By Lucy Roberts 

A new documentary about the legend that is English footballer star Paul Gascoigne premiered on BBC Two and iPlayer last week called Gazza.

Paul Gascoigne Credit: Freemantle

Paul Gascoigne Credit: Freemantle

Producer Sampson Collins decided to make this archive documentary five years ago but after financial struggles and other niggles along the way it’s finally out for the viewers to see.

Collins spoke to Female First about why he wanted to make Gazza, how he got into filmmaking following a conventional career in sports journalism and revealed why he feels a big responsibly telling Gascoigne’s story.

Q) Why did you want to go into filmmaking after starting your career as a conventional sports journalist?

A) I think that as a sports journalist it’s a brilliant thing to be but there’s so many people trying to get into sports journalism and so the challenge is do something different. I was in cricket which is already a bit of a niche sport which was great and then I started making videos with a friend of mine, so instead of just turning up to press conferences and transcribing the same quotes as everybody else we started doing piss take videos where we summarised the day’s play at the test matches, interviewed the public, did sketches. I used to run around in a giant lion costume and things like that, it was a weird time in my life. And so, we then realised we had this incredible access to the second biggest sport in the world and we decided we should make a film about that or find some way to make a film about it.

So, we started off making a film about whether cricket was dying or not and I gradually realised that this was what I wanted to do because for me personally I’d never been that interested in whether someone twists an ankle and they’re out for a couple of games, I’m always looking for the bigger narrative. The great thing about a documentary is that you can really drill into a subject, spend time on it. Sport is one of those weird things, like it’s important in our day-to-day life because it’s about escapism, but that factor has made it incredibly invaluable over the last 20 years. Because advertisers know how much we love it, that it’s become worth a lot of money and that means it becomes increasingly political so increasingly important stories and both of my stories have been different rifts on that theme.

Q) When you’re in the thick of making a documentary do you ever stop to think this is amazing or is anyone going to watch this? Or do you have to block those thoughts out?

A) It is a seriously long time; this one has been five years with finance struggles and stuff. Any film has to prove itself at certain points and that’s why you keep doing it, because of the great moments. You have the down moments and that’s why you need a team where you’re like oh that interview didn’t go well, or we can’t license this bit of footage, or this story just isn’t working.

It’s an archive film so little moments, when you find little bits of footage you’ve almost got to become a forensic psychologist and plot the graph of what’s happening at certain moments and work out where can footage exist of this. But when you reach the end of that process and you find it, there’s just no better feeling. Equally when you’ve done a great interview and you’ve got the line you want because a lot of this is stumbling in the dark, even when you’re interviewing someone, they’ve got a whole range of experiences in their head, and you don’t know what they are, and you’ve got to try and access those. Because sometimes suddenly when you twig something and you’re like that changes everything, it’s addictive, it’s the best. I love it.

Credit: ITV Sport Archive
Credit: ITV Sport Archive

Q) Why did you want to make this documentary on Paul Gascoigne?

A) Personally, I look for different layers and levels in my story so with Gazza he was this extraordinary icon of 90s Britain, and he became incredibly famous at a national tournament just at the point where celebrity culture was mushrooming, where Murdoch and Maxwell were looking to build around celebrities and their newspapers were canonising Gazza. So, there was always that wonderful character around the heart of it. This story happened because people loved him, and he was an incredible footballer so there were those two brilliant assets to start with. And then the question was how do we tell a story which can appeal to a wide audience?

Digging in more the thing that made me really start the film was understanding by researching right back at the beginning just how close the tabloid press had been to his literal personal, day to day life. And how by the end of the film it’s the story of tabloid culture told through what happened to Paul Gascoigne. By the end of 1998, by the end of the story, his whole life he was surrounded by this desperation of celebrity, and it had literally overcome his life and destroyed his mental health. The reason you stick with it for five years through complications - archive is very expensive to do, Gazza is a UK subject but a lot of people want subjects that appeal to America not just the UK - the reason you stick by it is because you believe in that story and it’s something people should want to know, will want to know and will be affected by.

Q) Is there one thing that has stayed with you since creating Gazza?

A) One thing is that when you’ve been working with a family and it’s 25 years ago and over a 10-year period and you’re working with family archive and tapes, it’s an extraordinary and affecting experience because this is their lives, and you know what happens at the end. You know where they are now, you know what happened to the people they care about and you’re there watching the innocence and the naivety and the hope that exists at the beginning.

I suppose something you try to remember is they aren’t just characters in a story, they’re real people, it really happened and that goes for everybody across Paul’s story. You try to expect that as a film maker and tell a story that they recognise, it’s a big responsibility.

UEFA Paul Gascoigne
UEFA Paul Gascoigne

Q) Do you have another project in the pipeline?

A) Not yet, it’s a challenge to follow something up like Gazza. It would be nice to work on a happy story rather than stories about greed and betrayal and corruption at various levels. As a filmmaker all you can hope for is to work with strong, compelling characters and to work on subjects that have the capacity to engage an audience, like people care about them. So, what I’m looking for is to work on stories that can make a difference and tell people something about the world they live in. I’m just talking in complete cliches now! But just keep making films, keep learning, that’s what I’m hoping to do.

GAZZA will be available on Digital Download from 2nd May and Blu-ray & DVD from 9th May #gazzadoc

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