Marty wanted.

Who would have guessed that beneath the guise of the ultimate rock n roll outlaw beat the heart of a cinematheque-denizen film scholar who wanted nothing more than to please a master auteur When youre actually up there doing the work, you really pass all of that onto the director so that in a way, you just do what you do and try to do it as well as you can, and at the end you see whether you did it or not and then you stop to see–ahh! his vision of it, observes Richards. As it slowly unfolded with Shine A Light Martys great use of old footage and live footage, for instance, had a great feel about it. It slowly dawns on you as youre watching it. Otherwise, you have no idea. You cant climb inside of somebody elses brain.

Scorseses attention to detail and his musical sense of editing is another hallmark that drew Richards in. In one scene, guest artist Jack White III is brought onstage to play Lovin Cup, a three-way acoustic guitar jam in which Jagger straps on a Taylor acoustic and White uses a metal slide on his own acoustic ax. The film then segues to Richards on an acoustic 12-string for the 60s Stones composition As Tears Go By, one of their rare performances of the tune.

Scorseses treatment of the guitars in this sequence is further evidence to Richards that he had put himself in the hands of a master. How many times have we all watched fingers going up and down fretboards he says. The thing that Marty did with it was he turned the observation into a Rembrandt. It shows the beauty of the
guitars themselves. It wasnt just who was playing them. It was the loving shots of the
instruments themselves, which I found very, very, very nice.

According to Richards, it was Scorsese who pushed to have him sing You Got the Silver (from the classic Let It Bleed album) in the film. It was a special moment for me, because it was the first time I had done it without actually playing a guitar. I am a guitar player, you know, he laughs. I mean, sometimes I sing. But just the freedom to do a song and not have to think about left-y on right-y and to have to figure out what youre going to do without the guitaronce you got over that, you gotta do something else. You gotta move with the band. And it was a great release for me, actually, and
great, great fun. great, great fun.

According to Pearman, Jagger matched Scorsese in meticulousness with his painstaking attention to the shows set list. I think Micks concern was that it had to be really, really, really special, because it was Scorsese and because it was at the Beacon. He wanted the set list to be perfect, not just the standard set list. So there was a lot of planning and it all literally happened right before the show, she says. We
were all on pins and needles. Not knowing what to shoot or what was going to happen first or where all these cameras were going to be.

The jitters about the set list are documented in the film almost as a prologue to the concert with Scorsese fretting about what the set list would be, particularly the opening number. Onscreen, Jagger replies, Well be done, Marty, on the night, an hour before the show.

In hindsight, Scorsese has a laugh at the absurdity of trying to be organized when we didnt know what was going to happen. We were dealing with performance, which is tone and mood, but it wasnt ours, it was theirs. Theyd rehearse in the theater, go backstage and work it out, but even a half-hour before the show, they werent sure.

Scorsese says that preparing for the unknown set of songs that might happen during the concert was ultimately as thrilling as a horse race. It depended on what they felt like together enough to play. Its like a handicapper in a race. He doesnt choose the winner. He knows the temperature of the race, he knows the jockey on the favorite horse has just had a problem with his family. Maybe his mind isnt into it. He knows the track might be muddy at three oclock. He doesnt know who is going to win, but he can gauge the temperature and make a value judgment as to who to bet on. So I think thats what a performer does and part of the excitement was not knowing exactly what was going to be there, Scorsese says.

It was quite a difficult set list to do, Jagger claims. Its a film to watch in a
movie house or on DVD. So its got its own aesthetic. Youre not going to do the same
show you do in a big place. The problem was, we didnt have a theater show on this tour. In the previous tour wed had a theater show. In other words, wed had a set list that was different for theater which featured different numbers. It was more intimate. These had to all be invented. And then, the other thing was that its always nice in a film like this to have guest artists. So you had to think about them, what kind of
numbers were they going to sing and what could they do. Hows that all going to dovetail with the rest of it So its not just think of a set list per se. Its think of a movie set list of the presentation.

And also, I had to balance off the fact that we had some prior commitments to shoot a DVD of the tour as well, so I had to try to make the set list different from the DVD set list. It doesnt really come out in the film, but that was my big headache. I had to work out what shows we were going to play, this one and that one and the other one and so they wouldnt be the same but, nevertheless, be related. And also work out who
the guest artists were going to be.

Like Richards, Jagger has nothing but respect and admiration for Scorsese. Quite a lot of the previous auteur directors were actually doing documentaries, and this is mostly a concert movie. Theyre all great filmmakers. I think that Marty is a wonderful filmmaker and Ive known him for some time. And I think he really has a great passion for this. Its not something he just tosses off in a week, so to speak, as a bit of a fun thing. Hes very involved, super-involved in the editing, getting it just right. Hes fantastically devoted to detail, which is very important in this. He hated the idea of winging it, as you could see with the set list.

In post-production he is extremely careful, Jagger continues. He wants to get everything right and get the maximum emotion out of it, get all the relationships-work on all of it as hard as he can. So I think hes a great guy to work with. Hes not a person who dictates to you or takes the sort of high ground in knowledge or anything like that, and he listens to your points and either takes them or doesnt take them. Hes very cooperative.

Adds Richards: His eye on editing is amazing. He has a beautiful eye to capture everything. Shooting three shows is one thing. Editing all that footage is another. And that’s where real magic comes in with Marty.

Richards was also impressed with how Scorsese seamlessly threaded old newsreel and interview footage with the onstage performance in the film. Marty did an incredible job of floating them in and out, you know, says Richards. It wasnt just some gimmick. They all made sense, you know. But man, watching myself I mean, everythings been documented in a way, and it was just the way it was used. I thought Marty did it really smooth when he brought it in and out, present and past, you know. All I dare Marty to do now is figure out the future, he laughs.

Scorsese is no stranger to big-event music films, having cut his teeth on the genre by working as an editor on Woodstock and, as in Shine A Light, he shot a definitive documentary on The Band, The Last Waltz, in a small venue. That film was a tribute to a classic rock group playing their farewell concert and Scorseses cameras danced about on cranes and tracks as the musicians performed. But the narrative was also involved with the band members history and background, with frequent cutaways to backstage interviews with the group members, as well as commentaries by The Bands guests and some of the musical figures in their lives.

Shine A Light focuses on the music, dispensing with the talking-head device and opting instead for spare pops of vintage newsreel and TV footage as the only nonperformance-based commentary on the band. Scorsese hopes that audiences watching the film in a theater with a good sound system will feel as though they scored the best seat in the house at a down-and-dirty Stones concert with the band performing at its peak.

The issue was, ultimately, why are we making this film We are not making a film compilation, a history of the Rolling Stones, which would be very interesting but very comprehensive epic in length and a number of years to make. And they are probably the most documented band in rock n roll history. There are so many
documentaries in which you see the band arriving with their instruments, people saying, Yeah, I worked with so-and-so back in 1973, that didnt interest me. The music, its performance, thats what was important. So the trick with the archival footage was to get just the right amount to support the music. We selected themes such as the idea of the bands longevity and some of the groups notoriety and then, at a certain point, we wanted to show how irrelevant the interviews with them became the same
questions asked over and over to the point where they dont mean anything anymore. Only one thing has meaning, really, and that is their performance. So the archival footage was chosen to emphasize that, Scorsese says.

That goal, while very straightforward on a certain level, is also a bit like capturing
lightning in a bottle. Reticent but ever gentlemanly drummer Charlie Watts is hard-
pressed to describe or define the Stones relationship on stage. I have absolutely no
idea how to describe it, says Watts. But this thing happens when we get together. Its
always been like that. You can get another combination of the same instruments, the
same playing, but it wouldnt be the same. Its just a couple of guitars, a bass and a
drum; its nothing amazing. You cant sit and analyze it really, but something definitely
happens when were on stage together. Were not the same without each other.

He adds that it may be as elegantly simple and time-tested as the songs themselves. The Rolling Stones are a blues band, attests Watts. I dont play any differently today than I did when we began. Chuck Berry or Muddy Waters is what weve always played. I dont think weve changed, really.

In his quest to document their performance, their stage presence, their camaraderie, Scorsese also captured the Stones legendarily pumped up shows, concerts that absolutely belie their respective ages and electrify the fans. The final shots of Jagger, never playing to camera, never forgetting the audience in the balcony, are breathtaking and exhausting to behold.

Performing to me is something youre born with in some ways, Jagger comments. You can learn some of it and you have to but, ultimately, I think that performing urge is within you and the best shows are from people who just naturally take to it. I dont know where the energy comes from, its just there.

At the end of the shoot, Brigitte Lacombe, the productions set photographer and a famous artist in her own right, pulled the staff together for a crew shot. The camera departments picture stood out as particularly emblematic for Pearman. Bob Richardson has this long flowing white hair, and all the camera department I think there might have been a hundred people in the camera department, plus Marty they all had these long white wigs on. It was an amazing photograph. That was wonderful fun. It was Halloween, the end of a great experience for everyone. And these photographers were obviously having a great time working together.

Pearman sums up the impact of the shoot as a grand happy collaboration under unusual circumstances. In addition to the logistics of all this equipment being unloaded
into that tiny theater, there was the special attention and Secret Service details
paid to former President Clinton and his entourage. On the occasion of the presidents
birthday, Clinton became the emcee for the show.

It was the greatest rock band ever, the greatest director ever and the greatest
president ever, says Pearman. Everybody in there was a rock star. Mick and Keith
and the band–they are the rock stars, Marty is a complete rock star director, and Clinton is the political rock star. And the photographers were the all-star band of cinematographers. It was thrilling just to be there, to be a part of putting it together–beyond thrilling.