Director Patrick Buchanan talks The Orb and Lunar Orbit ahead of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

We caught up with director Patrick Buchanan talks Lunar Orbit ahead of the screening of his film about iconic group The Orb at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival this week.

As a filmmaker, can you tell me a little bit about your process behind making this film: Did you find the story in the edit or did you set out with intention/a story ready in mind?

Yes the film’s structure was discovered in the edit. I’m an editor actually and that sort of was the plan. Alex and I discussed the film as a sort of conceptual film based around the first album. The Orbs Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.

I wanted to spend time in the studio with the group and capture the creative process but you can’t just do that, there has to be trust, so I kind of went in to the making of this film on pure optimism. I had a feeling that during this process something good would result. It’s a hard feeling to describe but I told my wife that I wanted to make this film. It was like an epiphany.

When they agreed to have us visit them in Berlin it was like, yes okay now we have a film. I didn’t want to just root it all in the past, I wanted to have the film take place in the present.

How did the story change from what you thought it would be?

Ha yes i think I got a bit into this. The story changed as we moved along. From basic biographical and historical to concept art film and then more cinema verity. I wanted this film to reflect who they were and to sort of feel like an Orb track would visually. Playful and fun, slightly offbeat but not completely abstract. A story based doc at its center.

What surprised you most about the final product, versus what you’d set out for?

I feel the film is as honest a portrait of the group and their methods as I could have made. It’s not perfect but what is?

Were there any documentary films that you pointed to for stylistic inspiration?

I definitely remember watching the Rush film around the time I started this. It’s a great film about the bands backstory but grounded in the present. I think it’s a very well rounded and well structured film. But I didn’t really use it as stylistic inspiration.

I let The Orb’s music dictate to me the feeling and I tried to capture that vibe in my cutting. Darryl (my cinematographer) captured them very well and also their visual guru of many years Gary Oldknow gave me access to some of his live tour visuals which I further manipulated and layered in the Avid.

I didn’t once think of this as an inspiration until recently but Some Kind of Monster is such a great documentary, I’m not really a Metallica fan but that film really was such a great introspective look into the creative process. Ugly worts and all! I watched it recently and was like… okay yes this is why I wanted to make a studio documentary. Not that I wanted some sort of disaster or band chaos but the access into the studio. To just capture what goes on when a group records a record. It must have been an influence in my subconscious, I’m sure of it. But completely different personalities and tone. Please don’t compare Lunar Orbit with Some Kind of Monster lol

What was it like to be with Alex and Thomas as they experimented in their record room?

It was very inspirational to witness. We just kept rolling. But the film has all the revelations and great moments, there aren’t many on the cutting room floor. Obviously there is a lot of them just playing around.
I knew however once we spent only a few minutes on the first day that this was going to be a special record. It sounded so good. They are truly having a lot of fun.

Do you have any stories from Alex or Thomas that didn’t make the cut?

Lots of stories. We couldn’t cram them all in. Of the top of my head Thomas told us a great story of listening to the Beatles as a kid, and learning English from reading U.K. Music magazines.

From Alex there was a hilarious telling of him and Jimmy Cauty driving around the streets of London after a gig in the American police car that featured heavily in a few KLF videos and drawing all kinds of unnecessary attention. Apparently Paul Oakenfold wasn’t impressed.

What was it like listening to Moonbuilding 2703 AD after making this doco?

Very cool. It brought back so many memories of our Berlin trip. It was super nostalgic for me personally.

I loved the kitchen scenes, how did these come about?

Ah yes the kitchen scenes. These are also my favorite. When we landed in Berlin my DP curled up in his bed and took a much needed nap after an overnight flight. I somehow got this second wind, I had a chocolate bar on the flight from Frankfort to Berlin and slept 15 minutes and I was fine.

I wondered around to the address that Thomas had given me and just rang the buzzer.
He invited me up and we talked and had some wine and watched a World Cup Soccer (football) match in this kitchen. We didn’t really discuss the film.

Then we had a brief conversation about the room and he agreed to us filming them as they took their tea breaks. So as they left the studio to have tea we continued to film them chilling in the kitchen. Of course some times they just sat there or just ate and discussed the World Cup but I felt these scenes really were about character and who these guys really were. They just were hanging out and chatting (no smoking allowed in the studio) and listening to music mostly. They really break up the film as moments of reflection.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now/next?

I’m inspired by a few things but I don’t really have a film fully formed just yet. Lots of ideas floating around in my head. I’m a bit of a day dreamer. I do however think about this every day.

I’m currently getting ready to start editing a documentary television series here in Toronto. I have 3 kids so I can’t day dream all the time.

Lunar Orbit is screening at the Melbourne International Documentary Festival, which is happening between July 9th and 16th. For more details head to http://mdff.org.au/.