Gracie Otto’s feature doc will retrace the studio at the centre of a music revolution
Dire Straits in Montserrat (Photo credit: Frank Oglethorpe)
Producer Cody Greenwood is drawing on strong family connections as she and director Gracie Otto prepare to shoot a feature documentary centred on a recording studio founded by The Beatles producer Sir George Martin.
In the 1980s Greenwood’s mother Frané Lessac, an author, illustrator and painter, lived on the Caribbean island of Montserrat where Martin built the studio which played host to countless pop and rock icons including The Police, The Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.
Frané befriended Martin and many of the visiting musicians, Cody visited the island six or seven times and got to know Martin’s wife Judy and The Police’s Andy Summers.
Those connections paid off when Greenwood met with reps of Martin’s estate in London (he died in 2016) and got their blessing to make the doc, working tittle Under the Volcano.
The former directors of the AIR Studios Montserrat will provide unprecedented access to archival material from the studio. In an interview Martin said: “We worked hard and we played hard and we made some great records there.”
The studio was located at the foot of an active volcano. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo destroyed 90 per cent of the island’s structures including the facility.
Otto, who made her feature directing debut on The Last Impresario, a bio on prolific British theatre impresario and film producer Michael White, was an obvious choice to direct.
“We wanted someone who is good at handling archival footage and, as almost all the musicians featured are male, bar one or two, it was important to have a female voice and perspective,” Cody tells IF.
Otto is a fan of music docs such as Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet from Stardom and is fascinated with the idea of looking at celebrities in a different way: in this case in the relative isolation of Montserrat.
She was an associate producer on Whitney: Can I Be Me, Nick Broomfield’s feature doc which chronicled the extraordinary life and tragic death of Whitney Houston.
“This is a logical step for me after The Last Impresario,” says Gracie, who looks forward to depicting the place where Paul McCartney sought refuge after the assassination of John Lennon, The Police broke up and The Rolling Stones reunited.
AIR Studios (Photo: Frank Oglethorpe)
Greenwood, who is producing with Richard Harris, has already filmed an interview with Sting in New York and she and Otto aim to talk to numerous luminaries including Mick Jagger (with whom Gracie hung out at the Cannes Film Festival last year), Elton John, Dire Straits and McCartney.
Screenwest provided development funding for the project and Screen Australia has committed production investment. Greenwood and Harris are nailing down the rest of the financing. Those two and Otto met with international sales agents at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and got enthusiastic responses.
Harris tells IF: “This was an exciting project to be on from the get-go. It had a real commercial sensibility and, more importantly, an international life, so it was a very attractive proposition to be involved with.
“My relationship with Cody has developed organically over the past nine months. She originally rang to get some advice but the more we talked and worked together the more we realised we liked working together and had complementary skill sets. By which I mean she loves spread sheets and I don’t.
“When I introduced Cody to Gracie they both hit it off straight away, sharing thoughts and ideas, and this gave the project real momentum. Gracie pulled off something very special with The Last Impresario, so with her experience with archive and her ease talking with famous people, it just meant she was a perfect fit.”
Check back tomorrow for more on Gracie Otto, including the doco she is shooting on her father Barry Otto.