Glenn Tilbrook: One For The Road – exclusive interview with Director Amy Pickard
Glenn Tilbrook: One For The Road (www.glennmovie.com) is the feel good music DVD of the year. A thrilling story of modern music, fan worship and the trials and joys of touring, it tells the story of Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze’s first outings in an RV or Recreational Vehicle (a Campervan to me) touring the US. I recently had chance to speak with Amy Pickard, the Director exclusively about the background to the movie.
David: Making Glenn Tilbrook: One For The Road seems to have been a labour of love, not just for you but also for a whole team of dedicated people. What do you think it was about your project that produced such dedication and devotion?
Amy: I think enthusiasm is contagious and maybe the passion that music inspires was the motivation for people to get involved. I think people love Glenn and his music since Squeeze were a very respectable, fun band and I think everyone could identify with me wanting to make my dream come true by making this film. Also, Glenn’s music means so much to people, they wanted to thank him and give something back to him that was a bit more tangible than just gratitude. By helping me complete the film, they were able to do that and get to see their name in connection to a project involving their musical hero. And I was able to “pay Glenn back” by making this film for him. It’s pretty much a 70-minute advertisement on “Why you should love Glenn Tilbrook’s music as much as I do.”
David: Do you feel it was important to be independent?
Amy: Yes, I think there is something really pure about being an independent artist and Glenn and I rely on grass roots-level ‘love’ to get our work out there. I think that undercurrent of truth appeals to people too. That’s my theory about why people wanted to get involved anyway – but for a definitive answer, you’ll have to ask them! (there’s a list of credits on the DVD!)
David: The film has such a strong personal style you must have started out with a very strong creative vision of how you wanted the film to look and feel. How different did the film turn out to how you originally imagined it?
Amy: When I first imagined the film, I wanted it to be similar to “Behind the Music”. I wanted to tell Glenn’s story, talk about Squeeze and the ups and downs, etc… and what led Glenn to touring in an RV by himself. I also wanted the audience to feel the same joy that Glenn has for what he does instead of feel sorry for him and think that he’s a has-been 80’s dude. Knowing Glenn for 15 years, I knew that if an audience could get to know him, they’d be charmed and if they saw him perform, they’d want to see him again. I think with Squeeze, he was forced to ‘turn down the Glenn’ in a way.
David: Do you feel he was restricted in Squeeze?
Amy: I’m sure he never felt constrained in any way with Squeeze, but I think seeing Glenn solo acoustic is much more extraordinary. But after getting all the footage sorted and having a proper look at all 115 hours, what really popped out at me was how funny Glenn was and how the RV was a main character in the film. But I also wanted to put some more serious moments in the film to show that Glenn isn’t some chippy-chappy 24/7. I didn’t want him to come across as a jester because there is a very serious side to what he does as well. We were travelling around the US a month after 9/11 and though it was a laugh being on the road and the shows were great fun, it wasn’t wacky hi-jinx night and day.
David: So how about the style of the film?
Amy: The film turned out stylistically to be completely different from what I had planned. Jeff Rubin, my editor and I were forced to be extra creative due to the financial constraints. In spite of no money, the main messages that I wanted to get across stayed the same throughout. I wanted to show what a great, underrated guitar player Glenn is, I wanted the film to be a commentary on the current state of the music industry, I wanted to show how important it is to love what you do and do what you love and I wanted people to question how one defines success. I think I achieved that and it makes me so unbelievably proud, I cannot even tell you.
David: So necessity was the mother of invention for you. Would you change things if you could go back?
Amy: There are times when I get down on myself and find that I fantasize about going back in time and you know, being able to afford a tripod! It is so depleting when you have less than no money to make a film. I liken it to building a house. Do you buy the roof that will keep the rain out or do you buy the roof that will last for 100 years and look amazing? When you’re on a budget, you have to choose the former and my film just barely keeps the rain out. But sometimes I’ll watch a really moving, (expensive) documentary on the BBC or a movie like “Tom Dowd & The Language of Music” and I’ll get really depressed because the camerawork is beautiful and fluid, the audio is outstanding and you really understand the eloquence of the man and the depth of influence that he’s had on popular music. I just wish that I could have made a really beautifully crafted film like that for Glenn and Squeeze because I think they deserve that.
David: I’ve got to say that I thought you had, but I suppose you must be your own worst critic. It must have been strange to have the first major theatre showing of your documentary. What was most surprising to you about the audience reaction to the film?
Amy: I think what surprised me most was that the audience laughed and clapped and responded in all the right places! When Jeff and I were in the edit bay, it was close to impossible to be objective but we kept trying to envision what audiences would want, how we needed the film to make sense and have a beginning, middle and end. I was surprised at how forgiving they were of the low budget nature of the film as well. It just proves to me that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be glossy and expensive and as long as it has heart and truth, people will respond. I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing the film on a proper movie screen three times and every time I’ve cried! It is just completely overwhelming to me that something that started in my head, came out, was executed, is on the screen and now people are enjoying and ‘getting it’. And almost every day in the five year process, my confidence was shattered and I was fumbling in the dark to try and figure out how to get this film made and seen and publicized, so seeing an audience respond in such a lovely, positive way just blows my tiny mind! It’s weird. I always looked at it as Glenn’s film. I knew audiences would respond to Glenn. But when I see the film with an audience in a theatre, I am reminded that it’s my film too and that yes, they respond to Glenn but they also respond to the construction of scenes that I placed in there with a purpose and TLC and that I’m responsible for that. So it’s just preciousness.
David: You couldn’t possibly have planned for all the beautiful chance encounters Glenn has in the film – there are so many. Is there anything that happened that you didn’t manage to get on film that sticks in the memory?
Amy: For me, the main thing I ‘missed’ whilst filming was the RV dying for good and us leaving it behind. The battery had run out on the camera and so there was no way for me to get any final shots of the RV getting worked on, etc… but we managed to ‘resolve’ that at the end so it turned out fine.
But we were pretty lucky to be able to capture so many magic moments. The house in Atlanta was electrifying. I cannot explain it properly but the energy in the house was tangible and I didn’t even care if we were filming, I stood on a chair in the dining room in the back and just sang along to the songs and enjoyed a few songs that Glenn sang with the whole crowd. I took off my director hat and just… enjoyed the moment. Glenn kept looking over at me as if to say, ‘This is unbelievable! And we’re getting it on CAMERA!!’ One of my fave moments in the house scene was after it’s all over, Glenn looks over at me and I’m telling a fan how unbelievable it all is and then I see Glenn and give him the thumbs up. We were all wide eyed after that gig – I was just super jazzed and we were talking about how amazing it was as we drove the RV out of Atlanta. I called the tape of the house footage the ‘crack tape’. Whenever I’d feel down or lacklustre about making the film, I’d just put in the ‘crack tape’ and get excited all over again. It’s a great moment in the film.
David: Glenn Tilbrook seems to have given his time to the project freely and cheerfully – even helping out with the comprehensive DVD ‘extras.’ What was he like to work with over such a long period?
Amy: I want to make it very clear that Glenn did indeed give his time to the project freely and cheerfully and I will be forever grateful for the unbelievable access that he gave me. But Glenn is a nightmare to work with! ha-ha. Working with Glenn is like trying to herd cats. Glenn is completely and utterly absorbed with music. He has no room in his head for remembering to return phone calls or emails. He doesn’t understand deadlines and planning. He even says in the film that he loves a certain spontaneity in life, but I feel that there is a fine line between spontaneity and chaos, ha-ha. Trying to schedule anything with Glenn has aged me in dog years. Pretty much after the shooting ended of the doc, I was on my own which, at the time, was quite jarring. At the time I felt completely abandoned but looking back now, I am so lucky that he gave me the freedom to just do it and make it the way I wanted to without interfering. It’s astonishing, the trust he put into me to tell his story, but I agonized over every single decision I made with the film. Were the versions of the songs that I picked good/would Glenn be okay with them. Would Glenn be happy with the image I picked for the poster? Is he happy with the tone of my website? Does it represent him well? Is the film getting the message across that he would like and approve of? I just had to trust my instincts and go with what I thought was best since I wasn’t getting any feedback. (I’m quite proud that Glenn was happy with all of my decisions.)
But there were some funny examples: Glenn wrote the song “One For The Road” inspired by the film. I was ecstatic and could not wait to hear it and put it in the film. I asked Glenn to send it to me on CD. He never sent it and never sent it and never sent it. All this time, I’m cutting the film and stalking him. Emailing him, calling and leaving messages and expressing that we needed the CD ASAP. I never got it in time to put it in the film. The best I could do was to put an acoustic sting of a few bars of the song over the title cards and since I couldn’t get Glenn to do that, I had my friend Darrin record it. Also, I needed the track “Third Rail” from Glenn. I emailed, called and begged for him to send it to me. Days went by and months went by and nothing. I had a nervous breakdown and almost lost my mind. But finally, I received a package in the mail from Glenn. I was tearing into it and calling my editor saying I would rush right over so we could cut it in the film and then I looked at the CD and it was Glenn’s solo album Transatlantic Ping Pong!!!! No Third Rail in sight. But that is sooo Glenn. It’s like you send your seven year old to the corner shop to get eggs and he comes back with milk. But then he wants you to be all proud of him for getting the milk. Glenn called me from Australia asking excitedly if I got the CD! I said, “Yes, but as much as I loved listening to it, it wasn’t the CD that I needed! I still need THIRD RAIL!!!” and he said confused, ‘Oh…..but I sent you the OFTR track on the CD!!’ He had forgotten which track I needed. So yes, a labour of love, but also a festival of pain.
When Glenn and I were in the back of a taxi in London on our way to do press for the DVD in January, he turned to me and asked, ‘Would you ever want to do another documentary?’ and I said without hesitation, ‘With you? No.’ and we both laughed. He knows how useless he is. I now know how useless he is…I just wish I would have known when I decided to make a film about him! ha-ha Don’t get me wrong, I love Glenn. But would he be the first person I would call if I woke up in a seedy motel room with a dead hooker in my bed? NO. As long as I rely on Glenn to make intelligent pop music and to sing my favourite songs in that clear, sweet voice that he has, he will NEVER let me down. He ALWAYS comes through when it comes to his music, so I have more realistic expectations of him now. I joke that he runs on GMT time… Glenn Martin Tilbrook instead of Greenwich Mean Time.
David: So what’s next for you Amy? Would you like to extend the One For The Road name and style to others? With whom would you most like to work?
Amy: I would love to have a OFTR series. I’d love to work with other artists like Neil Finn, Jason Falkner and even established artists like Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow. I have an amazing documentary idea about Paul McCartney – I just don’t have the connections to get it to him! But in the meantime, I’m just trying to pay down the credit card debt from the film and get a job! After doing all that radio press with Glenn in the UK, I was reminded of how much I love radio. (I had done some stuff for the BBC when I lived there in the 90’s.) So I’m trying to pitch radio show ideas to Xm and Sirius and the BBC. I also have a ton of music television ideas that I’m trying to sell. And I’m hoping to turn my podcast Gratuitous T&A into a proper paying gig, so I’m unbelievably busy in trying to make things happen. I caught the RV bug from Glenn and I’m trying to sell a show idea that involves me going around America in an RV interviewing bands in different cities. The show focuses on the touring musician rather than the same old-same old 6 minute soundbite interview about their new release that you usually get on TV these days. I’m still trying to get my companion book published! You know, it was so hard to try and get the film out there and to get people to LISTEN to my point of view and with the success of the DVD, I finally felt heard. I haven’t had one bad review! Sometimes when I’m immersed in the determination of trying to convince others that what I have to offer is a valid, worthy idea/project, I think I’m the only one who cares and that I might be crazy for believing in it so much. Sometimes I want to give up, I have to be honest about that. Everyone said that the Glenn Movie would be my calling card, but no one is calling right now! But then I’ll get an email from someone who came across my film or website and they’ll tell me how much it means to them and then that inspires me to keep going because I know I’m on the right path and it just takes one person to believe in you and things could change tomorrow. The Glenn Movie is proof of that.
David: Thanks Amy. We’re all eternally grateful for your dogged determination above and beyond the call of duty and your pure, raw talent in bringing us such a thoroughly enjoyable movie. Thanks!
Amy: Thanks David. You rock!
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