Danny Clinch: The Making of Pearl Jam’s ‘Let’s Play Two’
Inside the magic. An interview with filmmaker/photographer, Danny Clinch
“Don’t let anyone say that it’s just a game
For I’ve seen other teams, and it’s never the same
When you’re born in Chicago, you’re blessed and you’re healed
The first time you walk into Wrigley Field”
August 20 /August 22, 2016: Pearl Jam plays two epic shows at Wrigley Field.
November 2, 2016: The Chicago Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908.
Today marks the debut of Let’s Play Two — a documentary by renowned photographer/director, and long-time Pearl Jam collaborator, Danny Clinch. The film beautifully captures the magic of what transpired on both the Wrigley stage and field. Chicago, the hometown of Eddie Vedder, has been a special place for Pearl Jam throughout their career. The band’s first show in the windy city took place on July 21, 1991 at the same iconic venue where the film premiere will be held — the Metro, in historic Wrigleyville. You can argue the Cubs team of 1991 contained some Pearl Jam characteristics. Players such as Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Mark Grace exuded a relentless passion for both their craft and city.
Pearl Jam closed that 1991 Metro show with “Porch” — “Hear my name take a good look, this could be the day.” Over the next 25 years, both Pearl Jam and the Chicago Cubs would forge paths of courage, resiliency and immense creativity. Their spirits would often combine into occasions of Chicago bliss (Soldier Field, The Vic fan club show, Lollapallooza, 2013 Wrigley 2am), then they’d set back on course within their respective fields.
In 2007, Vedder penned the Ernie Banks inspired “All The Way”. Like “Porch” there’s a theme of … “have faith because … someday.” Ultimately their faiths combined and delivered one of the more thrilling collision-of-sports-and-music waves of all time.
And Danny Clinch was there to capture it all. From the pre-show, backstage corners of Wrigley Field, to the streets, to the dugouts, Clinch did what Clinch does in focusing on the passionate moments that made it so special. I recently had the chance to speak with Clinch who took me inside his process, creative approach and favorite memories.
In addition to your photography work, how did you get into film-making?
I’m a big fan of the photograph as a document. A lot of what I studied in school was the work of Robert Frank and Danny Lyon, and these photographers that were documenting honest moments. I was really interested in that myself. I started looking at the early Annie Leibovitz and Jim Marshall’s photographs of musicians. They felt so real, like you were in the scene— sitting with Gregg Allman or Mick and Keith in the recording studio. These photographers then started to do some films — mostly documentary and art films. That intrigued me, I was paying close attention to it. When I started photographing musicians, I came at it from a documentary standpoint of capturing real moments or real people, and the history of that. At a certain point, I realized that I would love to make documentary films.
I was photographing Ben Harper for a Guitar magazine. What I recognized about Ben was that not only is he a great musician, but I thought he would be a great subject to document because I could not see him doing anything else with his life but making music. That led to my first film called, Pleasure and Pain. I spent a year or so on the road, following Ben around and following his backstory with his parents and grandparents who owned an interesting music store in Claremont, California. The process fascinated me, and then I started doing a few music videos.
After that, in the pre-web days, there were EPK (electronic press kits) in the music industry. People would send out packages to radio stations and journalists about someone’s new record. I did a couple for Citizen Cope. I would make a short film about him, it would be burned onto a DVD and it would be sent out along with a one-sheet about what he is up to and the new record. I jumped on that bandwagon. To me, it was sharing a creative story and vision with people through a little art film. I ended up doing a few for Citizen Cope, I did one for Bruce Springsteen’s Devil and Dust record, Charlie Mars and a bunch of musicians who allowed me to tell their story.
When Bonnoroo came around, I started making films about that and then of course, making Immagine in Cornice with Pearl Jam was a big step for me. I truly enjoy it — the storytelling of who’s making the music and why.
One of the things I love about your film work is that it still comes from behind the lens of a photographer. Meaning, it seems like a similar approach to your photography work of truly capturing the moments and emotions as opposed to simply relaying what happened.
Yes, for sure. It’s all visual storytelling, whether it’s one moment or a series of moments strung together. That’s what I’m going for. As we both admit, we are fans of music and the musicians. That’s why we are doing this. We love music. So, it comes down to, what do I want to see, personally? I want to see an intimate huddle of Eddie Vedder backstage working out the setlist with Mike McCready. I want to see the stuff that I wouldn’t get to see otherwise. I’m always fighting for that instead of grabbing just the concert. I love seeing soundcheck or a little backstage jam.
As the director for Let’s Play Two, were you also the one filming in addition to photographing the Wrigley shows?
I directed the two shows at Wrigley. I shot some 16-millimeter film personally, some moving image stuff. My job as the director is to hire people who understand my aesthetic and people who are great camera operators. I was able to bring on an amazing team. One of the unique things here was my relationship with the band. For example, as well as wandering around with the still camera to take photographs during the show, I also carried around a small camera that would allow me to capture moments backstage in places where people really weren’t allowed to be. I was lucky to have access to things that others weren’t.
When the Cubs went on the World Series run, I captured a lot of the intimate moments with Eddie on a small camera. The intent was to keep it personal and low key. I had other people out in the street filming the fans, people in the streets and bartenders.