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Podcast – Paul Clarke on Midnight Oil: The Hardest Line and making a music documentary

Director Paul Clarke breaks down the elements of a music documentary, and the inspiration and process behind his latest feature Midnight Oil: The Hardest Line.

Midnight Oil

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

For award-winning documentarian, and director of entertainment media company BlinkTV, Paul Clarke, developing a documentary is like creating an album. And he would know.

Writer of the Award-winning John Farnham: Finding The Voice, Clarke’s extensive experience in music and entertainment for the screen has found him working with some of the biggest names in entertainment like David Bowie, Metallica, Kylie Minogue, and the Wiggles, as well as creating Australia’s presence at Eurovision, and producing Australian music entertainment shows like Recovery and Spicks and Specks.

Clarke’s latest feature Midnight Oil: The Hardest Line celebrates the 50-year career of the unconventional rock band.

The different elements of factual storytelling – researching story, sourcing footage, interviewing talent, and licensing music – parallel the alchemy of creating a great album. “You're recording a whole lot of different indices, a whole lot of different drum patterns, guitar patterns, keyboard pieces,” Clarke says. “You're just putting it all down there and you're thinking, that feels good. There's an odometer in your head. And it's the same {process} when you're doing interviews.”

As Clarke shares on the latest episode of the Screen Australia podcast, whether sourcing archive from fans, negotiating music licenses, or getting the best out of your interview subject, a partnership based on trust is central to the success of the story.

Clarke worked closely with the band and their fans to bring the story to life, and showcasing a 50-year career of one of Australia’s most prolific – and contrary - bands was not without its challenges, particularly when it came to finding footage and images from their early career. 

And while story is the foundation on which to curate footage and approach interviews, he recommends leaving room in the development for the unexpected. 

“You're pressing yourself […] to surprise people and to listen because people throw you hooks. If you're listening and you grab on to those hooks, they open up and it becomes much more of an engagement,” he says.

"You can't push down too much on what you want. You have to let it play out like a recording session. You have to let the process unfold and then work with your editor to build it into be something that people will believe in."

Throughout the episode, Clarke shares his approach to music documentary format, navigating the complexities of footage and music licensing, and celebrating the legacy of the Oils.

Distributed by Roadshow Films, Midnight Oil: The Hardest Line is in Australian cinemas on 4 July 2024.

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