The Science of Ghosts explores musician Adrian Crowley and his life, exploring what a documentary of his life might look like, identifying the blurring between reality and documentary, considering his past, present and future. The film is part of the Glasgow Film Festival’s programme this year, and Adrian spoke with The Fountain about working with Niall McCann as well as its inclusion in the programme.
TF: This year a documentary, which features you, will be screened at the Glasgow Film Festival 2019, that must be exciting?
Yes it is exciting to have made this film and it’s a thrill that it’s been picked for GFF. I’ve always wanted to work with film and Niall and I seem to have a great collaborative partnership going.
TF: What inspired you to work with Niall McCann on this project, had you seen Lost in France?
I first met Niall through Lost In France when the film was nearing completion. He’d asked a mutual friend to put him in touch with me as he wanted to interview me for it. He had seen me play live a few times in Dublin and knew that I was with Chemikal Underground, so he thought maybe I could contribute to the film in some way. So he got in touch. We met a few times, for coffee and just talked and talked. This went on for a few weeks. Eventually we both decided that maybe I didn’t need to be involved in Lost In France but we continued to meet up anyway.
One day Niall said that he’d like to make his next feature with me. There seemed to be threads for a new film coming out of our conversations. Hats off to him for being open to ideas. It wasn’t my intention to have a film made about my life…far from it, actually. In fact I would have said it was a terrible idea if he’d pitched it to me that way. He could see that I am a total cinephile. I’ve been obsessed with film for decades. We loved the same films and recommend films to each other all the time. And novelists too. I think Niall could see that I love telling stories. He asked me to start sending him stories that maybe we could work into the narrative of this film where I would play myself, playing myself. I wasn’t that keen on talking about myself, or my life. He said, ‘well, just send me a bunch of fiction to get the ball rolling.’ So I sent him loads of stories. The thing is they were all true. And I think there was some kind of reverse psychology at play. Yes, early on Niall showed me Lost In France, before it came out, and I was so impressed. He also showed me his previous film, Art Will Save The World and I knew that this was someone who was dedicated to what he was doing,
TF: And you have somewhat gone for a Christmas Carol approach, visiting your past, present and future as a ghost, what influenced you to opt for this style of narrative?
I suppose looking back it does have that approach, kind of. The approach came about instinctively, though. There was a creative core of three people, Niall, me and Matthew Boyd. Niall and I co-wrote the film while Matthew had a very strong input as cinematographer. I stepped back from the editing process and let Niall and Matthew immerse themselves in it. I did see a fair amount of early versions. We all felt that the more un-obvious our approach, the better. And also as the director, ultimately Niall felt that he had to make the film the way he did, with a more experimental approach than his previous work. Also, I think the film had to unravel and unravel again after being put back together a few times, before it found itself. The concept of a series of vignettes with overlapping timelines and temporal perspectives was something that grew out of us all using our collective instincts and it was something that excited all of us. I think that’s how it happened anyway. From my perspective it almost felt like I was making tapes of my dreams and sending them to Niall and Matthew. Then I’d forget what I’d sent them. I was working on other things at the time anyway, like touring around the world and making a record. Also I had been shooting super 8 movies and all sorts of videos of my travels, and things I shot at home with my kids and their friends. I just gave the lot to the guys and they found parallels between the imagery and some of the recorded monologues.
I really admire their creative chops, I must say. And I consider myself someone with very particular aesthetic tastes. And I’d have no problem saying I thought something was a load of codswallop. So, yes, the past present and future approach was something that grew out of the journey back to the essence of the film.
TF: How did it feel to have an introspective consideration of your life and music via film, was it refreshing to be working with a different creative team on a different medium?
It was a thrill for me to be working with people from another discipline. And I got to make the music too. Actually there is a lot of music in the film that was made especially. Also, I got a total kick out of dropping into the editing suite anytime the guys had something new to show me. I loved being surprised by the film as it began to come together. It was great being a part of a creative gang involved in a medium that I had always wanted to give something to. Also, for certain scenes in the film we set up scenarios, some were loosely scripted and some improvised. So there was an element of acting too. And even an action scene. I actually trained in the Stanislavsky Studio in Dublin years ago, in method acting, So it was nice to flex that muscle again here and there and discover it still felt natural. There were a few hilarious situations on the set where Greg would throw me a curve ball and we’d see what would come out of it. (Greg was originally just going to be the sound recordist and ended up in the film. He kept it a total secret from his family that he was in the film, so when they came to the first screening at Dublin Film Festival, they nearly fainted).
Of course it did feel strange seeing bits of my life on screen in my favourite Dublin cinema in front of a full house. The moment the lights went down and the film flickered across the screen was an eerie sensation. There is always something of yourself that comes out on camera that you are not aware of at the time. Also in my experience of making The Science Of Ghosts, looking back on it, I kept falling into a trance when the camera started rolling or when the tape recorder was on. So it’s kind of spooky when it’s played back to you.
TF: And will you be treating us to a set of live music when you come to attend the screening later this month?
Yes, I plan to play a few songs after the evening’s screening. That is if people aren’t too sick of looking at me by then!
The Science of Ghosts will be screened at the CCA on Monday 25th February as part of the Glasgow Film Festival.