Setting his sights on the songwriting process of Grammy-Award winning singer-songwriter Ed Sheehan with Songwriter—his feature debut, which screened at the Berlin International Film Festival before moving on to Tribeca—Murray Cummings’ documentary came about as unusually and organically as any could.
The Songwriter journey began with a family connection, Cummings being Sheeran’s cousin. “Our family’s really close, so all the way through growing up, we would hang out and go on holiday together, and stuff like that,” the documentarian told Deadline, appearing today in Tribeca with producer Kimmie Kim.
When Sheeran decided to commit to pursuing music full-time, he moved to London and stayed on Cummings’ couch, just as he was working himself on learning to become a filmmaker. “I would just go out and film him, so I’d learn how to edit and stuff like that. When he signed a record deal, he wanted me to come on the road, and then I started making videos for his fans, and music videos,” Cummings explained. “Then, it ended up with, ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot of content of you writing, and I don’t think anyone’s seen that. Let’s do something with that.’”
Along the road to Songwriter becoming a feature-length doc, Cummings watched as his cousin’s songwriting style changed—in what became a lucky break, allowing for a film with more visual style. Starting out just writing at his computer, Sheeran ultimately ended up performing for Cummings’ camera, thinking out loud—and suddenly, the director could see a real film in front of him.
“There would be a mic on in the room, so he would be like, ‘Okay, I don’t need to write anything down. I can just say everything and it’ll be captured because there’s a computer there.’ It became almost like daydreaming writing, Cummings said. “That was really cool to watch.”
For her part, Kim commented on the challenge of the producer in acclimating to the working style of a new director. “Always when you first work with a director, you’ve got to get to know the person that you’re working with. You’re respecting what the director wishes to do, and [the] talent at the same time,” she said. “At the same time, I have a job to do—I’ve got to get this done. I’ve got to push, push, push. So it’s a little bit of a balancing act.”
To hear more from Murray Cummings and Kimmie Kim about Songwriter, click above.
The Deadline Studio at Tribeca is presented by Nespresso.