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.

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