More than one year ago, Charli XCX dropped her experimental album How I’m Feeling Now, which she finished in a stunningly short span of five weeks during the pandemic. Directed by her longtime friends Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler, known as the director duo Bradley & Pablo, the documentary film “Alone Together” reveals Charli’s extremely demanding yet groundbreaking album production process. Premiering Jan. 28, the film also records many touching moments of her quarantine life as she strips away her vanguard artist persona and shows herself as a love-seeking, vulnerable human being.
However, as much as making an album in five weeks is not child’s play, producing a documentary film with mostly hand-held cameras, Zoom recordings and social media clips seems nearly impossible at first. In an interview with The Daily Californian, directors Bradley & Pablo spoke openly about how they navigated difficulties as they captured a personal story about helping each other and creating unprecedented art during the pandemic.
It all started with a Zoom-based quarantine party.
“I don’t know if you have ever got a club in quarantine parties — they’re basically Zoom-based,” Bell explained. “Charli actually performed in one, and we attended this party, and we thought that it was really inspiring.”
Like most people during quarantine, Charli and her fans struggled with loneliness and sorrow. However, with her Zoom parties and incredible album, Charli used music to bring her fans together and offered them precious, genuine fun despite their physical separation.
“The film was about bringing people together,” Bell said. “That was what the album was doing, and that was what we saw her doing, so we followed her.”
But filming in quarantine comes with substantial insecurity. Instead of carefully planning out the project before the actual shooting, Bradley & Pablo simply let the documentary’s subjects take the lead.
“We sent cameras to Charli and her fans for them to film themselves and were trying to give them a bit of direction from afar to see how the story was developing,” Jones-Soler said. “But pretty much we had no control of how the documentary was being shot. We don’t know how it’s being shot, such as the lighting or the photo-framing, where the camera’s pointing or (even) whether they filmed or not.”
“It also takes the filmmaker’s ego out of the film,” Bell added. “You can’t possibly have so many expectations about what things are going to be.”
What was most challenging about making the film, however, turned out to be equally inspiring and rewarding. Since the pandemic reduced their concerns about visual aesthetics and cinematic effects, the directors turned their attention to something simpler yet more moving: genuine storytelling.
“What that does,” Bell explained, pausing “it puts the story first, and then the director’s vision comes into it.”
Instead of relying on epic cinematography or meticulous planning, Bradley & Pablo embraced raw storytelling. Focusing on relaying a natural storyline, the directors importantly highlighted Charli’s fans, who inseparably played a major role in her album production. In fact, Charli shared her newest music with her fans via Zoom calls, which allowed her to gain instant feedback from them throughout her production process.
“There’s no way we could’ve made this film about that album successfully without telling their stories as well,” Jones-Soler said, admiring Charli’s close-knit community of fans.
Importantly, Bradley & Pablo focused on retaining a level of pure authenticity, even if it might strike as discomfiting at times. Bell noted his high respect for Charli’s unyielding courage to share even the most vulnerable parts of herself.
“She is genuinely open with how she feels … She’s willing to post a bad picture of herself, or she’ll talk very openly about how she’s feeling depressed or sad,” Bell said. “How many people in her position as a pop star would even allow this documentary to go out?”
Even without the presence of million-dollar film sets or camera crews, “Alone Together” still stands out with its down-to-earth, captivating story about reconnecting through art regardless of the pandemic’s immense challenges. The documentary stands as a monumental step not just for Charli, but also for Bradley & Pablo.
“It boosted our confidence in what we could do and I hope we could make more films,” Jones-Soler confirmed. “And I’m sure there would be more Charli collabs. Music videos at some point.”
Beyond what they gained from their personal director experiences, Bradley & Pablo also hope that audiences will learn from “Alone Together.”
“I hope the biggest takeaway for audiences is the importance of community,” Bell said, “and how music has managed to hold this group of people together during a really hard time.”
“Alone Together” is open in select theaters and streaming on-demand starting Jan. 28.
Contact William Xu at [email protected].