Phil Joanou's career began with a phone call from no-one other than Steven Spielberg, and his over thirty years in film have included such triumphs as working with Spielberg on 3 O'CLOCK HIGH (1987) and his Amazing Stories TV series, the U2 concert movie/ documentary RATTLE AND HUM (1988), the New York gangster drama STATE OF GRACE (1990), which featured electric performances from Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright and Ed Harris, and his wonderful, underseen autobiographical drama ENTROPY (1999). He has worked on a variety of different projects over the years: the films FINAL ANALYSIS (1992), HEAVEN'S PRISONERS (1996), GRIDIRON GANG (2006) and his current release, the horror film THE VEIL (2016); promo videos with U2, Tom Waits, Bon Jovi and Mariah Carey; Chris Tucker's live TV special (2015); the PUNISHER short DIRTY LAUNDRY (2012), and TV episodes of Fallen Angels, Wild Palms and the documentary series Up. In the third of a four-part interview I spoke to Phil about making STATE OF GRACE and FINAL ANALYSIS, working with Ennio Morricone, and working on TV with his memorable Fallen Angels episode and the U.S. version of the Up documentary series. 

Phil on his early years and working with Spielberg. 
Phil on making U2 Rattle and Hum.
What was it like working with Ennio Morricone? 
I had always dreamt of working with Ennio Morricone. And after the U2 guys were not able to do the score for STATE OF GRACE, I went to Orion and asked them if they'd be open to it (knowing it would be a long shot), and they agreed that I could go after him. We approached his reps and he agreed to have me come over to Rome and show him the movie in his screening room. I had only done RATTLE AND HUM and 3 O'CLOCK HIGH, so to this day, I'm not really sure why he agreed ... but I was thrilled that he did!

My editor and I took the movie to his studio in Rome. We both walked in straight off the flight, with the film cans under our arms, and Ennio was waiting for us in the lobby with his translator. He took one look at me and said ''You can take the film upstairs to the projectionist – I will wait for the director to arrive. '' Apparently he thought I was a P.A. I will admit I didn't look much like a 'director' at the time, as you can see from photos from that era. Anyway, I explained that I was actually the director, and Ennio's face just dropped. Clearly no one had told him how old I was, which was 28. I think he immediately regretted he'd agreed to see a film made by a punk kid. But then he pulled himself together (in a very gracious way) and we went ahead and started the screening.

The thing was, I had temp-dubbed the film with a lot of U2 music and other tracks (Peter Gabriel, Mark Knopfler etc) that were modern sounding. As we started up the film and the music dropped in, Ennio turned to me, very distressed and (through the translator) asked why there was this modern music on the film. It ended up that he preferred to screen early cuts without any music on the track, but no-one had told us this. And not only that, he's clearly a 'classical composer' and couldn't understand why I would come to him if I wanted a modern rock 'n roll soundtrack. So here we are, sitting through a two and a half hour version of the film – with a ton of music in it – and he's miserable. I asked if he wanted to stop, but he just kind of gestured to continue. I was completely mortified as I could tell the screening was a disaster. He even stopped asking questions for translation on certain scenes. Once the film was over, he thanked us very nicely and said he would get back to us ... At this point, I just knew it wasn't going to happen.

We returned to the hotel, so disappointed. And then we got a call from his producer, and Ennio invited us to dinner at his favorite restaurant that night. We couldn't really figure out why he'd do that ... but of course we went. We had a very nice dinner, but he didn't mention the movie at all – not until the very end of the meal. And then he stood up, and made a toast: ''To STATE OF GRACE ... May we make beautiful music for your film!'' My jaw just dropped. At first I was just kind of confused, and I said ''You want to do the movie?'' He smiled ear-to-ear, and without translation said ''But of course! I loved it!'' Now here I was, the entire night, thinking he was just being polite, taking us out for a 'nice try' dinner. But he ended up really wanting to do it. He's a very mischievous man, it turns out. He was having a lot of fun watching us wonder what in the hell was going on all dinner long. We all had a good laugh about that. We discussed the movie late into the night. Lots of toasts and lots of laughs. 

I came back about a month later and went to his home, where he played me the main themes on his grand piano in his huge, marbled palazzo. It was amazing. He played me six different themes, and asked me which two or three I liked. They were all great, but I thought it might be interesting if we combined some and worked further on others. I could tell he was kind of taken aback – thinking I was just going to pick (as he had suggested) the ones I liked. But then the shock drained from his face, he smiled and I could tell he started respecting me that day because I had a real idea of what I wanted – not just for picking themes, but for creating music that I really felt fit the film. He loved that I wanted to get into it and work with him on the mood and tone of the music. I know that sounds tremendously arrogant – what on Earth was I doing 'collaborating' with Ennio Morricone? But when you live with a film for more than a year you really get to know its personality, its character, and in an odd way, you know what it would sound like and what it wouldn't. Anyway, we worked for a couple of weeks together and had a fantastic time. He's a ton of fun and very, very funny. Very passionate, as you could imagine. And I'm a pretty enthusiastic guy so we really got along. 

After that I went away and he wrote the score. When I returned, we went into his studio and he played me tracks. We did some more work together and then we scored. He brought in his incredible orchestra and there I was in Rome, my film running on the big screen, Ennio Morricone conducting. The first cue was the opening credits. He tapped his baton, the film ran, and up came that lonely oboe. I'll admit, tears came to my eyes. I was working with a living, breathing master and I felt this work was Ennio at the top of his game. It is an experience I will never, ever forget.
One of your most underrated talents is getting career-best worthy performances from very intense actors like Gary Oldman, Sean Penn, Ed Harris and Alec Baldwin – actors whose reputations and fieriness might scare some filmmakers. To what do you attribute that?
At the time, I think they thought I was as crazy as they were. I love what I do so much that I'm willing to go as far as it takes in an attempt to get it right. I am so ready and open for any kind of questions or ideas or concerns. The actors can be ''This is awesome. Let's do it!'' or ''I fucking hate this. I don't wanna do it.'' It can be ''I want to do another take'' or ''I don't want to do another take.'' I'm open to all of it. I think for a lot of directors, directing is about control, and the mistake that they make with really strong actors is that they try to put handcuffs on them, which just makes them resist. They're not going to deliver their best work that way. But they will give you amazing things if you if you open the door to the barn and say ''Go ahead, run wild. '' And then, I'm even willing to say ... ''No. I meant go WILD. Is that WILD? I want to see you fucking GO.'' Next minute the actors are ripping chairs apart and throwing them through windows. They're going crazy. And that's what I wanted, and got on STATE OF GRACE, and the same was true of Alec in HEAVEN'S PRISONERS. These guys love that sense that you're totally there to support them and let them do their thing, that you're there to push them, but that you know when to shut up when they just want to do their thing without being pushed. I think that's what they respond to with me. In fact the harder and tougher actors come, the easier it is for me to get along with them. I have always thought that the reputation that those actors you mentioned (and others) for being 'tough' is simply their passion and commitment to their craft and to the project. That scares a lot of people because they feel that the whole thing is going to turn into anarchy. But these actors, and U2, taught me to embrace the anarchy. When Bono said fuck the film when we were shooting RATTLE AND HUM, it was the right idea. It just wasn't technically doable because of the way we had staged the show. But spontaneity and really going for it is always the right idea. That rock n roll attitude of ''We know what we are going to do but let's see what else could happen'' is antithetical to a lot of people when it comes to the filmmaking process.

On STATE OF GRACE, were the relationships between the characters duplicated between the actors when they were offscreen too?
With Sean and Robin, absolutely. They met and fell in love during the movie and it was a very tumultuous thing. It was so funny because often it would mimic whatever the scenes were. So on the days when they were supposed to be in love and charming with each other in the movie, they'd often be the same offscreen, and on the days when we were shooting Robin finding out Sean was a cop, they'd be arguing offscreen too, yelling in the hallway about God knows what. It was very intense, but then I'd interrupt and say ''Let's go'', and they'd come roaring into the scene and it would be fantastic. Gary would go home in his clothes from the movie and come back the next day wearing them. He was sleeping, eating and breathing that character. About a decade after the movie came out I was in a dentist's office reading an interview with Ed Harris and he was asked what the hardest character for him was to shake off after the movie was over. He answered ''My character in STATE OF GRACE.'' I had no idea. He went on to talk about how into their roles all the actors got on the film. It was interesting because what you usually do on movies to save money is that if you have someone like Ed Harris for four weeks of a twelve week shoot, you'll do all his scenes first and then he'll leave. But on STATE OF GRACE, everybody stayed the entire time. We shot the film for real in practical locations, and on the streets of New York, and the cast just ate it up. It was total mayhem and a hell of a lot of fun. Best summer of my career by far.

Were you actually scared at any time?
Yeah, I was scared quite a few times but I would never let it show. A chair would go through a window or someone cut themselves or broke their fingers because someone had twisted it in a fight scene. Sean accidentally broke a guy's nose. People were flipping out. I just went with it. Fake guns and knives were flying around. Ed Harris was trying to scare John C. Reilly by pulling out a real knife when he was supposed to be stabbing him with a rubber fake one. John got upset – it wasn't safe and he thought Ed was really going to stab him, which was the idea in the scene. Of course I called ''Cut!'' once I saw the real knife, and I kept taking it away from Ed, but then he would come up with another knife. At one point he had a meat cleaver, which to this day I have no idea where he got. I'd say ''Now Ed, we can't use a meat cleaver on John.'' I would very calmly take the meat cleaver from him and give him back the rubber knife. Inside I was thinking ''Oh, God, he's gonna chop John C. Reilly's head off''', but on the outside I had to look like it was no big deal. In the end, the scene where Ed slashes John's throat turned out great because there was so much tension in the air that night.

What films did you look at when preparing the end shoot-out?
I was inspired by THE WILD BUNCH (1969), the cross-cut ending of THE GODFATHER (1972) and the staircase scene from Brian De Palma's THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987). I really studied those scenes. I even brought footage of THE WILD BUNCH to the set so the effects guys could see how I wanted the blood to fly. It's like a Western. It's the showdown you've been waiting for between these two guys. The minute Sean and Ed meet in the film, you knew it was coming. A lot of it is how great the actors were more than anything else. You just want to see them go at it. John Ford said 90% of directing is casting. I think he's right.

Sean Penn asked to bring David Rabe on to do rewrites. What did you think his rewrites brought to the movie?
David made a tremendous contribution to that movie. It really was unfair that he didn't receive a screen credit, but it is very difficult to rewrite an original screenplay and get credit. You really have to reinvent the script in order to get credit. He rewrote a lot of the dialogue, including Sean's 'state of grace' monologue. He created new scenes as well. While the structure of the movie was basically already there, David influenced every single aspect of the movie. The original writer, Dennis McIntyre, was a great writer and completely deserves the credit he received, but I think they both contributed greatly to the movie and David should have been up there too. David and I had a great relationship. I would go to his home in Mount Kisko and work with him on the script ... and just to be sitting in the room with such an incredibly accomplished playwright was unbelievable. It was another of those 'How did I get here?' situations. And what makes it even stranger is, cut to 25 years later, and his daughter Lily Rabe is one of the stars of my new film, THE VEIL.

How did you get involved with directing the American version of the TV documentary series, Up?
When I had completed RATTLE AND HUM, Michael Apted, the director of the British Up series, called me up and asked me to come in for a meeting. I had no idea that he was about to offer me the chance to do Age 7 in America. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. I had seen all the original episodes and was a huge fan of the series. It's brilliant. I couldn't believe I was getting the shot to do the American version.

What did you enjoy the most about the experience?
It was so amazing going around the country and really getting to know the kids from all these different backgrounds. Each kid had such a unique perspective on the world, and you could immediately see how their educational opportunities, financial situation, home life and geographical location had all contributed so dramatically to who they were. I so loved interviewing the kids and filming their world, just from a life-experience perspective , it was a one-of-a-kind thing. The kids were so open and honest and trusting with me.

In what ways did the series develop your filmmaking skills?
From a filmmaking perspective what I loved the most was that documentary filmmaking is so pure. You're not trying to impose a point-of-view on the filmmaking in any way, which is just the opposite of feature filmmaking. It's your job to try and capture 'reality' as closely and honestly as you can (even though that's impossible as once you turn on a camera and point it at someone, it changes the 'reality'). You have to keep your eyes and ears open at all times, looking for those moments that represent the people and the situations you're documenting. And what was so different was that in all my narrative work, I'd tried to be as 'controlled' as possible. But in a documentary, you just have to let go of that and be open to whatever is happening and then find the story that comes to you. Going through that process really opened me up as a filmmaker and I found myself less rigid in my feature filmmaking after Age 7 in America.

How were you personally affected when you returned seven years later to document the kids in 14 Up in America?
I was blown away by how the kids had developed. Each of them had grown and changed so much, but at the same time, they were still the very essence of who they were at age 7. this had also been the case in the original British show. Mostly, who they were now were just more enhanced and complicated versions of their 7 year old selves. I was able to bond with them as people much more deeply once they were 14, and some of those relationships last to this day.

Why did you not direct Age 21 in America?
Unfortunately, when it came along, I was on GRIDIRON GANG and they didn't want to wait six months for me to be available. They had their reasons I suppose. So they went with another director (Christopher Dillon Quinn). I'll admit I was very, very disappointed not to be able to do it. I felt like we had all made a commitment to see the project through together (like the BBC had done with Michael Apted) but it turned out it was not to be. The first show won a Peabody and the second one was a huge success. So it was really weird. I know a lot of the kids were disappointed I wasn't there too. 21 Up in America was never released in the US, and in the end the whole thing ground to a halt as they didn't even go back for the most important year – age 28 – which should have come out in 2013. It amazes me because 28 Up was the installment that became extremely famous for Michael, and it seems to me that they would have jumped at the chance to at least get the American version to 28. But they chose not to, and to this day, I don't know why. 
What were the main problems you had making FINAL ANALYSIS?
I had a great relationship on the film with the producer Chuck Roven, who now does all the Batman movies. He's a great producer. Richard Gere was a co-producer on the movie. The movie was the second most expensive movie of the year for Warners, after BATMAN RETURNS (1992). Richard was coming off PRETTY WOMAN (1990), and couldn't have been any bigger. Although Richard and I got along, we just saw two different films. That was the first time in my career where I ran up against somebody who didn't share my vision for what we were trying to do. It wasn't like north/ south. It was more a matter of tone. We didn't battle during the shoot, but in post-production there were a lot of arguments about how the edit should go, and it just made for an unpleasant experience for both of us. We were both unhappy. It was a disappointing experience because we had a pretty good script and we had something that could have been better than it turned out. Several times during pre-production I had asked to be released from the film because it was Richard's project and I didn't want to stand in the way. He had seen STATE OF GRACE and brought me onboard. But Warners wouldn't let me off it so I ended up trying to make the best of it.

What were the diferences in how you saw the film?
I liked the script and I wanted to make a darker Billy Wilder/Hitchcockian thriller, kind of DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) meets VERTIGO (1958), whereas I think he wanted to make more of a brooding romance piece, particularly after the success of PRETTY WOMAN. So you have scenes in the movie with him and Kim Basinger that are romantic and kind of fluffy, when I wanted to do something more sinister and noir. You can see a clash of tones in the movie in that in some places the film can't decide what it wants to be. I think it's 80% there, but the other 20% fights itself. That's where you see the more romantic stuff like the love scene on the stairwell in the lighthouse. I don't know what that scene was about. I was shooting it and saying to everybody ''What is this? I don't get it'', which is obviously not good. And of course that was the image that they used for the poster! I had been so supported by everybody on my previous films and been allowed to be very open and really guide the film in a way I saw fit. But in this case I had to 'go with the flow' and it didn't sit well with me at all. In all fairness I was immature and not ready for the clash of titans that was fighting with big players like Warner Brothers and a major star who was also co-producing and had all the real power. I had been protected at Universal by Sid Sheinberg and by Steven on my first film, I had been off with a band that trusted and believed in me, and then I was protected and supported at Orion on STATE OF GRACE. Then the real world of Hollywood came down and slapped me around pretty good. Frankly, I didn't have the emotional toughness to take those hits and get back on my feet. I was pretty upset about it all and that didn't help the movie either. I'm just as guilty of it not working as anybody.

Is taking a genre and putting your own spin on it something you particularly enjoy?
Absolutely. What was disappointing about something like FINAL ANALYSIS was that I wanted to take old-school noir and apply it to the 90s. To some degree BASIC INSTINCT (1992) did exactly that, but that film was way more sexually driven. I wanted Richard's character to be a complete anti-hero. Heres this shrink who sleeps with his patient's sister. Its completely unethical. Its like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), and he gets himself into a dangerous situation and almost gets himself sent to jail for murder. It's a story of hubris. But in the end what I wanted to do didn't get to play itself out because it made Richard's character unlikeable. The irony is that whenever Richard plays flawed or villainous characters like in AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980), INTERNAL AFFAIRS (1990) or ARBITRAGE (2012), he's fantastic. And that's one of the reasons why I wanted to do it with him. I thought we were making a movie like INTERNAL AFFAIRS (but with a shrink), and I was excited to work with him. The idea was that Richard's character was going to get what's coming to him. But that's not the movie we made. Instead we have a character trying hard to do the right thing – even though he's not.

Why was Gary Oldman cut out of the film?
He did five days on the movie and did several scenes with Richard. He played a mental patient client of Gere's. He was so fantastic in the movie that when we showed the film to an audience they wanted to see a lot more of him. It threw the whole movie out of whack. His role was just meant to be an off-beat supporting character, but audiences were pissed off that he drifted out of the story and they didn't find out what happened to him. Gary had exploded and everybody wanted to see more of him onscreen, so I had to say to him ''Gary, I'm sorry, but we're going to have to cut you out of the movie. You're too good.'' He and I actually had a good laugh about it. I wish I had kept those scenes becaause they were great. He was so funny in them. He played a character who thought he was from another planet. You can only imagine what he did with that.

Was it fun to reunite with Gary again on Dead End for Delilah, the opening episode you directed for the TV anthology series Fallen Angels?
Yes, I did that before HEAVEN'S PRISONERS. We shot it in five days. Scott Frank did a great job on the script. Sydney Pollack's company produced it. It was a lot of fun. Gary is really strong in that. We had a really great collaboration going at the time. It's not on DVD, but you can see it on my website.

By comparison, you were asked to direct the last episode of Oliver Stone's TV series. Wild Palms. How was that experience? Did you feel pressure having the responsibility of directing the finale?
Wild Palms was indeed a wild one. I was living in New York at the time and I got a call out of the blue (as it always seems to happen) from Oliver Stone. He told me about the show and asked if I'd do the final episode. They'd already started shooting the series, but they hadn't landed on who they wanted for the climax. I read the script, but it made no sense to me at all so I asked them to send me the other episodes so I'd know what the hell was going on. Once I saw them, I understood them (a little) better. It was such an insane story, but it was fun to do. The cast was fantastic, but just getting to work with Angie Dickinson was a dream come true. People don't realise the incredible career she had – starring opposite Brando, working with John Wayne and Howard Hawks, Don Siegel, Arthur Penn, Sydney Pollack, Brian De Palma ... not to mention her iconic work in television. She was fantastic. In the end, I didn't feel a lot of pressure being the director on the last episode because the whole thing was so crazy I had no idea if it would work! But it was really well received and I was glad I did it.

Does doing TV episodes like these sharpen up your storytelling instincts?
Oh, no question. It keeps you fresh, and to the point because you have to keep it tight and keep it moving. That's a really, really useful skill. 

I spoke to Phil by telephone on 26th January 2016 and would like to thank him for his time. 

Take a look at Phil's website, where you can watch some of his films, TV episodes and promo videos.  

All photos are the copyright of Phil Joanou and cannot be reproduced without permission. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Phil Joanou's career began with a phone call from no-one other than Steven Spielberg, and his over thirty years in film have included such triumphs as working with Spielberg on 3 O'CLOCK HIGH (1987) and his Amazing Stories TV series, the U2 concert movie/ documentary RATTLE AND HUM (1988), the New York gangster drama STATE OF GRACE (1990), which featured electric performances from Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright and Ed Harris, and his wonderful, underseen autobiographical drama ENTROPY (1999). He has worked on a variety of different projects over the years: the films FINAL ANALYSIS (1992), HEAVEN'S PRISONERS (1996), GRIDIRON GANG (2006) and his current release, the horror film THE VEIL (2016); promo videos with U2, Tom Waits, Bon Jovi and Mariah Carey; Chris Tucker's live TV special (2015); the PUNISHER short DIRTY LAUNDRY (2012), and TV episodes of Fallen Angels, Wild Palms and the documentary series Up. In the second of a four-part interview I spoke to Phil about U2 RATTLE AND HUM and his experiences with the band. 

Phil on his early years and working with Spielberg
When did U2 RATTLE AND HUM enter your way?
It was very strange. I had just had lunch with a friend who knew their manager, Paul McGuinness. He told me that U2 were meeting directors for a film they were making about the Joshua Tree tour, and asked me ''If I could get you into a meeting, would you want to do it?'' I said ''Of course I would.'' He called me the next day and told me that I had to drive to the airport that minute and make it to Hartford, Connecticut that night before the band's concert was over, because it was their last concert in North America until later that year. I literally jumped in the car, drove straight to the airport and by midnight I was sitting in a room with the four members of U2 and Paul McGuinness. It happened within 24 hours, completely out of the blue.

Did you have your pitch all planned out?
I walked in there not knowing what I was going to say really. The only thing I had to say to them was ''I love 16mm documentaries, I love black and white, and I love the idea of mixing it with color.'' It wasn't much of a vision if you ask me, but I think that they liked that I just had textural concepts, and that the rest was something we could form together. I guess some of the directors who pitched their ideas were like ''We'll start with the band in a garage and then there'll be Larry riding in on his Harley.'' The last thing the band wanted was to appear phony. They wanted to appear authentic and honest. That's why when in the film I ask Edge what the film was about, he responds ''Well, you said it was going to be about the music.'' That's really what the movie ended up being about - the music. Even though I shot hundreds of hours of interview footage where the guys talked candidly about their childhoods, their musical influences, their friendships, their ups and downs, their arguments and how the band almost broke up and all that, ultimately they didn't want it to become about them. They wanted the film to just be about the Joshua Tree tour, and about the new music. As you see in the film, all the documentary footage is musically related and none of it looks back. I think some of the critics wanted it to be more personally revealing, but that just wasn't where they were at at the time.

Was that your vision for the movie too?
Yes, once I got to know them, I completely agreed with that approach and I was very happy with how the cut turned out. They were in the editing room with me a lot. Steven Spielberg let us cut it at Amblin, over at Universal, and the band would roll in on their Harleys with cases of Heineken on the back. It was pretty funny. Just the contrast of that. They would pop the caps off a Heineken or open a bottle of whisky, and we would be there till 4 in the morning playing the music from the film so loud that it shook the walls. Luckily everyone at Amblin loved it and loved the guys.

What did you talk about in your initial meeting with the band?
We talked about movies and what kind of movie they wanted to make, and we just kind of hit it off, so they invited me to Dublin for a couple of days. I ended up staying a week. They would take me around to their friends' houses. They have had this very close group of friends since high school and before. They would drop me off at Gavin Friday's house, and I would have dinner with him and his wife. One time they took me to a wedding an hour outside of Dublin and left me there. I had to hitch my way back! I think they were testing me because bringing someone out on tour is like bringing a new member into your family. You're all in very close quarters, seven days a week, like a travelling circus. To be bringing a new face on tour, filming for the first time behind closed doors, they needed to vet me and make sure I wasn't going to blow the whole thing. At the end of that week Bono came to me and said ''We want you to do the film.'' About a month later, I was on the road with U2.

When you spoke to the band about the movie in the period before you started shooting, what was the final brief?
They didn't have one. We kind of created it together on the fly. In our initial meeting, they asked me what they asked every director - ''If you were going to make a movie about U2, what kind of movie would you make?'' I responded ''Well, what kind of movie do YOU wanna make?'' Their eyes lit up, and they looked at each other. I guess I gave them the answer they were looking for. They later told me that the other guys had all pitched THEIR version of what U2 should do. I told them ''I'm not going to come in and dictate what kind of film we should do. If we're making a documentary concert film, then it should capture the honest essence of you and your music, and we should figure out how to do that together.'' I also told them that I saw some of their songs in black and white, and some of them in color, and that went over with them. The band then said ''Come back to the hotel with us.'' The next thing, after they've said goodbye to everybody, I'm in a limo with them, driving off with all the fans screaming and running after them, flashes popping, and I'm thinking ''How on Earth did this happen?''

Were you thinking of any other concert films?
What we really ended up discussing at that first meeting was THE LAST WALTZ (1978). Funnily enough Robbie Robertson was at the show that night. All the guys in U2 loved the film too, so back at the hotel I told them that I could do a film like that with 16mm behind the scenes, a couple of concerts in 35mm black and white (which no-one had done), and a couple of concerts in color. We could cut it all together and make it a film about the music. We could then structure the film with all the different kinds of footage we had. The band were excited, and so was Robbie Robertson because we were using his and Scorsese's template. In Dublin we did some more hashing out, and we also looked at STOP MAKING SENSE (1984), GIMME SHELTER (1970) and all the great concert films. When we came to edit the film, there were I think 22 different possible edits of the movie. We ended up shooting a million and a half feet of film. 
Before setting off to start shooting , was there any moment where you thought ''How the hell am I going to do this?''
Before going home, I went to London to meet with the producer, Michael Hamlyn, who had made many videos with them, and that went well, but then I got back to the US, and I was sitting there going ''Holy crap. Now I actually have to do this.'' That month before I got out on the road I was pretty freaked.

How did you choose the two cinematographers, Robert Brinkmann and Jordan Cronenweth?
Robert Brinkmann had shot LAST CHANCE DANCE, and had never done something like this before. I got him to shoot all the black and white stuff, both the concerts and the 16mm documentary material. We were so caught up on tour (I shot the other camera on the 16mm material) that I knew I'd need someone to handle and prep the color shows. Somehow I talked Jordan Cronenweth into shooting the color portion of the movie. I loved his work on STOP MAKING SENSE, and of course BLADE RUNNER (1982) and many others. I truly believe he's one of the top five cinematographers in all of film history – I was beyond lucky to get him.

Were you a big fan of U2 before the movie?
Oh, absolutely. I had never even been backstage at a concert before, but I loved rock concerts and always felt they were incredibly cinematic. I would go to multiple shows when Springsteen, Elvis Costello or U2 would come into town. Like with the Spielberg thing, I just couldn't believe it was all happening with these guys. I had a run in my career, from 1984 to 1991, where things just fell into place. A lot of it was just pure luck. There weren't a series of events that led me to working with Spielberg or U2 or making STATE OF GRACE that make any kind of real sense. It was just struck-by-lightning luck, and it's actually very unnerving because you know it can go against you just as easily as it went your way because it's very tough to understand the rhyme and reason of it all. And honestly, in the second half of my career, it did go the other way, so I got a real taste of that version too. I did get both sides of the good luck/ bad luck coin, which karmically seems only fair. Making RATTLE AND HUM with U2 was by far and away the best creative year of my life. Certainly the most fun!

How were they to work with?
They are just incredibly special guys and I'm lucky to be able to say I'm still good friends with them after all this time. After the movie we did eight videos together. And believe me, as great as their music is, they're even greater human beings. Even the people they put around them could not be better. These four guys are just the most open, honest, fun-loving and loyal collaborators and friends you could ever have. They've showed up for me so many times, certainly when they didn't have to. Whatever people think of the band, if they sat in a room with them for an hour they would be blown away by how terrific they are. They're very down to earth and self deprecating. Most people don't realise how funny Bono is. 
What was the biggest challenge or learning curve for you making the film?
It becomes evident very quickly when you're shooting a documentary what's interesting and what isn't. The biggest challenge was learning the band's moods and rhythms, and knowing when they were going to be into what I was doing or less interested. As you can imagine, when you're filming someone on tour every day, some days they're going to be into it, and some days they're not. There were days that weren't good days because maybe a show didn't go well or everyone was tired or they just didn't want to be filmed! There were many ups and downs over the course of the year. It was really about learning about them as people, and how I fit into the tour group and how I fit into being around these people that really didn't know me at first – and yet here I was shoving all these cameras in their faces. I had to learn when to get in there and when to back off, and that was the really big important learning curve. But it only took a few weeks to really fall into rhythm with everybody. I had to be sensitive to the fact that I was a newcomer and that I was an American. Every single person on the tour was Irish or English! I was this wide-eyed, very American, Spielberg kid and that doesn't necessarily buy you much credibility in that world. I looked pretty much like a 16 year old kid at the time and they were probably all thinking ''How the hell did this guy get in here?'' (They actually tried to nickname me 'E.T.' - but thank God I was able to quickly squash that!) The day that really broke the ice was the day we filmed the concert in Denver in black and white. I had monitors set up where I could see every camera, and I recorded on VHS from every single camera live during the show. Paul McGuinness, and Dennis Sheehan, the tour manager, were watching right next to me. After the concert we had a party, and we watched all the VHS recordings from each camera until about 6am. Everyone just flipped out. They loved how I had made the band look in the black and white footage, and how the lighting and angles worked for each song. That was where I really gained everyone's trust, and even though we had already filmed some good documentary footage, this was really the first time they could see the results.

How was the Arizona shoot?
It was extremely challenging because of the size of the stadium. In almost all the cases where you've seen a concert film or a DVD, the band 'films' the concert on video and then they use the same lighting as the live show. But we didn't do that in Arizona, or in Denver. We used twelve 35mm film cameras and Jordan Cronenweth and his team pre-lit the entire show with very specific movie lights over a five night period, completely redesigning the look of each song, and the entire show. It was very, very complicated. And then on the first night that we filmed, it rained. My communication system with all twelve cameras went out. The camera crews didn't know the show well enough to know where to be, and so I really needed to direct where each camera needed to be because of the way we'd designed the lighting. We ended up with twelve cameras shooting Bono, because everyone just wants to follow the singer. Even though I assigned cameras to each band member, the cameraman would lose them and just shift over to Bono. It was just a nightmare. I couldn't talk to them, and they were just winging it. Then Bono changed the order of the setlist three songs into the show. He yelled ''Fuck the film!'' This meant all our lighting, which was in a certain order to follow the songs, was out of sync. Lights were going on during the wrong songs. It was a disaster. Other than a few little cutaways, there's nothing in the movie from the first night. The second night was not only the last night we were budgeted to film in Tempe, it was also the last night of the entire tour, so if we didn't get it right that night, we would never have had another chance. Luckily we got it, and it all worked out, but it almost didn't.

Do you miss any particular tracks from that show that didn't get included in the final cut?
A lot of different songs were in the film, and then out of the film, like the color version of Bad, which was in and out and in and out. In the end, everybody in the end liked the intimacy of the black and white version better, but the color version was really something to see on the big screen. As was the color version of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, but everyone preferred the Harlem choir version. I think there's a lot of documentary footage and a good fifteen songs that really dedicated fans would love to have seen in the film. I've always wanted to do an extended anniversary Blu-ray version of the film with a lot of the unused footage. It hasn't happened yet, but who knows, maybe it will one day. 
Why do you think the band have distanced themselves from the Rattle and Hum era over they years?
I think they ended up regretting the overkill caused by the huge worldwide marketing push behind the film and album. I think they felt that everything just played out wrong, that it shouldn't have been released on about 2, 000 screens and pumped so hard in the mainstream by Paramount. There was a bit of a backlash in that some people felt they had gone too Hollywood with the project. None of which I agree with. If you look at the movie, it's exactly who they were at that time in their lives. I'm really proud to have captured that. But at the time it really shook the band because they had never had any real negativity thrown at them up until then. As you can see in the Achtung Baby documentary, their attitude towards the era now comes across as ''We weren't happy with the way it all played out. But we were happy with the content.'' The band paid 5 million out of their pockets to make that movie, and they always said that if the film didn't work, they could just stop shooting or shelve it. Even over the past few years, Bono has called me and said ''Hey, Phil, I caught a bit of RATTLE AND HUM on TV the other day, and wow, Bullet the Blue Sky, Silver and Gold. I'd forgotten how great the film was.'' They have always been very kind about the film and about how we captured that era of the band. I think as a piece of history of the band at that moment it really holds up.

You continued to collaborate with the band after RATTLE AND HUM too.
I know they're glad RATTLE AND HUM happened, because without it, there would never have been Achtung Baby (1991). That album was really a reaction to what happened on the RATTLE AND HUM. It really did change the course of the band. As is said, 'To every action, there's an equal opposite reaction. Well, that was Achtung Baby. In a weird way, I'm kind of proud of the fact that even if it was some negative energy that had to take them there, my involvement with them pushed them through to Achtung Baby, which I also got to do two videos for. I've done eight videos with them since the movie and I know that if RATTLE AND HUM had been the disaster that some in the press wanted to make it, I never would have worked with them again. They would have been very nice about it, and cool and gracious, but they never would have hired me again. Bono recently asked me to go to Africa with him for two weeks, to do a half hour documentary on him visiting seven different African countries, interviewing HIV patients that had recovered by using the retro-viral drugs that the WHO had provided through Project Red and the One organisation. I went off for five days on my own interviewing patients too. It was just another incredible experience that these guys have provided me. They really have changed the course of my life.

The band were supposed to do the soundtrack to STATE OF GRACE. How did they get involved?
I took the film to Dublin and I showed it to them there. We all went out for a pint afterwards, and they said ''We are in. We wanna do it.'' They really liked the movie and thye were on it for several months. It was going to be a mix of an orchestral and a modern rock score. Edge had already started on some ideas and had sent me some tracks. But Achtung Baby just kept going and going and they were six months away from being done with the album. Bono called me and said ''Phil, we're so sorry, but we are here in Berlin and we thought we would be done by now but we aren't. We are going to have to back out.''. But in the 'All's well that ends well' category, that pushed me into the arms of Ennio Morricone. Which was flat-out incredible. After the band saw the movie, Bono and Edge told me ''Honestly, there's no way we could have written a score that was as brilliant as what Ennio did.'' For them it was going to be an experiment. With Ennio it was like having a piece of film history in the room with you. What he provided for that film is truly special.

Did any of the U2 tracks ever find their way in any form on other U2 releases?
No, I don't think so. The pieces Edge sent me were really little musical interludes and general ideas. None of them were finished pieces. Edge likes to improvise a lot and just play musically. That's partly why their albums take so long to finish. He likes to fiddle around and create sounds and textures, and that's what he sent me rather than entire pieces that I could hear. It was all very preliminary, so I never did hear, in any kind of real way, what they would have done. Which is a shame, as I'm sure it would have been amazing.

Of the eight videos you made with U2, which ones are you the most proudest of?
There are actually two.

The first is 'One', from Achtung Baby. They had already released a very oblique and artistic version, but it hadn't caught on on MTV, so they called me on a Saturday and I flew out to meet up with them on tour. We came up with the idea (Bono singing in a bar), and the video was delivered on air seven days later. It went to number one, and was really successful for them. I was really happy with the performance Bono gave where he just sat at a table and looked right into the camera, and had to deliver the song in a very straight-forward way. He couldn't do any of the stuff he did live. He was stuck, just sitting there. I asked him not to sing the line right after ''You say ... '' and that ended up being something everyone seemed to like. It was also an important shoot for me because it was the first thing I did for them after RATTLE AND HUM, and I'll admit I was wondering if we'd ever work again on something. But they called, on the album right after the movie, and we fell right back into it. I went on to do another six videos with them over the years.

The other one is 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own', from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004). It's about Bono and his relationship with his dad. Bono's dad was dying when he wrote it and it was very, very personal to him. It's a truly beautiful and powerful song in every way. It's one of my favorites U2 has ever produced. When Bono asked me to shoot it, I can't tell you how much it meant to me because I knew the song meant so much to him. It was Bono's idea to shoot in the opera house in Dublin where his father once sang. I had the idea of Bono walking through the streets of the city in black and white, finally arriving at the theater where we transition to color. (I suppose in some way it was sort of an homage to our previous work together. ) What was so incredible about that day was that Bono sang the song without the track playing behind the camera. He had an ear-wig with the song only playing back to him (we couldn't hear the track) and then he was singing it a cappella and that's all we'd hear. Just his voice, just his singing, that was all. It gives me chills even thinking about it – the incredible depth of emotion that he brought to the performance. It was just so raw and real and so personal. Honestly, I've never seen anything like it. We also filmed him singing the song in the house he'd grown up in as a boy. Someone else owns it now, but they gave us permission to shoot there, and at one point, he's literally sitting in the tiny bedroom where he slept in during his whole childhood. He's telling me stories about his family, his brother, his dad, and how he lost his mom. And then he goes right into singing the song. Man, it was something else. Anyway, I love that song and I love how the video we did together turned out. On a personal level, of all the videos I ever made for anybody, it's the one I'm the most proudest of. (Again, you can see it on my website.) 
I spoke to Phil by telephone on 26th January 2016 and would like to thank him for his time. 

Take a look at Phil's website, where you can watch some of his films, TV episodes and promo videos.  

All photos are the copyright of Phil Joanou and cannot be reproduced without permission. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Phil Joanou's career began with a phone call from no-one other than Steven Spielberg, and his over thirty years in the business have included such triumphs as working with Spielberg on 3 O'CLOCK HIGH (1987) and his Amazing Stories TV series, the U2 concert movie/ documentary RATTLE AND HUM (1988), the New York gangster drama STATE OF GRACE (1990), which featured electric performances from Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright and Ed Harris, and his wonderful, underseen autobiographical drama ENTROPY (1999). He has worked on a variety of different projects over the years: the films FINAL ANALYSIS (1992), HEAVEN'S PRISONERS (1996), GRIDIRON GANG (2006), and his current release, the horror film THE VEIL (2016); promo videos with U2, Tom Waits, Bon Jovi and Mariah Carey; Chris Tucker's live TV special (2015); the PUNISHER short DIRTY LAUNDRY (2012), and TV episodes of Fallen Angels, Wild Palms and the documentary series Up. In the first of a four-part interview, I spoke with Phil about his early years up to working with Spielberg.

What films were the most formative for you growing up? 
I grew up being the most influenced by the work of Steven Spielberg.  JAWS (1975) was the first film that really woke me up to the power of the director.  Before then I had just watched movies and taken them as these magical stories that had somehow just appeared out of thin air... and loved them for that, but when I saw JAWS (at age 12) and I was literally jumping out of my chair with everybody else, it dawned on me that someone was behind the camera actually building that kind of tension.  I mean, for 90% of the film we never see the shark and yet it's as if the monster is right there... we constantly feel it.  I went to see the movie five more times.
I was the yearbook photographer and I had a lot of 35mm black and white film from that job so I took my still camera in the theater and photographed every shot in the movie (I had to sit through it twice). I printed up the photographs and put them all on this huge bulletin board in my bedroom.  I also recorded the movie's soundtrack on a cassette recorder in the theater so I could listen to the film and watch each shot go by.  Remember, this was before VHS and DVD so it was the only way I could think of "owning" the movie and this really was the first movie where I thought, ''The craft behind this film is such a mystery to me that I've just got to figure it out.'' And the more I looked at it the more I realized - I want to do that job.
Apart from Spielberg, were there any other filmmakers or films that particularly affected you? 
Coppola's THE GODFATHER (1972), THE CONVERSATION (1974), and then APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) really inspired me (and remains my favorite film to this day).  I was also hugely influenced by Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER (1976), MEAN STREETS (1973), and RAGING BULL (1980). Then there was Kubrick -- from DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) to THE SHINING (1980) and Friedkin with THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971).  AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) also really influenced my student film LAST CHANCE DANCE (1984), which was the project that broke me into the film business. 
There was a book called The Movie Brats that focused on all those directors from the 70's and those really were my guys. I wanted to emulate them all in so many ways. And of course tha led to me being a Hollywood filmmaker with no specific "brand" or "style" because I wanted to try everything!  So I end up making a comedy (3 O'CLOCK HIGH) and a concert film (U2 RATTLE AND HUM) and a gangster drama (STATE OF GRACE) and then a psycho-sexual thriller (FINAL ANALYSIS) right out of the gate.  I didn't do what Hollywood really wants directors to do - stick with one genre and hammer away at it your entire career.  I wanted to do all kinds of films - I relate to all kinds of films.  But it is better if studios and producers see you as an "action" guy or a "comedy" guy or a "dramatic" guy.  It's easier for them to categorize you and think of you in those terms.  It makes sense, but for whatever reasons, that's not what I did.
How did you go about making your first short films? 
A few years after seeing JAWS my dad got a Super 8 camera, with no sound of course, and I would borrow it to make little short films with my friends.  I really studied my favourite movies, and I got some books on moviemaking and would spend hours in the library immersing myself in anything and everything movie related.  I didn't have any editing equipment or anything like that so I would literally edit in camera.  I would do a wide shot and then go in close and do a cut. Then I would go for coverage and do a cut, then I would go back to the wide shot and all of it was cut within the camera roll. It became more and more of an obsession and I started making longer and longer films, and I finally got a teeny little Super 8 editing machine. Now I could shoot out of order so the stories got bigger.  Then toward the end of high school I got a Super 8 sound camera and projector with money that I had saved up from doing a paper route, which I will admit, was very Spielbergian!  By the time I was done with high school, I think my longest movie was actually about 55 minutes long.
Can you talk about that movie? 
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) was about to come out, so we made STAR TREK: THE MUSICAL PICTURE (1979).  We built the bridge of the Enterprise out of cardboard from my garage, and my friends and I dressed up as the crew of the Enterprise.  I was Bones McCoy.  We used miniatures hanging from wires and poked holes in black cardboard to create a star-field... crazy stuff like that.  And believe it or not, our STAR TREK was actually a...musical.  The crew of the Enterprise would break out into song and dance from stuff that was popular at the time (for instance, Spock sang Supertramp's "The Logical Song.") STAR TREK: THE MUSICAL PICTURE was my crowning achievement before going to film school.  I think about six people saw it.  I would do these films and then show it to my family and that was it!
How did you come to work on the special effects for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE? 
My girlfriend's dad was one of the bankers who had helped finance John Dykstra's effects company, Apogee Inc, which Dykstra started down here in the Valley after he broke away from ILM.  I got a job as a PA.  My job was to spray paint everthing black all day long.  The effects guys were working around the clock to stay on schedule, and I got to know all the guys, fetching them coffee and burritos or whatever they needed. I would stay at night and ask the night crew to teach me how all the motion control rigs worked, and eventually they got so shortstaffed and they realized that I could actually operate the equipment so they asked me to shoot on these proprietory motion control rigs that they had built for two scenes on the film. They put me in a room with film from the movie and I shot all the effects for two scenes.  I ended up getting a Special Visual Consultant credit, which was crazy.  In the meantime I thought that this was going to be my big break into Hollywood, so that's the reason I made my own Super-8 STAR TREK film. On my last day on the movie,  before I went back to college, I showed everyone the film in the Apogee screening room and they got a big kick out of it. 
Can you talk about some of the other short films you made? 
I made a horror film called ALBINO HILL, and we did comedies, spy movies and other silly things. I think I did close to twenty full-blown narrative short films on Super-8 before I went to USC's Film School which is where I made LAST CHANCE DANCE -- kind of a romantic comedy set in high school.  Like I said, it's very AMERICAN GRAFFITI in tone. It's about this kid who has pined away for this girl his entire life and dreams of taking her to the final big high school dance of his senior year. He gets his shot to take her, and of course the whole thing unravels, and his buddy, the girl next door, ends up saving him. The film was my final senior project.  What they did was that 250 students handed in scripts and they approved 6 of them to be directed.  I didn't make the cut the first time I applied, so I stayed in school an extra year to get the chance to do the film. Finally, I made it through the gauntlet the second time and got to make LAST CHANCE DANCE.  Without that movie, I don't know if I'd have ever gotten a job as a director.  It really was make-or-break for me.
How did you get to the attention of Steven Spielberg? 
To this day, I don't really know!  The film had had a big screening at the end of the year and a lot of agents and producers had turned up. It was tradition for everyone to put their phone number in the program. College was over, so I was home, and the phone rang. My mom picked up and a woman said ''I have Steven Spielberg on the line, calling for Phil Joanou.'' My mom turned to me and said ''It's for you. It's Steven Spielberg.'' I was like, ''Yeah, sure.'' I took the phone thinking it was one of my friends screwing around with me and a voice comes on saying ''Phillip, it's Steven Spielberg.'' Of course I recognised his voice right away and I was just dumbstruck. He asked me if I was available to come meet him the next day at Amblin. In that meeting he told me that he had been on a private plane with Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Bob Zemeckis, flying back from New York to LA, and they had had a VHS copy of LAST CHANCE DANCE. I do not know how they got it. They all watched it on the plane and I guess they enjoyed it.
How did that lead to working on two episodes of his TV series Amazing Stories? 
At that first meeting he gave me a script called SANTA '85, which was for the series, that he was producing that year. That project was my first professional directing job. I was 23 years old and I was scared out of my mind!  But it all went well and then Steven offered me THE DOLL, which was an interesting one because it was originally written by Richard Matheson as a Twilight Zone episode, but the series got cancelled before they were able to make it, so it was a real thrill to direct that one.  John Lithgow got an Emmy for Best Actor for that episode. Following then following that, Steven asked me if I wanted to direct 3 O'CLOCK HIGH.
With all these great things happening so quickly. how were you affected by it all? 
I was very naive. No-one in my family was in the film business. The first film set I ever visited was watching Steven direct his episode of Amazing Stories. The second one I was on was watching him direct THE COLOR PURPLE (1985). Those were my reference points. It was beyond a dream come true. When I look back at it all, I remember feeling like it wasn't real, and that at any given moment, someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and say ''You, kid, get out of here.'' I was scared to death. Even on 3 O'CLOCK HIGH I assumed I'd be fired after two or three days. I was going to work each day thinking ''Well, if I make it through two or three days it's better to have had a chance than to not have had one at all.'' Inside I was pretty freaked, but I was also thrilled that I was getting the opportunity. It was a very strange mix of emotions. It really took many years after I got through that phase of my life to see how truly special and unique this all was. I mean, I had an office at Amblin' for five years. I got to watch Steven develop JURASSIC PARK (1993), make EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987) and ALWAYS (1989), then work on SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993).  It truly was amazing.
Did you have a good relationship with Steven? 
We used to enjoy hanging out talking about movies and the film business.  He'd always be telling me stories about the making of his movies -- the ups and downs.  It was incredible. And later, when I got away from it and I was on my own I really saw how unique the whole thing was in terms of how the business worked. The kind of freedom that I had with Steven is completely one-of-a-kind.  When you had his support, you basically could do what you thought was best without interference.  And of course the business was very different back then. You had someone like Sid Sheinberg running Universal and making all the final decisions so all I had to deal with were Steven and Sid.  Later on I saw that it was VERY different without those guys backing me up!  I really regret that I didn't take better advantage of my time with Steven. I wish I had made an Amblin' movie with him.  It would have been great if I'd been able to find a place at Amblin' like Bob Zemeckis had done, but it just didn't work out that way.  I did get to do 3 O'CLOCK HIGH with Steven, but it wasn't an "official" Amblin' movie. The project was owned by Aaron Spelling and Steven was respectful of that so he ended up being the silent producer on the film.
When you took on 3 O'CLOCK HIGH, were you keen to avoid some of the cliches of the high school film genre? 
The original script was called After School and was very much a John Hughes style comedy, very broad with lots of slapstick. When I came on I had really loved Martin Scorsese's movie AFTER HOURS (1985). If you compare Scorsese's film with my film, you will see that I was heavily influenced by AFTER HOURS, as in I stole a ton of stuff from it! In the film, Griffin Dunne is trapped down in SoHo and no matter what he does, he can't escape his fate. It's very similar to 3 O'CLOCK HIGH in that this kid is trapped in high school and no matter what he does, he can't escape. The original script was much more about him having to confront the bully, and I added ''Well, what if he tried everything he could think of to get kicked out.'' The ticking clock and the trapped hero were what I brought to 3 O'CLOCK HIGH. I also tried to make it much more of a black comedy as opposed to a straight-ahead teen comedy. 

I spoke to Phil by telephone on 26th January 2016 and would like to thank him for his time. 

Take a look at Phil's website, where you can watch some of his films, TV episodes and promo videos.  

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.