The mega-entertaining and extremely photogenic new documentary Let’s Play Two chronicles the 2016 Chicago Cubs championship season and a pair of concert performances put on by legendary rock band Pearl Jam. Guitarist Eddie Vedder, a Chicago native, and the rest of the band warmly embraced world-renowned photographer/director Danny Clinch and the results are visually stunning and emotionally stirring, showing an entire city getting behind one of the most storied but unrewarded sports franchises of all time, leading up to their historic World Series championship, intercut with smashing concert footage from one of the most passionate musical acts imaginable. Let’s Play Two opens in American cinemas on September 29th, and will be followed by a VOD/Blu-ray/DVD release in the coming weeks, while the accompanying soundtrack album will be available in November. Back to the Movie’s Nick Clement spoke with Clinch about the film, his thoughts on sports in general, what inspires him, and getting Let’s Play Two out for the world to see.
Thanks so much for taking the time so chat, Danny. You’ve made a terrific documentary and I think fans of Pearl Jam and the Cubs will have a lot to be happy about!
Danny: Thanks so much. So you’ve had a chance to see the film, that’s great.
Yes, I thought it was excellent. I am not a music aficionado by any means, but I know what sounds good to my ears, and I’m a fan of visual storytelling, and I’ve been a casual fan of Pearl Jam for 20 years. I remember buying their cassettes back in the day! But I love concert films, and the communal aspect of the concert experience in general, and Let’s Play Two really drives that point across – how much these Cubs fans love their music and how much they love their team. Were you a Cubs fan before shooting?
Danny: Well, I’m a Cubs fan now for sure, and I think that’ll be the case moving forward. I’m a casual baseball fan, and in my youth, I played soccer and I swam. My dad would take us to baseball games when we were kids so we didn’t feel left out, but he wasn’t a sports guy so I didn’t grow up obsessed with baseball. But I always loved playing sports and I’ve always been a fan of rooting for the underdog. I did get the chance to coach my kid’s soccer teams when they were younger, which I loved doing.
How did you get involved with this project?
Danny: I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 10 years with Pearl Jam, and there’s a built-up trust now. They trust me as a photographer and a filmmaker. They have a tight circle of friends, and when they decided they wanted to make this project, they approached me, and I was excited to get a chance to collaborate. They have tremendous energy which I really respond to. I can remember being at a show they did at Wrigley in 2013, and there was a one-hour rain delay, and they came back with such force and excitement and they jammed-out until two in the morning. It was truly epic stuff. Eddie Vedder is a Chicago native and a huge fan of the Cubs, so the project had personal resonance, and when the universe conspired to have the Cubs win the World Series, the entire project took on even greater meaning. But it was great to reveal just how committed Eddie is to the Cubs as a real fan.
Do you have any personal favourite songs by Pearl Jam?
Danny: Oh for sure. I love Corduroy, Wishlist, and their cover of Crazy Mary. Release has a lot of personal meaning for me, too.
Do you have any favourite concert films? I’m definitely a fan of the genre.
Danny: I’m a big fan of The Last Waltz and the docs that Jonathan Demme did with Neil Young, those were great. I tried to draw some inspirations from other works that I’ve admired, while still putting my own creative stamp on Let’s Play Two.
What were the biggest challenges in terms of putting the documentary together?
Danny: It’s always about being in the right place at the right time, and remembering to stay out of the way and giving your subjects space and privacy that they might need. But on the same hand, you’re there to make something personal and intimate, so it’s about finding that right balance with the people you’re putting the spotlight on. Being ready when the opportunity presents itself is always the biggest thing you have to be prepared for when making a project like this one. That, and not getting in the way.
What was the shooting process like? What types of cameras did you use, and can you explain the logistics of covering this sort of concert at a venue like Wrigley Field?
Danny: Most of the film was shot digitally with 4K cameras. I did get out there with my 16 mm Bolex and shot some footage with that, which I loved doing. I’m a fan of the warmth and grain that film provides, and I just love that “shot on film” quality that comes with celluloid, and it influences how I approach colour correction during post-production. We had multiple cameras shooting at once, with one guy in the rafters getting huge crowd shots, one guy roaming down with the audience so it wasn’t just shots from the stage looking out. I brought in my own team, and we worked with Pearl Jam’s visual team, which is led by Blue Leach. They know all the nuances and they helped us capture some really great moments of the shows. We also put GoPro cameras in some really interesting spots, and we used a robotic arm.
Let’s Play Two has a great sense of rhythm that was achieved with how it was edited.
Danny: Thanks! Yes, my wonderful editor, Karen Gould, she’s amazing, and she was always trying to find the similarities between the players on the field, and Eddie and the band members doing their thing, or showing the guys running out to the positions or coming out onto the field, with Pearl Jam walking in the corridors or getting ready to take the stage. As you said, it was a specific rhythm we were looking for and I think Karen did a great job blending rock and roll and baseball.
It’s also about finding that level of desired intimacy with your subjects.
Danny: Yes, absolutely. And I was shooting with these Black Magic cameras and a Sony A7S, these are very small 4K cameras that offer brilliant resolution and you’re able to really focus in on the subject and bring out the emotion in their face. It also allows you to shoot without having to lug around a big crew or have a sound guy with a mic in everyone’s faces, and I think it’s because I approach the work in this fashion that I’ve been able to get projects like these made.
What did you learn about Cubs fans as a result of making this film?
Danny: They have a very strong “hope muscle,” and they never give up. There’s a level of pride in rooting for the underdog. We wanted to put even more into the film about the fans but you need to stay focused. Cubs fans are seemingly very genuine and that added to the spirit of the piece. And the players themselves are the sweetest bunch of guys. I was able to go to a party after they won the NLCS and all of them were there and they were all so down to earth. It made me want to make the film even more.
Considering you’ve spent a lot of close time with Pearl Jam, did you take anything new away about them as a group after making Let’s Play Two?
Danny: After 25 years, they still love and respect each other, and there’s an honest sense of camaraderie that you see between everyone. And I’ve worked with some other bands for extended periods of time, and unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
What’s next for you? Any new documentaries in the works?
Danny: Yes, I’m working on a film about Blind Melon. I did a Kickstarter, and now we’re in the editing phase, and we’re looking for some completion money. It’s a very bold and different project, as Shannon Hoon had shot over 200 hours of personal video footage. He was constantly documenting his life, so it’s a very introspective look at his life and his music and everything around him.
Wow. That’s going to be a very intense project to watch. That’s another group where I wore out their cassette.
Danny: Yes, the footage offers a glimpse into his life in a way you normally don’t see. We rarely break from his POV during the film, and I’m still crafting the documentary obviously, but this is something I’m very passionate about, and it’s very much a story worth telling. The idea is to show the life behind Shannon’s eyes, and I think his music said a lot about pop culture that people didn’t really understand at the time. He was always filming the world around him and I think it’s going to be a great film.