Montage of Heck director Brett Morgen talks to MovieMaker Magazine about using an arsenal of filmmaking tools—from original animations, to creative sound design, to archival footage, to talking head interviews—to make the definitive Kurt Cobain documentary.
“All my films are an attempt to create an experience of the subject rather than a history, so they adapt their personality in the presentation,” Morgen explains. “A film on Kurt Cobain is going to be different from a film on producer Robert Evans [subject of The Kid Stays in the Picture], because Kurt and Rob are different. So knowing it was about Kurt, I knew it needed to have an analog, rough-around-the-edges feel.”
It should come as no surprise then that Morgen found the most inspiration in the form of sound. “When I went through Kurt’s possessions, I thought the video or art would be our biggest asset. But I found the audio to be a direct portal into Kurt,” he says. “It was absolutely unfiltered and captured his personality better than any other medium, whether he was recording demos or goofing off with a microphone with the ‘Montage of Heck’ mixtape. So we collected all his audio, screened it and pulled pieces we’d use as building blocks in the film.”
“There’s two types of sound design in the film: There’s Kurt’s material as sound design that we’ve repurposed, hearing the world the way Kurt heard it. And then there’s the sound team—Steve Peterson and Cameron Frankley—who initially were using their own sound effects like they would on a Hollywood movie,” he continues. “Composer Jeff Danna started adding the ‘Jeff Danna’ twist to Nirvana arrangements. Even in the orchestral arrangements, we tried to use instrumentation that Kurt actually used in his music so we could get that grammar and that language. So we all had to approach the film differently than we normally would another film. We had to approach it through Kurt’s lens so it felt organic and cohesive within the fabric we were presenting.”
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