Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with Patrick Meaney, director of "Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods"

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of viewing, and reviewing, the new feature documentary from Respect Films: Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods. Shortly afterward, I was able to exchange a lively correspondence with the director, Patrick Meaney. What follows is our conversation on how the film came to be, why he was moved to document the life and times of one of the great mad geniuses of the comics world, and the next comics-related project from Meaney and Respect Films.

Meaney and Morrison. The book Morrison is holding is Our Sentence is Up: Seeing Grant Morrison's 'The Invisibles,' written by Meaney prior to the production of  the documentary.   

A WALRUS DARKLY: Why Grant Morrison?

PATRICK MEANEY: Grant's my favorite comics writer, and one of my favorite creators in any medium. So, I was really interested in talking to him, and hearing his ideas about writing, philosophy and the universe. But, that doesn't necessarily make someone a good potential documentary subject. What makes Grant so unique is that, as Steve Yeowell says in the film, "In many ways, Grant's greatest creation is himself." This is a guy who has lived a lot of the things that he writes about, he became King Mob, he was abducted, he went through the initiation rituals and came out the other side. He's got this reputation as a wild man, a new age messiah of comics, and I wanted to explore what's behind that. Where is the line between the legend and the reality of his life? And, ultimately, what I found out is that it's all true. The Grant you see in the media or at a con has the same ideas and excitement he has when hanging out at his house, it's just presented in an amped up way. So, I loved getting the opportunity to present a more personal, conversational Grant in the film, and showing people a side of him that I think most people, even artists who've collaborated with him, haven't had a chance to see.
 
AWD: Tell me a little bit about the process of getting this film together. Was there any reluctance to participate on Grant's part? 
 
PM: I wrote a book called Our Sentence is Up: Seeing Grant Morrison's "The Invisibles" for the publisher Sequart. Grant had read a draft and enjoyed it, and we were planning to do an interview with him for the book. Since I work as a filmmaker, I jumped to the idea of using the interview as the basis for a documentary. So, I wrote up a document and sent it over to him, via his wife Kristan. They liked the idea and a month later we were shooting. 

I don't think there was any reluctance on Grant's part. I was thrilled that he trusted me to tell his story, considering I'm sure he could get much more experienced people to do so. But, I think he knew that I was really passionate about his work and would bring that extra energy to the project. So, he and Kristan were really open and gave us pretty much everything we needed to make the film. He's a really busy guy, so it wasn't like we could just sit there for weeks on end with him, but I really couldn't ask for anything more than what they gave.
 
AWD: When did you first discover The Invisibles and what about it resonated so heavily with you?
 
PM: I first read it in high school, shortly after The Matrix had been released. I heard that The Matrix had been 'stolen' from a comic book series called The Invisibles. So, I picked up the first volume, loved it and was off from there. I think the thing I loved so much was its fusion of really progressive, psychedelic concepts with very relatable characters and cool over the top action as its flourish.

The thing that I always love about Morrison's work is that it's intensely thought provoking, and can be analyzed endlessly, but it's also very immediate and totally enjoyable on the surface as an action comic or character story. That's what makes all his work so special, and I think The Invisibles is the best example of it.

AWD: How long did you shoot and how many hours of interviews did you conduct?



PM: We started shooting in April 2009, and wrapped our principal photography at San Diego ComicCon this year, in July 2010. But, it was an on and off process. We'd shoot some stuff, I'd edit it, then we'd shoot some more. With Grant, we shot two sessions of interviews, one in California, the other in Scotland, and then a bunch of footage at San Diego Comicon this year, for a total of I'd say 18 hours. We shot about 20 hours of interviews with other people. So, there was a lot of material to sort through and pick from.
 
AWD: Morrison is widely known as an eccentric in the comics world. Was it important to you to highlight that eccentricity, or to attempt to explain it, or did you just attempt to record Grant as he is?

PM: I think there was a need to acknowledge his reputation as an eccentric, since that's the sort of bias most people go into the film with. So, I opened the film with a succession of people talking about his reputation and the myths and legends surrounding him. But, after establishing that reputation, I wanted to delve into the world as he sees it and just present him through his words without any kind of editorial hand. What I found was that Grant has a lot of wild ideas, but he presents them in a way that is totally reasonable and rational. He has a sense of humor and a healthy skepticism about the weirder things he's experienced, and that makes it a lot easier to take him seriously. He's totally grounded and down to Earth, but has these wild ideas, and I think that's one of the things that makes him so interesting. 

So, I just presented him as he is, and tried to not to direct peoples' feelings, to just let him speak for himself.
 
AWD: One of the most intriguing aspects of the film to me was watching Morrison describe his own evolving personal philosophy, including his dark period in the early 2000s and the "performance" of his infamous Disinfocon speech. How did you view Morrison's philosophical leanings as you were working on the film, and did they have any effect on your own?

PM: After reading The Invisibles, I was already sort of wrapped up in the Morrison view of the world, and thought a lot about his philosophy. Ultimately, my favorite part of Grant's message is to not dismiss weird things out of hand, but to give them a try, see if they work and report back. He wrote The Invisibles as a hypertext to engage the audience and change their lives, and when I was in Scotland at Grant's house, and traveling around the world to make this film, it seemed clear that it worked, and my life had been wrapped up in this comic and changed forever. 

The thing I like most about Grant's philosophy, as opposed to more traditional ideas about magic or religion, is that it's all experience based, not just faith based. He did these things, they worked and that's why he believed in them. And, you can do them too.

AWD: The film seems to have a visual style influenced by Morrison's own storytelling. It seems to feel almost like an issue of The Invisibles, never completely linear. Was this something you attempted to do consciously or something that just came out in your editing? 

PM: You nailed it exactly, my goal was to evoke the feeling of a Morrison comic in the film's construction. I would always tell DP Jordan Rennert to shoot the idea or feeling of something rather than the literal representation of it, and I tried to combine those images that we shot with his comics in interesting ways. My own filmmaking has always been heavily influenced by Morrison, so it was almost like I'd been training my whole life to make this film.
 
AWD: After having made this film, do you personally have any wild Grant Morrison stories to tell now? 
 
PM: Nothing too crazy, but the trip out to his house is quite an epic journey. It involves a ferry ride past a nuclear base, and once you're out there, there are no street names or house numbers. It was definitely an appropriately epic buildup to the meeting with him.
 
AWD: Was there any particular piece of obscure, rare memorabilia that Grant showed you during filming that still resonates with you? 
 
PM: When we finished shooting with him at his house in Scotland, he brought out a big pile of personal photos for us to shoot. But, there wasn't anything from early on, so we asked if he had any pictures from when he was younger, and he brought out a few photos of him with his parents as a baby. And, I felt like getting to see those photos covering his whole life, it sort of came into perspective how much access we had and it seemed like the story was really going to come together. 
 
AWD: What, if anything, do you hope people come to understand about Grant Morrison and/or the world of comics after seeing your film?

PM: I've had a few people tell me that they never knew people were doing this kind of thing in comics, and that they were really interested in reading Grant's work now and finding out more. So, I hope that more people do check his work out. 

On a more general level, I hope that people who think of some of the ideas that Grant discusses as crazy or think his work is nonsensical give a listen to what he's saying and approach it with an open mind. He's one of the most interesting people I've ever talked to, and I hope that people get that same experience from watching the film.
 
AWD: Tell me about your next film: Warren Ellis: Capturing Ghosts.

PM: Ellis is a big icon in comics as well, and is similar to Grant in the sense that there's a sort of caricature reputation that people know, and that doesn't quite capture the reality of the person. And, he's a fantastic storyteller, a really funny guy and knows exactly how to draw an audience in.

So, we're starting with a similar base, but taking it in a very different direction from there. It's going to be a bit more schizophrenic in approach, using mixed media like puppets, skits, possibly some animation and other things to convey Warren's world. One of the big influences on a stylistic level is going to be the avant garde UK comedy series Jam. So, hopefully it'll be different than the Grant film, but still satisfying and exciting.

Thanks so much to Patrick for taking the time to answer my questions. Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods is available on DVD now through the film's website or through Amazon.com.

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