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‘I Am Eleven’ Interview with Nick Huggins

Update: I watched the Cinemix ‘I Am Eleven’ screening as part of Melbourne Music Week. On second viewing I cried just as much, if not more as I did the first time. The live score was beautiful and we even got to meet Jack and Jamirah at the end. Jack was 18 and had moved to Melbourne to study and Jamirah was 13 (or 14?) and was growing into a gorgeous young girl. She sang the final song with Nick Huggins which of course made me cry again. The below story was written for Beat Magazine in Melbourne.

Earlier this year an Australian film was released that aimed to capture a time in our lives that many of us have long forgotten, where we straddle the divide between childhood and adolescence. Genevieve Bailey’s concept was simple: travel the world interviewing 11 year olds about their thoughts, morals, hopes and dreams for the future. The result is a moving, funny, sad, brilliant documentary. To complement these stories she enlisted gifted Melbourne producer and musician Nick Huggins. This eloquent musical accompaniment will be showcased live in all it’s glory, at Melbourne Music Week’s showing of ‘I Am Eleven’.

The two have known each other since University, Bailey having created music videos for Huggins in the past. He was asked to become involved in the project around halfway through working on the project, which has been a seven year labour of love.

“I spent a few years with her going backwards and forwards with it,” he says.

Huggins took the unique approach of trying to write music to the personality of the different children to represent their different characters. At the time Bailey hadn’t yet structured the film and was approaching it on an individual character basis.

“She showed me a lot of the footage she had and at that point she was kind of bunching it into each character – their situation and thoughts on things. I initially started writing for each kid. I wrote about half the music not placed into a scene particularly but with the idea of the characters of the kids and the things that they said.”

Huggins is an accomplished musician, having played in various bands and solo projects over the years and doing a great deal of work as a producer on other band’s releases, especially for artists like Oscar + Martin and Kid Sam on Two Bright Lakes, the record label/collective his brother Tig runs (alongside Hazel Brown and Blake Byron Smith) which he helped to start. Creating the music for the film was very different to anything he had done before.

“I think that the exciting challenge was to have music that was joyful and curious and open and free in the way that kids of that age are. Music that is happy but has another layer of emotion or resonance within the broader thing of being quite open and happy and enthusiastic. One of the pieces that has that is a scene where a lot of the kids are dancing…a lot of the Indian kids come from a really challenging environment living in an orphanage with really uncertain arranagement – the orphanage was moving and they didn’t know where they were going to live and their family situations were really heavy – but they were really joyful kids. So the music for their dancing is really uptempo but has a couple of under-currents reflecting, darker keyboards under handclaps.

“That scene captures what I was trying to get – the layers of the film – because kids are more complicated than just their joy for life.”

Having worked on the film’s score for so long and becoming so familiar with all the characters, Huggins was naturally drawn to reflecting on his own life at that time.

“It’s interesting because a lot of my friends have kids now as well so you kind of watch it from multiple viewpoints – yourself as an 11 year old and imagine what your friends kids are going to be like as an 11 year old. You know I don’t often reflect on that age but Genevieve always asks people about what they were like when they were 11. I think it’s a really interesting question – I think in making the film she’s stumbled upon a really special time that isn’t often reflected on.”

Huggins seems to have personally gotten a lot out of working on the film.

“There is an ‘I Am Eleven’ quote for every occasion – I’m always quoting Billy… He’s very wise.”

Those who have seen the movie definitely won’t have forgotten Billy, an adorably open Londoner whose wide eyed innocence and sometimes accidental/sometimes very conscously hilarious observations were the highlights of the movie.

“Billy is entertaining and consciously being cheeky, but he also stumbles across some really truthful, deep things. The more I watch Billy the more I realise he’s really switched on.”

The complex part of recreating the music of ‘I Am Eleven’ in a live setting, is that half of it was written and laid down seperately to the film and the other was recorded live to the footage.

“The first half of the tracks that I did I was working off – it wasn’t the final cut of the film – so there weren’t edits to tie things to. It was more make a bunch of music inspired by what Gen had in rough cuts. Then there were a whole lot of points where we realised we needed music that we didn’t have which is where I could write directly to the timing of the shots.

“It’s been interesting learning all the songs in order to play them live. There are so many accidental moments when the sound and vision come in together.”

The live version of the music will slightly differ from the film because this time Huggins has back up in the form of his band, but the gig itself will be much more challenging than a regular performance. Just for starters, they need to perform for 90 minutes straight.

“It’s a really different process,” Huggins explains. “Because there’s 28 pieces of music in the film … we need to learn them with the addition of knowing exactly when to start and finish and how it slowly changes over a scene. It’s quite exciting, I think its the first time any of us have learnt film music to play directly over the film.”

Despite how scary the task at hand could be deemed, Huggins is relishing the opportunity to perform the pieces as part of the Melbourne Music Week event at ACMI.

“The challenges [of the live performance] that were daunting are now exciting. I feel like it’s an amazing opportunity to try something really different and I think it’s going to be special.”

Nick Huggins and his band will perform live to ‘I Am Eleven’ at Melbourne Music Week’s Cinemix event at ACMI on the 22nd of November at 7pm.

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