Sunday 16 May 2010

Profile: Matt Harlock & Paul Thomas (The List, Issue 656)

Having individually produced various shorts and television features, Paul and Matt joined forces for their feature debut American: The Bill Hicks Story, an innovative documentary combining animated photos with interviews and stand-up clips to tell the story of the late great comedian.

On Bill Hicks’s comedy

Matt: ‘[He could] turn a subject on its head in a very short space of time, and distill something which you’d seen as a very big, complex issue so you take away this new understanding. He had really good dick jokes as well.’

On being the ones to tell Hicks’ story
Matt: ‘I had some contact with Bill’s family, because I’d been doing events in London, where we were showing his material, and there seemed to be a lot of footage that I just hadn’t seen. Paul and I started talking about whether we might be able to make it into a new telling of Bill’s story.’
Paul: ‘Hicks is getting pitched all the time, so we needed to come up with a different approach, and it was this device of animated photos – we knew that there was a huge photo archive, and that there was potential in that. So we did some tests and boom, channels jumped straight at it.’

On putting the film together 
Matt: ‘The first time that we watched the assembly of Bill’s life, onstage, in chronological order, it was a really moving experience, watching him go from 16 to a very ill person at the age of 32. That powerful reaction was something that we felt was worth maintaining, and that’s where the chronological approach came from.’
Paul: ‘The first half really builds the idea of who this guy is [through] his friends and his family. Thirteen years had passed when we did the interviews, but the vividness and the clarity of the recollections were astonishing. Then [the stand-up clips] had to reveal Bill the person at the same time as the comedy. That’s where the second half really took on a power.’

On the role of the film

Paul: ‘He should be somebody that everybody knows. He is a key cultural cornerstone.’

American: The Bill Hicks Story, selected release, Fri 14 May. This article first published in The List magazine.

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