Pearl Jam Twenty, Cameron Crowe’s retrospective of the rock group’s first two decades, debuts The Hollywood Reporter said that the film was “among his most effective and deeply felt work.” Crowe, an Oscar® winner for the screenplay of Almost Famous, blended archival footage and new interviews to tell the story of the band’s genesis in the Seattle grunge scene, its rocket to stardom, and its subsequent search for wisdom and balance.
The filmmaking team included cinematographer Nicola Marsh and editor Chris Perkel. Perkel says that the brain trust behind the film knew that format was a key decision.
“We were adamant about wanting as much as possible on film,” says Perkel. “We wanted the interviews to keep up with the other material. The images needed to feel special, to look good and have that warmth that film provides. Cameron’s priorities are always finding the right tone, and super sharp HD was not the right feel for this project.”
Perkel and co-editor Kevin Klauber culled footage from more than 1,200 hours of material. “Of course we looked for the best performances, but if something is going to look gorgeous on the big screen, that also has merit. So anything shot on film obviously gets the nod visually.”
A surprising amount of film existed, included Super 16 footage of the band’s second performance ever. Lead vocalist Eddie Vedder often carried a Super 8 camera on tour. And many outtakes from music video shoots over the years yielded important story beats.
For new interviews, Marsh shot negative stock as well as some reversal stock. “We knew we weren’t going to have a lot of time with these guys,” she says. “They don’t really like the spotlight in the traditional rock star way, so we weren’t going to be able to do elaborate pre-lights. The locations were their houses. Film gave us the flexibility to shoot in existing conditions and get great images.”
The main camera was a Super 16 Aaton, usually handheld, and almost always used with a zoom lens. Sometimes ARRI cameras were also used. The long run time of the Super 16 mag was an advantage. For most interior situations, Marsh used KODAK Vision3 500T Color Negative Film 7219.
“When you shoot film, it looks like a movie,” she says. “The forgiveness of the negative is amazing. In one scene, we suddenly had to follow a band member into the basement, which had no lights. I grabbed a clip light and assumed the footage wouldn’t work, but in dailies – wow, it turned out so cool.”
The reversal stock was KODAK EKTACHROME 100D Color Reversal Camera Film 7285, sometimes cross-processed. “There is something about reversal,” says Marsh. “You can shoot in a contemporary, very familiar place, and it looks completely iconic. It seems to simplify the image a bit, and focus attention on the subject. The more abstract something is, the more of yourself you put in, on a subconscious level. It’s like reading a book – very personal. I think there’s something abstract about reversal, because the blacks are blocking up and you’re seeing less detail. It’s almost like a sketch. That incompleteness allows the audience to participate in what they are seeing, as opposed to being delivered an image that is perfectly representational.”
After its theatrical run, Pearl Jam Twenty will make its U.S. television premiere on Friday, October 21 as part of the prestigious PBS American Masters series, during the inaugural PBS Arts Fall Festival. A DVD of the film featuring many extra scenes that did not make the theatrical cut will be released in late October by Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment.