HomeFilmInterview: Director Toby L discusses making 'Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22'

Interview: Director Toby L discusses making ‘Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22’

‘Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22’ is a brand new feature-length documentary that hits cinemas worldwide on November 17th for a very limited time. Directed by Toby L, the documentary follows Liam as he returns back to the site of the era-defining Oasis concerts from 1996, to deliver a brand new solo concert full of his unmistakable brand of swagger.

The documentary is a brilliant look into the making of these gigs, with all-new interviews, behind the scenes footage and fan stories that capture the essence of these record-breaking shows.

Check out our review of ‘Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22’.

I caught up with Director Toby L to discuss the making of this excellent documentary, his time with Liam, his interactions with the fans and just how huge filming this concert would prove to be.

Congratulations on the documentary – I loved it!

Thank you, Jason – delighted to hear that.

How did you first get involved with the project?

When I saw the shows first announced, I was just amazed by the sheer audacity and swagger of it – as we all saw from the ‘Oasis: Knebworth 1996’ film, it simply felt unrepeatable. But here was the frontman going back again, a quarter of a century later. I hadn’t really ever seen a solo artist do something like that before. It felt a bit like tempting fate somehow, as exciting as it was risky. After a couple of years of everyone being trapped indoors, it signalled the end of an era of captivity, and of course, it sold out immediately.

Seeing that demand for the shows made me compelled to write up a treatment for a film: why were the ‘96 shows still so treasured 26 years on, what was in the spirit of those times back then? And likewise, in 2022, why did people want Liam back there so much? It led to some interesting thoughts about the 90s and the spirit of optimism that was felt back then, counterpointed with the dark backdrop of our current times, effectively how music is needed in different ways. So I felt there was a lot of subject matter to explore, not least in Liam’s story, but also the people that make Knebworth so impressive in the first place – the people attending.

Once I presented this with Liam’s team, thankfully, they shared the vision and before long we went into production. So, really, it was just us seeing a new angle and light on the whole thing, a contemporary story set in the now that also acknowledges the historic significance of the occasion, and why live music matters to people.

You manage to brilliantly capture the fundamental feelings we all experience in the lead up to a big, anticipated gig. Can you talk us through your vision for the film and how you decided on the balance between the personal fan stories and the Liam footage?

That’s exactly what we were going for – we wanted the pacing and energy of the film to feel akin to that anticipation you get when waiting for a show that could change your life… the speculation as to what’s going to happen, who you’ll meet, what you’re wearing… we wanted to set it up fully before you land in the field, almost as if it’s been teased for way too long and you’re desperate for the artist to walk onstage.

We decided early on that following Liam’s return was obviously going to be important, but so was capturing a variety of additional perspectives. Again, since Knebworth is seismic, we wanted to juxtapose the enormity of its scale with smaller, personal insights of individuals that would be attending the show. Being that Liam’s audience is so uniquely varied in terms of age, background, location, we wanted to reflect that in the fans that we chose to feature stories from.

We encouraged attendees to send in tapes of themselves talking about their Liam or Oasis stories and were overwhelmed by the volume and quality of insights that landed. There were so many incredible options to consider. We ultimately settled on the characters that we went for because they moved us in so many different ways.

The fan-experience is a big part of the magic of the documentary. It must have been a mammoth task going through all of the fan sent-in videos – what were you looking for in those submissions, and what did you take away from that part of the filmmaking process?

Honesty, passion, soul, humour, a unique take on things.

The main thing we took away from the process was just how much we have in common as a world of individuals. Music is unifying and it suddenly made a huge planet feel a bit smaller for a while, in a truly lovely way.

I particularly liked the fact that Knebworth 22 features the days leading up to the event itself. It’s a truly fascinating insight into Liam’s preparation and shows the audience what a huge undertaking this project was. Can you describe how that week was for you?

It was overwhelming. It felt as if the build-up rapidly gathered momentum from the show’s side, as the rehearsals took shape, the staging and production got rigged, and the site got built. We were also shooting the fan stories all over the country and that added to the intensity. We wanted everything to be pretty concentrated and really close to the show, including everyone’s journeys there. Had we shot everything weeks earlier, I doubt that we would have got the level of passion or intensity on screen that you see from everyone that contributed, including Liam.

Liam is very candid about his journey leading to Knebworth. The film’s best moments (for me) are when he’s surveying the site and describing why he feels he needs to do these shows. How was it working with him on the quieter, more contemplative moments of the project?

I felt that we were fortunate to capture numerous sides to his personality in the film. He’s notorious and I’d like to think that people who know his edgy, raw side might come away from this film with a slightly broader sense of his character. I appreciated his consistent honesty – you always knew where he stood, and he never held back. He was also frequently hilarious. I’ve never interviewed someone that had so many consistent one-liners – it was quite something, and a real challenge to avoid breaking composure during the interviews!

The concert itself is shot beautifully. Having worked on music videos and documentaries before, did shooting Knebworth 22 present any unique challenges that you weren’t expecting?

Building that camera plot wasn’t easy – we had to adapt it numerous times due to the site infrastructure, which was also changing right up until the last moment. Knebworth isn’t a fixed stadium show – everything is brought in and built from the ground up. And so was our camera plot. We had to relocate prime camera positions at late notice, including our jib and crowd dolly shots, which were hugely important to illustrate scale and showcase audience-to-stage perspectives. It was high pressure and stressful finalising those the day before the gig, rewriting our plans in a wet and windy field.

The constant threat of rain also meant we had to be on edge about how and where certain positions existed. The main challenges we overcame as a team, though, and I have Brett (DOP) and Nat (Camera Supervisor) to thank greatly for their hard work in helping me set those final placements. Otherwise, it was an embarrassment of riches – 20 cameras operated by the best hands in the business. Seeing all those shots come to life in the OB Van during the performance gave me goosebumps from beginning to end.

Why do you think Oasis are still such an important band, and Liam such an iconic presence in rock and roll?

Great songs always endure, no matter when they were written. I also think Oasis symbolised a way out for a generation of underdogs – they proved that you could break free and make it, against the odds, if you dreamt big, hustled, and had talent in abundance. Their music and story are empowering.

Liam, meanwhile, is uncompromising – he’s got the voice, attitude and stage presence that will be talked about for decades. People miss a bit of grit and soul, and that’s why he still appeals to so many.

A lot has been made of the fact that Noel Gallagher didn’t allow any Oasis songs into the final cut of this documentary. (The Oasis songs do, however, appear in the full gig which I assume will be available as an extra on the DVD/Blu-ray release). Having seen the film, I think Knebworth 22 is all the better for it – acting as a truer account of Liam’s solo journey. What are your thoughts on that, and did it force you to change anything?

Honestly, I was relieved when we found out we weren’t going to include Oasis songs. Knebworth 1996 is an incredible, but very recent, document of those songs, played by their makers in their prime, at their biggest ever gigs. Selfishly speaking, I didn’t really want to have people contrast the material so much, it felt distracting to the story we were telling. By only focussing on Liam’s songs, it really hones in further on his journey. Thankfully the feedback from the initial screenings has been really favourable, and the common comment is, “Shit, I forgot those songs weren’t in there!” Ultimately Liam’s spent the last half-decade cooking up plenty of other hits and when you see them back-to-back in this film, you soon realise there’s plenty to get engrossed in. For anyone that’s still sceptical, that’s fine – the whole show is coming out as another concert film, so anyone that’s disappointed can watch that one instead! Two films, no wonder I’m knackered.

Do you have a particular favourite moment from ‘Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22’?

I really love the scene where we see Liam return on site to Knebworth for the first time in 26 years. He walks around and is basically hilarious, full of swagger and banter. You can tell it’s dawning on him what’s going to happen, and he’s revelling in it. To share that moment with an artist feels privileged and special. I also cherish all the fan stories; they feel so close to my heart, I love them all as people.

Was there any point in making the documentary where the second night was going to feature heavily too?

There are a few shots from that show in there, but really, we wanted to hone in on the first night, because it was the very first moment back; to put across that sheer intensity felt like the strongest move.

Finally, what’s next for you? Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

Hopefully some sleep! There are a few ideas kicking around for 2023, but it’s too early to say. Whatever follows, it’ll need to have a similar emotional depth for me, because I feel anything less in our current times would be a disservice. We need inspirational films, and figures, right now. Hopefully this one might bring a bit of light and reassurance to people during a tough era.

‘Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22’ is in cinemas worldwide from November 17th for a limited time.

Tickets are on sale now at lgknebworth22.com

Jason Palmer
Jason Palmerhttp://www.entertainment-focus.com
Jason is a film contributor for Entertainment Focus (EF) bringing you the latest news and reviews from the movie world.

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