Asif, you opted to interview the subjects who provide the voice-overs off camera. Why? Were there ever moments in the interviews in which you wished you were capturing the subject on camera as well?
Asif: I find it changes the dynamic when you have a camera in the room. Juliette and Lauren had never given an interview before; most of them would not have been comfortable on camera. It would have been too intense, and it was already too painful just to get them in a room. They would never have done if there had been a camera. The people I was seeing weren’t the people who were doing what they were doing [in the story they were telling]. [When I interviewed Blake] he was looking back on life; I’m hoping he’s moved on from the guy that he was at that point in the story. I filmed a few of the people…. I met Tony Bennett and I felt like it was slightly underwhelming if I turn up with an audio recorder, I felt like I should turn up with a crew to make it more special because he has a suit on, because he always puts a suit on.
And how has Blake responded to seeing the final film?
Asif: Blake’s pretty upfront about what he was responsible for. He admits he got her into drugs. He’s been in prison; he’s served time. He knows he doesn’t come out of it well, but still he’s said that the film is totally honest about what went on. At the beginning people seemed to blame him for everything, but when you see the film you realise she had issues long before she met him and he had issues long before he met her. Then you add fame and money and the fact that nobody is saying no into the mix… In some way or another these guys were rebelling against something. Her friends were saying that it was almost like a playground fight at school, where you’re waiting for the teachers to come and stop it. But nobody came and it just went on and on and on and everyone was just joining in, and it just got so out of control. Her friends all felt that if it didn’t stop, she was just going to die. They were trying to warn everyone she was going to die, and it carried on and on, and she did die. Nobody stopped it, nobody paid attention.
Why did you feel it was important to include paparazzi footage as well as personal footage?
Chris: She emerged at that very moment where celebrity culture blew up, metastasised, thanks to camera phones, YouTube… all of that stuff. She was one of the first casualties of that. It was all part of that new appetite that was growing, to get closer to these people. The old barriers had disappeared, people really wanted to get inside these celebrities’s lives. It was vital that we were able to put you as a viewer inside that experience, because, as we said earlier, it was all about understanding what was going on at each stage of Amy’s life. It was deliberately harsh. We’ve really amplified the sound and the pictures and the flashes; it’s quite a punishing experience. It’s not pleasant to watch some of it. It’s grim; you can only imagine what that was like day after day after day; it was her whole existence.
James: A lot of people say, “How can you have a go at the paparazzi and then use their footage?” Well, when you see a paparazzi photograph in a newspaper, you’re not seeing any context at all; it’s just standing there in isolation with a headline. But if you see it in context, it becomes part of that journey and part of the bigger narrative.
Chris: Everything that is in the film was shot for a different purpose; whether it was fourteen-year-olds at a birthday party larking around with a video camera, paparazzi footage, her appearances on Friday night entertainment shows… it was all designed with more ephemeral purposes in mind. We have to believe that taking it out of that context and putting it into our context, we suddenly control the meaning of it. We had a moral duty to tell her stories faithfully and as honestly as we could. We had no compunction about using any of it because we knew we were going to tell an authentic story about her; a story that people probably hadn’t seen before. All these little components would come together into a whole new thing once we’d worked on it.
How do you feel about Mitch Winehouse’s comments about the film?
James: Mitch is totally within his rights to say, “You’ve got it all wrong”, because that’s his take. He’s entitled to his take. I’m a father of two girls, and I know what a complicated thing it is. We became fairly aware fairly early on that, given the nature of the person she was, we were never going to keep everyone happy; they had such different takes on her as a human being. This is somebody who is really, really complicated. She’s not an easy read for anybody. She would morph and change on a minute-by-minute basis, let alone a day-by-day basis. Nick Schmansky said that during the course of a meal you could feel like you were sitting with two different people. You do develop an intense relationship with them, but you have to remain as objective as you can.
Chris: Mitch had a version of the story in his head; he’s written a book. I think he would have been happy if we had made a faithful adaptation of his book, but we know it wouldn’t have been the full picture that you see.
James: Mitch probably had an idea of what he wanted it to be, but I’m not sure that film would be that interesting to many people other than Mitch Winehouse. Fundamentally he wants the “Mitch and Amy” movie. The film is an honest response to the research we did. The vast majority of the people who have seen the movie who knew her or were involved think we got the essence of her right. That’s all we tried to do; there was such a misconception in this country especially – they forgot about the talent and they forgot about the human being. For the record, we may not agree with everything Mitch says, but at the end of the day, I respect his opinion because she’s his daughter, she’s not my daughter. We’re all messed up by our parents in some shape or form!
Amy is out Friday.