The DINGO script is one of the two or three best scripts I've read, and I was a bit like the character in the film - I got involved, it became a dream to do it, and I had to decide whether to risk everything to try or accept another offer. I decided to hang out for DINGO.
I'm personally lucky enough to be doing what I want to do, but I see the 'Dingo' character in lawyers and accountants who have dreams they are unable to fulfill because they're imprisoned in some psychological cell where they can't change the nature of their lives.
DINGO got made because people recognised it as a good script and because it fitted the co-production mould so well without changing the nature of the film. It's an Australian-French co-production and as such it presents formidable challenges. Most of those challenges have to do with communication, something made more difficult by distance, cost, temperament, culture and language...not necessarily in that order.
Of the shooting crew, the director of photography, the sound crew, focus puller, first assistant director and continuity were French, while the production designer, costume designer, writer and director were Australian. For the rest we used Australian crew in Australia and French crew in France. Post-production was done in Australia.
The French crew could all speak English to greater or lesser degrees. Most had worked on other co-productions or other foreign films. The French do a lot of filming in Africa, for example. That sort of experience made the mixed crew in Australia less of a problem than it might have been.
More difficult is all that other stuff - the financing, presales, legals, completion, distribution - that's all much more difficult to do as a co-production. I was involved in it from the beginning and was acutely aware of the problems.
Denis Lenoir, the director of photography, was more comfortable shooting the Paris scenes and the Australian night and interior scenes than the exterior scenes in the outback. He had a lot of problems handling the Australian sunlight, though you wouldn't know it from the final product. In general we used wider lenses in Australia and longer lenses in Paris. If you graphed it shot for shot, you'd find a substantial difference, though in the film the effect is quite subtle. In Paris I don't think we went wider than 35mm, while in Australia there's only 5 or 6 shots that are longer than 35mm. Denis used three different stocks for three different situations.
Casting Miles Davis was Giorgio's suggestion (executive producer, Giorgio Draskovic). I was wary of the potential problems right from the beginning, but excited by the possibilities. I realised casting Miles would either make or break the film, both financially and artistically. As luck, Miles and hard work would have it, he worked out just great.
He turned out to be a wonderfully instinctive actor. When he wasn't 'in the moment' as his character, he forgot the dialogue...this made it impossible for him to be bad. Most of the time he was 'in the moment', and very good. He was extraordinary, wonderful to work with, like any actor not always easy, but much, much easier than we expected. When it wasn't easy, it was simply when he and I didn't know each other, when we were still learning to work with each other. I think he was just as aware of the potential for disaster as I was.
By the time his difficult dialogue sequences came up he was really starting to feel confident, because he could tell from us when we thought he was good.
When we were shooting Miles' first major dialogue scene in the music room in Paris, I turned to his manager, Gordon Meltzer, and said: "This is fantastic!" Gordon said: "You don't know the half of it. I've never seen Miles like this, he has never been this co-operative with anybody doing anything. There's something very special going on here."
Everyone was very worried about Miles because he has this reputation as a hell-raiser and as an addict of various substances earlier in his life. This led to some pretty funny situations. One day in France there was a major hubbub and I could overhear some unit people saying they had found a syringe in Miles' caravan, they were most upset and were wondering what to do about it. The explanation was simple and provided great relief (the French idolise Miles). Miles is a diabetic and requires insulin injections several times a day!
Because he didn't look 65, you tended to forget how hard he found some things. He had a hard life and he had some sort of arthritis. Yet when we shot the concert scene in the nightclub in Paris, it was very hot, he kept backing up for more. I'd ask him to stay close, not to go back to his caravan, and he'd be happy to sit there in the heat, patiently waiting for the next shot.
It was particularly annoying that journalists constantly asked questions trying to make out that Miles was difficult, always late, that he hates white people, all that sort of stuff. None of that could have been further from the truth.
When Miles was asked for the umpteenth time what it was like working with a white director, he said: "Look I'm an artist, he's an artist...fuck off!"
Colin and Miles got on very well. Working within the framework of what was written, Miles would sometimes improvise with his dialogue - turn a statement into a question and so on - sometimes quite unexpectedly during a take. Miles felt comfortable doing this because he quickly found out that instead of throwing him, Colin really responded to this way of acting. Miles and Colin were each other's biggest fans. Colin could do things as an actor that Miles was astounded by. Colin was impressed by Miles' spontaneity and hunger to learn.
Miles was also very impressed by Colin's trumpeting. Colin really worked at it with his trumpet coach Pat Crighton in Western Australia. Colin kept saying he had no musical ability whatsoever but both Miles and Pat felt he had natural talent.
Colin's such a terrific actor. The first time we shot him playing (and I really didn't know if his miming was going to work) we looked up and with the playback and the band going in the background, you'd have sworn it was Colin up there playing.
Colin's performance is the guts of the film. Everyone is going to talk about Miles and the music, but Colin is the emotional core. I can't think of anyone who could have played that part better. Helen Buday was wonderful too, as his wife. She researched out in the outback, recorded their speech patterns, really put the work into it, and was yet another pleasure to work with.
The first four weeks of the Australian shoot were by far the most difficult and stressful thing that I've ever done. We got behind schedule early in the first week through the simplest thing. There was a substantial headwind blowing on the road between Meekatharra and Perth, and because of the distances involved, all the equipment vehicles, which were meant to arrive at a particular place by a particular time and to shoot things on the way, kept arriving late. We lost some shots we had to pick up later and after that we were always scrambling to keep to schedule.
Then we had problems with the 707 plane. We could have it only three days. On the second day it was forty degrees in the middle of nowhere on a dusty airstrip. We had Miles, a hundred extras, sixty crew, our own terminal set, a dozen period cars all waiting for the plane. It landed on schedule then refused to come up our runway because it had ploughed up the tarmac there the previous day getting out. The plane turned round and parked about a kilometre away and we spent most of the day negotiating to get it back the third day. We had to scramble in Meekatharra for everything because we only had Miles for that one week in Australia, no extension possible.
After Meekatharra we went to Sandstone, a town with a population of only 27 and 160kms by dirt road from anything that remotely resembles civilisation. We trebled the size of the town for two weeks, and that brought its own set of problems. The conditions were so hostile that of the 19 rented vehicles, only one was returned with less than $500 worth of damage - two were written off by hitting kangaroos. And we were being careful!
The fifth week we had a much smaller unit (12) in the Kimberley. That was fantastic. We filmed at eight locations stretching over 1000kms. We shot all the dingo trapping scenes, the trumpet playing over the valley and that sort of stuff. It was a sort of safari tour, and our guide was an old aboriginal stockman who knew the Kimberley like the back of his hand. We didn't have a dolly because we had to travel light, but we had a steadicam and one of the world's best steadicam operators.
We never really saw proper rushes in Australia. In Sandstone for example, we had to stop screening every few minutes to clean the projector gate because of the moths that were committing harakiri on the lens. When we shot in the Kimberley we couldn't even send rushes out to be processed. We shot the lot blind. We went to Paris still not having seen them, hoping that it was all OK... which, of course, it was.
By contrast to the Australian shoot, Paris was a dream. Not that it was always easy. We had to shoot 54 setups with one camera on the day of the concert but it went extremely smoothly and it was a real pleasure. Great French crew and I knew just enough French to get by.
It was Miles who suggested Michel Legrand to co-compose the music. It was an astute choice. Michel's been nominated for an Academy Award seventeen times, he's won three. He's more film/traditional and Miles more avant-garde, so it was a great combination.
Michel was meant to come to Australia before they started composing, but he ran out of time. The bulk of the soundtrack was composed with their only references being the script, a few pages of my notes and a one hour tape of Australian bush sounds we'd made for them. The result is incredible.
Michel was thrilled with the film. In fact, he said it's one of only two or three films he's worked on where the film has enhanced the music.
We had technical difficulties with the music because it was sent to us just before the shoot without time-code. In the editing room we found that the synch kept drifting. Because we post-produced at Hendon Studios in Adelaide, we were able, with the music mixer Pete Smith, to do a lot of complex dubbing, synch chasing, removing the trumpet track from the background instrumental and synching it separately by cutting gaps in or out and so on. We could only have done it at Hendon - it's a brilliantly integrated facility. We could do almost anything we wanted or needed to in that building - it was heaven.
The sound mix went so well that Pete and I ended up doing the soundtrack album for Warner Brothers in America at Hendon too. And Warners think it's a great album.
ALBUM NOTES: These notes were written for the soundtrack album. In the end, Warners decided on a simpler album sleeve, but the notes are still relevant and/or interesting to those who love the music in this film.
So named for the location in which this was filmed, the remote north-west corner of Western Australia. Musically it is both a cry from the heart and a celebration...and the influences of the sounds of the Australian outback, particularly the Dingo howl, can be clearly heard. I found the piece incredibly evocative - it "told" me how to shoot it, and then the fun started. Firstly to find the location, which involved climbing up and down mountains in incredibly hot conditions. Then, weeks later, arriving at the bottom of the appointed mountain with a small crew and actor Colin Friels, me pointing to the top of the mountain saying, "Up there". Disbelief, resignation, then a trek up carrying all the required equipment, during which we thought we were going to lose one of the crew with heat exhaustion. But we made it, and even though on the way up the crew thought I was completely mad, when we reached the top they understood. And when they heard the trumpet cries echoing through the valley, it became an experience none of us would have missed.
The introduction of the main theme. This is one of those numbers discovered in the film mixing theatre... you try a few different things in the editing room, rough mixes of various possibilities, none of them quite satisfactory. You settle on what appears to be the least worst case, then when you're mixing the music for the film, up against the image on the big screen, magic happens. Pete Smith, the music mixer, understood instinctively the dramatic relationship between what was happening on the screen and what could be drawn out of the music, and each time we ran through it I was deeply moved... the boy, the aeroplane and the music perfectly bound together.
Our first day of shooting with Miles. It was hot, 105°F (40°C), it was dusty and the flies were very pervasive. We were on an airstrip in the Australian desert, miles from anywhere, with a crew of sixty, the cast, a hundred extras, a Boeing 707... and Miles on his first day in his first film. Everyone was nervous. We'd scheduled this musical piece first, so that Miles could plunge into his role by starting with something with which he was familiar, playing the trumpet. What no-one had remembered was that Miles is the master of improvisation. Unfortunately, filming to playback gives no room for improvisation, every note must be played exactly as it was originally recorded. We rehearsed and rehearsed, and time and again Miles would find himself playing an improvised counter-melody against the original trumpet line. It was beautiful but unuseable. Those first few hours with Miles and the whole attendant circus were the most despairing hours of filming I've ever done. Then, gradually, Miles learnt this new discipline, this new way of playing, and slowly the weight started to lift. I think Miles found the dialogue scenes easy after that.
Basically the same piece (mixed slightly differently) as the earlier "Arrival", this is included because it is a wonderful illustration of the synthesis of sounds in a movie. When we'd mixed to the image it had worked well, but it was not until all the other sounds were added that the music became special. In particularly, the sound of each aeroplane engine starting in turn added to the emotion of the piece, signalling as it did to young Johnny the inevitability of the departure of Billy Cross (Miles' character), and the impossibility of Johnny's unstated wish to accompany him.
One of the things that distinguishes John ('Dingo') Anderson's (Colin Friels) trumpet playing is that its primary influences (apart from Billy Cross) are the sounds of the Australian outback... dingoes howling, cockatoos, cicadas, the wide open spaces. 'Dingo' would spend weeks at a time on his own, with just his trumpet and his dog ("Diz", after Dizzy Gillespie) for company. In this scene the three-legged dingo, seen earlier springing a trap, has followed him to his campsite. His closeness is unexpected, and John answers the dingo howl with a howl of his own.
A week or so before we started shooting in Western Australia, the first batch of music arrived from Los Angeles. In trying to meet the almost impossible deadlines set, the music came in a form where it was not always easy to work out what part of the film it was meant for. I don't recall where this number was originally intended to go, but when I first heard it, it was to me, the quintessential "going to Paris" music, full of joy and liberation. In the rough editing of the film, we used it twice as a guide, once when Jane's letter travels to Paris, and again when 'Dingo' makes his decision to go. Once we had the rough cut of the film, I took it to Los Angeles to have the remainder of the music scored. There was a screening of the film with Michel Legrand (Miles was in New York at the time), and when afterwards I started to apologise for using the music out of place, Michel stopped me. He was only too delighted with the results, and so the "guide tracks" became the final tracks.
A smooth, rolling and wonderful track, so tight and compact in its playing and construction that you wish you could play the entire number in the film. But alas, the strictures of film making prevented that, though we do use two different parts of it in two different places. The sequence where 'Dingo' is in his caravan, cleaning his trumpet while listening to this, is one of my favourites in the film. Half the reason it works so well is that we were able to play it to Colin Friels ('Dingo') while shooting the scene, the sort of thing not always possible in an industry where the music is more often composed after filming is completed.
When this first arrived from Los Angeles, we didn't know what to make of it, because instead of Miles' trumpet, there was the sound of Michel Legrand's voice singing the melody. The correct version arrived, and soon it became a favourite... haunting, soulful, beautiful... to such an extent that it became the main theme of the film. With the filming, editing and mixing of the film, plus the mixing of the album, I must have heard this track close to a thousand times in twelve months, but it still has the power to move me. When we were editing the sequences involving this piece, people walking down the corridors of Hendon Studios would stop, come into the editing room and just listen. We knew then that we had something very special. And I was to hear Michel singing it again... as he walked from the cinema after his first screening of the rough cut of the film.
This was the piece that was probably the most difficult to get right. It covers a montage of Dingo walking through Paris, trying to find Billy Cross's agent. In the rough cut we used a remix of the "Concert on the Runway" as a guide, knowing that we would probably replace it with a new piece when the rest of the music was recorded. But that failed too (see Track 10 Paris Walking II). Time and money prevented us from recording a third time, so it became a question of trying things. We put up the original 24 track against the picture as we had it then, locked it up against various tracks, and started playing with the faders... and suddenly, on the last available number, we hit it. The key to it emotionally was to have Chuck Finley's "Dingo" trumpet playing, rather than Miles' "Billy Cross" trumpet, because this was a much better musical illustration of Dingo Anderson in Paris.
This one is not in the film, but is included here because it was recorded for the film, and as an illustration of some of the difficulties faced. It was the first number recorded during the August sessions, and it was one of those situations that was both the best and the worst. It was exciting... here we were in Hollywood, recording with twenty-four of the best musicians you could find anywhere. Ideas come to life, dry notes written on paper explode into the most wonderful music, almost as if by magic. I'll never forget it. But then there were technical problems with the linking of picture to music, and suddenly 24 musicians are about to go into overtime, which we can't afford. And all the time I'm thinking, "I love this piece, but I don't think it'll work in the film". But maybe I'm wrong, and there's nothing to be done about it anyway, Miles and Michel are on too tight a schedule to start all over again. It really did feel like standing in a control room tearing up twenty-dollar notes. As it turned out it didn't work in the film (see Paris Walking I), but it does work as music, and having it here means those twenty-dollar notes were not wasted.
A reprise of the opening, but played in such a different environment, it sounds very different. In the outback it is a celebration... here, played by a maudlin Dingo Anderson on a traffic island in the middle of Paris, it is almost a requiem to himself, to his (at this point) unfulfillable dreams.
This is Miles on keyboards, and the result of an extraordinary few hours of filming. It hinged on one of those decisions that seemed trivial at the time, but in hindsight proved very important. I was asked during pre-production in Paris whether I wanted the music room set (built in a room in the house used as Billy Cross's house in the film) functional or whether it could just look right. Not knowing much about working with Miles, and establishing that making the room functional didn't blow the budget, I decided we should go that way, just to be on the safe side. It came to filming, and it was the first major dialogue scene that Miles was to do. He walked into the room and was duly impressed. He wanted one, a complete room just like this one. He sat and started to fiddle with the keyboard, improvising. We rehearsed, and Miles was obviously much more comfortable playing and speaking than he was pretending to play and speaking. Henri Morelle, the Belgian sound recordist, was worried that with the improvised music overlapping the dialogue, we wouldn't be able to cut the scene. I explained the technicalities of this to Miles, so he adapted what he was doing to use the playing to punctuate the dialogue. In take after take he was consistently wonderful, and he could see that we all felt that he was. It gave him immense confidence, which profoundly influenced his performance in the more difficult dialogue scenes ahead.
This was probably the most straightforward piece for us in the whole film. We got it before shooting, we knew what it was for, we shot to it, it worked. An interesting sidelight was the casting of Caesar, the trumpeter of this piece in the film (as opposed to the soundtrack). We found him in Paris, a musician called Onzy Matthews. Onzy happened to be American, as was his character in the film. He also happened to know Miles, from years before (Onzy had played with Ellington), which was precisely the situation between the two characters in the film. What added to the irony of it all is that as a result of the three days of shooting together, the rag-tag collection of Paris musicians, individually chosen to play Caesar's band in the film, now play together as a band known as "Terra Incognita".
I think this is one of the most remarkable pieces of composition I'm ever going to come across. Consider the situation: an impossibly short amount of time between the signing of the contracts and the deadline for delivering the music; the information available to Michel and Miles consisted of a script and some hastily written notes of mine about what we required; I had met Miles for less than an hour some months previously, Michel not at all. When the music arrived in Western Australia and we stuck it into the nearest cheap cassette player and turned it on, I was filled with a growing sense of awe and excitement...the story, the developing drama of the scene in the film, was all there in the music - Caesar leading off, Dingo joining in, tentatively at first, then growing in confidence, finally taking over and making the music his own, bringing in his special sounds of the outback; a final flurry of triumph...then another trumpet starts, pure and clear, magic...it is Billy Cross, unexpectedly on stage with them. Billy plays, then signals for Dingo to join him. They play together, then Caesar joins them in a wonderful finale of three joyous trumpets. The music is fantastic, but more importantly, the drama is there.
The genius of Miles. Early September in New York, and the extra backing tracks had been recorded...all we needed now was Miles. The first session was disastrous, Miles was clearly not well, and he was unhappy with his playing, struggling. After two or three hours he called it quits, his lips were hurting. We had less than half a number down. Michel had a commitment in Europe, we had a film to finish in Australia and the following night was our last chance at it. Miles arrived, Michel was full of care and concern for him but Miles shrugged it off - let's play. Twelve minutes later, two numbers were down, Paris Walking II and this one. But Miles wasn't finished...he wanted another track on this one, and play his first one back. Into record, and Miles started playing the counter melody...it was almost shocking in its beauty, so unexpected, so breathtaking. I'll never forget those three minutes. When it was over, and Michel and I were still recovering, Miles packed up his trumpet and left. The entire session, two numbers and the counter melody, had taken less than twenty minutes.
The genius of Michel. The original version of this was recorded in March, before filming began. It was terrific, featuring an extraordinary duel between, of all things, trumpet and accordion, but events overtook it. The casting of the instruments for the bush band in the film was different (there was, for example, no accordion), the film found its own dynamic, and although the number worked in a sort of way, it wasn't the sort of finish we needed. When Michel saw the rough cut, he recognised this immediately and set to work, re-arranging and substantially augmenting what was already there. At the recording session we tried to lock together two 24 track machines so we could preserve the original for posterity, but unfortunately there were gremlins in the works and we were forced to record over a number of the original tracks. What emerged, although built on the identical foundation, was a fundamentally different piece, one much more suited to the requirements of the film. Although I was sorry to lose the original, the results of Michel's work more than compensated...the now-added big band sound set the number on fire.
"I don't go to the movies much because movies always tell the stories about whites which don't interest me much."
"The most difficult thing for me was to play the trumpet against the playback of the recording. Acting resembles music insofar as you can say the same thing in different ways. The character of Billy Cross gave me the tonality and the rhythm of playing. When I hit 'false notes' I could hear them as well as I can on a trumpet."
"I am as well-known in France as in the States. It's amazing, a country where you can do what you want. I went there for the first time in 1949 and have returned there over and over again..."
"I enjoyed the script because it avoided the stupidities that you usually get with films about jazz musicians. I felt close to Billy Cross and, even if that's not really the case, I could bring him to life. With my music, I am in the habit of being treated like a king. But for the movie I wasn't exalted and alone."
"Bernadette who plays my wife in the film is fantastic in the way she talks to me, involves me in her tricks with her eyes. We got on famously."
"Michel Legrand works very quickly. I had the problem of following him but we understood each other very well. I tried to rediscover the sound, the ambience of my cool period, the style of "Kind of Blue", "Sketches of Spain" and "Milestones"."