Interviewed by Stephen Mayne
Over a decade after his death in 2003, Elliott Smith’s memory lives on with many. Heaven
Adores You tells his story, focusing on the music that made him so beloved. Following the film’s
release last week, director Nickolas Dylan Rossi took the time to answer questions for us about
his debut documentary.
How did you first discover Elliott Smith?
I discovered Elliott’s music in the 90s by living in Portland. First through Heatmiser, then by
watching him play solo. But like many people, I discovered his music by friends in Portland
sharing it widely.
Why did you want to make a film about him?
We wanted to make a film that really looked at the music of Elliott Smith and why it continues to
influence fans and other musicians today. He was a great artist who left us too soon. We wanted
to make sure that the next generations of fans of Elliott’s music had something to reference
about his life and career.
Who do you hope to reach with the film?
I hope this film can satisfy the super fan as well as the uninitiated. Hopefully there’s enough of a
cohesive story of Elliott’s journey to find interesting to watch, but also a new found appreciation
for his process as a musician.
How long did it take to find the contributors and how keen were they to participate?
It’s sort of known that when Elliott passed away, not a lot of his friends wanted to talk to the
media about him, because the media really wanted to focus on the last couple of years of his
struggles instead of the bigger picture. They were very protective — and rightfully so — of their
friend. I’m not going to say it was easy to get people to talk to us– it required a tremendous
amount of faith and trust on their part that we would make the film that we said that we would
make, which was to honour him and focus on the music that he made.
So is that why the film looks more at his music and the reaction others had to it rather than
the darker parts of his life?
The film is about Elliott’s music. We really wanted to keep the focus there, and not on the more
sensational, tabloid aspects of his life that the media needlessly seems to want to focus on.
Were there any people you wanted in the film that you couldn’t get to participate?
I think we were extremely lucky to get the support and the heartfelt stories from as many of
Elliott’s friends as we could. He seemed to touch so many lives that I’m sure there were many
more people we could’ve talked to. At the end, I think we’re grateful to have as many folks as
we did take their time to talk with us.
What impact do you think his growing fame had on him?
It’s hard to say because I wasn’t there with him, but I think he has an idea of what it’s going to
be like for him when he says, “I’m the wrong kind of person to be really big and famous…”
What is it about him that inspires such devotion?
I think what’s great about Elliott’s story is that he really speaks for the everyman. His music
really spoke to universal themes that are very accessible for people. I think it’s very easy to
relate to Elliott’s music and it seems that you don’t necessarily need to be a fan of his music to
enjoy watching his journey, but there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate his music by the end of
What do you think his legacy will be in years to come?
I hope Elliott’s music will continue to be embraced, firmly placing him in the canon of great
singer songwriters, like Dylan, Lennon, Cohen, Drake, etc. He was an exceptional talent. I hope
we’re still sharing his music in 40 years.