Confessional Portrait

Lil Fini Zanuck is a director and producer, who won an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy. She returns with the documentary Eric Clapton: A Life In 12 Bars, a candid depiction of one of the world’s great guitar players who began his stellar career in the 1960s in bands like The Yardbirds and Cream. Echoing the famous graffiti “Clapton is God”, Zanuck’s film explores his musical legacy, alongside a stark look at his often turbulent personal life.

ASFF: You’ve known Eric since he worked on the soundtrack for your film Rush. Have you maintained a consistent friendship since then?
LFZ: We maintained a friendship, but I wouldn’t say consistently. We don’t talk once a month; sometimes we’d talk once a year. But 25 years ago, when we worked together, what we had was trust. They were doing research for an anthology, and there was a conversation – “Maybe we should do a documentary.” That made him nervous. So he called me and he said: “If they’re going to do something like that, I want you to be involved. Would you do it?”

ASFF: This trust you’d established fed into the film?
LFZ: So the basic trust we already had went into the room with the microphone; there was nothing off limits. We were very comfortable and we talked about a lot of things he had never talked about before. That wasn’t just because he trusted me…one of the reasons he wanted me to come on board was if this story was going to be told he wanted it told correctly. It’s not like I had to prise stuff out of him. He was very willing to go down any road.

ASFF: Still, you must’ve been nervous about broaching the topic of the death of his young son, which he addresses in the film?
LFZ: I was nervous about broaching that, but to be honest, the worst part of that was when we got the footage from Lory del Santo, because Eric had never seen this movie footage of his baby. And that was very shocking to him, very, very emotional. They broke up shortly after the baby was born. And this was obviously things she had shot and didn’t send Eric.

ASFF: How do you find him now? The present-day footage suggests he’s in a very content place…
LFZ: Yes, he’s very content with life. The other thing is, as you get older, you do start to think, “I wonder what my legacy is” and I think for Eric, there was a lot of good things and there were things he wasn’t quite as proud of. As you see, he made this incredible journey. A lot of his life today is shaped by AA. He’s very truthful, he’s not defensive. He’s almost too quick to mea culpa on some things. And I do think that has a lot to do with AA.

ASFF: Given Clapton’s addiction issues, did making this film make you speculate on the relationship between drugs and creativity?
LFZ: Well always. Of course it did. It’s not just drugs. Creative people tend to have a hole they’re trying to fill and that’s pretty consistent. In the performing arts in particular, they’re a little bit crazy sometimes. The crazy that I’m referring to is this hole; there is something missing they’re trying to feed. You see it in music, you see it in movies. Great actors are doing the same thing.

Eric Clapton: A Life In 12 Bars opens in cinemas from 12 January. For more details, visit:

James Mottram

1. Trailer for Eric Clapton: A Life In 12 Bars. Courtesy of Vimeo.