FEVER YEAR is a new film documenting the life of Andrew Bird in a year of constant tours and fevers. Beautifully directed by Xan Aranda, the film intercuts stunning concert footage with interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage. We get to follow the musician through the studios, the family farm and the hotel rooms, managing to get close to the unassuming star of the film. It’s just more proof that Bird is one of the most inspirational performers on the circuit today whose dedication to his art is second to none.
We caught up with the director Xan Aranda to get the lowdown on the whole damn experience.
Bowlegs: Firstly how did this project become a reality? And were you with Andrew for a continuous period of time or intermittently?
Xan: It’s a commissioned film, our fourth project together. I had previously produced two of his music videos and did live show projections for him. We filmed intermittently, shooting the two concerts first.
Bowlegs: Was Andrew open to the idea from the start? He seems open, if not always comfortable, talking to the camera. It seems like it was a tough year for him with the constant fevers and leg injury?
Xan: Making this film was very much collaborative, though he was reluctant to speak much – which isn’t too far off from real life. We met ten years ago, so there was a familiar shorthand between us. I also made sure all documentary shooting (observational and interview) was done with very low-impact production, just a cameraperson and me. We rigged the sound between us. Very simple.
There is also a very relaxed audio-only interview we did at the very end of everything, recorded at a comfortable studio after a big dinner and long bike ride. He’s still a reluctant subject of the film, despite having commissioned FEVER YEAR. Imagine one of the hardest years of your life, both in business and physically – and there’s a film about it. That’s tough!
Bowlegs: How did you shoot the live concert footage – I’m assuming you had to use a few extra cameras?
Xan: The concert was shot with five cameras. It was two concerts, reconstituted as one. We had 36 songs to choose from, so it took about four months of editing to get the track-listing right. Three of the concert shooters are veteran cinematographers who have worked on countless documentaries and concert films: Peter Gilbert, Alan Thatcher, and Dana Kupper. I couldn’t have done it without them. They were incredibly generous with me – offering tons of wisdom, experience and patience. I’d never shot a concert before.
Bowlegs: I want to live at the Bird Family Farm – how amazing is that place?
Xan: I’m so happy the farm is in the film. It means a lot that viewers of FEVER YEAR have immediately embraced its extraordinary ways. It’s incredibly important that people understand how rare places like that are – and that when they hear of encroachment, sprawl, and other threats like mega-dairies, fracking, mining, or eminent-domain highways they should spring into action. I guarantee this is an issue in ALL rural areas, not just northwestern Illinois.
The aforementioned issues are in active play near the Bird Family Farm. Things could change if the public doesn’t stay active. Viewers can read up, sign petitions, get informed and support people in their communities who are trying to preserve incredible places like this. They aren’t just a refuge for animals and plants, but artists too… as seen in the film.
Bowlegs: Did Andrew behave differently when he retreated to his farm, was he more relaxed?
Xan: Always more relaxed, but still Andrew.
Bowlegs: It seems like Andrew found a kindred spirit in Dosh? What was their relationship like on the road?
Xan: Definitely “love at first sight,” as they say in the film. They laugh a lot and collaborate constantly. Tons of respect.
Bowlegs: What scenes in the film are particularly memorable for you? The hotel room with Andrew and St Vincent is rather special?
Xan: I love that hotel scene. We’ve always called it the “indie rock hotel porn scene” though it is incredibly sweet and pure. They’re two very hardworking people. That scene also embodies the film’s overall theme, which is about the creative process. Andrew wrote Lusitania a week before we shot it. He taught it to Annie in that moment, we shot the rehearsal, they played it that night. A year later, they recorded it and put it on the new album. Fresh!
I’m also particularly fond of the band’s performance of Headsoak, near the end of the film. It’s a love letter to the road, and to the highways outside of Chicago. There’s so much mood in that music-video-within-a-film and it arrives at a culminating part of the film, kicking off the third act.
Bowlegs: How was Andrew once he injured his leg? He admits he was struggling health wise for most of the tour?
Xan: He was fine, just a little frustrated – but also amused, to a point. Logistics just got a little bit more complicated, as seen in the film.
Bowlegs: What cameras did you use for the shoot? Was it a case of trying to remain in the background as much as possible?
Xan: The concerts were shot on five cameras: four Sony HDCam 900s (to tape, giving that glorious liquidity) and one EX3 to card. The EX3 is not my favourite camera – I call it the “polo & chinos” of cameras for being boring, dry, and crackly – but suitable to our microbudget.
Most of the documentary portions are shot on the good ol’ Canon 5D. That tiny Canon was instrumental in keeping things low-impact, low-pressure and not too crazy production-wise. Most of the time, the cinematographer and I ran our own sound. A mic inside Andrew’s shirt and a boom-pole in my armpit or on my lap.
Bowlegs: Finally what did Andrew think of the film? And what project is next for you?
Xan: I don’t make a habit of speaking on Andrew’s behalf, though people ask me this all the time. I think the film is hard for him to watch. He’s not the best audience for it.
I’m working and consulting on several projects right now. From shooting to producing, to festival strategy, broadcast rollout, I do it all. My big project is a feature documentary I’m directing, called MORMON MOVIE, with legendary powerhouse Kartemquin Films – my production home. It’s a very personal piece. You can read about it here:
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