Film Mike Figgis on his Ronnie Wood documentary

Last month at the premiere, Ronnie Wood, joked that the biggest shock of the new documentary on his life, ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’, is that he is still alive at 72. The director of the documentary, Mike Figgis, tells Thierry Somers he is shocked as well that Wood is still alive. “Ronnie is the quintessential survivor. Someone should do a scientific study of him and Keith [Richards] and their respective metabolisms”.

200%: What made you interested to make a documentary on Ronnie Wood? Did you always have a fascination for him?
Mike Figgis: My son Louis, who is one of the producers of the film, asked me if I would be interested in meeting Ronnie, with an idea to make a film about him. I was open to the idea and at the first meeting we had there was a good rapport between us. I was intrigued by his paintings and drawings and thought that this could be a good structure to base the film around.

200%: Did you do a lot of research into rock documentaries before you started to make the documentary on Ronnie’s life?
MF: In 2002, Martin Scorsese invited me to direct a film about the history of the UK blues scene. ‘Red White and Blues’ was the result. I did extensive research and multiple interviews for that film. I had also participated in the Rock and Blues scene as a young man so it would true to say I was already pretty familiar with the subject. But in answer to your question, no, I did not watch a lot of Rockumentaries. I had no intention of making that kind of a film.

200%: What kind of film did you have in mind?
MF: Clearly his life has been filled with a rich variety of ‘events’. In our conversations I wanted him to feel comfortable talking about his life – as interesting subjects emerged I would encourage him to go further. But I was also aware that there was a danger of the film becoming predictable. And, as I already said I thought it more interesting to focus on the importance of painting in his life, something that gives a hitherto missing aspect of who Ronnie Wood actually is.

200%: The documentary is not very long, just 71 minutes. Was that enough time to tell Ronnie’s story?
MF: I set out to make a portrait of an Artist. There certainly was a pressure to make the film a certain length (for all the obvious reasons – distribution, cinema, DVD etc). For me the film is the perfect length and it leaves the audience wanting more. Most documentaries are way too long these days.

200%: What is the difference of filming a documentary compared with a feature film? Is it more immediate and being in the moment?
MF: For me it’s a pleasure to be able to spend time with someone like Ronnie and then have the time to think and edit before the next encounter. It’s organic filmmaking, the polar opposite of the feature film world. I didn’t prepare sessions (other than in the technical sense) and allowed the themes to flow as they needed to. I organised all of the painting sessions and turned Ronnie loose in the space – he amazed me with his virtuosity.

200%: Did you consider it an advantage of being a musician yourself making a documentary on a musician?
MF: Without a doubt – we were both familiar with most of the references and our tastes concur – but Ronnie has an amazingly eclectic knowledge of blues and rock music so I learned a lot from him. Originally we planned to work with Mark Ronson on the soundtrack but Mark’s schedule was intense so in the end Ronnie and I did the score together (with additional music composed by the amazing Rosey Chan). It was a delight to be in the studio with Ronnie – he seemed comfortable with my suggestions and I love the track he let me produce with him overdubbing lots of different instruments. (various guitars, harmonica, vocals).

Interview conducted by Thierry Somers
‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ will be shown in select cinemas from Tuesday 26th November.