Starting in 2000, filmmaker Ceri Levy joined Gorillaz behind the scenes from their first days as a band all the way to their 2006 concerts in Manchester and Harlem. The documentary he assembled with this footage, titled Bananaz, is an amazing journey through many key moments in Gorillaz history, including the recording of Gorillaz and Demon Days. Today you will have the opportunity to ask him questions about his work on Bananaz!
What was it like working with them?
That’s a tough question straight off! It was a really fun experience for so many reasons. Firstly no one had a clue how popular it would be or just how fun it would be. It was a commitment to an idea that made it grow and grow. And as for Jamie and Damon, hopefully Bananaz shows just how funny both of them can be. Sometimes people don’t realise what a sense of humour they have and I hope the film got that across
Bananaz especially showed a lot of Jamie and Damon just doing their thing however random or crazy. And are they really as down to earth as they seem?
Musically everything starts with Damon. He invariably makes tracks and then invites his guests to work their magic on it. That is how it used to be it may be different now. But he is brilliant in the studio as he gives everyone the space they need to create their own vibe. As for the visuals that’s Jamie’s area. He is just such a superb draughtsman. And yes they really are as down to earth as they seem! With maybe the odd pop star moment! But no they are very centred, focused and down to earth.
How did you become involved with Gorillaz? How was the idea of the band pitched to you initially? And what were you thinking as you saw the whole idea of a cartoon band come together?
I became involved with Gorillaz as I had been a friend of Damon’s for many years. We met the night Blur got signed to a publishing deal as a friend of mine signed them. i.e. Smiffy! We worked a lot on Blur projects and I produced a film called Starshaped for them as well as promos and live vids etc. The idea of the band wasn’t pitched in any way. I used to go round with coffees first thing in the morning and one morning they told me about this idea they had, which was Gorillaz. They thought they were insane, I thought so too and we decided to document it! And the rest as they say is history! I think I realised it was something special the moment Ibrahim Ferrer walked into the studio with his Cuban posse. I kept thinking this is one of those special moments in life.
What’s your favorite moment with Damon and Jamie?
Tough one.. In the film it has to be when they are on the film set for Charts of Darkness and Jamie is having a go at D for changing things. D says”I told you that I would have creative ideas on the day!” laughing away as he does. It’s a film makers nightmare when the talent decides to have a creative moment after weeks of careful planning!
I was wondering if you had any tips on documenting bands. What’s the best way to be around these musical projects, while not being too invasive, to still get an intimate portrait of their process?
It really helps to be friendly with the band. I was lucky in that Damon would intro me to everyone so they relaxed. Plus I used a normal camcorder with a great Sennheiser whacked into it. The small camera meant no one took me seriously! And sitting a few inches away from people while they recorded live gives the feeling of really being there. Nothing is recreated in the film. If I didn’t get then it didn’t happen! They always say that to be a good doco maker then it is essential to be like a piece of furniture. Damon always said I was the only piece of talking furniture he knew! In the session with D12, Damon said to Proof to just slap me if I was in the way while he did his vocals. Proof, bless him, said “No worries, Ceri and me go way back, like spinal cords!” And it is all about trying to build up a rapport as quickly as possible and set people at ease…
What was the most unexpected thing about working with Damon and Jamie?
I guess the most unexpected thing was how big it became. It was a great surprise. And I remember being at the MTV awards in NY and realised just how monstrously big it had become. And I never laughed so much as I did when it was just the three of us out and about in the first round of American press they had to do. It was hilarious and running gags just appeared like Jay Weasel, which was a character I came up with and Jamie would call Justin Timberlake, Timberland and everywhere we went there was Craig David. Just very funny and both of them remained unaffected.
How were the days when Damon and Jamie were planning the Gorillaz movie back in 2002? Had you considered to include footage from the process in the final documentary? Is there any particular or funny moment you wanted to include in the documentary but that never managed to be?
I filmed a lot of meetings about it but on the whole meetings are really boring in films. There is so much left on the cutting room floor that I would have loved to have included. I shot over 300 hours of footage and when Seb Monk, the amazing editor, and I had pulled out the basic essentials that we couldn’t live without the film was running at 19 hours!! I also had an idea that it would be great to release all the footage, all 300 hours, and run a competition called Cut it your Fucking Self! And get other people to make the movie!! I still love the idea!
How many hours of concert performance did you get?
I filmed every single concert up until the end of Demon Days… So I have no idea how much but there is a lot… Man Research coming out of my ears!
What was that thing in the jar on the taxi scene?
I think you need to guess that one yourself! It wouldn’t be fair to tell. I like people coming up with their own ideas of what was in the jar!
Do you think you’ll be doing any further work or similar projects in the future with Gorillaz? Also, what are your thoughts on other virtual bands, like Studio Killers?
I don’t know that it would be right for me to go back to Gorillaz. I spent a large part of life doing it and sometimes we have to move on. And I wouldn’t want to do the same sort of thing again. We did it and it worked. Nothing worse than revisiting things and not getting it right.. For me there is still only one virtual band…
And maybe Gorillaz are so great because we know who is involved with it and that is great but the characters are exactly that… great characters. When we first started filming we talked about just filming everyone from the neck down so you would never see the faces. But I said as soon as people hear or see voices, music and images then people would realise who was behind it..
What was the most Gorillaz moment you experienced working with the guys, where you reallt got a glimpse into the spirit of the project?
With Dennis Hopper.. When Damon was trying to explain what he wanted from his vocal and then finally asking him to just be Dennis Hopper! Everyone was who they are and that’s what makes Gorillaz so wonderful!!
My last question: How many hours do you have of Damon trying his cigarette trick?
Hahaha!! Quite a few! And I have to say hand on heart that the only time he succeeded was that time at the end of the film. It was that moment that made me realise my filming was over and I knew I had the ending. So the film evolved out of that moment and all we had to do was work our way backwards through time and the footage and create!!