Ian Bonhôte, co-director and producer of McQueen, the documentary on the life and work of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, says that he and his co-director Peter Ettedgui worked around the clock for 12 months to complete the film, which arrives in British cinemas tomorrow (Friday, June 8th).
The documentary tells the remarkable story of Lee Alexander McQueen, the working class East End boy and Saville Row apprentice who became the most acclaimed fashion designer of his generation, before his tragic death in 2010. The film has already been critically acclaimed for its telling of McQueen's remarkable story, described in Variety as ”supremely elegant and engrossing... works both as a spectacular visual album of his work and an achingly moving account of the incomplete life behind it." Vogue has described the film as "exceptionally moving."
The interviews, both those filmed by Bonhôte and Ettedgui and archival, are with many of the people who knew him best, interweaved with footage of his most sensational and critically acclaimed collections - and legendary catwalk shows - to tell his story. The music score is by Michael Nyman.
The Swiss-French director, who has been based in London since 1997 and was a co-founder of Pulse Films, has directed commercials, fashion films and music videos prior to his break into features with the London-based drama Alleycats in 2016. And ahead of its UK theatrical release, Ian Bonhôte spoke to Promonews about the making of McQueen.
When did you start working on the film? And once you had the funding, how long did it take to make the film?
We started from scratch around October 2016, with shaping the structure of the film with a script/ treatment and a very thorough visual mood board. We funded the film through pre-sales at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2017 and started filming our first interviews late April 2017.
We fully finished the film late February 2018. So all in all around a little over a year.
This is your first feature documentary. How did your previous directing experience, including making music videos, inform how you directed McQueen?
Massive! I got approached to direct it after my first feature Alleycats did very well commercially and due to my experience making music videos and fashion films. We wanted a different approach than conventional documentaries. The film was made with Peter Ettedgui which had written a brilliant doc called Listen To Me Marlon [about Marlon Brando]. We knew each other and hit it off straight away.
How did your own personal perspective, of having moved to the UK and London from France in the late 90s, come through in how you approached the film?
I feel that I am part of this wave of creative Europeans that moved to London in the 90s because it was the most exciting place to be.
I settled here and started my career in Videos as well as co-founding Pulse Films with Thomas Benski and Marisa Clifford in 2004.
I feel that McQueen’s influence at the time could be felt everywhere. His collaborations with Bjork, Damian Hirst or Nick Knight created amazing imagery. I loved and admired his work as well, and was always curious about his reputation.
How did your directing partnership with Peter Ettedgui work? Were there certain things that you did and certain things that he did?
It evolved very organically. We had such a short amount of time to make the film so it was amazing to count on Peter's strengths as a storyteller and a filmmaker.
"We always wanted to make a film about an extraordinary man working in fashion, not a fashion film."
You need to understand that a film like Amy took 3 years to be made and our distributors had high expectations, so we had to work around the clock for 12 months. We never truly divided the workload as such but sometimes I would be out shooting or interviewing and Peter would be working with Cinzia Baldessari, our editor, on a section of the film.
We even had two edit suites running for a three month period to be able to meet our deadlines. We had a rule in the edit suite of majority decision making, as we were 2 directors and 1 editor. But we were in agreements most of the time. We had a similar desire to create an emotionally immersive film as well as hopefully a strong visual portrait of Lee Alexander McQueen.
You didn’t have the support of the McQueen fashion label in making the film. Was that a hindrance, a help, or make no difference at all?
Looking back, I think it was for the best. As you know working for a brand or in collaboration with a brand can be amazing, full of synergies. Or on the opposite side, you might end up being edited down. We always wanted to make a film about an extraordinary man working in the fashion industry and not a fashion film per se.
Virtually every review mentions how emotionally wrenching the film is. Did you know that was going to be the case at the start of the project, or did that only become clear once you started interviewing Lee’s friends?
We know that Lee’s life with his ups and downs as well as the tragedy of his passing would be moving, poignant and engaging. But you are right to ask, as only your contributors can truly bring the emotional gravitas you need to emotional touch your audience.
You have been one of the producers as well as co-director of the film. So what did you find rewarding and difficult in taking on that role?
I never had the time to ask. My point is that the film is the focus of all our creative and emotional energy. I have never cared how good work is being done as long as it is good work. But producing the film allowed us to move very fast with certain decision-making, and I think there are plenty of examples where it was essential that I could sign off things on the spot, otherwise we might have lost a contributor or potential archives...
The critical response to the film has been overwhelmingly favourable so far. Who’s opinion is most important to you?
The Public!!! I do respect my peers immensely as well as critics but the Public for me decide if a movie lives or dies. It might sound dramatic but whatever praise the film gets, people have to make the decision to pay some money and take a trip down to the cinema.
Do you have a favourite moment of the movie, that you feel you want to tell everyone about?
Many, and I would love to hear from anyone what is theirs. But if I had to choose one thing: I have sat through many screenings now and I have heard people laughing out loud at parts and cried their eyes out. I do live with the hope that I can create emotions for an audience to experience: and for me laughs and tears are the best ones. (I don’t like to be scared or scare people) So hearing those two things in lots of different countries and distinct cultures bring me huge joy.
I just want to say in the end. I really hope people go and see the film, because Alexander McQueen is worth experiencing in the cinemas with people around you. So few propel back in the days got to see his shows; I really hope we manage to bring it back as well as translate some of his amazing personality.
I really want to mention Mike, James and Simone at Time Based Arts as well as the whole team of designers. They worked around the clock to create eight minutes of 3D graphics including the title sequence of the film. And their work is an essential part of the film.
• McQueen is released by Lionsgate in the UK this Friday, June 8th. Its US release will be on July 20th