Rudi Dolezal: There was chemistry between Freddie and me

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Austrian director and music producer with Czech name Rudi Dolezal was born in Vienna on 5. 2. 1958. He was studying law, media and political science. Despite the fact he studied classical music and from 9 years of age, has been playing guitar, he always loved rock´n´roll. He started as TV reporter and freelance journalist, with Hanne Rossacher has established musical TV channel VIVA and production company DoRo Production. He worked with many top musicians, including likes of The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen and notably with Queen and Freddie Mercury, with who he has made 32 video clips and some documents. To make an interview with Mr. Dolezal was no mean feat, since he is a busy man so in fact, it took us six months before we finally made interview via Skype.

Rudi Dolezal is typically Czech name. Do you have any roots in our country?

Of course, I do, but I must admit, I don´t speak or understand a work. My great-great-grand father hailed from Brno. It is coincidence you ask me that question since I am in process of preparing to shoot a document about my Czech roots in 2023.I need to find as many infos as possible on internet about my ancestors, where did they come from, which church did they go to etc. All man in my family were called Rudolf Doležal and it goes back by five generations. My great-great-grand-father used to work for the king, where you used to belong to Austrian monarchy. I know that story from my mother and grandmother and I was in Brno only once. I would like to go back there in 2023 with my sons Rudolf (again, ha, ha) who is 19 and Benjamin who is 16 to find out my family roots.

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You became famous as film producer of music clips and documentaries. Was it something you dreamt about already as a kid?

Definitely not. I was good sportsman, good runner, jumper and even athletic Vienna Champion. I was also good at football, basketball and could play guitar and also was active in amateurish theatre, so I was boy of many interests, no idle sod. When I was about to leave a school and was asked to decide, which university I would like to go to, I couldn´t decide, since there were so many things I wanted to do. But to be a film maker it never crossed my mind. So, I know for sure it wasn´t any dream it was more of a coincidence.

It wasn´t my kid´s dream to be a film director

How come?

Well, as you surely know, Vienna was city of culture, be it music or theatre. I liked these events and visited them very often. Sometimes, they were topical events lasting sometimes the whole week, which took place in old, beautiful building and in 1976, when I was 18, it was decided by municipal hall that it will be demolished and the shopping center will be built there. It hit us, culture loving students, very hard and we didn´t want let it happen, so after the last concert we took over the building and refused to leave it for five months. During that time, we went around various theatres and collected signatures for petition against knocking it down. Hundreds of thousands of Vienna inhabitants got on our side and signed the petition, and supported our project. It was kind of European hippie revolt as it used to be in USA in 60´s. Austrian TV ignored us totally but there was one channel for youth, only one, that took an interest in us and I was a spokesman, so I often made interviews with them. When the protest finished, they asked me if I would want to work for them and I, fresh student without idea of what to do with my life, became TV director. I was the first on Austrian TV who wore long hair and it became a scandal but since it was a youth channel, I didn´t get into trouble since somehow it belonged there. Thanks to this job, I got to know people like Frank Zappa and it snowballed from there.

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You have been connected mostly with Queen and Freddie Mercury who slowly became your close friend. When and how did you get into filming Queen and did it click between you since the word go?

It was hard from beginning. I started filming them since end of 70´s and they were already big stars then. I was rookie and when they had a gig in Vienna, on my home turf, I was only allowed to shoot two songs, but no interview. I had to beg for that at their recording company and put it all together. Personally, we have met many years later, I think it was 1984. At that time, I was quite known in Austria, since there was only one musical channel and my team and I were only ones, who did something for young people. My face was famous since I had long hair and was often on the screen. So, I came with idea to make interviews with pop stars who had a gig in Vienna. Nobody has done it at that time, and nobody wanted to do it and when I mentioned that I would want to make interview with Jagger or Mercury, they laughed at me. So, despite all this rejection I started with that and I became kind of pioneer in that and main thing is I loved doing it. We talk about Austria mid 80´s.

At that time, nobody made interviews with pop musicians, and despite rejections, I started doing that as the first in Austria

So, this is how did you work out towards Freddie, right?

Yes, steadily, step by step. Thanks to above mentioned I became well known and it opened various doors for me. My D Day came in Munich, when cameraman, soundman and me went in our battered car. I was very nervous, since it was known, that Freddie hates jounalists, and doesn´t like giving interviews, and he can me moody as every star. I was genuinely interested in musicians and about their history so it was obvious I am not usual reporter who asks two stupid questions and shoot something different following day. I don´t know what has happened but since the first moment there became some kind of bond between us and I felt that chemistry works and we share same vibes.

I was so pumped-up, that when we finished, I gave him my number and told him, if he wants to make some good video clip, to give me a buzz. I took it more as a joke but I was always confident in my abilities and work and I knew, what I can offer. I somehow felt he won´t take it badly. After few months, their management phoned me to get to Munich to make a video clip with them. So, that was beginning. I sent my short film for them to see my work and they obviously liked it so our cooperation begun. The first clip was called prophetically One Vision, and in the end, we made 32 clips together, more than anybody else did.

Did you have to like an artist, even as a human, whom you made the clip for or you were emotionless professional who was able to make award winning videos for somebody whom you disliked and whose music you hated?

(Laugh). I have always worked and work only with people who I like as human and whose music I like. If you watch my video with Freddie and Queen, you will see, there is lot of emotion there. And if you watch my award-winning document Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story, you will find there lots of emotions since that is my style and I have always worked like that. If I don´t like artist or his music and he would offer me million dollars for working with him, I would decline the offer.

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I always worked with people I liked and whose music I liked

Aha, I see and how does it work in your business than? Let´s say that Rolling Stones call you and say they want to make video with you and they have million dollars for that so you have to find locations, costumes and the crew and then tell them your idea and they say YES or NO?

No, it doesn´t work like that and especially not at this era. It used to work that, say Mick Jagger, Brian, Freddie or Jim Beam phoned me directly, and we discussed it and made a deal. Today many people, directors and agencies are involved in it. Musical world has changed a lot since those 40 years when I started working there.

From technical point of view, is musical clips or documents making different to feature films and do you have to have special education for that?

Well, we use same cameras, editing and lightning, but to be able to make musical videos, I like to say, that you have to be half musician yourself. Editing is very important, and if don´t have musical feelings, and don´t know, where editing should be done, you can screw the whole thing.

When you make a music clip, do you need a proper script, or it is down to pure choreography?

Firstly, you have to have an idea. With Freddie it used to be kind of ping- pong when one idea led to another one and it evolved and slowly went forward. Then we made very exact story board and together with Freddie we wrote the script.

Who is the boss, director or an artist who pays?

Director always must be a boss. Of course, he has to discuss everything with artist, and it is done before actual shooting, since on the set, there is no time for any discussions. These discussions are part of pre-production work, and in case of Queen, when we agreed on something with Freddie, and neither Brian nor Roger knew about it or didn´t like it, they could make their point, and we discussed it. Then, we made story- board, and a budget was calculated according to that. So before actual shooting, all was crystal clear.

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Could you dare change completely artists´ own idea if you showed him, that yours is better and the whole lot will benefit from that?

You have to understand that once you start working with somebody, especially in music industry, you are all at the same boat. So, you win together or you lose together and if you have very different views, it is not very good for shooting the video clip. If an artist has better idea than I, and it will help to improve the whole thing, obviously I accept it. Better idea wins. That is why, I shot all videos with Freddie, since it was so simple, that we looked into each other´s eyes, and knew. if it works or if it doesn´t, we didn´t need many words. We knew and understood each other so perfectly and one look showed if we have to improve it or it´s OK. This is the best set up for me if director and an artist are on the same wavelength and they share same views and feelings.

I was honoured and had a privilege to work with the likes of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, The Rollings Stones, but with Freddie it was different level, it was like mind ping- pong and one idea led to another one and it was so great. I think, both Freddie and I were destined for each other, and it was big privilege for me and on top of that, he was my mentor.

You are always on the same boat so either you lose together or win together

You mostly worked on musical documents and video clips. Was it just a chance or natural evolution and feature film didn´t interest you?

Well, I would think, that it was natural evolution, since from the age of 9 I trained five hours a day playing classical guitar. I knew and could read notes and played really well. As I am musician myself and developed a good feeling for music, I could master those musical clips and edit them much better than other directors, who didn´t know music.

But don´t think, I didn´t make anything else. Firstly, I started making films about social issues and my very first film was about heroin addicts. I also made films about art and I was to make a feature film about Falco at the start of new millennium but after the re-shuffle of directors in the company that financed the film, the new boss wanted someone else, so I went over the board. I was upset, but what could I do? I also helped UN with film about refugees and I helped Sting with movie about rain forests. But obviously these topics are not as popular as musical videos people connect me with.

If you could, would you want to be Freddie Mercury for one day and feel that adoration and fame?

(Laugh)My answer is firm NO. One has to have a will and talent and that is not just about being on the stage. There was only one Freddie Mercury, and there won´t be any other after him. If you have watched the shot from that famous Wembley gig, you could have seen, that he had whole stadium at the knees, and he was so pumped up that when he walked off the stage, he shrunk by few centimeters and got to his ordinary shell. He really grew up on stage and not everybody can manage that.

There was only one Freddie Mercury and there won´t be any after him

Why do you think he became such universally popular figure? What did he have and others didn´t?

Well, he had his magic charm. When he was on stage be it in club for 100 people or on stadium for 65 000 people, he knew exactly what to do to have audience on his side and also his voice had incredible range. When I produced the documentary film in memory of Freddie where there were such excellent singers such as Robert Plant, Elton John, Guns´ n´ Roses, Liza Minelli, David Bowie and others many of them had to step down with voice since they couldn´t sing such hight parts as Freddie did. He was not only great singer and entertainer and talented musician but he also knew a lot about film, art and photography and generally was very interesting man. And, apart having all this, he was working very hard.

You worked with many world artists, tell us, do they have to take drugs and drink alcohol to withstand the stress and interest or they only take it since it makes then untouchable and indestructible?

No, the problem is elsewhere. Firstly, I was offered drugs by Keith Richard. We were in Rolling Stones´ cloakroom, there were Mick and Keith and plenty of nice girls and Keith made a line of coke and asked me if I want it. What was I supposed to say? No?

I don´t think that pressure is the reason why they all take the drugs. I think the given person must incline to addiction of some sort and also is still connected with something from the past and they try to avoid it and run away. Maybe they feel vulnerable and they wonder if they are good enough and if their glory days won´t be soon over, so they take drugs to be better person. BUT drugs are not solution.

You will be 65 and you are in-demand artist. Can you hop-off that train or slow down a bit?

I slowed down, when my then partner and mother of my kids, left me and I had to look after my 3 and 6 years old sons alone. I was their mother and father, I cooked for them and drove them to nursery and school and along that, I had a production company in Austria and America and worked at lots of projects. So, I dropped international career for ten years, worked only in America and made one project only, which is not a lot. My sons were the most important thing in the World for me and I don´t regret a second of my time which I gave them instead of my career. I managed that and now my elder son works as my assistant.

In later years you are also very active writer, is it next step in your artistic career?

Everything has it´s time and I really like writing in later years, it recharges my batteries. I have written many books about Austrian pop music, about Falco, and then I wrote My friend Freddie book, and wanted to make a world promotion tour, but Covid put a halt to it. Writing is relaxing time for me, since I am free and really enjoy it and don´t need anybody around me and I have no stress. When I made my way to became good, in-demand director, everybody expected the best from me, and there was always a budget which I had to fit in and there were bunch of people around me. I got frustrated. Writing gave me back my lost artistic freedom. When I was 24/7 in film business, I lost my private life and had no time for my sons and I also had to make other things than I wanted, so writing is my joy now and it is exactly what I want to do.

Thank you very much.

Photos, thanx: archive of Rudi Dolezal