Interview with Rick Mueller, director of “Life, the universe and Douglas Adams”

Published the 28th October 2002

Rick Mueller is the director of “Life, the universe and Douglas Adams”. Rick interviewed more than 30 douglas’ friends and members of his familly. Never dull, this documentary, produced by Joel Greengrass, is regarded by many fans as the ultimate doc about Douglas. Since this august, you can buy it on tape on Douglas Adams offical site.



Nicolas Botti : Rick, Who are you? Where do you come from?

Rick Mueller : I’m a writer and filmmaker with 15 years of experience in the field. I started in corporate films (making films and videos for big companies such as AT&T), I’ve worked in commercials, feature films (I even starred in several MTV promos that were shot underwater) and started a company, POINTBREAK PRODUCTIONS, to produce my own projects. I was born in the state of Pennsylvania and now live just across the river from NYC in Hoboken, NJ.


NB : How did you come to work with Joel Greengrass on this project?

RM : I knew Joel’s brother Jeff before I met Joel. I had finished my first documentary, which was also biographical, called BARNEY BERLINGER: A SPORTING LIFE, about an American athlete and outdoorsman and Jeff asked to see it. He really liked it and when Joel was hired to produce this film about Douglas Jeff showed him that film. Joel liked it too and approached me about working on L, TU & DNA.

NB : You decided straight away, at the beginning of the project, to start a dialog with the fans, asking them what they wanted to see, and to help you to gather some information. Why?

RM : From the start our mandate from Don Epstein (Executive Producer) was to make a film for the fans. How better to do that than to ask them what they wanted to know about Douglas?

NB : The project has been finished very quickly. How did it happen? Did you encounter some difficulties?

RM : We made a lot of phone calls! Really, that’s how it happened. This project was produced for approximately 1/4 of the budget of a typical documentary of this length and finished in about 1/4 of the time and although we had invaluable assistance from people like Sophie Aston most of the work was done by Joel and myself.
In London, Joel was working the phones and email while I interviewed people.
Part of the reason that we could accomplish everything so quickly is that we had the co-operation of Douglas’ estate and his family. It couldn’t have happened otherwise. All of Douglas’ friends and colleagues (well, almost all) were very helpful and open to talking to us and made the extra effort to fit into our schedule. Joel did a superhuman job of scheduling the interviews and producing in general.
Some of Douglas’ friends just couldn’t make it. I know Dave Gilmore and Mark Carwardine were upset not to have been able to appear in the film, but Mr. Gilmore was on tour and he and his wife were expecting a child and Mark was traveling the world working on other projects. Robbie Macintosh so wanted to be in the film he had a friend of his shoot an interview (he actually interviewed himself, the outtakes were great!).

NB : Which part of the documentary are you the most proud of?

RM : As opposed to just one part I’m most proud of the structure and the flow that comes from the way the pieces transition. I didn’t want it to be chronological, but yet I wanted it to tell the story of Douglas’ life. I think it works.

NB : Why did you choose Neil Gaiman as the narrator of this documentary? How did he feel about your project?

RM : The choice of Neil as the narrator was Joel’s idea and I have to say it was a brilliant, inspired choice.When Neil was approached about the project he thought it was a great idea and offered any assistance we needed, but he didn’t want to be interviewed.
I don’t think he was opposed to the idea of speaking to us on camera I just don’t think he felt he could add anything that we weren’t already getting from other people.
He allowed me to draw from “DON’T PANIC!” which was invaluable and when Joel approached him to narrate the piece he readily agreed. He did a polish on the script to get it more in his vernacular and correct a few inaccuracies and the voice-over session was quick and easy. If he ever wanted a second profession he could do narration for a living.


NB : How much did you know about Douglas before? What did you learn about him?

RM : All I really knew about Douglas was Hitchhikers’. I had read it in college and really loved it.
What did I learn about him? Everything else you see in the film… and more.
I did read all his books before starting the project.

NB : What do you like the most about Douglas?

RM : His fascination with the world and the way things work. I think that’s something that we have in common. I also admire the person he was. In my opinion he was a man of character, compassion, integrity and conviction. This is rare in today’s world.

NB : Which is your favorite douglas’ book? Why?

RM : I suppose Hitchhikers’ or Last Chance to See. Why? Hitchhikers’ was like nothing I had ever read before so I guess it stayed with me.

NB : What do you think Douglas would have done if he had survived? Would he have written other books? Make music, movies, get involved again in the endangered species? Go back to radio? Making more conferences for techno geeks? What subjects did he seem more interested at in the end of his life? I can’t stop thinking that a new Douglas Adams was arising.

RM : This is really an unanswerable question. One thing I do know. His mind seemed to have worked in a weird and wonderful way. It went in a hundred different directions at a million miles per hour and somehow connected everything together. Who knows what he would have accomplished, but I’m sure it would have been extraordinary.


NB : You made more than 30 interviews. Which are your best memories?

RM : I liked hearing about the process of writing and creating. As a writer myself that was very interesting. Did I have a favorite? No. There is something from each interview that I loved and most of those moments are in the film. There are few that were left on the cutting room floor… maybe you’ll get to see those on the DVD (if that ever happens).

NB : You interviewed a lot of douglas’ friends and members of his family less than one year after his death. Which was their main feeling about him? Sadness, frustration, void, love, happy memories,…

RM : Sadness? Only at the loss.
Frustration? No, not really, unless, again, at the loss (see Berkeley
Breathed’s interview bites.
Void? Yes, huge.
Love? This was most definitely the overriding feeling in every single interview. Douglas seemed to be capable of immense love and he wasn’t afraid to show and share it.
Happy memories? I hope you can hear that in the voices and see it on the faces of his friends and family in the film.


NB : The documentary is going to be shown at the London science fiction next February, at the Sundance film festival, and broadcasted on the sweeden tv. Are you satisfied of the success of your documentary? What do you expect now?

RM : The Documentary has been entered in Sundance, but the selection process is still ongoing and there is no way to know if it will be selected for screening. Sundance is really tough, but I’m very happy with the way the film turned out so I decided to roll the dice and see what happens. I think it will be picked up for further broadcast. It’s just a matter of getting it seen by the right people.

NB : Which are your future projects?

RM : I’m finishing up a screenplay about air racing and have a newborn son who is taking up a lot of my time.
I have a new documentary I’m trying to get off the ground. Sort of a tongue in cheek look at the surfing culture here in America.
I have another screenplay, a comedy about what happens when oil is discovered next to a small town in western Pennsylvania that is really coming together. If the screenplay comes out as well as the treatment I’ll try and produce and direct it myself as an independent.


NB : It’s a subjective but unavoidable question : do you think the Hitchhiker’s movie will be made and should be made?

RM : YES!!! Think of all the new fans it will bring to Douglas’ work. Will it be made? I think it might considering the talent that is attached and the money that has been spent on it. I don’t think it will be the same as the book. It can’t be. The structure of
the novel won’t work as a Hollywood film. It has no clear protagonist, it’s not structured in three acts and needs a strong narrative line. I think that Jay and Carrey will stay true to Douglas’ intent as far as theme goes and that’s all you can really hope for.
I just hope all of his fans go to see it with an open mind and enjoy it for what it is.