Interview: Canadian auteur filmmaker David Cronenberg #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie Cinema: David Cronenberg on Cosmopolis

Canadian auteur director David Cronenberg came out with his 20th film this year, Cosmopolis, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name. The film, about a tumultous day in the life of a 28-year-old billionaire set against the background of a financial meltdown, evoked extreme mixed reactions from critics. Cronenberg, in an exclusive interview, told us what led him to make the film, why he chose Robert “Twilight” Pattinson as the lead, and how Satyajit Ray is important to him.


Your movie is the first cinematic adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel. Why do you think you have succeeded in turning a DeLillo book into a movie where no one else has?

(Laughs) Well, it’s funny you ask that because, I think that while Don’s work is very literary, his dialogue is very cinematic. So I am, myself, somewhat surprised that no one has made a movie from his work, and I’m not sure what the reason is. For me, every new novel is a possibility to translate into cinema. It won’t be the book, it can’t be the book, because the two media, literature and cinema, are extremely different. They seem to be very connected, and they are very connected, because even in the early days of sound and cinema, many of the movies made were adaptations of books and plays in particular, but they really are very different. So you have to accept that when you are going to adapt a novel, you are creating a new thing.

When you think of it, for example, even a very bad novel can do things that cinema can’t do at all, you know, like give you the idea that you are living inside someone’s head, and hearing their thoughts and feeling their thoughts as they flow. In cinema, you sort of, internalise the inner monologue. And often you find filmmakers try to get that effect by having somebody read the book while you are watching the movie. But to me, that’s an admission of failure. It means you haven’t really understood that you are creating a new thing that is related to the book, but is not exactly the book.

So, to come back to it, perhaps DeLillo is intimidating because those inner monologues, that he does, are sort of inside the head, and the abstraction, the metaphysics and the philosophy are very intense and very complex. Maybe that intimidates people. But for me, I really first went for the dialogue for Cosmopolis, apart from the characters of course. To me that was the spine of the movie and I didn’t worry about the things that were completely literary about the book and I could not even have done that. I knew the dialogues could be cinematic, so I just didn’t worry about them. In fact, DeLillo loved the movie, so he’s quite happy with it, you know.

It’s interesting you say that because you once even said in an interview, “To me dialogue is cinema”, and generally, not many filmmakers hold dialogue in high regard.

Well, yeah, I think, you know, cinema is about the human condition, really, and so much of the human condition exists as words, as conversation and as dialogue. I mean, you don’t have culture and you don’t have human society without words of some kind, and without human communication. And human condition by words gives you an abstraction. So I know that it’s easy to think of cinema as being essentially action or visual and it’s a common misconception that it is action of a very crude, physical kind, but, in my experience of cinema, (chuckles) over 65 years of it, I feel that without dialogue, without words, without conversation, without this talking, and without the human face – because I think the thing we photograph most as filmmakers is the human face – in particular, cinema wouldn’t be cinema.

You also said the characters of Cosmopolis attracted you. What was it about Eric Packer’s character that resonated with you?

For me, the whole idea that you must have a character who is perfectly sympathetic, is a very crude, and a very uninteresting kind of approach to cinema. I think the character has to be very interesting and fascinating and charismatic. I mean, he has to be somebody you want to watch and see what he says and see what he does.

So what’s interesting about DeLillo’s book is that all the way through, the characters are not particularly sympathetic in an obvious way. But by the end of the movie, you see that this character is, somewhere inside there, a very naïve, vulnerable child, who’s only going to get a haircut, but what he’s really going back to his childhood. He’s going back to the barber who gave him his first haircut. And when he’s there, you begin to see the innocence that’s there underneath the hard surface, and I think it’s a really interesting transformation and transition that you see in this character. At the beginning you think that this guy is very unemotional and hard and cold, and cynical perhaps. And by the end of it, you see that there’s a lot of emotion and a lot of vulnerability underneath there and the character turns out to be far more complex than you might have thought.

A lot has been said about your unconventional choice of Robert Pattinson for the lead role.

The thing I liked about Rob Pattinson as an actor is that he’s a serious actor. And you could lose sight of that, because he’s had this big popular success with the Twilight movies, but he is not afraid to play a character who is difficult to like, you know, because some actors are afraid to do that, because they feel it is too personal, that they themselves will not be liked by their audience, and so on. But a real actor is not afraid to play an unsympathetic character, and Rob is a real actor.

Also, I think to be an actor, you need intelligence, first of all. For example, Rob immediately realised that the script was quite funny, and most people don’t get that. Then you want sensitivity to the subtleties of the movie, in terms of what is going on in the movie, the dialogue and so on. And Rob, personally, is very knowledgeable about cinema.

(Chuckles) I don’t think his Twilight fans realise this about him, but he’s really an aficionado about art cinema. I mean, on the set I’d find him talking to Juliette Binoche about obscure French cinema, (chuckles) so you know, he brings a real depth of understanding of the history and art of cinema and all of those things mean that you have a lot of power and a lot of responsiveness from your actor as a director. It’s like driving the Ferrari instead of driving, you know, a Volkwagen Beetle. And you get that with Rob. I must also add, he’s very down to earth and very easy to work with. He’s not diva at all, you know. He’s really a sweetheart.

Cosmopolis is again a departure from anything you’ve done before. Do you ever plan to return to the body horror genre you are so loved for?

I am not really deliberately avoiding the genre but you know, it’s I just don’t want to keep doing something that I’ve done before. I feel that as an artist you are primarily interested in observing the human condition, in all its complexity and so, I, I really want the field to be wide open, I don’t really restrict myself.  It’s all very intuitive for me, you know, the things that interest me.

But in a way, I’ve been exploring the theme of human technology and of human invention in all my movies and capitalism is another example of technology. When you think of money as technology it starts to make sense in terms of what I’m interested in the movies, which is human creation… things that we create, that we cannot control.

And then when you think of it, capitalism is like a Frankenstein monster, we invented it, we created it, we humans, but we seem not able to control it. You wonder why everybody in power couldn’t get together and say, “Look, this financial problem is not good for anybody, so why don’t we just fix it, because after all, we invented money, it’s not as though it’s the tsunami or the hurricane. It’s not a natural force, it’s a human force. Why can’t we all just get together and fix it?” But of course, it takes on a life of its own and we really can’t control it.

But the movie is still not anti-capitalist, it’s more complex than that. There are characters in the movie who are anti capitalist and so on, but all the main characters are very pro capitalist, (chuckles), so it was funny and ironic when Rob Pattinson and I rang the opening bell of the NYSE, you know, (chuckles) and the people there were very friendly. They were certainly all capitalists and they were very proud of NYSE and they were very happy to promote the movie Cosmopolis because of course, that’s capitalism too, isn’t it!

What are your thoughts on Indian cinema?

To be honest, I’m not familiar enough with it to be able to speak on it. But you know, we have a huge Indian population in Toronto, and whenever there are Bollywood festivals here, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding them. I understand that there are a lot of interesting changes and that there’s a great evolution in current Indian cinema. I also know Deepa Mehta well because she’s a fellow Toronto filmmaker so I do a strong connection between Toronto and Mumbai.

But of course, I remember…. I mean I’ve seen the classics of the ’60s and so on, and they had a huge influence on me. You know, It’s just so intriguing to see a film from another culture in another language, because you can actually live in some other life that’s not your own, for a while, and that’s really quite fantastic. I mean that’s what the essence of cinema is. So, those films made a big impression on me.

Are you referring to the movies of Satyajit Ray?

Yes, you know, Satyajit Ray and the world of Apu. Because those were part of the, what we think of now, art cinema “with a capital A”, of the late ’50s of the early ’60s. So those movies were part of movement that had movies by Italian cinema’s (Federico) Fellini, Japanese cinema’s (Akira) Kurosawa and French cinema’s (Jean-Luc) Goddard and so on, and they primarily represented India in those days.

And it was exciting because you really felt that there was a world movement that, in a sense, where elevating cinema from just being entertainment for the masses to, an art form. Because when movies began, people thought it was just for the lower classes, and it took a while before people realised that cinema was an art form, you know. And Ray’s movies were an important part of that.

So how’s your novel going? How different is it from writing a screenplay?

It’s really an interesting process. My father was a writer and Brandon always wanted to be one, and frankly, I never thought I’d be a filmmaker, even I thought I’d be a writer. So, you know, it’s taken me a really long time to come to terms with writing fiction, but the thing about it is that I’m surprised how much like directing it is. Because you are casting it, you are choosing the costumes, you are choosing the locations, in a way you are choosing when you do a close up, when you will do a long shot, you know, or do you describe this person in detail or not. So, it’s closer to directing that screenwriting, weirdly enough.

Note: This interview first appeared on on December 22, 2012

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


Interview: Canadian filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie Cinema: Brandon Cronenberg on Antiviral

Canadian writer-director Brandon Cronenberg came out with a unique first film this year, Antiviral, about a man who works for a company that harvests diseases from celebrities and then injects them into paying clients.

A bizzare, surreal but a very well done and confident take on celebrity obsession, Antiviral premiered in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It has subsequently travelled across the world, winning the Gold Hugo award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Best Canadian First Feature Film Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. In an exclusive interview, Brandon talks about making a fantasy horror film, the intimacy of illness, and his father, legendary filmmaker, David Cronenberg.


You mentioned in an interview that you decided to explore the celebrity obsession through illness because it’s more intimate than sex. Can you elaborate?

If you look at it in a certain way, illness is at least as intimate as sex in that, you know, it’s something that comes from someone else’s cells that penetrates your cells, and goes from their bodies into your bodies, so it is very sexual and very intimate. But I think we don’t see it that way because you often don’t know what it can do to you, so there’s a nervousness and there’s anxiety, but if you look at it in a certain way, you are passing something from one body to another body.

So if I just exaggerated the celebrity obsession phenomenon very slightly and connected it to the intimacy of illness, and talked about it with this new perspective, I thought it would be an interesting way of seeing things. So while I do think that Antiviral is a fantasy, it’s not very far-fetched in the sense that it’s sort of like our world, where we do comment on celebrity culture all the time, but it’s exaggerated very slightly, and I think that’s an interesting way of putting it.

What gave you the confidence to explore the subject within the limitations of indie budgets? How did you know the subject was good enough for your first film?

(Chuckles) Well it was the only script I had written at the time that I had the opportunity to make into a film, which is why I chose it. I mean I had a number of ideas and I’ve made some short films before, but this is the first full-fledged feature script I had written. But yeah, the subject is just something I found very interesting and I thought that the script turned out good, so I just went with it. And I think, you know, you just have to have confidence in what you are doing or hope for the best. Or else you become paralysed and can’t do anything. I fortunately had a lot of good people I was working with, so that made me more confident that we could do it together.

Apart from being a writer and director, you are also a painter and a musician. When you are writing a film, are you combining all these elements in your head, or do you tackle one beast at a time?

It’s a little of everything, I guess. When I’m writing, I just leave it open. Sometimes, I have a very specific image in mind, and sometimes I have very specific music in mind, and so I try to have as clear a sense what I want, as much as it’s possible. But when you start to make the film, everything changes, you know, because you suddenly have actors and they have their own interpretations, and it takes on its own life. So I try and be as clear in my mind as I can when I’m writing, and then I try not worrying too much if there are better things.

When I went to film school, this is actually the best advice I got at it: that at every stage of the film you look at what you have and you’ve got to make the best film you can with that. So, you know, you write the best film you can and when you have your script and when you have your actors on the sets, you look at that and you sort of shoot it in a way without worrying if you deviate too much, or if you come up with other ideas or certain other obstacles. And then you take the footage and keep looking at it at every stage with fresh eyes and letting it evolve until you have your final film.

Now that you mention it yourself, it’s curious that you felt the need to go to film school at all, since growing up with your father, David Cronenberg, one would assume he was all the film school you’d need.

I think, unless you are making a very specific kind of film, you can’t do it on your own. You are going to need to be plugged into a community, so a film school was a way of, you know, teaching yourself filmmaking because unless you have people to make films with, the process is very difficult. Film school gave me a period of time where I could meet other people who wanted to make films so we could all experiment with the equipment, and that’s why it was very important.

On the other hand, a lot of the films people make in films school haven’t really succeeded in that industry because ultimately, we’re learning in a very artificial environment. I think learning in an academic environment you can only teach yourself so much, but you actually have to learn filmmaking by simply doing it. So for me, going to my father’s sets or working on his film – I worked on Existenz in the special effects department – I think I got a sense of filmmaking and a sense of the process in the real world, and that was an advantage.

Since you’ve attempted horror with Antiviral, which is a genre done so well by your father, were you at any time worried about the fact that you’d be compared to his work?

Yeah, it occurred to me that would happen but I tried to ignore that because first of all, the film is representative of what’s interesting to me and what I wanted to do. So my filmmaking cannot be defined his filmmaking. Also, it would be difficult to do something he hasn’t done because he’s just done too much! And secondly, you know, he’s my father and we have love some of the same things, and I grew up with him, so it’s obvious our films, interests and aesthetics would overlap to a certain extent. So, for me, if I’ve got into a film, I have to worry about people as little as possible.

So is your father a proud dad after he sees your work, or does he get technical about it?

(Chuckles) Oh no, he was a very proud dad. But also, you know, in our family, I see early cuts of his films and I showed him my film, and since my mother’s a filmmaker and my sister’s a photographer, we all show each other our projects in advance.

How much importance do you give to external opinion for your film? I read that six minutes of your film was cut after its premiere at Cannes.

Well, the 6 minutes we cut was less because of outside feedback and more because we were rushing the film to get it done for Cannes, and we hadn’t had a chance to step away from it. And then we saw it again with fresh eyes, and noticed that there was obviously a part of it that we felt could change. But yes, the external point of view is a tricky thing. When you’ve tried to have a certain effect and communicate certain things, then at a certain point you need to start showing other people and seeing if they are getting what you are trying to say. Because if nobody understands what you are trying to say, then you should be worried and take that feedback back to your film. So it’s not so much trying to make everyone happy but trying to gauge whether or not the effect you are trying to have is working.

So what do we see from you next? Something lighter?

I’m not really interested in making a light film. I may do it eventually, but to me that’s not very interesting. Because I’m not interested in filmmaking just as a form of entertainment. For me, filmmaking is an art form and I’d like to do things with it people haven’t done before.

Does that mean we’ll never see you making a superhero film?

(Laughs) Well, I don’t know! I think that with a very large budget you start to lose control, because there’s too much money invested, so I think there’s sort of good middle ground where you have enough money to do what you want but you don’t want to answer to too many people and that’s how I’d like to stay. So I’m probably going to remain independent because I don’t think I can work inside the studio system unless I’m very, very established because I don’t ever want to give up control over my filmmaking.

Since you are both a writer and a director, would we see you working on projects that are not conceived by you?

I wouldn’t want to write for anyone else because if I invest that much time in a script, I would want to direct it myself. Of course, I would direct something for someone else if I found the script interesting. But I like working on a film from an early stage, so it will have to be a script that I could connect with, and it would have to be in line with my sensibilities.

Note: This interview first appeared on on December 22, 2012

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Australian filmmaker Wayne Blaire #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie Cinema: Wayne Blair on The Sapphires

If you didn’t catch The Sapphires while it played at the Mumbai Film Festival, you definitely missed one of the most likable, charming and heartwarming movies of the year. Australian actor-director Wayne Blair’s first full length feature film, The Sapphires is about four talented indigenous Australian girls who form a music group and travel to Vietnam to sing for troops in the year 1968, when racism was still rampant in Australia.

In an exclusive interview, Wayne tells us about dealing with racism through comedy, the responsibility as an indigenous Australian and why movies about fractured souls appeal to him:


You’ve dealt with the sensitive issue of racism in The Sapphires. In 1968, racism was still quite rampant around the world, but you still hear about it in Australia today. How did you go about tackling this in the film today?

You know, tackling the subject of racism was sort of the mission statement of the two writers, Tonny Briggs and Keith Thompson. As you said, racism still resonates in Australia today as it did in 1968. It is just inherent in the society that we live in Australia, and it sort of rears its ugly head when you least expect. So, it is a truth and we just wanted to talk about the truth and remind our own country of where we stand in 2012, you know.

We could have gone much harder in dealing with this theme but we chose to deal with it through comedy because I suppose Tony Keith wanted some balance, some love and some joy in the film. Also, because while we wanted the film to resonate with the non-indigenous people who come to watch it, we wanted to do it in a way that it is a subtle way rather than in a weighty or hard-hitting way. Subtlety has an undertone of humanity and with that humanity comedy, which is great medicine, you know. We just wanted to tell a beautiful story that when you can walk away from it, you have a little tear and a little laugh and it makes you feel human again.

We’ve not seen too much of the indigenous Australian community on film. Since you are indigenous too, what were the challenges for you in trying to represent the community respectfully?

We just wanted to show that that aboriginal people did exist in the world back then too, and whether it was through soul music or the Vietnam war, we did participate. And that all we’ve wanted in the end is just love, respect and most importantly, to be considered equal. While everyone knows about the civil rights movement in America at the time this story takes place, there was a civil rights movement in Australia that mirrored that. That even in Australia aboriginal people did exist and they were fighting for the same rights as the non-aboriginal people, and perhaps still continue to do that.

Being indigenous, you just have a responsibility to your own stories. Because if you don’t tell them, who else is going to? Perhaps if a non-indigenous person may have directed the film, he may not have treated it the same way as I did. For example, if I walk into in an Indian restaurant and I see Italian people serving it, it would make me question it, you know. The food may still probably be good but there’s something about the authenticity if it came from the real people. So I have this responsibility, and I understand that, and I will continue to deal with this subject, because sometimes, you have to leave ego and ambition at the door.

You weren’t looking to make your debut with The Sapphires, and the movie just happened to you. Is it the kind of movie you always wanted to debut with?

No, I actually had another film that I was trying to debut with for the last three-four years, but that didn’t work out. But when The Sapphires came on to my table, its premise was so strong that I just had no choice but to partake in this adventure. It was one of those things when I was in the right place at the right time. It just felt right, you know. I didn’t really weigh the pros and cons or strengths and weaknesses as one really should do in these big things in life. And when Chris O’Dowd and Deborah Mailman, two actors who have a warm heart and a generosity of spirit, came on board, I knew I couldn’t have been involved in a better first movie.

Apart from the issues of racism, the movie would have been tough to make because it is a period musical, which are two really difficult genres. Plus, you had a limited budget, isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s interesting that when we started, the budget was about $ 13.5 million and then every six months, the budget went down by half a million. So bloody hell, you just want to shoot the film but the budget would keep going down, you know. But I think it’s first about getting the script to a state where it is strong and then just isolating the big moments of the film. We shot the film in 33 days, so ultimately, it all came down to the preparation and casting. One of the key reasons it worked was because we had a great cinematographer, Warwick Thornton, whose film, Samson and Delilah had won the Camera d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Usually cinematographers come eight weeks before shooting, but we spent 3-4 months talking about the film. We watched movies like Ray and The Tina Turner Story and The Color Purple to prepare, and we sort of became cohorts through the film.

The other major reason it worked well was because we auditioned for eight months. Usually when an actor auditions, they only have 2-3 scenes to do, but since we had to filter down from 120 girls to four, by the time we completed, the shortlisted girls had done around 15-20 scenes. So, in a way, we had already shot most of the film before we shot the film and by the time the actors came on the sets, they had already lived and breathed their characters for eight months. And that’s lucky because we were shooting on film and not on digital, so we could only do 2-4 takes for a scene. It all worked out well, but when I look back now, (chuckles) I’m surprised how ambitious it was for a first film. At that time, though, all I was thinking about was completing the call sheets every day.

You were an actor in the play of the same name, on which the film is based. Did your relationship with the original Sapphires help during the making of your film?

Yes, the play is written by Tony Briggs and is based on his mother, Laurel Robinson, and his aunt, Lois Peeler, who are two of the four original Sapphires. So I have obviously interacted with them a lot and it was beautiful, because they trusted us implicitly. And of course, since Tony was also writing this, and he and I were interacting every day, I was sort of in the belly of the beast, in a way. So whenever I had to make decisions on the set with regards to the character and dialogue, it was a no brainer, because we knew we had their trust and blessings. The four ladies are very humble but also very strong, so if I would have screwed up, they would’ve been on me very quickly (chuckles).

You’ve been an actor for a long time before turning director, having been directed by the likes of Phillip Seymour-Hoffman on stage. Did your insight as an actor make it easier to director other actors?

Yes, I think the most important thing I learnt from working with the various actors and directors is the importance of communication. You just have to have a way to communicate your vision to each individual on set and off set, and of course, everyone is different, so you have to have a level of communication which is different to each individual. From acting in theatre, I learnt that your creation has to have a connection to the truth and what you want to say to the world. That what you do has to be real. Phillip, in specific, had an attention to detail and a heart that was laid out on the table from the day I met him. He isn’t a cerebral person but he is a man of heart and a man of truth, with a soul that is fractured but that is also very real.

So where do you go from here?

I’m not too sure what I’m doing next but I do know that I’m fortunate to be part of the indigenous Australian community that’s been breaking out in front of the world of late. I’m just a cog in that wheel but I will continue to tell our stories with humility and generosity, so I can give something back to my own community. What I loved about films I grew up with was that they had love and heart and truth, and I admired stories about being a fractured human being in the world. That’s exactly what I’m after too. I’m after stories of fractured human beings who teach us that it is alright to be both sad and happy because that makes us human. But I like treating my work in a lighter way because I believe I’m part of one of those cultures in the world – along with Indians and the Irish – who appreciate love and joy than normal!

Note: This interview first appeared on on December 24, 2012

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Brazilian filmmaker Luciano Moura #Firstpost #Film

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In conversation with Father’s Chair director Luciano Moura

Luciano Moura is a Brazilian film director, based in Rio de Janeiro. He has worked on many Brazilian TV shows and commercials, and his short film, The Residents of Humboldt Street did the rounds of film festivals around the world and won many awards. His debut movie, Father’s Chair, produced by Oscar-nominated director of City of God, Fernando Meirelles and stars Brazil’s biggest star, Wagner Moura, who is slated to play the villain opposite Matt Damon in Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium.

Father’s Chair premiered internationally at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and in India at the Mumbai Film Festival. It’s the story of a man, who has a difficult relationship with his family, going on the road to look for his missing son. In his interview, Luciano talks about the tricky relationships between fathers and sons, working with Fernando Meirelles and Wagner Moura, and the challenges the Brazilian film industry faces.


Your movie revolves around the relationship between a father and a son. Did the story come out of your relationship with your father or your son?

Luciano Moura (LM): (Laughs) It came from my relationship with my son. When you see the movie and if you have a son, you’d understand what I’m talking about (laughs). I mean, like all fathers, I’m very afraid of letting my son go and live his own life. I want to be there for him forever and it’s really hard to avoid the fact that he’s growing up. It’s a difficult situation, but I have to deal with it. In general, we try very hard to avoid certain moments in life and try to put them off for as long as possible. We try to control our life but life doesn’t work like that (chuckles). The movie was my way of exploring this relationship.

In the movie, Wagner’s character, Theo, has put his career before everything else. His family and his relationship with his son are falling apart, and he reacts very badly to these problems, and tries to control them. And one day, his son goes missing. Then, he has no choice but to deal with this. So he goes on the road to find his son, but he discovers another boy in place of his son – the son he never knew he had. At the same time, he also starts discovering himself, and realises that we can’t change life the way we want to… we have to change ourselves instead.

What’s your relationship with your son like, and how has it made its way into the movie?

LM:  (Chuckles) My son is about 15 years old now, but when I started to write this story, he was about 10. I didn’t know this feeling so well at the time but I was still afraid of it. That’s because I think relationships are important everywhere in the world but the first two relationships you ever have as a child – with your father and your mother – they define you as a person. Those relationships change your life and are the most wonderful and important relationships, but also the hardest to let go off.

I mean, personally, even after he’s grown up, I don’t have a bad relationship with my son, but it’s always difficult to understand how to go about it. You have to deal with a lot of responsibility as you grow up and raise children, as you try and understand what’s the right way to go about things, what are the wrong ways to avoid. And the thing is, nothing works (laughs). Things always keep changing and you just have to go along with them and discover on your own how to go about them. You just have to (laughs) pray, and hope that you are pointing your children towards a good way but the fact is, you can’t ever be sure what the good way is (chuckles)! This is how I feel about raising my son and I made the movie to talk about this.

What did your son think of the movie?

LM: He was fine with it (laughs). He liked it because he knows that it was based on him, or at least inspired by him, because in his case, he thankfully didn’t run away (chuckles). So I think he’s kind of proud of his father at the moment.

You’ve made a documentary before, and you’ve also directed many commercials. Was a feature film a natural transition?

LM: Yes, in fact, I always wanted to do a feature film. And after my short film, The Residents of Humboldt Street, travelled the world and won awards, I thought of getting into features. But Brazil was hit by a huge financial crisis at the time, and I had to postpone my plans. When I finally started making my movie, all my experience came in handy. The good thing about shooting a commercial is that you only shoot two times a week or six-seven times a month, so you have to prepare a lot for the shoot. You have to know the equipment, know the actor and know how to direct a set. Because there’s a sense of urgency, you become very fast. That’s helped me in making a movie.

The biggest difference in the two mediums is.. (chuckles) there’s a lot more people. They are many more people and big sets and lots more work. I mean, we had only six weeks of shooting and we had to cover 38 locations. To do that in that much time, and still telling the story in exactly the way you have planned it, you need to have done most of the planning before the shoot. And on the shoot, you just shoot objectively. You cannot have doubts when you are on the set. So preparation helps in shooting precisely what you want and also in cutting costs.

When you were writing did you have Wagner Moura in mind? Were you worried if Brazil’s biggest movie star would work with a debutante director?

LM: Yes, of course. He has the same look and age as my character and he’s also, obviously, a very, very good actor. So he was always my first choice, although yes, I had my doubts if he would accept the role since he’s such a big star in Brazil. But you know what’s the best thing about him? I sent the script to him through a common friend and after he read it, he rang me and said he loved my film and he wanted to do it! He didn’t behave like a star and go through an agent to get to me. And then of course, he really did do the film, because he loves honest stories. He portrayed the character in a very honest and powerful way too – he gave me many different levels to play with. We rehearsed a lot and discovered the character together. It was incredible to work with him since he really made the character bigger than I could imagine.

What was the contribution of your producer Fernando Meirelles, the director of Oscar-nominated movies City of God and The Constant Gardener?

LM: I’ve worked with Fernando’s production company, O2 Films, as a director on the HBO show, Sons of Carnival. I’ve also directed an episode of another show, Antonio, for them. I’ve worked with him for nine years now. And so, since the very beginning, when I wrote my first draft, I hoped that he would produce my movie. I went to him with the script for that and also because I wanted his opinion on the script as a director. And Fernando was very, very helpful. Not only did he produce my film but he also helped me sift through everything I had written and help find the core of the story, but in a very gentle way. He’s a gentleman that way, but he’s also a very clever producer, I have to say. One of the moments I was very happy and glad was when I showed my first cut to him. He really liked the film and that was a huge compliment to me because he’s one of the greatest directors from Brazil.

There are far more Brazilian movies making it to film festivals over the world, than ever before. Do you think Brazilian cinema is coming of age?

LM: You know the Brazilian industry is like a wave – we have a big wave sometimes and a very small wave at other times (chuckles). It’s an inconsistent industry. But now, from the last four years, we have more Brazilian films and have started to do better. Some films like Elite Squad 1 and 2, which starred Wagner, got through to 12 million people in Brazil, which is a record. But we’ve been making many comedies for quite some time. It’s because HBO Brazil, which is the biggest TV channel here and has a lot of big budgets and deals with actors very professionally, is making a lot of comedies which get watched a lot, and because of that, movies have followed the trend too.

On the one hand, it’s a good thing because it makes the audience like Brazilian films and come to the theatres, since we don’t have much of a movie watching tradition. But on the other hand, the movies are rubbish! They are all of the same style, one silly comedy after another. So the big challenge now is to get the audience to come to the theatres and watch other kinds of films. Yes, the industry’s surely doing better than before – you can actually call it an industry now – but the box office gives us no money. The films are mostly funded by the government, but hopefully as more and more movies become hits, we’ll get a lot more financing into the industry.

What’s next for you? Do you plan to continue doing films in Brazil or are you Hollywood bound?

LM: I do have an American project in the development stages. It’s based on a book, ‘The Boy Who Fell Out Of The Sky’. We are still trying to flesh it out so I’m not sure when it’s going to happen. But I do have scripts that I’m trying to make in Brazil also. Another thing that I’m looking to do is Brazilian TV since it’s really getting stronger every year, and has much more funding and better production values than before.

If I do go to America, I don’t want to go there just to do a regular film and make a film to make a film, because then my movie will also look like a copy of any other American film. If I direct a film there it would have to be to my liking and my style. And (chuckles) that’s always difficult. But Hollywood can wait… I have a lot of great options to do something more serious in Brazil too.

Note: This interview first appeared on on October 25, 2012

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Danish filmmaker Mads Matthiesen #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie cinema: Mads Matthiesen on Teddy Bear for

At a time when the Danish film industry is churning out one remarkable thriller after another, be it in films or on television, Mads Matthiesen surprised the world with his small, intimate love story, Teddy Bear, about a Danish bodybuilder who has problems in talking to girls and goes to Thailand on a quest for love.

The simple and sweet film was one of the best debuts of the year, picking up the World Dramatic Award in Direction at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and many other awards since, in various festivals across the world. In an exclusive interview, Mads talks about his viral short film that inspired the movie, about the stories that interest him and why Dogme 95 rules have stopped working.


Denmark has a population of around 5.5 million people. Your short film, Dennis, has over 4.5 million hits on YouTube. How did it go so viral? And has as everyone in Denmark seen this movie?

(Laughs) No, many people from different countries have seen it too. A lot of the US and Europe has seen it, but yes, a lot of people in Denmark have seen it too. It’s become an art school exam tradition now. Every year during the examination period, I get a lot of emails from students saying they want to write about it or interpret it. 

It went viral because Youtube sort of bought the film. It premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival as part of the Short Films Competition and Youtube had collaborated with them that year. So we made a deal with Youtube, and they promoted and pushed the film quite a bit, and we also made some money out of it too. Within the first month, we had over a million hits, and after that, it took off on its own.

Dennis was the foundation on which your feature film, Teddy Bear, was built. Where did the seed for Dennis come from at that time?

Initially, I wanted to do a film about a 30-somethig guy still living with his mom who had trouble with girls and though he is very close to his mother, he has a troubled relationship with her. Now, normally, if you go with the cliché, you’d think of the person being a little overweight with glasses, and not very good looking. But I didn’t want to go for something so obvious. When I was discussing this idea with my co-writer Martin Zandvliet, who also co-wrote Teddy Bear, we came up with the idea that the guy would actually be the opposite – a huge, masculine bodybuilder. And while it was not an obvious take, it was still something I could connect with. Because I can understand the psychology of a person who’d start pumping iron to make his presence felt to the world, but still has problems inside.

Kim Kold wasn’t a professional actor when you cast him in Dennis. What made you believe you could make him act and how did you go about making him?

Since we didn’t know where we could find a bodybuilder for our short film, we put up casting ads in gyms across Denmark. Kim saw it and came for the auditions. Initially, I took him on more for his muscles and looks than talent, since as a person, Kim is nothing like Dennis – he’s very open, talkative, has been married a couple of times and has kids. He’s also very different from me, but when we started working together, I realised that we had something in common. Kim understood Dennis. He understood how hard it can be to communicate with girls, with your parents, and being an outsider.

When you are working with non-actors you try and work around with what they can do and what they are comfortable with. But I realised going ‘wow’ at his very first scene. He wasn’t like a non-actor… he could build the character, talk about his psychology, his background, and his feelings. He was focused and wasn’t acting just because he had got the chance – he was determined to act well. He gave his 110% and that shows in his performance.

How did the short film evolve into a full length feature film? Wasn’t it difficult to keep yourself inspired about the same subject for four years?

The reason I stayed inspired and excited about the subject is because I decided the feature film won’t be a remake or an extended version of the short film. It would be a sequel to the short. So Teddy Bear starts where Dennis ended. The character, the setup and the conflicts are the same, but it has new scenes. Martin came up with the idea of sending Dennis on a quest for love to Thailand, and how it affects his relationship with his mother when he does find love.

Even though the film took about three years to finish, I was excited because it was my first film and a story I understood very well by now. I also learnt a lot from it – like the fact that you can’t be stuck at any time. You need to keep moving, the film needs to keep evolving. Also I think that while making a good short film is as difficult as making a good feature film, the feature film is a more complicated process and for a first-time feature filmmaker, it’s a whole new world. There’s more money, more people, more expectations like ticket sales, distribution, etc. So it’s more work but the gist is the same – you have to tell in an exact and precise way, so the message gets across well.

Is your film made under the Danish Dogme 95 rules? It seemed inspired by them.

No, it’s not. Dogme was never a new thing, in a sense. It was taking some of the old ways of doing films and making some rules around that. I have always thought that Dogme was a good thing because it taught us to focus on the story, and how it’s told, and on getting close to the actors, rather than on the technical aspects. When you are focussing on big action scenes and cranes and big crews, your core tends to shift from storytelling. When you are working with a small crew and it’s like a family, then the storytelling is also more intimate.

So I think it’s great that filmmakers like Lars Von Trier, who I’m a big fan of, made films under those rules all those years ago, because those films are important for our culture and history. But I think the movement didn’t last because the filmmakers started repeating themselves and so, people got bored.

In most of your short films so far, the themes surround love, happiness and troubled relationship with parents. What fascinates you about these themes?

I think I have a tendency to write about people who are outsiders in the community surrounding them. People who are making efforts to be part of society, trying to become a part of the social life surrounding them. And how these people deal with love and family. I don’t know why I find these things fascinating… they have nothing to do with me. I’m not analysing myself here, I’m just picking up stories that make me interested or curious.

For example, with Dennis and Teddy Bear, I wanted to explore bodybuilders, because I’m curious about what they do in life. Why would they just want to pump iron and make themselves bigger? Why do they spend all those hours doing just that? I’ve been to a gym only once in my life, so I never understood this. And with all my other films too, I explore people, characters or environments that I’m curious to know more about. In Teddy Bear, Dennis goes to Thailand to find a girl for himself. I wrote about Thailand because I don’t get why people go there. They call it paradise for love, but in my eyes, I don’t see it as one. So I wanted to understand that too.

You say all your characters are outsiders. Do you consider yourself one as well?

No, I don’t really. But still, you know, there’s a feeling of loneliness that’s in all of us, that almost everyone experiences at some time or the other. That we are not understood and that in many a sense, we are alone in the world. I see it and feel it too, in relationships, families and life in general; having a hard time communicating what you really feel. But it’s not exactly all about me. I mean,

I have done a couple of shorts maybe 10 years ago that were based on private stories. But that didn’t work well for me. I’ve come to realise that my films should be personal but not private, as clichéd as that sounds. There’s probably a lot of me in my films but it shouldn’t be so close to me that I am not able to analyse it or even understand it myself. Now I only want to tell stories about others, who probably feel in some way as I do.

After winning the World Cinema Award for Direction at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and being nominated for a Europe Discovery Award, where do you go from here? Will you continue making small, intimate films, or will we see you doing trademark Danish thrillers?

I don’t know what my future is, but I’m not going to make big commercial films for selling tickets. (Chuckles) I mean, I hope I can sell tickets too but I want to keep trying to do something new with every film. I don’t want to do what others are doing but want to tell stories about things that interest me, about people who interest me. And since my films won’t be sequels or popular genres or action flicks with half-naked women, I just have one thing to remember… I will have to try and make films with small budgets. If I could be someone like a Michael Haneke in my life, that would be a dream come true!

Note: This interview first appeared on on December 29, 2012

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Irish filmmaker Kirsten Sheridan #Firstpost #Film

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In conversation with Dollhouse director Kirsten Sheridan

Kirsten Sheridan is an Irish writer-director, who has made films like Disco Pigs and August Rush in the past and was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay for the film, In America, along with her sister, Naomi Sheridan and her father, veteran director Jim Sheridan (best known for In The Name of The Father and My Left Foot).

Her new film, Dollhouse, which screens at the Mumbai Film Festival, is an independent film about a night in the lives of a group of street teens from Dublin’s inner city, who break into a house in an upper class suburb, and how things spiral out of control after that. Kirsten, who has just started a film company called The Factory with fellow Irish directors Jim Carney (Once) and Lance Daly (Kisses), talks about the process of shooting an, uncontrolled, experimental film with no bound script, and what it has taught her about the craft of filmmaking.


The idea of Dollhouse started from an empty house, is that right? That’s a really unique starting point for a script.

Kirsten Sheridan (KS): Well, it’s my parents’ house and they went on vacation, so I decided that I have a free location, I really should make a movie here (chuckles). The house is in a very beautiful part of Dublin, and I couldn’t write about people who would be from this house, because I didn’t grow up in that kind of environment, and it’s not what I know. So I decided to write a movie about people that I do know. So I decided to write a movie about five teenagers who decide to break into this house. And it was because, you know, sometimes, just you spend so much time having meetings about your next project that when you get the chance, you just take a camera and make a movie.

I’ve also read that you didn’t even have a bound script for this. You just had a 15-page outline and the film actually evolved during shooting. Wasn’t that a huge gamble, considering you’ve cast fairly new actors?

KS: Yeah, it was definitely a gamble. But, you know, because it wasn’t a big budget movie and because I didn’t have a studio or producers who were very controlling, I was able to take risks. And I thought, if you were able to do that only one time in your life, you better do it right now! I decided the gamble would be fun (laughs). So I just had plot points for all the characters and a general outline of where I wanted the film to go, and how the plot points would reveal themselves through the movie.

I also decided that I wanted the script to come from the actors. So I sent the actors down to a house for a week, in the countryside, I got them to just interview each other as themselves or as their characters, and then I looked at all of this footage and I picked outline, phrases and things that they said to each other. I picked them out and I put them into a document that I then later would tell them to say or do, while I was shooting on set — both lines and themes or instances I had picked out from their lives. I’d feed these back to them, it was kind of like live television, or this fine line between reality and fiction.

What was the initial idea that you started with, and how much did it change during the shoot, especially since the actors had no idea what their arcs were?

KS: Yeah, they didn’t really know what they were supposed to be doing. All they really knew was that they were breaking into a house, and what they were supposed to know in whichever particular scene that they were shooting. I wanted to capture their real reactions to when they were revealed a plot point — they were reacting to exactly what was in their minds at that point, in their own way of speaking, so there were a lot of fun surprises during the shoot.

And, you know, they basically, kind of, jumped in. I think it was because, for some of them, it was their first feature film, and they didn’t know if it was supposed to be different (laughs). So they just went, “Oh! Okay, this is normal,” and went through with it. And the other actors in the group had improvised before so they weren’t as scared of it either. So the story started from these teenagers in the house and evolved into something authentic, I hope. The characters of the teenagers in the film are very violent and crazy.

With an uncontrolled process shooting process, weren’t you ever afraid that things would get out of hand?
KS: Oh yes, it was very physically demanding for everybody, including the actors, because there was never any downtime — there was never any lighting setup or set construction, because all the lights were practical and the set was the house. And so there was never any time to relax, it was just always a ‘go, go, go’ for 11 straight hours. But we actually had a safe word — so that if things ever got out of hand for an actor and if they weren’t comfortable with the live revelations or plot points, they’d say the safe word and then I’d cut the action. But nobody ever needed to use it, you know, because they all became a very tight-knit group, because they had spent a lot of time together. I don’t think they ever really felt threatened with each other.

What was it that you expected to learn from this process, and what did you end up learning?

KS: I don’t know if I expected to learn anything since it was a fun experiment, but what I did learn was that sometimes, it’s very hard to recreate tension or paranoia or shock in the actors. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly, but the feeling that they don’t know what’s happening translates much better when it’s actually true. And so, when they are at the edge of their seats, they kind of bring the audience along with them… the audience is as uncomfortable as the actors. And I think that translates on screen almost subconsciously. So, in a way, as a director, I learnt to let go of control a little bit because up to that point I had been a very, very controlled director.

So how do you edit a movie like this?

KS: Oh! The editing was a nightmare, a terrible nightmare (laughs). We had a very tough time because we had 100 hours of footage and it took 6 months of a lot of work. And it was just me because I was the only one who really knew the story… You can’t really leave an editor and say, “There you go, make a story out of this” (laughs).

Is there anything in common with this process of shooting with, say, an August Rush kind of big-budget Hollywood production? Would you shoot like this again?

KS: No, I’ll do it again, and I’ll do it in an even more extreme manner next time, with complete non actors and people who have never, ever been on a set or in the film industry! I think I’ll do it in a way that it’s almost a drama, but also a documentary, so that you are not sure what it is, and it really blurs the line between the two. That would be very interesting!

As for what’s common, I think it’s really about wanting to get the best performance out of the actors, no matter how that works. Each film required different approach because of the story and because of the actors. So a film like August Rush was like a symphony and conducted that way because it was about people whose actions are very controlled and I did it in a very controlled way. Whereas if I’m doing a film about people who are completely lost and out of control, then the process would be lost and out of control too. What I would like to be able to do on every film is change as much as I can if it facilitates the story, you know. The story’s most important to me.

I’ve noticed that good directors generally make movies on subjects that are either nothing close to what they’ve done in their personal lives, or on subjects that are extremely close to their lives.From your first film that you made at the age of 23, Disco Pigs, to Dollhouse, your films have generally been about coming of age, in a way.So what is it about this subject that fascinates you?

KS: My teenage years were pretty tame actually (laughs), which is why I wanted to make a movie about people who aren’t tame, you know. I was 17-18 when I went to college for 3 years, then I made some shorts, then I made Disco Pigs, then I had a baby, so there wasn’t much scope for a crazy time (laughs).

But I’m generally interested in the teenage world, because I like the idea of people who sometimes can’t use words to the best extent, and have to learn to communicate in different ways, which is what Disco Pigs was about. I feel that I am like that, in some ways. I don’t trust words a lot of the times, and like visuals, so I am attracted to relationships that are based on things other than words. Also, I like films about real people who are not portrayed on screen often. It’s a changing time in Ireland, so the young today don’t really have any real control and don’t know what’s going on. So with Dollhouse, I wanted to make a movie about teenagers who don’t have any connect with each other, whose worlds are shifting, but they somehow find the one moment that connects them all.

What are you upto next?

KS: I’m trying to make a film called Mooch, which is based on a book by an author called Dan Fante, which is a kind of a cult novella set in Los Angeles, about a recovering alcoholic who lives in LA and whose life has, kind of, gone to hell and about his relationship with this woman and her child. It’s a very, very black funny. It’s my first American indie film and I’m doing it with an Irish producer called Tristan Lynch and an American producer called Michelle Weiser, and we’re in the process of casting for it next.

Finally, what did your parents have to say about your actors trashing their house?

KS: (Laughs) They were fine because “Anything for art!” you know? (Chuckles) They really liked the movie!

Note: This interview first appeared on on October 18, 2012


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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: British filmmaker James Marsh #Firstpost #Film

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In conversation with Shadow Dancer director James Marsh

Academy Award-winnning British film director, James Marsh, best known for his documentary film, Man On Wire, is out with a new movie, Shadow Dancer, that premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was screened out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival, and will premiere in India at the 2012 Mumbai Film Festival this week.

Set in 1990s Belfast, the movie is about an active member of the Irish Republican Army, who becomes an informant for MI5 in order to protect her son. Marsh, who is a fan of Satyajit Ray and is “very aware of the whole Bollywood phenomenon” talks about his movie, the art of documentary filmmaking and Hollywood movies that cater to 12-year-olds:


Congratulations on your film winning the Golden Hitchock at the Dinard Film Festival. It must be really reassuring for you that your film, which is about a very specific region and a very specific time in Northern Ireland, is getting acceptance amongst the worldwide audience. Was that something you ever worried about?
James Marsh (JM): To be honest with you, films about Northern Ireland are not perceived very positively even in the UK. The conflict has played out over decades and blighted so many lives and to be really brutal about it, it’s an episode in our recent history that we’d like to put behind us. That said, the events of the story in Shadow Dancer take place during quite an unusual time, actually – the beginning of a process of dialogue and peace that would end up paying quite a lot of dividends later on.

When I read the screenplay, I saw a universal dilemma that the main character faces as a mother and the member of a family. And I felt that the dilemma she’s put into transcended the politics. The history of the conflict goes back hundreds of years and you can’t expect to take that all on in one film, so my hope was to try and focus on the characters and their psychology.

Has there been any marked difference between the reactions of the regular movie buffs and the politically aware audiences or critics? JM: We’ve been quite fortunate, actually. We’ve had some very positive reactions from critics and audiences both in the UK and in other festivals like Sundance and Berlin. We screened the film in Belfast at the Belfast Film Festival a few months ago and it was a rather nerve-wracking experience for me. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to it there but in fact, it had a very interesting reception, going from the questions that were asked after the screening and the conversations we had.

People were very receptive to the film, and I think they were impressed with it, as a piece of filmmaking – that we had made a film that wasn’t a shabby, ugly look at The Troubles, but was a thriller with a story and (chuckles) a movie star in it. In fact, we have had a fairly positive reception amongst the Irish media and critics, so I’m really glad about that.

Your last two movies, Man on Wire and Red Riding: In the Year of our Lord 1980, were thrillers. Was there any learning that you brought into Shadow Dancer from those? And would you say you are more comfortable with thrillers as a genre?

JM: That’s an interesting observation. I guess it would seem so, I think that perhaps the thriller, a bit like the horror film, is a director’s medium. In a thriller, you are trying to control precisely the information that the audience is exposed to during the course of the film, and you are trying to precisely control the mood too. It’s a genre where you have to be very prepared and thorough about how you go about making the film.

And yes, to think of it, Shadow Dancer is a similar kind of film in terms of genre to both Man on Wire and Red Riding; in fact, even my first feature film, The King, had some suspense and a rather uncomfortable atmosphere in it, so by the time I got to making Shadow Dancer, I got better at that process of making a film that relies on mood and atmosphere. (Chuckles) I guess I specialise somewhat in that now, and I do believe I’ve enjoyed making all those films.

I’ve noticed that you shoot your films in unique ways. There’s a lot of innovation in the way you frame the shots.

JM: Oh yes, cinematography is extraordinarily important to me. It’s something that you have a big influence on and can use in unique ways, and I believe, you should use, as a director. So, before I shoot any film, I spend a lot of time talking to the cinematographer, and discussing all kinds of different reference points – not just of other films but of photographs and paintings and locations. A big part of the job is, of course, to visualise the film, and I tend to go in the shoot with a thoroughly prepared document that lays out each scene in terms of show it’s going to be blocked, and work out shot sequences and camera moves before I actually shoot. I don’t always use those ideas since you sometimes get better ideas when you are shooting or you get inspired by the actors or the location but I prefer going in with a plan. I can always improve upon it as the film is being made.

Do you keep actors in mind during the process of writing or cast separately?

JM: Yes, I do, actually. (laughs) Obviously, usually you don’t end up getting the people you have in mind. For this particular film though, the first instinct I had when I read Tom’s (Bradby) screenplay and then began working on it with him, was to cast the actor Clive Owen. I’ve always liked him and felt that this was a chance for him to do something at a slightly different pace of film and a slightly different budget level than he’s generally used to. When we first put the film together, he wasn’t available to work on it and then we went back, when the film was actually ready to shoot, and he was happy to do it, having had seen Man on Wire, which he quite liked.

Andrea Riseborough was an actress I had seen on television in England and felt that she was kind of extraordinary. She had done a few films but those films hadn’t worked out terribly well, and I thought, here’s a great chance and a wonderful role for her. I needed someone really, really great to do this, if not, the film wouldn’t work if the acting of that character wasn’t really special and really layered in all kinds of subtle ways. And Andrea, I think, just carried the whole film in her face. We used a lot of fairly withering close-ups on her, but she carried them so beautifully that you could always sense that there are many different things playing out in her mind. That’s an extraordinary gift for an actress.

So, to answer your question, I guess, in a long-winded way, I really want to work with actors whose work I really like and half the job of direction is to cast people who you think are great and to let them bring what they want to bring to the project.

Your movies tend to be about a central character, and generally about how people around them influence their choices.

JM: I guess, where you are coming from is a sense that in many films, not the least of which is mine, you tend to invest in the central character, and try to find connections in the central character from your own life and your own experience. Where I’m concerned, what I’m actually interested in, actually, is the dynamics of a small group, be it a family that you see in Shadow Dancer or in Project Nim or in The King, or any other sort of group, like the group of conspirators in Man on Wire. I’m drawn to this dynamic and I believe that all drama comes from some conflict between a group of people.

This is your second feature film as a director, though you’ve done many documentaries.I’m curious to know that most kids, growing up, want to be feature filmmakers, as opposed to documentary filmmakers. Were you always interested in the art of making documentaries or did you see making them as a step towards making features?

JM: I always had the fantasy of being a feature film director and making movies, (laughs) in Hollywood. But in the UK, we have a big culture and tradition of documentary filmmaking, particularly on television. And television documentaries in Britain are very, very good and well-made, with lots of money put it. So yes, growing up, as I was trying to figure how to get my foot in the door of filmmaking, documentaries and television were a more realistic place to start. I didn’t go to film school, I got a job as a journalist working on a TV show in London. And that was definitely a calculated plan, that somehow, in 20 years, I’ll become a feature film director, though I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do that!

And then, when I got into making documentary films, as a filmmaker, I found them very satisfying and rewarding. You can be really quite experimental in documentary filmmaking too, and you can come up with different ways of conveying the truth of the situation you are trying to get at. So, Man on Wire, for example, is full of elaborate black-and-white style movie-type reconstruction. I believe these elements of drama in documentaries allowed me to actually feel confident enough to go ahead and write a screenplay and make The King, which is the first feature film I made.

Your documentaries are like genre films, like features and that’s what you bring into them from your feature filmmaking experience. But what do you bring into your feature films from your documentary experiences? Is there anything that crosses over?

JM: I think the main thing is a sense of the story structure. In a documentary, we are dealing with real events and real lives. So what you look for there is a dramatic shape to the story, and all great documentaries have that. The dramatic shape doesn’t mean you are fictionalising anything, but that you are trying to find the semblance of a structure to the real events that happened. And I think that sense of structure and story construction is very hard to come up with in documentary, and often happens in the editing room, when you are putting it together. That really helps you both understand a good screenplay and also to write them, because you have a sense of how the story works.

The other big learning is the collaboration with actors on a feature film. In a documentary, you tend to make the people you are interviewing as comfortable as possible, to get them to trust you, and I use the same kind of approach with actors too. On the other hand, the fundamental difference between the two forms, for me, is that the means of production are very different. A documentary tends to unfold over a longer period of time, whereas a feature film is shot in a very intense period of six or seven weeks where you either do it or (laughs) you can’t do it. If you make a mistake or something goes wrong there, you’ll just have to live with that.

How do you keep the two mediums separate? How difficult is it for you to decide what to do next?

JM: I try and keep an open mind. In a feature film, what you are looking for is a story that you want to need to tell. And in a documentary, they are harder to find, those kinds of stories. I mean they are easier in fiction because you can always (laughs) write them. So with documentaries, my criteria to evaluating them is: “Is the story truly and awfully unbelievable and preposterous?” (laughs) In other words, if it was fiction, would you not believe this story? Man on Wire, for example, is a story people would struggle to believe was real.

As for me, I like doing both. Both have different kinds of creative rewards and I think one really helps the other. When you are doing a feature, you get a little overwhelmed by the scale of it and making a documentary is a much more intimate kind of form of filmmaking, which I really enjoy too.

You’ve probably learnt so much about human psychology through your documentaries. How do you apply those learnings to your real life?

JM: You know, I would say, in fact, that I’ve made those documentaries, be it Man on Wire or Project Nim, in particular because you find out so much about how people behave in unusual circumstances. I’m actually a very pessimistic person by nature but after spending two years with Philippe (Petit) for Man on Wire, I was inspired and reminded that you shouldn’t ever think that anything you want to do is impossible. I applied it to my filmmaking – I mean, in filmmaking too, you face all sorts of hurdles like not getting funding or things not taking off.

As for Project Nim, it is a great story about child rearing and although we were doing this with a chimpanzee, I realised that you can’t try and bend your children into something they are not, the same way you can’t bend Nim into a human being. Each one of us is born with certain personalities and as a parent it’s up to you to understand your childrens’ potential and how you can best nudge them to achieve that potential as opposed to imposing things upon them. So yes, I’m actually blessed and lucky to be doing work that I find personally enlightening.

Do we see you doing a mainstream American, big-budget movie at some point in time? To put it in other words, if you had all the money to make a film, what sort of a film would it be?

JM: What a great question! I’m not sure, actually. Of course, if someone were to come to you with the right idea and if it had a certain scale and money and ambition, I’d love to, but I would say this, I don’t think very many of those films are made in Hollywood, any more. Most films now made in Hollywood are made keeping 12-year-olds in mind. They don’t really appeal to me when I watch them, but that said, there are also two-three great films that emerge from the studio system and I’d love to do those. But, in a sense, I’m pretty happy with where I am as a filmmaker. It’s fantastic to have the freedom and independence to do the work you want to do and find the money to do that, even if it’s not a huge amount. I’d rather be doing that than working in a system, because (laughs) I have my own strong ideas about things and don’t really like being told what to do.

So, no superhero movies for you?

JM: (Laughs) Well, I would do one if it were truly subversive, but I think those kind of films are made for the lowest common denominator and denigrate entertainment. As a filmmaker, I’m not sure I’ll be very good at doing that sort of a thing. I wouldn’t want to spend two years of my life working against a green screen with people in strange costumes walking in front of it. (laughs) That would be kind of boring.

What are you upto next?

JM: My next movie is an independent American film, and it’s a comedy, (laughs) but a very cruel and nasty one. It’s inspired by one of those great American true crime stories that can only happen in America, I guess. It’s about a beauty queen who is getting older and gets her dumb boyfriend to kidnap the richest man of that small town for ransom, failing to receive which, they plan to bury him alive. I’ve been working on the screenplay with a writer at the moment. The actress in the story is British though — Carrey Mulligan. I think she’s a great actress and does a very good American accent. I’ve wanted to work with her for quite some time, and she liked the script. I’m glad to moving away from thrillers and documentaries on this one!


Note: This interview first appeared on on October 16, 2012

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