It was in 2016, a few months after the beginning of the A Head Full of Dreams tour, that Mat Whitecross has said, in an interview, that he has following the concerts for work, leaving the fans in the expectation for what might be coming next. Two years later, with the tour as one of the biggest in the history of music, Coldplay surprised releasing not only a documentary, but also, announcing Live in São Paulo, the first film of a concert in Latin America.
However, the story could have been very different if, 20 years ago, neither Mat Whitecross had started filming Chris, Jonny, Guy, Will and Phil, even before being the Starfish, or if they had given up oon having a band at the first “no” they heard.
This is what the director of A Head Full of Dreams and Live in São Paulo has talked about in an exclusive interview with Coldplay Brasil. The complicated traffic of London and his children in the back seats of the car did not prevent Mat from being available to talk to us. In a call of almost half an our, we talked about past, present and future: how was it 20 years ago, what is happening now (in the world and in the band) and what he imagines that will happen next. “I know that they’ve been talking, cause I hear conversations from time to time when they’re on tour about what to do next”, he comments.
Whitecross also talked about his work and his frendship with the band. “Most of that, we’re all friends. I’d love to carry on working with them if they need me”, he says. He also ventures out, quickly speaking of politics: “We live in cynical times and bleak times, in some ways. I think we live in hard times”. Despite this, he believes that the band spreads a message. “I see them change people’s lives all the time”, he says.
Hi, Mat. It’s nice to meet you.
Hi, fella. How are you doing?
I’m fine, and you?
I’m really good, thanks.
After one year of hiatus —including on social media—, the band has came back with the films you’ve directed, leaving a feeling of joy and excitement in all the fans. Do you feel like you’re part of a reconnection between the band and their fans after a long time?
Yes, I mean, I hope so. I don’t think they were intending for it to be that way, because we were going to release the film almost a year ago, I think. The idea was to try and get it out for Christmas last year and it was pretty crazy, because we were trying to sift through a thousand hours of footage and we were in the middle of shooting. And every few weeks I’d go out and join the band maybe in India or in, you know, wherever it was. Sometimes we would travel out to Sydney and Manila, all these different places. And at the same time my team in London were desperately trying to cut all the footage together to get it ready and we didn’t really know what kind of film we were trying to make. So there was nothing really intentional about it, but it just seemed to work out that way. I think the band always, because the tour was so huge and took so long and was such a big thing for them. I think such a huge event for them, in terms of it being a cumulation of a lot of things that they’ve talked about in the past, they definitely decided they wanted to take a year off and they’ve never done that before. So I suppose, yes, in that sense it came out and it was kind of the first message back from the band for a long time, but I’m not sure it was a 100% intentional. It just kind of worked out that way but, you know, often things seem to happen that way with Coldplay. Phil and Chris often have the ideas, and often are the people who start off with the ideas, and the others all add their opinions, and I don’t really know, I think it was just nice the way it came together. Often when we’re making music videos it happens in the same way, that we have one idea and it doesn’t work out but then maybe Chris has another idea or Phil does or someone else in the band and it just happens naturally.
So it wasn’t intentional but, in the end, it worked out.
Yes, it was just one of those things. I don’t think any of this was particularly deliberate the way it came about. So, basically, all of this come together originally. We weren’t going to do a film. I’d asked them [the band] for a long time if we could make this film, and every year they kind of said “Oh I don’t know, maybe next year, maybe next year”. At a certain point, I kind of got the picture, and it was like “We’re never gonna make this film”. And it was only really when I’ve given up, that it became a possibility again. Phil and Chris came to see a film I’d done about Oasis, Supersonic, and I think maybe that was the first time I’d started thinking about it seriously.
Liam Gallagher e Mat Whitecross na première do filme Supersonic, que conta a história da banda Oasis. (Foto: The Independent)
In the interview after the film, you’ve said that you filmed the band over 5.000 hours. How did you manage to keep all this footage safe through all this time?
I think it was over a thousand hours. There wasn’t really a plan. It was pretty chaotic, it was pretty haphazard; so back in the day I was just shooting anything and everything, and then obviously I wasn’t the only person who was around the band, so in the times when I went off, during the course of their lives and their career, especially around the third album, I ducked out for a while because I was trying to make my own films and I was travelling a lot but, thank God, Miller, who started out as one of the band’s crew —who started out as one of the band’s crew, working on the music side of things, the live music side—, then he expanded to working in the studio, and then he expanded again, because he loves filming, to effectively documenting their lives, so he shot a lot of it. And then other people kept on coming in and shooting things, so it wasn’t just me. But Miller took it upon himself —thank God— to look after everything, and he rang me up and said “Look, do you have anything?”. So he took everything off me —or everything that I could find. And similarly for all our friends, all the people at university, anyone who’d filmed anything, or anyone who ever took a photo, he took all of that, and Chris entrusted him with a big suitcase full of everything precious to him when he was either growing up, or when he was at university —all the notebooks, audience tour passes, everything and anything, and Miller went in and he scanned everything— so he catalogued it very carefully and looked after it. There were a few things; I went back to my mum’s house, I found a couple more tapes up in her attic, and there was another very close friend of ours called Chris Williams, who was also in a band at the same time, and is a brilliant musician, and he also filmed things back in the day. So there’s sequences of the early footage, some of that is his as well. So we were lucky, and Miller took it all and put it in and then when we came to make the film. I have a team —the same team that worked, for the most part, on Supersonic—, and they found a lot of these old tapes Miller had protected but not digitized —all of Guy’s footage for example, around the second album when they were touring. I think Guy loves trying everything. He’ll do everything he wants, he’s like a kind of master racing driver, and he also builds planes, and he also has started up various tech companies and he also film, he’s a great photographer; and he filmed a lot of the second album, about the making of, the studio; he always had a camera, which is why you see Chris playing, he was doing too much filming and not a lot of playing music —luckily for us. And then again, when I was interviewing him for this seventh album, I was saying “Did anyone ever film anything?”, and he was just “Ah, I don’t think so. Oh yeah, I probably filmed a little bit”. He pulled out all this amazing footage for us, so it’s his footage, often in black and white, during the making of the last album. So we were lucky. I think he’d kind of half-forgotten that he’d shot it.
You’ve filmed in São Paulo!
Yes, we’ve filmed two nights in São Paulo.
And how was it?
It was amazing, absolutely amazing. I’ve been to Brazil a few times in the past, but never in São Paulo. The vibe from the people is electric, it’s amazing; now I understand why bands always start and end their tour in Latin America —it’s just a feeling like nothing else. There are fans all over the world who have an incredible vibe, especially at Coldplay shows. I do not think I had a show, in the last three years that I went, that did not have an incredible atmosphere, but there is something in particular about South America. Maybe so it was there that they found inspiration for the fourth album, the spirit of it all again, after what happened in the X&Y, and surely they have met again in South America. They recorded in Mexico, throughout America Latina. It’s incredible, I love it. We also recorded in Porto Alegre last year, but did not stay too, but it was an experimental idea. The footages, they were fragmented and it’s more dreamlike, like a stream of consciousness, the structure of it. We have only shot a gig in Paris, at that point, plus I run around with a camera and Marcus Haney —who is another director who followed the band around as well—, so it was quite fragmented. I showed him to Phil —he and his wife were about to have another baby, so it was not the best time for him to sit down and think about anything else. “I do not know, I do not know, it does not feel like it’s working”. And I said “Alright, leave it with me. I need another go”. And then he and Chris went and had a chat, and they said, “Look, if you could film anywhere, where would you film, like, for our final gigs?”, and I said “In Latin America, because that really feels to me where the heart of Coldplay is often, certainly when playing live”. And they said “Okay, great, let’s just shoot it in São Paulo and Buenos Aires, and that’ll be the beginning and end of the film, that makes more sense”. It has a personal resonance for me, because my family, on my mother’s side, is Argentinian and it’s somewhere I’ve visited a lot. I’ve traveled a lot around South America. It’s home for me, in a lot of ways, so I love going back there with the band.
The vibe from the people is electric, it’s amazing; now I understand why bands always start and end their tour in Latin America —it’s just a feeling like nothing else.
We know you felt like Coldplay would become something, but did you really imagine how big they would become?
Well it’s funny, isn’t it? I think, probably like anyone. You know, you grow up with big dreams, and I always wanted to be a filmmaker like from a very early age. I don’t know why, I just got the bug and I realised that’s what I dreamed of doing. And one minute I would think “Yeah, I’m gonna get to do this for the rest of my life, it’s gonna be amazing”. And the other time, sometimes “I think I’m never gonna do this”.
20 years ago, why did you decide to record everything? Did you have in mind that it could be used for something any day?
Well, you know, there’s not necessarily any justice to the way things work out. Maybe no one will discover them, maybe they have the wrong hair, maybe it’s the wrong time, maybe they’re not dressed the right way, maybe they’re signed to the wrong label and someone rips them off. So there’s a million obstacles, but I kind of felt in my heart that, if there was any justice, they would make it. But I don’t think anyone, even they, could’ve imagined they would maybe send it to these heights. I think, at that time, it was too impossible to think about.
We know you direct many of Coldplay videos. How is it when you’re working on this? Do you work good as group?
It’s funny, because I think that music videos are very different to the way we’ve made this film. So for the most part, they completely left us alone on the film. Phil would give us, you know, every so often he would check in, and he might say “Oh, can you send me over a couple of scenes?”, and he might offer some advice. So really Phil acted as their eyes and ears on this one. On the music videos, it’s the opposite; they really feel like it is a collaboration between all of us, everyone has ideas. For example, on “Adventure of a Lifetime”, Chris felt like he wanted to make a dance video for people who can’t dance. Obviously, the band can dance, but they’re not professional dancers, so how do you make them dance, and how do you bring it to life in a way that’s engaging? They thought it was gonna be the first video and the first track off this new album, so it had to be good. And Chris had this idea that he wanted to have an army of people —an army of Chrises, an army of Wills, and army of Jonnys—, all dancing synchronised, so as if you found 100 twins, and they were all able to replicate each other’s moves. Because he said that the way that he moves, for example, on stage, is so spontaneous, he’s feeling the moment of the music and it just kind of takes him over. And it doesn’t matter whether people like the way he moves, that’s just how he feels in that moment. Imagine if you could suddenly have another 100 people doing that —wouldn’t that be great? So we looked at that, but still the technology isn’t really there yet to try and recreate humans —you can do pretty much anything, but you can’t do that. He [Chris] bumped into Andy Serkis on a plane, and obviously they know each other through me, and so they rang, and they said “Oh, let’s do something together”. They told me it was gonna be “Hymn for the Weekend”, and then we turned up on set, we had the music and we were gonna do a completely different storyline. Then they went “Oh, we have this great guitar riff, let’s do this”. And then everyone had different ideas, and we tried out different things —they were all dinosaurs, then they were all zombies— and then when we changed them into chimpanzees, Guy said “Oh, I’ve got an idea for a shot: why don’t you have all four of us with our backs to each other and spin the camera round us?”. so everyone’s having different thoughts, then I said “Maybe you should discover the music under some leaves in the jungle”, and that’s how it comes about. But a lot of people maybe imagine that the director comes in with a fully formed idea. This sometimes happens, but generally speaking —especially when I’m working with Coldplay— everyone contributes. It’s like making a family home video, but on a massive, massive budget!
When I’m working with Coldplay, everyone contributes. It’s like making a family home video, but on a massive, massive budget!
That’s amazing. How would you compare the first video you’ve directed, “Bigger Stronger”, with the last one, “Adventure of a Lifetime”? Obviously, as you told us, technology has evolved, but did that lead to a development, an improvement of style, or was there any other changes?
Well, I suppose, obviously superficial they couldn’t be more different, because one was shot for about 5 pounds by a bunch of student friends, and the other one costs I don’t know how many million, was super expensive and was made by over a hundred people, by the end. Because we had not only the band and me, but we had The Imaginarium —which is Andy Serkis’ performance capture company— then we had a French company called Mathematic —who did all the CGI and did this incredible job and took all the raw information.
I’d been saying for a long time “Look well if you guys ever manage to get a budget for a video”, because we always used to make films together. We’d shoot these videos and do anything. Then we would, “If it ever happens and you get signed up by a record label, can I do a music video? I’d love to throw my hat in the ring”, and Chris was like “Yeah, of course you’re gonna do our music videos, no problem”. I said “Okay, I’ll do it” and I came up with this idea, but the night before, Chris changed it. And we were all having to try and figure it out, change everything, then he suddenly said “Well, we should be playing cricket”. So, suddenly, the whole idea that I had, had to change again, so it does do that. Sometimes it works great, like I think on “Paradise” then on “Adventure of a Lifetime”, where we all had ideas and we made it together and sometimes it’s terrible like on “Bigger Stronger”. We hadn’t really figured out what we were doing by then.
And what’s your favorite Coldplay video?
Well, it’s a good question. I think the one we had most fun making probably was… It’s definitely between “Paradise” and “Adventure of a Lifetime”. Both of those were really joyful to make. So we didn’t know in either case whether it was gonna be any good. The one that worked out the best, I felt at the time, was “Christmas Lights”, only because we went into it —and everything that could possibly have gone wrong, went wrong. It was a complete disaster from beginning to end, we finished at, like, three in the morning, we didn’t think we had anything, the next day we put it all together and it was like “Oh, okay, this is gonna be great”. So, in terms of the relief, and the feeling afterwards with everyone that we hadn’t wasted the time and the money, that was probably the best feeling. I think the other two [“Paradise” e “Adventure”], I think the way that people responded to Paradise, the fact that it’s so unusual —and that it was Chris’ crazy idea that came together after a lot of false starts— that was probably the one that was the most unexpected and the most fun.
Mat Whitecross, Chris Martin e Andy Serkis durante as gravações do clipe de “Adventure of a Lifetime”. (Imagem: Sarah Lee)
This is amazing.
Aw, thank you. Well, it was very unlikely because I got this call from Phil a few weeks before it —because I think Hype Williams was doing one, but he couldn’t get it through customs; some kind of crazy thing happened— and then they’d been doing another one as a kind of backup, and for whatever reason they didn’t want that one. So it was unlikely. Then I got this call from Chris, midnight one night, saying, “What are you doing tomorrow?”, and I was like “Oh, I’m working, what is it?”; he’s like “Oh, I need you to get on a plane to South Africa and I need you to come up with a good idea —in the next hour!” They’d seen the other two films, they didn’t think they were right for whatever reason, and that was it. Then I came up with a bunch of ideas, but Chris said “No, no, no, forget all those, stop. We need an elephant costume and a unicycle”. He told me that he could get on a unicycle and so I can scribble down a very basic plot and send it to him —and he said “Yeah, I like that bit; I don’t like that bit”, and that was the whole video really. I just rang up four of my best friends —there’s an amazing cameraman— and I said “Is there any chance your wife will let you jump on a plane tomorrow?”, and he’s like, “Yeah, sure”.
Well, you’ve filmed the band’s career since the very first moment, and we see it on the film. But what to do from now on?
What’s gonna happen next?
It’s a very good question, I’m sure a lot of people would like to know the answer to that. Most of that, we’re all friends and, luckily, no one killed me or never wanted to speak to me again. In two years we’ve been working on it really, so I’d love to carry on working with them if they need me. I mean, they always work with other people too, so every album has two or three or four other directors they work with. But if they were willing for me to keep filming them, I would love that. So, we’re all good friends and it never feels like working and I’m always fascinated by them by positions in general.
I play a few instruments, not very well, but I love seeing other people do it. So I would be very happy to keep on doing that if they want me; they might be sick of me, you never know. And as far as what they are doing next, I know that obvious, for the first time in their careers ever, they’ve taken a year off which is a quite big deal for them.
And I know that they’ve been talking, cause I hear conversations from time to time, when they’re on tour, about what to do next. So I know it’s not like they’re never going to get back together —they’re definitely going to do something. I assume it’s going to be music, it’s not going to be like performance art or poetry or abstract painting. It’s obvious going to be music, so anything more than that I don’t know. Chris said “It’s going to be something different”, so whether that means it’s another album, but it’s very different, or whether they’re going to tour in a different way. They all suddenly change their minds and it’s been a year now, why would they not? So I have no idea, but I’m super excited to see what happens next.
As not only fans, but brazilian fans, we are very excited for the release of Live in São Paulo, the first concert film in Latin America. What can we expect from the film?
It was something that really came about by chance because I didn’t really know what film we were making. We just started off by saying “Well, we’ll film a few gigs and see what happens”, and then I said “Look, I’ve got this archive, do you want to use it?”. They said “No, not really, we don’t want to do a documentary”. So I said “Why don’t we use it as a way of breaking up the live show?”, and then, the more I put it together, it was like “Oh, well maybe there should be a documentary since it’s been 20 years”. And it was only really during that conversation with Phil and Chris, where they were like, we just don’t feel we can show all these great gigs, and then the documentary is where we have barely seen these amazing gigs, and it’s such a shame. So Chris said “Okay, fine, well let’s just make two films”. So it kind of just came about by accident.
Chris and Phil were like “Well, let’s make it in São Paulo, that’s one of the places where we did one of our best gigs”. So, in terms of what I was trying to expect, was what we hoped to do, was catch lightening in a bottle; it was really really hard. Those gigs are so amazing and soul consuming and I just wanted to try and give people a little taste of what it might be like at a Coldplay gig. You know, Coldplay live… I’ve had friends come along and they can be quite cynical and British about Coldplay, and be like “Oh, yeah, maybe I’ll come along; I just prefer their second album”, or whatever people say about big bands, and then they come out and then they’re screaming, and there’s tears streaming down their faces, and then they’re saying they’ve brought the Coldplay t-shirt on the way home.
We always finish our interviews with the same question: do you believe that Coldplay songs can change the world?
It’s quite funny because we live in cynical times and bleak times, in some ways, when you see what is happening politically around the world —certainly in Europe, we’ve seen it recently. For me —I don’t know what you guys think politically but for me—, I feel like what’s happened recently in Brazil is tragic, and I think we live in hards times. I also feel, generally speaking, people want the best for each other, you know, I see the world around me, I see my friends, I see Coldplay, I see a lot of people, and they want the world to change for the better. And they’re generous, and they’re warm hearted, and they don’t live their lives in fear, they live their lives through love, and that is the message that Chris and the band try and transmit around the world. It’s a very cool thing to do, to talk about love, to talk about never giving up, and believing in yourself and believing in love, I think that’s you opening yourself up to ridicule, but they’re very honest and open hearted and passionate about it.
In that sense, of course, I see them change people’s lives all the time. And even watching the film, back the other night, we went to a screening near my house, and I came out and this guy came up to me and said: “I’ve been a fan from the beginning, and I’m a musician, and it just made me feel like I shouldn’t give up. I’ve got all these ideas for my new album and I was feeling pretty bad about it, but now I’m just thinking I’m going to turn things around, and I know what to do now”. So, even in small ways, I think they provide inspiration, so that’s super exciting. I just think, in terms of a message, you know it’s too easy if you’re a big band just to resort to the rock ‘n’ roll cliques to hang out, getting messed up and chasing women, and I think it’s beautiful what Chris and the band and the message they put out there. It’s like Phil says towards the end, “You’ve got a great message, get it out there”. So, in those ways, I hope they’re changing, but you can’t expect too much to change, but I hope the message changes people lives, even in a small way.