Dylan Southern & Will Lovelace
On ‘No Distance Left To Run – A Film About Blur’
January 2010

Interview: Steve Bateman / Photography: © PA

Not only was Blur’s reunion called the comeback of 2009, but some even went as far as to call it the comeback of the Decade – it really was that special. With 12 triumphant, heart-stopping and overwhelming shows, that managed to turn back the clock and surpass everyone’s expectations – including the group’s own! And there, every step of the way, chronicling every single moment and capturing the sights and sounds with breathtaking camerawork and utmost respect, was the young and talented Directorial duo of Dylan Southern & Will Lovelace. Who “when they knew the reunion was on the cards, put some ideas together and took them to the management company which got them through to the band.”

Tagged as ‘The story of Blur told in the band’s own words’, the feature-length documentary’s official synopsis reads, “No Distance Left To Run finds 4 members of Blur together for their 2009 rehearsals and acclaimed summer tour. With previously unseen archive material alongside revealing new interviews and reportage, the film recounts Blur’s highs and lows, from Colchester and Goldsmiths, to their headline return at Glastonbury and Hyde Park. No Distance Left To Run is the story of an English band, a portrait of enduring friendship and resolution.”

Described by the NME as “An absorbing peek under the skin… But it’s also surprisingly funny and delightfully charming. Blur aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves, their mistakes, or the bizarre situations in which they so often find themselves.” In many ways, the regeneration of Blur could almost have been a film script itself, as it’s about so much more than just great songs and a decorated career, it’s about the qualities of the human spirit, reconciliation and friendship (the documentary’s story arc), with Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave thinking of the series of events as “A healing process.” In fact, Alex later mused, “It was something far more important to us than any adulation or cash. It was about melody, memory and friendship, rediscovering what we loved about each other… Blur wasn’t the disease. It was the cure.”

Talking to Dazed Digital about their film, Will said, “We knew we wanted it to be about friendship, but when we were planning it out, we were looking at the kind of genre conventions the story might fit into, and it was all a bit more macho at the beginning.” With Dylan chipping in, “We pictured it sort of like a Western, where these four guys get together one more time, but it sort of developed into a love story. The strongest friendship in there is obviously Damon and Graham, and it’s also the most universal theme really, because everybody has that friend they have fallen out with and been through that awkwardness of not being able to put it right. I guess the only difference is that those guys worked every day seven days a week with their best friends for years, and that is bound to get too much, eventually.”

“Let’s get the band back together one more time” was also Damon’s feelings on the reformation, because he “just felt it was right again” – with the reunited friends wanting to approach the gigs with “all of their heart and soul.” Then, by taking their music to the masses, Blur showed how friendship can win through and how there are artists who play summer festivals and open air concerts, but how there will only ever be a handful of musicians who were born to truly play them. These are Grade A* master-classes in performance, showmanship and stage presence! Beautifully shot and realised, No Distance Left To Run (A Pulse Films Production), has already been hailed as a must-see instant classic, carefully tracing Blur’s history and capturing a sense of Britishness long associated with the group and their records. Music that one critic called “The tension between pop and art, between high culture and low ideals.” Another, “A blend of celebration and critique,” and Graham, “I always think there are two routes to Blur. The high street route and this other route round the back.”

In No Distance Left To Run, nothing is included without good reason, ensuring that the documentary’s content will appeal far beyond the band’s fanbase. And whether it marks another chapter in Blur’s career or will be remembered as an epilogue, this was a tale that needed to be told and will be something to treasure / clasp to your heart forever. Having had a limited worldwide cinema release in January 2010, a tantalising Double-Disc DVD set is available to buy from February 15 (through Parlophone Records), with Disc 1 containing the film and Disc 2 featuring the first electrifying Hyde Park show, shot by Giorgio Testi on July 2, 2009. And of course, the quality of the footage is matched by the quality of the music – a soundtrack that is available through the group’s wonderful back catalogue.

For Blur and their legion of fans who longed for this moment, 2009 was the year that Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave’s comeback “really, really, really could happen,” and it did – gloriously so! It was with great delight that I was finally able to speak to the Directors of No Distance Left To Run, Dylan and Will, by telephone, about their fascinating documentary and everything that their emotional journey with an iconic band entailed…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.The world premiere of No Distance Left To Run took place at the Odeon West End, in London’s Leicester Square on Thursday, January 14, 2010. So to begin with, how was this for you and have you been pleased with the feedback from the band, their management, the record label, fans, music and film critics etc?
Dylan: “The premiere was a great night! It was quite a strange experience to watch the film with an audience for the first time, but everyone laughed in the right places and it seemed to go down as we hoped it would. We’re really pleased with the band’s feedback as well, so I think we’ve been very pleased with how it’s been received!”

2.In your minds, did you know exactly what you wanted to achieve with the documentary, or did this evolve as filming progressed?
Dylan: “A bit of both really. We knew from the start that we wanted the film to kind of focus on friendship, as much as it did the career of Blur and all of the things that you expect from a music documentary. But, obviously going into it, we didn’t know how successful it was going to be, or whether they’d still get on and things like that. So, it could have gone either way.”
Will: “We were hoping for a lot of access to the band and we got that, which was great, and they were quite happy to let us film within reason. Obviously, there were a few points where they wanted us out of the way, but overall, we got a lot of good access. Not all of it necessarily makes it into the final cut of the film unfortunately, but yeah, in the end, we got what we were hoping to get really.”

3.What were your first impressions of meeting Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave?

Dylan: “Well, they’re all incredibly different. I mean our first experience of meeting them, was having to walk into the rehearsal studios and kind of almost having to pitch them what we wanted to do. We’d taken our ideas to the management and record label, and then the band agreed to see us, but it was really strange walking into a room where the 4 of them were sat, because we had to very awkwardly explain our ideas to them. At first, they weren’t – particularly Damon – he wasn’t completely sold on the idea of being in another documentary, having been filmed for the Gorillaz one for so long. So, we were unsure whether they would go for it or not. They seemed to get quite nostalgic in that initial meeting, but I think it was probably about 2 weeks before we had to start filming, that we heard it was on. So, it was quite an intense period of getting ready to do it, and then we were straight into the rehearsals, which lasted about 5 weeks before the gigs started properly.”

4.Did the group become more relaxed with you being in their inner circle as the weeks went by, and were you surprised by their openness and honesty in front of the camera?
Dylan: “I think they were open to being honest from the outset, because they’d been quite public about getting back together (pausing), you know, there were obviously issues between them, but I think the whole process was quite an honest one – them getting back together in the first place. They were doing it to kind of return to being friends and to do what they came together for in the first place. So I think the whole summer was in that spirit. We were really pleased that the interviews went the way they did, because obviously, Damon’s been known for being a bit cagey in the past (laughing), so we were very pleased that they were so open and honest.”

5.Do you have a favourite Blur era + had you ever seen them playing live prior to embarking on this project?
Dylan: “I’d say the self-titled Blur album from 1997, is probably my favourite.”
Will: “Yeah, I think I would probably agree with that, but I like 13 as well. But also, even though it’s not their best album, I’ve got quite a soft spot for Leisure. When we were kids, we were into Blur back then too.”
Dylan: “I saw them in Hull in 1994.”
Will: “And I saw them playing in Cambridge, but I’m not sure what year that would have been. It was when I was at school, so that sort of era, definitely.”

6.How did you put your crew together and how would you say your professional backgrounds / skills helped shape this project?
Dylan: “It was a relatively small crew and for the majority of the time, it was just Will and myself – Will on sound and me on camera. And then there was a Director Of Photography, who we work with on music videos called Ross McLennan. Anytime it was a bigger event or something that needed more than just the 2 of us, Ross would come in and there was also another DOP who came in. So when you see the slo-mo live performances, that includes their input as well. We had other people with us at times who made sure everything was ok, but then we edited it as well (laughing), so it really was a labour of love!”
Will: “As Dylan said, we did have a small crew at times, but the vast majority of it was just the 2 of us, because we wanted to keep it so there wasn’t a massive film crew around the band. I think we would have got way less access and probably wouldn’t have got the stuff we’d got, if we’d had a big crew. I just don’t think it would have worked.”

7.Was No Distance Left To Run shot on film or digitally, and what was the timeframe from the day filming first began right through to its completion?

Dylan: “It was shot on a mixture of formats – we shot digitally in HD on an EX3, and that was for the main part of the shoot. We shot on RED
Cameras, we shot a little bit of 16mm and we shot a few shots on a Canon EOS 5D, which is a stills camera that gives you HD as well. So, it was a
real mixture of formats. The cinematic stuff was shot on the RED Cameras – all the kind of stuff where we went around the country and filmed at
Walthamstow Dog Track etc., which was also influenced by Martin Parr’s photography. In terms of a timeframe, we started at the beginning of
June – June 1st was the first day of shooting – and we finished on the second day of Hyde Park, which was July 3rd I think. That was the main period of shooting, then we shot pick-ups for about a week in August. Some of the interviews were shot during the course of the main period of
filming, but we also shot some more in August.”

8.How many hours of footage did you accumulate / how did you go about sifting through all of this (along with archival material), to be able to finally edit it together coherently and create a narrative?

Dylan: “(laughing) It’s difficult to know how much footage we accumulated, but we filmed every gig with more than 1 camera and we filmed all day at the rehearsals – everyday! So there was hundreds and hundreds hours of footage to choose from, and then we had access to a lot of good archive footage – over 20 years worth! So that was kind of a mammoth task in itself, just trying to find the bits that would fit the story really.”

9.Interestingly, I read that you “always knew that you wanted the end to be really beautiful and slo-mo, a little bit like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, and originally wanted the band to walk out on stage at Hyde Park at the end, and just stop it there.” But was it easy or difficult getting the film to 98 minutes, and will any unused footage ever surface elsewhere in the future?
Dylan: “I think the first cut was about 3-and-a-half hours long (laughing), but we were always very keen that it didn’t become bloated. You know, some music films are really fan-focused and there’s a sort of quantity over quality kind of thing. There’s like a history of where they recorded stuff and how they got a guitar sound etc. and we knew that we didn’t want this to be that type of film. We wanted it to have quite a tight narrative, even though it was spanning a 20-year-career, with lots of nuances in the story. We always wanted to bring it in at around the 90 minute mark, and that was incredibly difficult, because you’re having to let things go that you really love.”
Will: “Hopefully, some of the unused footage will surface in the future. I mean we had a load of great scenes that were shot throughout the rehearsals period, and during the gigs as well, but hardly any of that actually makes it into the film.”
Dylan: “It’s not on the initial DVD release, because they’ve got 1 Disc for the film and 1 Disc for the Hyde Park gigs, but maybe in the future, although I don’t know, because it’s sort of out of our hands whether that appears. We’d love it to and a Website would be a good idea – we could stick some of it on there – or maybe even release another edition of the DVD at a later date. But, that’s not confirmation (laughing).”

10.Do you have any interesting anecdotes from your time on the road / something that was particularly special for you – and of all the comeback gigs, which one was the most memorable?
Will: “Something that was particularly special for us (thinking)? That’s a good question (laughing)! Well, Dylan was on the bus with the band after Glastonbury – which doesn't make it into the film – that was a pretty special moment I think, being with the band having just come off stage after playing the biggest gig they’d ever played! Yeah, I think that was pretty cool really.”
Dylan: “Also, early in rehearsals, they were discussing songs and Damon was like, ‘Oh God, I suppose we’re going to have to rehearse Country House at some point?’ They were sort of able to have a laugh about that and then when they burst into it, it was one of my favourite performances during rehearsals. Because all of them were really going for it and that was the moment I think, where you could see that it was going to be an amazing summer! In terms of the comeback gigs, some of the smaller ones like Goldsmiths and the Rough Trade show, had a lot of energy about them and they were fun to film and witness.”
Will: “I think as well, before Glastonbury – obviously the gig was amazing – but I think the atmosphere throughout the whole weekend at Glastonbury was great! Hopefully, we’ve captured some of that in the documentary, because it was a really nice thing to film.”

11.For you personally, how was it being able to observe the group at such a significant time in both their career and personal lives + do you think the summer shows were the band’s swan song, or when the time is right, can you see Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave recording another album together and touring again?
Dylan: “I think from a filmmaking perspective, we were really lucky to be there to capture that…”
Will: “Yeah, definitely!”
Dylan: “Because nobody knows if anything will happen again – nobody has said that it won’t – but at this stage, it’s difficult to know, because they’ve all got their own things; the new Gorillaz album and so on and so on. So to have been able to capture that summer, I think is really good, because it’s going to be a document of the band for some time to come.”

12.What are some of your favourite moments in the documentary, and what do you feel Blur’s legacy will be?
Dylan: “A lot of people seemed to have picked up on Graham and said that they really enjoyed watching him, and we both kind of warmed to him as well, because he’s definitely very funny in his interviews. I think a lot of those moments we like.”
Will: “Yeah.”
Dylan: “I think Blur will be remembered as a band that weren’t afraid to change you know? I think the most remarkable thing about them, is that right at the height of their fame in 1996, they were prepared to do something that they knew would alienate a lot of fans, but for them, it was more about the experience of doing something new and moving forward. And that I think, is something which Damon continues to pursue in all of his other musical ventures. Unfortunately, I think Blur will forever be associated with The ‘90s and Britpop, but I hope that people will see there is a little more to them than that.”

13.Having now had time to reflect on everything that you achieved and experienced, how would you sum up the entire project?
Dylan: “That’s a difficult question (laughing)!”
Will: “Hard work! It was a pretty tight schedule from when we got the go-ahead to make the film, to the point of filming them and then editing it, so yeah, it was pretty full-on really.”
Dylan: “I mean, most people making a feature-length documentary, get longer than 6 months. So I think it was a great achievement to actually get to the point of having a finished film in that time, and one that seems to have been received quite well. So, hard work, but quite a sense of achievement at the end of it!”

14.What’s next for you both?

Dylan: “When we came out of this film, we had some music videos lined-up, so we’re working on a music video at the moment, but we’re trying to get some more long-form projects together, because we want to do another documentary as soon as possible really. Ideally, we’ll be moving onto a different kind of story, because music documentaries are great, but I think doing another one straight away, there aren’t that many different stories to tell really.”

15.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

Will: “Well, I don’t eat anything with sugar in, so chips definitely!”
Dylan: “I’ll go with cream buns and have some of Will’s chips (laughing)!”

A very special thanks to Dylan + Will, to Verity, Lucas, Hannah + Jamie @ Pulse Films, and to Kate @ Arts Alliance Media, for all of their time and help.



“Let’s get the band back together one more time”

- Damon Albarn

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?