Gavin Elder: A backstage pass

South African filmmaker Gavin Elder talks about his lucky break filming Duran Duran, working with artists and what he learnt from David Lynch.
Posted 23 Oct 14 By Design Indaba Duration: 00:05:59 Film & Animation Interviews / Video Interviews Comments

Gavin Elder did not set out to become a filmmaker. He certainly did not set out to become British band Duran Duran’s go-to documentary maker.

He was always interested in photography and video and started making films for friends, which soon developed into making music videos for friends playing in bands.  

"My first experience of the camera and performers was through music and music videos," he says. 

His early work doing music videos for South African punk-rock outfit The Springbok Nude Girls cemented his interest and fascination with the medium.

It was while living in Tokyo for two years that Elder got his lucky break filming Duran Duran's visit to the country.  

"I met with the manager and she said, ‘We need you to film them for four days and at the end of it you give us the footage and we are off’. So I spent the next four days traveling around Japan with Duran Duran. The night before they left, I put together a short edit – the highlights of what I thought had really captured their visit and I showed it to the manager and the band."

They invited Elder to join them on the next leg of the tour in Los Angelos and 13 years later, he’s still working with them, making documentaries, creating content for live screening during performances, taking photographs as well as a directing a concert DVD for the band.

"When you film a band in a live context, they are very exposed so they have to feel comfortable that the people filming the show really are sympathetic to the performance and have an understanding of what the band wants to project," he explains. “And I think because I had worked with them for such a long time, they have that confidence – which means they could just focus on the performance and give the audience the best show they can. We are really just there to capture those moments – that's when you get the best result.”

His work with Duran Duran also proved to be a springboard into working with numerous international musical artists including the likes of ACDC, Robbie Williams, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, from doing behind-the-scenes tour documentaries to the direction of live concerts. 

More recently he has been documenting the creative processes of South African artists Brett Murray and Lize Grobler, American contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey and French artist Ludo.

Collaborating with artists is an interesting direction for me and a stimulating environment, he says.  

Elder also recently had the opportunity to capture the thinking and processes of iconic American director David Lynch for Dom Pérignon.

For two days he followed Lynch around, recording everything he said. "It really gives you an insight into his mind,  the way he thinks and visualises things. He surrounds himself with an amazing crew and has quite a collaborative approach, with him really pushing the envelope and wanting continually to try new things."

Elder is excited about the way in which the Internet has democratised the channels for distribution: “The days of the big broadcast corporations being in charge of everything, being in charge of the content and what we get to see, are over. My films can now reach diverse and really niche audience. It doesn't have to be about numbers anymore but about the creative idea. Even if two or three people are watching it, it means you have connected with someone.” 

Watch more of Elder's work here.