Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Moon in the Gutter Q+A with Filmmaker and Journalist Dianna Dilworth

Today, I am thrilled to present this Q&A, I recently had the pleasure of conducting via email, with filmmaker and journalist Dianna Dilworth. Some of you might remember my recent post on Dianna's extraordinary Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie, so I am particularly pleased to have her as part of my interview series here at Moon in the Gutter. After reading our Q&A, please visit Dianna's official site here for more information on her and her works. I will also include some links below for those interested in ordering her films. Thanks again to Dianna for agreeing to do this!

You are both an acclaimed journalist and filmmaker. Which particular field sparked your passion originally and why?

I like to tell stories and I don't discriminate about the medium. I love video and film and I love text. I think that film allows you to illustrate stories, as well as to tell stories through other people and really bring their personalities to life. Text, on the other hand, makes it easier to tell the story in greater detail in your own words.

I know you have done quite a bit of freelance writing. Can you tell us a bit about some of your subjects and why they interest you?

I am fascinated with technology and how it changes our lives. I'm also fascinated by how human beings manipulate the intended uses of technology. And I'm interested in the weird subcultures behind pop culture. I like to tell stories about these things.

I am extremely intrigued by an early film you made called We Are the Children and the project on fan culture that it grew out of. Can you tell us a bit about We Are the Children and what are your thoughts on our cultural obsession with celebrity. Also, I'm curious as to what your thoughts were on Michael Jackson after making We Are the Children and how do you think his death has perhaps altered the way we as a culture are thinking about him.

I am interested in the communities of people that come together and create subcultures out of their passion for celebrities and this film really explores this idea. It was really sad when Michael Jackson died. I went out to LA for the memorial and met up with some of the fans in We are the Children and they were devastated, as you might expect.

Onto the absolutely incredible Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie. First off, what an amazing idea for a documentary! How did you first become interested in the subject and where do your own musical tastes take you?

I am interested in the stories behind pop culture and I like the idea of taking the spotlight and tilting it to the subjects that are hiding in the background. The Mellotron fits right into this concept. While most people have heard a Mellotron, very few people have actually heard of it.

I also had a personal connection to the Mellotron. When I lived in Sweden in the early 2000s, I had a part time job for a couple of months working for the new Mellotron company and I learned all about the history then. But it wasn't until a few years later that I had the idea to make the documentary.

Outside of finding it totally engrossing, I found Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie quite a moving film. There is something quite emotional about it, or at least that is how it struck me. How did you find yourself approaching the subject while you were shooting it and did perhaps it go into different directions than you might have expected?

When we started shooting the film, we thought it would make an interesting short film, but as we learned more about the history of the instrument and how many artists were influenced by it, we realized that there was a much bigger story there and it just kind of grew.

Also while we were filming I learned more about Harry Chamberlin and was inspired by his inventiveness. I couldn't believe that someone who had had such an important influence on the history of music production was virtually unknown. Very few people have heard of a Mellotron, but even less know what a Chamberlin is. I really wanted to tell Harry's story.

You interviewed a number of my favorite musicians in Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie including everyone from Michal Penn to Jon Brion to Fabio Frizzi to Claudio Simonetti. Were there any particular artists you were thrilled to meet personally and any that you wished you could have tracked down for the film?

All of the musicians in the film are amazing and each have their own unique relationship with the instrument. I really enjoyed bringing some very different artists together around such a special instrument. Mike Pinder played such an integral role in making Mellotrons and in defining how they could be used within a group, so I was excited to meet him to discuss what it was like to see a Mellotron in the early days. Brian Wilson is such an iconic and influential musician, and I was thrilled to meet him and it was a lot of fun showing up at his house with a Mellotron. And I have a soft spot in my heart for Italian films, so meeting Fabio Frizzi was special. (Plus he took us to a rooftop on top of some historic Roman ruins and popped a bottle of champagne after the shoot, so it was a remarkable day.)

There were a couple of people that turned down participation because they no longer wanted to be associated with the instrument. Rick Wakeman and Robert Fripp would have been great to have, but I couldn't change their minds and I can respect their desire to live in the present.

There is a remarkable moment where you capture Brian Wilson attempting to play the beginning of "California Girls". Was that totally spontaneous and what was it like sharing some time with such a legendary figure?

Yeah, Brian just broke out and started playing "California Girls" which was really wild. The song did not originally include a Mellotron, so we discussed whether or not we should include it in the film, but we decided to include it because it was such a spontaneous moment. It's part of the new Mellotron history now, I guess.

I loved the way you timelined the use of the Mellotron in popular music. Are there any particular pieces, albums or bands you highlighted that you hold particularly dear?

There are so many incredible bands that have used the Mellotron/Chamberlin over the years and continue to do so. Aside from the really classic obvious stuff like The Beatles, King Crimson and The Moody Blues, I really love the way Jon Brion has incorporated it into soundtracks, how Mattias Olsson (of Anglagaard fame) uses it in all kinds of new and dynamic ways. And I love Italian horror movie soundtracks, so add a Mellotron to a creepy score and I'm sold.

I think Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie is one of the best documentaries of the past decade. Do you have any personal favorite documentaries that have proven particularly influential to you and you are some of your favorite filmmakers in general?

Thank you, that is very nice of you to say. I love Jamie Meltzer's documentary on song poems Off the Charts. I enjoyed the Harry Nilsson documentary, and the Rockafire Explosion movie is really fun. I have a totally different style and approach, so I don't know if you could call him influential, but I pretty much love all of Werner Herzog's documentaries.

What's next for you? Are you currently working on or preparing a new film and are there any future goals you might want to share with us?

I am working on a project, but it's too early along to discuss.

I'm sure it will be incredible Dianna and I can't wait to see it. Thanks again for participating in this Q&A and the best of luck with all of your future projects!

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